The Differences Between Art Galleries & Art Museums

To the untrained “eye,” one may believe that art galleries and museums are one and the same. However, this is far from the truth, although there is a growing gray area between the two in the art world. They both focus on the exhibition of art, in open spaces where there are few distractions so the viewing public can focus on the aesthetic qualities of the exhibits. This is often where the similarities end. Let’s break down some of the major differences between the two, and discuss where there are commonalities.

Art Gallery

Sales. Art galleries are historically organized and designed to sell the art they exhibit. As art galleries are usually small businesses, the money earned from selling art is used to run the business itself. There is not generally a fee to visit the art gallery, as the purpose is to encourage visitors to purchase works of it.

Artists. Galleries may have fluctuating exhibits, showcasing an artist or art from a geographic or cultural region, and may rotate that with a more predictable stable of artists.

Focus on Certain Style.
Galleries focus on a genre, mood, or style of art, and choose artists whose works fit into the character.

Service. Since the art gallery’s goal is to sell artwork and build customer relationships, the attention given to visitors reflects the SALES atmosphere of the business. Curators and salespeople are there to help you choose pieces  for your collection, and are willing to guide you through the process of selecting, purchasing, shipping, and displaying your new pieces.

Art Museum

Sales. Although museums hold thousands of pieces of art (much of it held in storage), most museum trade association ban the sale of art (called “deaccession”) by museums. The Association of Art Museum Directors (a leading museum association) has blacklisted museums caught selling art. This traditional philosophy has been challenged in recent years, and there is a growing theory that museums should be allowed to participate in the art world market.

Artists. Museums have permanent exhibits, often well-known (dare we say “famous”?) artists whose works draw visitors in. They may also participate in traveling, visiting, and changing exhibitions focusing on a specific artist, region, culture, or event.

Focus on certain style.
Museums can also have a specific focus (style, artists from geographic area, purpose), and their curators and directors choose the pieces they want to be displayed. Museums are often defined by the collections they display. Seen as non-profit public institutions, museums are maintained for public benefit, and subscribe to a mission statement written by the founders. Additionally, most museums strive for accreditation, which gives a quality and seriousness, and a sort of recognition.

Service. There is an educational quality to most museums. With an overall goal of preserving and encouraging appreciation of art in the local community, museums are known for providing educational content to its visitors, members, and even children. There is a philanthropic feeling surrounding a museum and its leadership.

The New Similarities between Art Galleries and Art Museums

There are changes to be found in the world of art galleries. There is a rise in larger  galleries which are striving to match the grandeur (space and funding) to be found in classical museums, and like the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, displaying museum-quality pieces. As private foundations’ collections grow, so is the appeal to commission works which rival museums in terms of quality and scale. How this trend will affect deaccession remains to be seen.