Over the past few years I've be victim to, heard of and witnessed some very bad experineces artists have had with galleries. Rather than name names and vent I thought I'd be a bit more grown up about it all and compile some useful tips that I've learnt along the way.
• When renting a gallery space for an exhibition make sure you get everything in writing, from what is expected of both the artist and the gallery. This includes costing, promotion, opening hours and timeframes. If you don't get anything in writing from the gallery send them an email after each meeting or phone call stating what was discussed. This way if there is any dispute such as cost of hire you have a paper trail.
• Check all artwork thoroughly before leaving the gallery with it or when it arrives in your possession, if there is any damage bring it up with them straight away.
• If you feel hard done by, by a gallery you do have rights, however this does heavily rely on my first point about having everything in writing and having proof. In Australia you have ACCC and art associations that you can turn to. Though in all cases I recommend speaking with the gallery owners first to find a suitable resolution.
• Know what to expect from the gallery, look at how they conduct other exhibitions. What do they do to promote them? Talk to other artists about their experiences with the gallery. Ask questions.
• Make sure they are open when they say they'll be, drop in every so often or make a phone call during your exhibition.
• Be upfront with your expectations, so that you've no nasty surprises for the gallery.
• If the gallery has done everything that it promised to do then you cannot take out a poor sales result on them. Though should you have a poor sales result and the gallery did not meet the expectations outlined in the meetings then yes, do present them with your concerns, but do be clear that it is not about poor sales, but about the poor quality of service.
• Above all when you have a good gallery experience let the gallery know.