How to represent artists
Looking to work with artists? An artist’s agent and artist’s producer describe how they developed their careers representing visual artists and helping them to promote, sell or exhibit their work.
Starting as an art dealer
Pippa Gaber has been running ArtDog London for the last 10 years, representing artists from the UK and the US. After graduating from Emerson College, Boston with a degree in Creative Drama, she taught art, exhibited children's art and worked in healthcare.
Pippa set up as an art dealer, or artist’s agent, in 2000. Learning through trial and error, she taught herself all aspects of art dealing, exhibiting, sponsorship, art education and fundraising. After two years, Pippa gained enough experience to set up her company ArtDog.
Having collected art throughout her life, she has strong knowledge and understanding of art history and the art world. To support this, Pippa also has a strong aesthetic developed by being around art from a young age – her parents collected art.
In 2002 she opened up The Green Space, a gallery based in East Dulwich, and ran this for a number of years. She still shows work in her house from time to time, though mainly exhibits work in a range of different venues across London, as well as at Art Fairs.
“The job is very satisfying but risky financially and always changing and shifting. There is a great social life, with viewings, openings and networking, but the downside for some is that you must be willing to work unsociable hours.”
Based in South London, Pippa uses existing networks in the area to find and promote her artists. She participates in the Dulwich Festival Open House every year, and works with Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, South London Women Artists and The London Group. Pippa shows work at art fairs such as The Affordable Art Fair, Fulham Art Fair, and The Bloomsbury Art Fair.
Developing a relationship with artists
To be successful in this job Pippa believes, “You must be able to choose art works and artists that you can exhibit or promote successfully. Whether it be in an exhibition space, at an art fair, in a one-to-one meeting, or via an online gallery.”
"A lot of the business is about the relationship with the artist. They do become good friends or even sometimes like family.”
Matching your artists to suit the taste of your audience, and collectors is key as is developing your relationship with artists.
“There is always a direct negotiation process with the artist, as you both decide if you can work together. Each contract becomes slightly different as each artist has different needs. Some will fit within your gallery framework and some will not. Learning to say 'no' in a nice way is very important.”
The artist-dealer relationship is the heart of the business and the role of an agent/dealer is one of great responsibility as the dealer may influence how and what the artist paints.
“For every artist that you represent there are 20 more out there looking for a gallery to represent them. A lot of the business is about the relationship with the artist. They do become good friends or even sometimes like family.”
Qualities required to be an art dealer
Pippa believes the following skills, knowledge, and experience is important for those wanting to become a dealer or agent:
- People skills, strong networking and a good working knowledge of PR
- Selling and negotiation skills
- Dedication and knowledge of art, and the art world
- An education in art, (e.g. an MA in fine art, art history, arts management or curating)
- Experience in the art world – for many this is gained through taking an unpaid internship in a private or public gallery)
Working as an artist’s producer
Keri Elmsley works as an artist’s producer, developing the career of visual artists, bringing opportunities to her artists and negotiating on their behalf.
“Risk and potential failure is part of the deal. You have to navigate through it, open the show and laugh afterwards.”
These aspects are similar to how a dealer or agent might operate. But Keri’s work as an artist’s producer also differs due to her involvement in the production and commissioning elements.
Keri’s artists aren’t necessarily painters or sculptors. Instead they produce installations and undertake public commissions. Keri enables her artists to deliver large-scale projects, which means she is often involved in building and fabricating, installing and documenting their work.
This means Keri working closely with a range of different individuals including commissioners, curators and commercial clients.
Like Pippa's work, for Keri, “what lies at the heart of the job is the relationship you have with the artist.”
Developing a career as an artist’s producer
Since her youth Keri has lived and worked with artists. Leaving school at 17, she has learnt on the job and her first role was as an assistant organising tours and events across Europe.
Keri then returned to London to develop a more technical approach to producing new media. Working as a producer for three years with the D-Fuse, a collective of creative media artists, she then moved to United Visual Artists, an art and design practice producing work at the intersection of sculpture, architecture, live performance, moving image and digital installation.
Keri has always been a producer focusing on dealing with light- and technology-based processes. In terms of her career development it has taken her a long time to broaden her skills.
Developing an understanding of fabrication and installation has been important, as well as learning how to work on a large scale to tight deadlines.
Advice for working as an artist’s producer
“I think you should continue to look for education and training opportunities throughout your life.”
Keri has found that there are many opportunities to learn, and that it is important to leverage time to fit them in.
As a founding partner of Parlour Culture, part of the Cultural Leadership Programme’s 'Meeting the Challenge', Keri helped run a series of curated salons for two years where mentors, artists, curators and peers all shared their learning.
Her advice for those wanting to work in this field are to, “nurture your relationships and understand the value of the connections you make, even when they don't seem directly related.” She believes it is important to identify people who you like to work with, and find work that you truly value.
“Risk and potential failure is always part of the deal. You have to be able to navigate through it, open the show and laugh afterwards.”