Maybe I am always getting the wrong impression - but (in this, as well as it seems, many other posts on almost all forums when this issue arises) there seems to be an anti-gallery or sour grapes flavor to most responses. A gallerys primary purpose is to sell the work on their walls and turn a profit. Why? So they can keep their doors open to make more work available for sale, etc., etc., etc.
Anyone that has mounted and "properly promoted" an exhibition knows the cost. If not, then maybe they should budget one out to gain an understanding of what is involved. A gallery that believes in your work and is willing to agressively represent the work makes an investment in time, resourses and $'s before and after the work is shown. The mistake many photographers make (as was mentioned) is thinking that all gallerys are the same and follow the same procedures. A "good" gallery knows their market. They know who buys the type of work they choose to show and why. Its the reason some of them might insist on limited editions and others could care less. Gallerys that do not understand their clients dont last very long.
The next time you go to an opening at a well run gallery (successful) realize that the owners are happy that you came and added to the numbers of warm bodies, but the people that they are most happy to see are those people that are there to buy and it was the reason they were invited. And I have yet to hear a photographer complain when a gallery has managed to sell their work for top dollar and create continued interest in their work.
A museums job is to show work - a gallerys job to sell work.
WRT the Houston photography show that Jorge mentioned, it is called Foto Fest. It is held in the month of March and only happens on the even ending years. So, March, 2004 is the next time. The city of Houston is given over to photography for the month. All the galleries and Museums all show photography for the month of March. There a lot of openings to attend that are pretty neat. Some of the work is ok some is great some I will not comment on. Rice University hosts the print review for 2 or 3 weeks. This is a pretty exciting thing. It always sells out. But if you can get in, then you get to show your portfolio to several of the reviewers there. These reviewers come from the galleries and museums and industry critics. A. D. Coleman has been there a time or two. Magazine photo editors are generally there also. These people are invited from all over the world. You have about 45 minutes to show your work and listen to their comments then the bell rings and you take your stuff to the next reviewer on your list and then you do that again and the morning section is over. It is a lottery system that is set up so that everyone gets a chance at their favorite reviewer. It is not perfect but works pretty well. There are lots of portfolios to look at in the lobby. In some of the big hotel bars the reviewers can be talked into looking at your stuff for the measly price of a drink or two. It is photography all the time. I have never been there during the week but on the weekends there is a lot of people. Several careers have been made at this gathering.
I think that there is something like this in Portland but I have no information on this one.
I did not detect any disdain for the galleries in this thread. No anti-gallery flavor here. Maybe I am reading it wrong. I love galleries. The major ones here in Fort Worth seem to be jewelry shops. At one time I had a rep in Carmel, CA. I supplied them with work and they sold one print in 18 months. My guy got fired and I lost my contact. The new gallery manager told me that after reviewing the previous sales or rather lack there of, they were dropping me and they sent everything back at their expense. I still have the option of sending more and different work and they have the option of accepting or declining it. I have better luck selling on my own. Plus, I don't have to give up half to the sales commission. However, all that said, if a really good gallery approached me and offered a good deal I would take it most likely.