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Top US-Based Sales Directors at Commercial Galleries Make Up to $425,000 Annually, According to New Report

Sophie Macpherson Ltd., a recruitment firm specializing in job placements in the art world with locations in London, New York, and Los Angeles, has published a new report looking at salaries across the art market in the UK and the US.

Nothing that “the art world is still notoriously opaque when it comes to disclosing details about pay, promotions, and opportunities,” the report compiles data, spanning January to December 2022, from the salary packages that the firm negotiated during that time frame as well as the budgets supplied to the firm during the recruitment process. The data was supplemented with a survey “to individuals across our core specialisms who were selected from an active database of over 15,000 candidates, as well as our growing network,” according to the report, which is accessible on the company’s website.

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“We have used predominantly our professional data which marries employer budgets with candidate expectations. It is a smaller data set, but it means we were able to paint a real-life picture of the state of play regarding pay and salaries in both the UK and US,” Rosie Allan, SML’s managing director, said in an emailed interview. “We realized as a business we are sitting on a wealth of insights, most pressingly on salaries/remuneration, that would benefit a wider audience from current and prospective clients to candidates both inside and outside the industry.”

The report breaks down salary ranges for various job levels in nine different categories: auction houses (business functions and specialists), commercial galleries (sales and non-sales), art advisory firms, art fairs, artist studios, communications agencies, and “alternative art world & arts technology.”

The ranges reported are based on positions’ base salaries and don’t take into account commission percentages, bonuses, and other benefits that are common for sales directors at galleries, auction house specialists, art advisors, and art fair directors.

Across the board, in both the most senior and junior of roles, the top range of salaries in the US outrank those in the UK, even as the pound has regained its strength in the past several months.

Courtesy Sophie Macpherson Ltd

Per the report’s data, the highest earners across the art market are senior sales directors and partners at commercial galleries. In the US, a senior sales director can make anywhere between $225,000 and $425,000, while in the UK, the range for the same position is £213,000–£250,000 (or about $265,000–$312,000). A partner at a US gallery can make in excess of $400,000; data for a partner in the UK was not provided.

An interesting comparison noted in the report’s “Commission & Bonus Structures” section are two case studies for sales directors, both identified as working at mid-size galleries. The London-based director had a base salary of £100,000 ($125,000) and an annual sales target of £5 million ($6.2 million), while a Los Angeles–based director had a base salary of $160,000 and a sales target of $5 million and a guaranteed first-year bonus of $40,000. Both directors would receive a 5-percent commission based on “net profit on primary market sales of artworks by artists represented by the gallery”; the London director, however, would get 10 percent for secondary market works consigned to the gallery, with the LA director still receiving 5 percent.

Sophie Macpherson Ltd

On the non-sales side, the report provided salary ranges for over a dozen positions in both the US and UK, with communications directors and finance directors being the most well-paid in both markets. In the US, an artist liaison or exhibitions director is typically better compensated ($103,000–$213,000) than their UK counterparts (£40,000–£85,000 or about $50,000–$106,000).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a gallery assistant, typically those sitting at the front desk when you enter a gallery, can make between £23,000–£30,000 ($28,700–$37,400) in the UK and $40,000–$70,000 in the US. A sales assistant, the lowest position on a sales team, makes slightly more: £28,000–£40,000 ($35,000–$50,000) in the UK and $43,000–$70,000 in the US.

The ranges at auction houses, however, were much closer in the US and the UK. For example, a UK business director can make anywhere between £50,000–£130,000 ($62,000–$162,000), while a US-based on could make between $90,000–$180,000. Similarly, an executive assistant based in the UK could potentially out-earn their counterparts in the US, with the salary ranges being £45,000–£60,000 ($56,000–$74,000) and $48,000–$70,000, respectively.

On the specialist side, the disparity was once again quite large: a senior vice president in the US (the highest title reported) can expect to make at least $350,000, while a senior director in the UK (the equivalent level, per the date reported) can make at least £130,000 ($162,000).

Sophie Macpherson Ltd

“Most ranges met our expectations,” Allan said. “We have, since release, found readers are interested in the parity between the UK and US at auction [houses]. We believe this is down to the fact that a lot of auction houses we work with are international.”

Allan also noted that the disparity in pay discrepancies between similar roles in the US and UK might be deceiving. “Where there are disparities like this, we have to consider that job title shifts and salary adjustments might happen at different times in the US vs the UK,” she said. “Where someone might have an effective promotion in terms of title in the US, someone in the UK may stay in one role/job title for longer, not necessarily moving up in terms of job title but with their salary increasing in step with seniority/remit.”

A surprising data point, which is only hinted at in the final report, Allan said was “the increase in hiring activity in the US outside NYC,” which clocked in at a 200-percent increase with “much of this growth is focused in Los Angeles.” Since early 2022, just ahead the third edition of Frieze LA, numerous galleries have announced expansion plans to the city.

The firm said it plans to release a new salary report every two years, with the hope that future reports will include data for roles in markets outside the US and UK, as the firm continues to grow. Asia, with an emphasis on Seoul, Taipei, and Singapore (cities that now boast art fairs), is a major focus as “galleries and advisory firms [look] to expand and capitalize on opportunity,” as is mainland Europe, post-Brexit.   

Conversations around pay transparency in the art world came front and center in 2019, when a Google spreadsheet titled “Art/Museum Salary Transparency 2019” began circulating online. Though much of that data was self-reported and focused predominantly on salaries in the art world’s nonprofit side (as opposed to the market side in the SML report), it helped generate a major conversation around pay in the art world.

Similarly, SML said one reason that they compiled the report was because of the recent law that went into effect in New York City last year requiring that job postings list salary ranges.

Allan said, “With pay transparency front of mind, we saw this report as an excellent opportunity to set the ball rolling on sharing helpful information and 20 years of expert knowledge related to key issues in employment/talent development.”

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