What is an art gallery?
Yes, it is a simple question but as there are currently about 8 or 9 different types of art galleries in Melbourne, there is no simple answer. There are also combinations of these different types, commercial galleries with cafes or rental spaces with stock rooms.
Almost all art on sale is sold on consignment with commissions between 10 – 60%; for those of you who consider this high remember that ordinary retail mark-up about 30% to the wholesale price with bookshops marking up to 50%.
Institutions – Art galleries funded by state government, university, local councils or even privately (like Ten Cubed in Melbourne or MONA in Hobart) with permanent and/or temporary exhibitions and perhaps a permanent collection. They are called a variety of names: museums, institutions, collections or galleries. Some are very large like the National Gallery of Victoria whereas others are small like the Gallery @ City Library. The larger ones are well staffed with professional curators and gallery attendants. As these galleries receive funding the choice of art that they exhibit is not dependent on sales. Sometimes they charge entry fee, otherwise there are nothing for sale except at the gift shop/coffee shop. (See my posts: Institutional Art Galleries in Melbourne, Museums and Collections , State Galleries & Politics, Private Collection Public Exhibition and 2Do @ Art Museum.)
Art Dealers – These galleries are selling art purchased for on selling; they may also, sell on consignment from collectors and artists. Their exhibition does not change except for sales or to rotate stock, for example Charles Nodrum Gallery or Louraine Diggins Fine Art.
Commercial Galleries – Feature a program of temporary exhibitions from artists represented by the gallery, for example, Australian Galleries or Niagara Galleries. The ACGA (Australian Commercial Galleries Association) represents many of the major commercial galleries in Melbourne. Commercial galleries will have a stock room of art on consignment directly from the artist. Most commercial galleries will have one or two staff at work. (See my post about Commercial Galleries.)
Rental Spaces – Art galleries that are rented to the artist for temporary exhibitions. The gallery does not represent the artists. Rental space galleries are the most common type of gallery in Melbourne. (See my post about Rental Spaces).
Artist Run Initiatives – (ARI for short) Galleries (or other spaces, like the advertising cabinets at Platform or the mailboxes at Mailbox 141, both are ARIs) run by artists. Some are basically same as rental spaces except run by a group of artists, for example Brunswick Arts or 69 Smith. Other ARIs have a more alternative program and aspire to be small institutions of contemporary art, like TCB, Seventh or Westspace. Some ARIs do receive a small amount of government support. (See my post about Artist Run Initiatives – ARI who?)
Both rental spaces and artist run initiatives aspire to appear the same as commercial galleries, so it is hard to tell them apart and the lines are not that clear. Some institutional and commercial galleries rent their space exhibitions.
Studio Gallery – Galleries continually exhibiting the work of a single artist with exhibition space attached to the artist’s studio, for example, Krista Stewart gallery and studio in Brunswick. Art warehouses with multiple artists studios often have open studios, exhibitions and other other events. (See my post Warehouse vs ARI)
Online Galleries – webpages with art for sale, these are not really galleries because there is no interaction, aside from sales, between the gallery and the artist or the gallery with the public. (See my post about Online Galleries.)
Art Boutiques & Craft/Gift Shops – selling t-shirts, magazines and collectables along with prints and original art by graffiti artists, illustrators and other ‘low brow’ artists. They may have a small area with temporary exhibition but otherwise it is an exhibition of stock. (See my post about Art Boutiques).
Non-Gallery Exhibition Spaces – cafes, furniture shops, private houses, vitrines in public libraries, temporary exhibition spaces, laneways have all been used for art exhibitions. (See my posts about Alternative Exhibition Spaces and Art Squats).
For some specific examples of different types of art galleries read my post about the types of art galleries in Flinders Lane.