gallery talk: george billis
by Sophie Christiano '21
George Billis is the owner of the George Billis Gallery which has locations in New York City and Los Angeles. Having established his New York gallery in 1997, George is a veteran of navigating the gallery business and the art world. Through our conversation, I was able to gain insight into the multifaceted space that galleries occupy, often playing roles as small scale museums, luxury stores, consultants, and artist representatives.
SC: How did you develop an interest in art? When did you first get the idea that you would like to own a gallery?
GB: I was always drawing as a child, so I went to art school. My first job was working for the Cranbrook Museum of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI. At that time I thought I wanted to work at a Museum. After a year in Michigan and a very cold winter, I decided to do my graduate work at NYU in Arts Administration, so I moved to New York City to study. My first internship was working for an art gallery, and at that point I discovered that I gravitated towards sales.
SC: How did you decide what type of art you wanted to have in your gallery (in terms of style and price Range)? How do you find most of the artists that you represent?
GB: I developed a great group of friends who are artists, and one of them asked me to start a gallery and sell their artwork. At the time, the Chelsea Art District was starting to develop in Manhattan. I took a small space on the ninth Floor of an art building on 26th Street. I was the twelfth gallery to open in Chelsea in 1997. As my client base grew, it dictated what I began to show in the gallery.
SC: What percentage of a gallery’s success do you feel is due to having great art to sell vs. being great at selling?
GB: Both are very important aspects of owning a gallery. I am lucky to have an art background and this allows me to view the artwork that I show and sell in a more passionate perspective. But regardless of the artwork, having the ability to sell is an art in itself.
SC: What role do art fairs play in your business model?
GB: We do art fairs throughout the country, I feel that they are important in allowing the artists and the gallery more exposure to new markets and clients.
SC: What are some of the major business trends that you see happening in the gallery world right now?
GB: I don’t look at trends, I look at what my clients are purchasing and which artists they are supporting, this allows me to grow my business with new artists and higher price points.
SC: What types of clients do you have? Are they primarily people looking to decorate or are they people with an interest in building a collection?
GB: We have clients that own businesses and buy artwork for their corporate collections. There are clients who love to collect art and enjoy purchasing for their private collections, and we have clients who like to decorate with the artwork they purchase.
SC: Can you describe one of the more interesting projects that you have worked on?
GB: We did a commission project with one of our artists for a high profile Hollywood celebrity so that was pretty exciting.
SC: What part of your job do you find most enjoyable? What are some of the frustrations?
GB: It is frustrating dealing with clients who are indecisive, if they don’t know what they are looking for it is very hard to find them a piece of artwork. But it is a great joy when a customer purchases a piece of artwork from us. Most of our clients are return clientele, so that speaks a lot for our reputation and quality and price point of our artwork.
SC: What advice would you give a student who hopes to make a sustainable career as an artist?
GB: The greatest value is doing internships. You might discover what you want to do with your career or which direction to take it.
SC: What advice would you give to a student who hopes to work in or own a gallery? What do you think is important to be aware of when curating gallery spaces?
GB: If the gallery is not in an arts district, a high traffic area, then it will take a longer time to develop a clientele. My suggestion is to work for an art dealer first, and learn the ropes before jumping into owning an art gallery.
To learn more about current exhibitions visit the George Billis Gallery website or locations!
Insta: @georgebillisgallery @gbla
Locations: 525 West 26th Street Ground Floor, NY, NY and 2716 S. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Photo Credits: George Billis Gallery