The term relates to public and private institutions. Public galleries are non-profit or public museums displaying selected art collections. Private galleries refer to commercial enterprises for selling art. However, both types may host traveling exhibits or temporary exhibitions including art borrowed from elsewhere.
In broad terms, in North American usage, the word gallery alone often implies a private gallery, while a public gallery is likely an art museum. In British and Commonwealth usage, the word gallery alone implies a public gallery, which is distinguished from a private or commercial gallery, and the word museum alone is understood to refer to institutions holding collections of historic, archaeological or scientific artefacts, rather than fine art.
The rooms in museums where art is displayed for the public are often referred to as galleries as well, with a room dedicated to Ancient Egyptian art often being called the Egyptian Gallery, for example.
The term contemporary art gallery refers to a private for-profit commercial gallery. These galleries are found clustered together in large urban centers. Smaller cities are home to at least one gallery, but they may also be found in towns or villages, and remote areas where artists congregate, e.g. the Taos art colony and St Ives, Cornwall.
Contemporary art galleries are often open to the general public without charge; however, some are semi-private. They profit by taking a portion of art sales; twenty-five to fifty per cent is typical. There are also many non-profit or collective galleries. Some galleries in cities like Tokyo charge the artists a flat rate per day, though this is considered distasteful in some international art markets. Galleries often hang solo shows. Curators often create group shows with a message about a certain theme, trend in art, or group of associated artists. Galleries sometimes choose to represent exclusive artists, giving them opportunities for regular shows.