What Is an Art Gallery? Everything You Need to Know

Posted by Robert Lange on

What is an art gallery? It’s a kind of display of art where people interested in it may view, admire it and make inquiries about purchasing artworks. An art gallery usually works with a certain number of artists and acts as their manager, dealing and distributing their artworks and representing and supporting the artists. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of art galleries and explain how they work. Intrigued? Read on!

What Is an Art Gallery?

First, let’s explain in detail what an art gallery is. It is an exhibition space where individuals may come, look at art, and purchase it.

Art galleries are often mistaken for art museums, despite these two being two completely different types of venues. While museums, from time to time, might want to sell one of their art pieces, they don’t display paintings, sculptures or installations to convince people to purchase them. Instead, they offer exhibitions purely with entertainment and history in mind. This also means that museums, unlike art galleries, often have a substantial part of their collections in historical art.

how does an art gallery work

How Does an Art Gallery Work?

To understand how an art gallery works, we need to divide art galleries first based on their most common types. Typically, you may find:

  • commercial art galleries,
  • mega-galleries,
  • vanity art galleries,
  • exhibition spaces,
  • artist-run galleries.

Despite having a lot in common in terms of how they operate, you will see significant differences between these different types of galleries. Therefore, we will look at each of them separately.

Commercial Art Galleries

This is the most common type of art gallery. It is also the best one for artists. Commercial galleries act as the representatives of the artists they work with, meaning that they support, promote, showcase, and distribute their works. In return, they earn a commission with the sales of each artwork, building a reasonable financial model.

Commercial art galleries are often what lets artists lead a normal life and build their careers. After all, they don’t have to worry about anything apart from creating their works.

Learn more and read: How to Get Your Work in an Art Gallery? Practical Tips

Additionally, commercial galleries have proven to be one of the favorite venues of art collectors as well. This is because they display a reasonable number of artworks and host less-known artists, meaning that collectors can find hidden gems and enrich their collections with affordable art pieces.


Mega-galleries are simply the largest commercial galleries, ones that gain national or/and international recognition, have multiple locations, and display the works of the top artists in the world.

Mega-galleries extend the way they work to advisory services. They help institutions, events, and corporations navigate the world of art.

Vanity Galleries

Vanity galleries operate on a different model than their commercial counterparts. Instead of representing the artists for a share of the price when the artworks are sold, they actually charge artists for exhibiting their work. This might be tempting, especially for beginners, however this model comes with numerous disadvantages.

Firstly, as vanity galleries don’t benefit from an artist's success, they don’t pay much attention to what works they display. This results in lower quality of the art exhibited in such venues, and smaller interest from the collectors.

Secondly, such galleries don’t need to put much effort into promoting an artist's works – they get their money anyway. This doesn’t mean that vanity galleries always don’t care, but it definitely poses such a risk. So, think twice before choosing this art gallery type as the home for your works.

Exhibition Spaces

Exhibition spaces aren’t art galleries per se, but rather DIY displays of an artist’s works. They, as the name suggests, are simply spaces rented by artists where they design their own exhibitions. The biggest downside of this model is that the artist(s) has to organize the whole display themself, including the supervision, promotion, invitation and other similar aspects of art exhibits.

Artist-Run Galleries

Sometimes, exhibition spaces evolve into full-on art galleries, known as artist-run ones. These are created by an artist or artists' collectives when there are not enough opportunities to display their artworks.

When an artist-run art gallery becomes successful, it begins to transform, slowly starting to operate like a commercial art gallery.

The Takeaway

We hope that we have dispelled your doubts and that now you know what an art gallery is and how it is different from a museum. The way how an art gallery works depends on its type, but now you should be aware of all the differences, no matter whether you are an artist or a collector – you simply can make the right choice.

If you’re an art collector, we would like to recommend one more useful article for you: Where to Buy Art? 4 Best Places to Buy Art Online

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