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For Artists, Major Gallery or Fair Exposure
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Q: I'm having some problems with a gallery that used to represent me. According to the owner, my art didn't sell as fast as she thought it would, so in settlement of the balance of money that she advanced to me, she kept a number my pieces and terminated our relationship. That's fine, but now she's taking them to a specialized art show with a focus on art and artists that I do not want to be associated with. Can I prevent her from doing this? By the way, I've heard that other artists have had similar problems with her and I'm worried that she may badmouth me or my art.
A: You have no control over what she does with your art short of offering to buy it back from her (which I'm pretty sure you're not interested in doing). About all you can do is call or write, state your preferences regarding this show, and request that she respect them. She owns your art and nothing in any contractual agreements you made places any restrictions on when, where, or how she can sell it.
You might think twice about whether you really want to try and stop her, though. This is a high-profile trade show and regardless of how you feel about being identified with particular types of art or artists that dealers are showing there, being included only does good things for your resume. Major dealers will be exhibiting, major collectors will be attending (including museum curators), and reviews of the show will appear in most significant trade publications. Getting this kind of publicity and exposure is difficult no matter how good of an artist you are.
In the meantime, don't worry that people will catagorize or typecast you or your art in a certain way just because they see it at this show. The only reason why it's there is that the dealer thinks she can sell it. What are you going to do next-- interrogate collectors about what artists are in their collections before you agree to sell them art? As long as you continue to produce art, members of the art community will interpret, characterize, categorize, and attempt to draw conclusions about it that may or may not have anything to do with who you are or what went through your mind when you created it. Regardless of what anyone says or does, you are the only one who controls your artistic destiny.
Regarding the dealer's reputation among artists, even though it may not be that great, she happens to be respected among dealers and collectors which is good. Her opinions carry weight and the art community pays attention to who and what she shows. Take it as a compliment that not only is she accepting your art in lieu of repayment of the advance, but she also considers it good enough to exhibit it at this show.
Lastly, you're concerned that since your relationship did not end on the best of terms, she may not have good things to say about you or your art. This is doubtful. The last thing she wants to do while representing your art to potential buyers, either at this show or at her gallery, is to say bad things about it. What she says in private to fellow insiders may be a different matter, but you can safely assume that she will do nothing to jeopardize her possibilities of selling your art or disrupting your market.