What Does an Art Gallery Dealer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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••• Image courtesy Tetra Images, Getty Images.

An art gallery dealer works full-time at an art gallery as either the owner or a staff member. The art dealer, who is knowledgeable about the gallery's artists and able to sell their artworks, maintains good relationships with existing and potential collectors, art critics, artists, museums, and the public.

In order to operate a successful art gallery, art dealers need to be tuned in to the art market and its trends. They need to be able to think critically about art, and have a good eye for art.

The business of selling art differs from other types of businesses because selling visual works of art entails unique aspects such as aesthetic and academic discussions and art history knowledge. If a gallery owner or dealer wants to have success in the art world, building up a solid reputation for the gallery and its artists is an absolute necessity.

An art gallery dealer must focus on creating the right type of marketing and exposure for the artworks in order to attract the appropriate collectors and followers and generate sales.

An art dealer's job has many crossovers with an art curator, although dealers usually own the gallery while curators work as employees. Many art dealers started as curators at museums or other galleries, and some dealers become curators if their gallery venture doesn't succeed.

Art Gallery Dealer Duties & Responsibilities

An art gallery dealer is an entrepreneur and must have traditional business skills along with a solid level of art expertise. A dealer performs many of the same duties as a curator, which are included below:

  • Apply knowledge and follow-through to start your own gallery business, often after working as a curator for another gallery
  • Have solid business and sales skills, especially for luxury or high-ticket items
  • Create a strong reputation for the gallery by putting on consistent exhibitions of artists who are achieving critical acclaim by art critics and curators. If a gallery's artists are being invited by curators to be in other exhibitions and are getting reviewed by critics, then the gallery will be receiving a lot of favorable attention and likely sales.
  • Curate the gallery collection and the company's website
  • Bring or cultivate a client list or strong list of serious contacts
  • Be passionate about art and the gallery's artists, which is vital because it helps sell the artwork to collectors.
  • Hire staff to carry out the numerous duties in running an art gallery, such as an art gallery assistant who is in charge of the administrative tasks, and the art installer/handler who helps with the physical installation of the exhibition.
  • Update inventory
  • Handle shipments and deliveries
  • Travel to client sites, and do possible home shows with clients

Art Gallery Dealer Salary

An art gallery dealer's salary varies based on the level of experience, geographical location, and other factors. Additionally, a good portion of the art gallery dealer's compensation may consist of commission in addition to the base salary. The BLS does not list salaries specifically for art gallery dealers, so the following information represents curator salaries.

Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $86,480 ($41.58/hour)

Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $27,190 ($13.07/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

To run a successful gallery, art gallery dealers must be knowledgeable in arts and culture, plus business.

  • Education: Although having a college degree is not a requirement to be a dealer, many galleries prefer at least an undergraduate degree in art history or a related subject. Some dealers may have an MBA only, while others may have a BA, BFA, or MA in art or art history. Business courses such as business administration, public relations, marketing, and fund-raising are also recommended.
  • Experience: What is most important is having the experience or know-how on how to operate a small business selling art. Most galleries prefer a minimum of three years of selling experience. A famous example of relevant experience is the story of art gallery owner Larry Gagosian who started his lucrative business by selling framed posters to eventually building a huge network of eponymous galleries around the world showing well-known international artists.

    Art Gallery Dealer Skills & Competencies

    In addition to specific skills and experience to operate and manage the gallery, the following "soft skills" can help gallery dealers excel in their job:

    • Relationship-building: This is crucial for an art gallery dealer. The dealer not only works with artists and collectors, but also with art critics, curators, art professors, art students, community or local leaders, and the gallery-going public.
    • Networking: Locating and grooming prospective clients is vital for an art gallery dealer, who will also need to attend art openings at museums and similar art-related events. Being able to socialize easily is a key aspect of the job.
    • Promotion: Art gallery dealers may attend art fairs and set up a booth to promote the gallery and its artists.
    • Professional presentation: Making a good impression is what art galleries strive for. Art dealers are in the business of selling art and since presentation is so important in sales, the dealer and the gallery staff will dress professionally. Art dealers typically dress for success; the men wear suits and the women dress in a sophisticated fashion.

    Job Outlook

    Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide information on art gallery dealers specifically, it gives data on a related profession, art curators. The outlook for art curators over the next decade relative to other occupations and industries is strong, driven by the public's continued interest in art, which should increase the demand for curators, art dealers, and the collections they manage.

    Employment is expected to grow by about 14% over the next ten years, which is faster growth than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. This growth rate compares to the projected 7 percent growth for all occupations.

    Work Environment

    Art gallery dealers typically work indoors in an art gallery. Many art galleries are located in busy tourist areas that receive a great deal of foot traffic. Art gallery dealers may also perform certain duties related to artwork at offsite locations, such as a client's home or a business office.

    Work Schedule

    Art gallery dealers mainly work full-time hours, and their schedule may be flexible depending upon the gallery.

    How to Get the Job

    GAIN EXPERIENCE

    Work as a curator for an art gallery or museum for at least two years. Working a job that trains you to become an effective salesperson, especially for luxury goods, can be very helpful.

    APPLY

    Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also walk into galleries and apply directly.

    OPEN YOUR OWN GALLERY

    Once you've gained experience working as a curator in another gallery, raise some capital, write a business plan and strike out on your own.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in becoming an art gallery dealer also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

    • Historian: $61,140
    • Librarian: $59,050
    • Craft or fine artist: $62,410