Updated: Dec 5, 2018
As I begin anxiously thinking about our 2020 calendar and my own experience as a painter and a gallerist, I thought it would be helpful to artists to make a WHAT TO DO list.
Approaching a gallery whether by e-mail or in person can seem like a daunting task for a young artist. While it is possible to go at it alone, a dedicated gallery can be supportive to your career. The right gallery can free up your time to make the art, they can act as a supporter/ sounding board while you develop your work, a public platform for your work, and a possible source of income.
What to do when approaching a gallery for an exhibition or representation:
1. Please DO NOT show up unannounced.
This is no longer appropriate and can be extremely off-putting. It catches people off guard and I know I wouldn’t be able to give you a very detailed review/critique of your work.
2. Make an appointment if you plan on coming to the gallery to show work or better yet, send an invite to your studio to see your work in person (see #8).
I have experience both as an artist, educator, and gallerist. I would be happy to look at your work and give an honest critique (especially for emerging artists that seek feedback). This is my personal protocol as an artist-run gallery/ former educator and often this is not possible at other galleries.
3. Send Professional e-mails.
I am old school when it comes to sending professional e-mails. I really appreciate a professional header (Dear x) and a sincerely or thank you at the end. Check for punctuation and grammar as well. If you do not address the gallery personally at the header of your e-mail they will take it as you are sending generic e-mails to every gallery and they happen to be on your list. Personalize! Take the time to look at their website and the exhibitions they have had in the past. Mention a favorite artist they may have shown or how you think you would fit into their programming and vision.
Follow directions if a gallery has a specific way they accept work. If they do not accept submissions – do not send them one! The ability to follow directions will give the gallery a good idea of what it will be like to work with you and how professional you will be.
4. What to send in your email.
Follow directions if the gallery has a specific way they would like your materials. Otherwise make it as easy as possible for the gallery to review your work.
When addressing a gallery I usually write an opening paragraph introducing myself and mentioning specifics about the gallery I am applying to. I also am sure to thank the gallery for their time and consideration.
I also include:
- 6-10 (72 dpi jpgs no larger than 2-3 MB) of current work (label images lastname_01)
-Image List corresponding with file titles (including prices)
-Artist Statement & Bio
-Link to Website/ Social Media
-Brief proposal (if applicable)
-Full Contact Info
5. Attend Openings.
If you live in the area, make an attempt to come to our openings. Introduce yourself and get to know our artists and gallery. It goes a long way when I know you have made an attempt to see our space and attend the openings in support of other artists.
6. Continue to develop your work.
-Maintain an active studio practice
-Find a job that is adjacent to the art world (if possible)
7. Maintain an online presence.
I often discover artists I would like to work with randomly on IG, stalk them for a while, and eventually send them a private message if I really want to work with them. I want to see that an artist maintains a professional website that is up to date and easy to navigate.
8. Connect with other Artists.
Word of mouth and artist connections are important. I will often exhibit artists that have been recommended to me by other artists. Showing an unknown artist without any known referrals can be a risky thing for a gallery. We have no idea how they will be to work with.
Keep in contact with close friends and mentors you made while in school, attend residencies where you can meet new artists, participate in group shows, attend openings regularly and try to be social.
9. Open your Studio
Have an open studio night and send out invites via e-mail or postcards (I still love getting artist’s postcards in the mail). I also love seeing artist’s studio and talking to them about their work. It can be difficult, opening such an intimate space up to the public but it can be an important part of further engaging your audience. It is a place where process can be seen first-hand and where future directions and possibilities can be imagined, and dialogue about the artist’s intentions can happen.
10. Speak confidently about your work.
This cannot only help you develop rapport with a gallerist but it can also help in building relationships with possible clients as well. Learn to speak fluently and self-assuredly about your process and intentions. Be aware and able to speak of where your art falls in the cannon and what your historic and contemporary influences are. Be comfortable talking but do not be overly wordy either, strive for a good back-and-forth conversation.
11. Stay visible and patient.
I have had my fair share of rejections and know first hand how it can feel. Keep going! Be sure to leave your studio and attend openings, share information with fellow artists, and be open to showing your work in any platform.
There are many galleries out there and it will take time to find a good relationship and fit. Taking the time to develop the right relationship is worth the effort!