What Is the Difference Between an Art Gallery and an Art Museum?

Dulwich Picture Gallery, Photo by Oli Scarff © Getty Images
Old Master paintings on view in Dulwich Picture Gallery, which celebrates its bicentenary on January 4, 2011 in London. England’s first public art gallery, was founded in 1811 by Sir Francis Bourgeois who bequeathed his collection of old master paintings. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

An art gallery and an art museum are both places to go see and experience art. Galleries and museums share some characteristics, such as the artworks are typically shown in pristine empty rooms or vast spaces with minimal distraction and controlled lighting to showcase the exhibited art. This controlled setting allows the public to engage with the art in a specially-created aesthetic environment.

Despite these obvious similarities about exhibiting the art work, there are some major differences between an art gallery and an art museum.

Galleries do not charge admission, while museums often do. Why is that?

What Is an Art Gallery?

An art gallery is a small business that sells the art it exhibits. So the profits made from sales will cover the operating costs to run that business. An art gallery also has a stable of artists unified by some criteria such as tone or feeling of the artworks; a common background of the artists; or a shared style, technique, medium or similar outlook.

For example, some galleries may only specialize in contemporary art, while others will only show landscape painting. A gallery typically has a monthly exhibition, promoting it with print ads and phone calls to potential collectors and the press, and hosting an art opening. Galleries become a brand representing a certain aesthetic point of view.

Ultimately, though, the art gallery is in the business to promote its artists and sell their artworks. The gallery staff will also spend considerable time with potential clients in educating them about their stable of artists.

Please do not be confused when an exhibition space is named a gallery, when in fact, it functions ​like a museum.

What Is an Art Museum?

Art museums usually have permanent collections or endowments, charge entrance admission, and do not try to sell the artworks on a regular basis. (Note: When a museum sells an artwork, it is called deaccession.)

Museums often have permanent collections, but some do not. Most museums charge admission, but that is not a constant.

Art museums adhere to the mission statement set forth by the founders. A museum is a non-profit institution and may be private or public. In the UK, most public museums are typically named Galleries rather than Museums.

Many museums will try to receive museum accreditation from an organization such as the American Alliance of Museums; such accreditation provides strict guidelines for a museum to follow.

A board of directors and trustees oversee the museum, while an appointed director and a hired staff of curators, registrars, conservators, handlers, security, administrators and other arts professionals take care of the daily operations. Museums receive grants, donations, gifts and endowments, and also publish annual reports.

Find Your Next Job

Job Search by