Contemporary art gallery

Contemporary art gallery


A gallery show opening in New York City

A contemporary art gallery is a place where contemporary art is shown for exhibition and/or for sale. The term "art gallery" is commonly used to mean art museum (especially in British English), the rooms displaying art in any museum, or in the original sense, of any large or long room.

Identity, function and locality

A contemporary gallery is commercial or privately-funded and usually has a second-tier status positioned between the first-tier status of a national, state-run or corporate museum, and the third-tier of minor galleries which include artist-run galleries, retail galleries, and artist's co-operatives.

Commercial galleries are for-profit, privately owned businesses dealing in artworks by contemporary artists. Galleries run for the public good by cities, churches, art collectives, not-for-profit organizations, and local or national governments are usually termed Non-Profit Galleries. Many of these, such as the Tate Gallery have an aspect of charity and can be arranged around a Trust or estate. Galleries run by artists are sometimes known as Artist Run Initiatives, and may be temporary or otherwise different from the traditional gallery format.

Contemporary art galleries are often established together in urban centers such as the Chelsea district of New York, widely considered to be the center of the American contemporary art world. Most large urban areas have several art galleries, and most towns will be home to at least one. However, they may also be found in small communities, and remote areas where artists congregate, e.g. the Taos art colony in New Mexico and St Ives, Cornwall; Hill End, Braidwood and Byron Bay in New South Wales Contemporary art galleries are usually free and open to the public, however some are semi-private, more exclusive, and by appointment only.


Curators often create group shows that say something about contemporary issues or a certain theme, trend in art, or group of associated artists. Galleries often choose to represent artists exclusively, giving them the opportunity to show regularly. Some have a narrow focus while others are more eclectic.

Although primarily concerned with providing a space to show works of visual art, art galleries are sometimes used to host other artistic activities, such as music concerts, poetry readings, or performances, which are considered performance art and at other times theater. While many galleries exhibit painting and sculpture of all types and movements like Abstract expressionism, Pop Art, Photo realism, Color Field, Minimalism, Lyrical Abstraction, Realism, and Postminimalism etc. Conversely, some works of contemporary art are not shown in a gallery. Land art, performance art, internet art, mail art and installation art and other emerging forms also often exist outside a gallery due to being site-specific. Documentation of these kinds of art such as photographic records, are often shown and sold in galleries however, as are preliminary or process drawings and collages (such as those generated by Christo as part of the proposal to governing bodies when applying to install land works). British artist Richard Long manages to combine his core intentions by linking the materials used in his land art, to make gallery art. Andy Goldsworthy does so as well.


There are many operational models that galleries follow. The most common business model is that of the for-profit, privately owned gallery. This is an extremely competitive market but one that may yield great profits. As a general rule, commercial galleries do not charge admission to the public, perhaps in a nod to the egalitarian philosophies of many artists and critics and to encourage attendance, or perhaps in the interests of just good business. Instead, they profit by taking a cut of the art's sales; the exact percentage varies. Some galleries in cities like Tokyo and in New York charge the artists a flat rate per day or per week, though this is considered distasteful in some international art markets. Inevitably the business of contemporary art has in recent decades become increasingly internationalized and commercialized.

Commercial galleries often choose to represent artists exclusively, giving them the opportunity to have solo shows regularly. They usually promote the artist's shows by cultivating collectors, making press contacts, and trying to get critical reviews. Most reputable galleries absorb the cost of printing invitations to the opening, guidebooks, and other P.R. publications. Some galleries self-publish or help to arrange publishing for art books and monographs concerning their artists. They sometimes provide a stipend or otherwise ensure the artist has enough money to make ends meet. One idiosyncrasy of contemporary art galleries is their aversion to signing business contracts, although this is changing due to artists taking more control of their output and saleability through professional practice information provided by artists' associations.

Large commercial art fairs where galleries show their best artists and sell works over a period of a week or so have taken the art world by storm in recent years. The biggest of these is the Armory Show in New York (not to be confused with the famous show by the same name in 1913), which charges admission. These fairs have been criticized by artists as over-commercializing contemporary art.

There are also many not-for-profit and art-collective galleries which follow different business models, as well as vanity galleries which prey on unsavvy artists.

Art districts

Galleries tend to cluster in certain neighborhoods within cosmopolitan cities for economic and practical reasons, mainly that it is possible for the buyers and general public to view more art if they can travel by foot. In the past galleries have tended to cluster in neighborhoods with affordable real-estate due to the unprofitable nature of the business. However in the 21st c. art galleries are strongly associated with the process of gentrification, and prime real estate for Chelsea galleries is not affordable for unprofitable galleries. Generally, cities that have less centralized art districts are faring poorly in terms of market share.

List of art districts by area name, city and country






See also

Contemporary art by country


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