If you’re an emerging or mid-career artist you might be asking yourself, ‘How do art galleries work? How can I find art gallery representation?’
While some artists seem to find art gallery representation easily, they are the exceptions, not the rule. The truth is, it’s difficult to gain gallery representation, but you can learn how to approach galleries and how to sell paintings through galleries yourself if you have the focus and drive.
Today I’ll share what I’ve learned about how art galleries work. You’ll discover the steps you should take before submitting work to a gallery, how the process works, and whether or not you should be considering a co-op gallery.
So how do you get into an art gallery?
Art galleries are often held as the holy grail for artists because the most frequent question I’m asked is, ‘how do art galleries work?’
While every gallery may have a slightly different process for representing new artists, there are some timeless rules about approaching art galleries that you should adhere to to give yourself the best chance for success.
Create a portfolio of your art
The first thing you’ll need to know when learning how to approach art galleries is that you’ll need to have a portfolio ready. Your portfolio is one of your most important sales tools.
Your portfolio should include images of your best work that shows off your style and demonstrates what you’re capable of creating. It should be cohesive and up to date. It’s not a “Museum to You,” it’s a collection of your recent stuff that represents the best of your craft.
Don’t just show up at a gallery with your portfolio
How do art galleries work? Don’t find out the hard way! It’s important to approach art galleries the right way, which means not just showing up unannounced with your portfolio in hand. Though many artists try it, this just isn’t a good route to get into a gallery, it’s not how the art world works.
While there’s nothing stopping you from going in to check out an art gallery to see whether it might be a good fit for your work, save the shop talk for when you have a scheduled appointment. Gallerists are busy people who are defensive of their time and energy.
Know where your art fits inside the art world
Understanding how to sell paintings to art galleries requires you to know where your art sits inside the art world. There’s no use approaching art galleries that only represent abstract artists if you’re a surrealist artist for example.
Start by visiting your local art galleries and having a look at the types of artists they represent. Would your art look in place? You’ll be asking yourself that in terms of the aesthetic, the medium, the subject matter and the price. If yes, add the gallery to your shortlist so that you can follow up with them later.
It’s never a bad idea to introduce yourself to the gallery owner or manager, but keep things light. Focus on building a genuine relationship rather than launching into your elevator pitch. Relationships go a long way in the art world, and more often than not the success of an artist depends on the quality of their relationships.
Reach out at an appropriate time
Once you have a shortlist of some galleries you’d like to approach, you can reach out and see if they’re interested in your work. First, check out their website to see if they have posted their submission policy. Otherwise, send an email or a snail mail or, if you’re feeling brave enough, pick up the phone. Let the gallery know why you think your art is a good match for their gallery.
Demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to learn about the gallery and whatever you do, don’t send a copy and pasted email pitch to every gallery you contact. By showing the gallery that you know a bit about the artists they already represent, you can demonstrate that you’re not looking to work with just any old gallery.
Be sure to include a link to your online portfolio in your email, or if you decide to call, let the gallery owner know you will follow up with your portfolio.
What about a co-op gallery?
A co-op gallery is a self-organized space by a group of artists where they can jointly present their art. Typically, artists are charged some kind of fee to display their work in a co-op gallery. Depending on the co-op gallery, as a member you may be expected to work there on a regular basis as well.
There are both pros and cons to showing your art in co-op galleries. Here’s a brief overview:
- If you’re in your early career ,co-op galleries can be a great way to get your art out there
- Co-op galleries provide an opportunity to learn the sales side of the art business
- Co-op galleries can provide a sense of community and you will get to meet and work with other artists in the co-op gallery
Lower barrier to entry means that oftentimes the work is inconsistent. You could be showing your art with the best artists in town along with artists who are at a very early stage of their journey
- Having to work at the co-op gallery takes you away from studio time, a downside for many artists
Wrapping it up
With this information, you should feel more clear about how art galleries work. There are many different kinds of galleries, so do your research.
A co-op gallery can be a good place to gain some experience, but you may not want to stay there. Developing good relationships with galleries whose artists align with your work is a great place to start.
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