Valérie Santerli never imagined that she would run an art gallery, let alone two of them. But when his boss and mentor Robin Rule passed away in 2013, Santerli decided to continue running the business. Almost eight years later, she spends over 60 hours a week managing Rule Gallery’s two locations in Denver and Marfa, with just a few employees to share the load.
Business is good, but not necessarily great. As customers cut checks to help keep the gallery lights on during the pandemic, Santerli said his salary remained at around $ 20,000 with an annual bonus that depended on income from sales. Given the scale of her operation, she expected that number to shock some readers.
“People have the false impression that all gallery owners are independently wealthy and that everyone has a private jet,” Santerli told Artnet News. “If our salaries in the art world were more transparent, that would be telling for most people. We do this because we love art, not because it can pay off our mortgages. “
Dreams of becoming the next Larry Gagosian are elusive for most gallery owners, crushed by the realities of a field that has historically rewarded male bravado, secrecy, and inherited wealth (or proximity).
Perhaps for these reasons, demands for pay transparency in the commercial art world have remained largely unrecognized by professional organizations representing the industry, and there is little data on the amount of money a gallery owner can expect. get over the course of a career.
Last month, Artnet News interviewed over 300 gallery owners about the economics of their operations: details about their pay scales, responsibilities, demographics and personal stories. What emerges from these data, collected via an anonymous survey of professionals from 28 countries, is a portrait of an industry still struggling to define what equality means in a year that has seen both a pandemic downturn and a market come back to life.
Over 100 survey respondents identified themselves as gallery managers, the majority of whom earned over $ 100,000, with some top earners reaching into the millions. By comparison, those who identified as gallery assistants hit a cap of $ 35,000, about 30% lower than researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. to define as a living wage in New York State. Over a 40-hour week, the sum is less than $ 17 an hour.
Only a minority of gallery owners said their employer offered overtime pay (13%) or a bonus (30%). Benefits like maternity leave (37 percent) and family leave (26 percent) were also scarce.
“The art market is a luxury business and it’s incredibly privileged,” said Sarah Murkett, founder of art recruiting firm Murk & Co. “It can often be a toxic environment and an environment where the basic needs of employees are not met. ”
Despite its status as an established luxury market, shopping malls lack consistency when it comes to executive salaries. Analysis of data from more than 200 respondents who describe themselves as owners, directors and associates found that the average salary was around $ 90,000.
A closer look at this data suggests that a small number of very high-earning dealers are at the top of the pay scale, while the rest earn much less. The median salary of those who identified as owner, manager or partner was around $ 65,000, while mode – the number that appeared most often in the dataset – was much lower, at 10,000 $. (Respondents who reported their salaries between zero and $ 10,000 said their income was generally tied to the sales commission rather than salary.)
This gap demonstrates the volatility of wages in the art world. In fact, when it comes to running their own businesses, many gallery owners – especially those who are sole proprietors – have said that they typically reinvest their income back into their business with the bare minimum going towards living expenses. .
Allegra LaViola, owner and director of Sargent’s Daughters in New York City, is among those who do not pay themselves a fixed salary. “If I don’t really have the money, I pile it all on a credit card,” she says. “The honest answer is that for many years, that’s a lot of credit card debt, alternating with times of prosperity and then more credit card debt.”
When Max Marshall started his career as a gallery owner in New York City in 2011, he was working for what he described as a cartoonish angry boss who sometimes threw things at employees. His work as assistant to Douglas Baxter, the president of Pace who recently resigned of his post following an investigation of alleged misconduct, was difficult but instructive.
“I’ve learned to have a high tolerance for difficulty and to work in high stress situations,” said Marshall, 33, now owner of Deli Gallery. (He started the business as a side project five years ago while working for Matthew Marks.) “The support staff from my time at Pace later became my network of resellers and curators.”
Working at Pace ten years ago, Marshall said he earned a base salary of $ 40,000; with overtime, that amount rose to about $ 65,000.
Becoming a director of your own gallery hasn’t really changed those numbers, although earnings are doubling every year. This is because most of Marshall’s income goes directly to the business; he estimated the construction costs for its new Tribeca location, scheduled to open this summer, to be around $ 100,000. He described his take-home pay as “whatever my rent, probably between $ 40,000 and $ 50,000”.
“It’s scary to know that there is no safety net,” admitted Marshall. But having to build Deli Gallery from scratch has also helped him empathize with the young artists he represents and learn more about all aspects of running a gallery. In addition, it reinforced his commitment to changing attitudes about the way the art world does business.
“I want to stop this cycle of toxic work environments,” he said, “and I predict my gallery and those of my peers will break this cycle.”
Murkett, the executive recruiter, hopes to be a part of this change. In addition to ongoing recruitment into the art world, she also wants to find out “how to actually grow my business to help art businesses build an infrastructure to better support people.” Lately I’ve been talking a lot about EQ – emotional intelligence – companies actually need to be more human.
Is change happening?
The historical lack of infrastructure supporting cultural workers has become, in recent years, the source of scandals, unionization, and change. Museums and some mega-galleries, like Pace, have relied on external consultants to provide solutions, which have so far involved more training in sensitivity than overhauling institutional hierarchies. These hierarchies likely impact pay equity in the commercial art world, which is drastically divided by geography and race.
In a large arts center like New York City, you can expect the average executive salary to be around $ 180,000 with a median value of $ 140,000. Outside of cultural destinations like Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London, these numbers drop by almost 70%. Regional galleries around the world earn an average salary of around $ 55,000 with a median response of $ 50,000, according to our results.
Of the 288 respondents to our survey who identified their race, 85% identified themselves as white. This ratio increased when considering executive level employees, nearly 93% of whom identified as white. This data correlates with what we hear from professional organizations in the sector. For example, the Association of Art Dealers of America (ADAA) has nearly 180 members; only two are galleries owned by blacks.
Survey data also indicates a pay gap between men and women in managerial positions. The average salary of executives who identified as women was just under $ 80,000, while men reported a salary 30% higher, at $ 110,000. There was not enough information to sufficiently analyze the wage disparity between white and non-white merchants.
Another’s figures recent poll about 170 arts workers in Los Angeles, meanwhile, paint an even worse picture. The average annual income of all respondents was less than $ 37,000, lower than the LA County Living Wage, which was around $ 40,000. Administrators in the arts of color reported their revenues to be closer to $ 32,000; white employees earned about 35% more than their peers, at $ 43,000.
With figures so low, some gallery owners have asked why professional organizations in the industry have not come to study salaries. The ADAA, for example, said it had not collected any data on wages, although a spokesperson pointed to a recent COVID-19 investigation This shows that US dealers are forecasting an overall gross revenue loss of 73% in the second quarter of 2020 after a loss of 31% in the previous quarter. A follow-up survey is also underway with more cost-effective information on galleries, their staff and contractors.
Yet grim prospects of financial security continue to weigh on the industry, convincing some gallery owners to quit when they are young – which could lead to a brain drain similar to that already underway in the field of museums.
“This industry is so elitist,” said a Washington, DC gallery assistant. “I’m tired of barely being able to pay my rent while working for toxic institutions.”
To pursue Artnet news on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news, eye-opening interviews and cutting-edge reviews that keep the conversation going.