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Do you want to show your art in a gallery but can’t seem to get in the door?
The art world can be difficult to navigate without a guide.
I want to share what I know about how to achieve gallery representation, and how to keep it, because this seems to be one of the biggest questions that I’m asked, and I’m asked it all the time.
Now, before we begin, I want you to remember that art galleries are not the be all and end all of selling your art. There are many, many other opportunities out there, so don’t get hung up on just showing in a gallery, and getting into the gallery that you want could be a long-term goal.
So be patient and build your career, and build your audience.
With that end result in mind, you’ll get there.
That said, here are my top seven tips for art gallery representation.
2. Find the gallery that fits your work.
The very first thing an artist should do is research.
Just because a gallery sells art doesn’t mean they should sell your art.
A gallerist is usually a creative person, too. And they have their own aesthetic, their own interest, their own focus, their own audience.
Doing your research means finding out which galleries make the most sense for your work and your career goals.In fact, gallery directors are always complaining to me how many artists waste their time by not doing their research.
It’s quite annoying.
2. Develop a relationship with that gallery.
That means signing up for their mailing list, following them on social media, going to their events and finding out what it is they need that you could give.
I recommend showing up at the gallery events more than once. Go all the time if you can. Have business cards with you, challenge yourself to have at least three conversations with people while you’re there.
And this is important. Be sure to treat everybody like they’re potentially your next client.
Because you never know. By judging people, you could be missing out on what the whole relationship-building thing is all about.
And listen, art world decision-makers get hammered with requests all the time. But by being part of the gallery’s tribe, by supporting them, you’re getting to know the people who live in the sphere of decision-maker.
When I had a gallery and I looked seriously at a new artist, it was almost always because someone in my sphere told me about their work.
3. Know how to speak about your art.
The best way to do this is to make sure that your art is about something.
If your work is just about self-expression or my personal feelings, I suggest that you dig deeper.
Now, writing your artist statement helps. It helps you form your ideas. It helps you put language to them.
I remember I once introduced an artist to a collector, and she asked him, “what’s your work about any?”. And he mumbled, “I used to work in acrylics, but now I work in oil”. Seriously?
That’s all he said.
She was actually insulted, and I didn’t blame her. There was nowhere for that conversation to go.
Now, many artists will tell me, “I don’t like to talk about my work” or “my work explains itself”, but it doesn’t.
Your work doesn’t speak for itself. You need to give people a place to come into it.
A lot of people don’t have the education, the ways of seeing. We do.
And the best way to sell art is to have a story for it. The story can be technical, emotional,
inspirational, historical, anecdotal, or even political. Just make it about something more than just your own feelings.
Now, if you don’t know where to start in talking about your work, or in writing your artist statement, for that matter, I do go deeper into these topics in The Working Artist Masterclass. Just saying.
And like I said, the best way to sell art and attract professional opportunities is to share your story.
The artists who’ve worked with me understand this, and they’ve really been able to move their careers forward by reframing their narrative.
4. Follow submission guidelines to the letter.
Once you’ve established a relationship, find out what the gallery’s submission policies are.
And I know as artists, we always like to break the rules, but don’t break the rules on submission policies.
Now, as far as your submission materials, make sure that your presentation is professional. It’s important to have high quality cropped images that include the work’s title and dimensions listed correctly.
Have your biography, your CV or resume, and your artist statement ready. You’ve got to have your own website, too. It’s expected as a sign that you take your work seriously.
And if the words presentation materials, biography, website and CV have got your head spinning in a panic, don’t worry, I can help. The Working Artist Masterclass covers all these topics and so much more, so that you can apply to any gallery or any opportunity, really, with confidence that you’re putting your best foot forward
5. Expect to bring your audience with you.
An artist should always be building their own audience. You have to be filling the gallery with people, too. You can’t just expect the galleries to do it.
Just as hard as the gallery works to bring people in, you’re expected to work to bring people in. Remember, a gallery relationship is a partnership.Both partners are expected to give.
In fact, I went to a gallery opening recently where the room was packed and the artist was basking in the glory. But the gallerist was furious.
He told me that it was he who invited every single person there. The artist hadn’t done anything.
No matter how many sales happened that night, I knew that artist was not going to be invited
back again and that a reputation had been ruined.
Now, again, if you don’t know how to build an audience, this is a big part of the working Artist Master class. It’s that important.
6. Understand the commission structure.
Artists are often complaining to me about having to pay a gallery 40, 50, 60%, but I think that’s really the wrong way to look at it.
A gallery, If they’re doing their job right, they’re not taking anything away from you. They’re bringing you clients and sales that you wouldn’t already have.
So pay your commission gratefully.
However, when you do sign with the gallery, you want to use your contract negotiations to hammer out what a gallery is going to do for you and what you’re going to give in return.
There’s lots of details to pay attention to. They might cost you money, so don’t give your power away.
And yes, I cover contract negotiations in The Working Artist Masterclass, but you probably already knew that.
7. Remember that failure is never permanent.
Failing to get into a gallery just means that it didn’t work out this time.
There are other galleries in the world, and sometimes there’s other opportunities with the same galleries, but sometimes you have to fail a lot before you succeed.
So just focus on failing better. Don’t take it personally, and don’t quit.
Figure out what went wrong, what you could do better, and repeat.
If you’ve presented yourself professionally throughout the submission process, you might very well find out that a closed door now will transform into an open door later.
Art world decision makers like gallerists, for example, appreciate professionalism, and they will remember it, whether that’s for a future opportunity with them, a different opportunity altogether, or if it’s simply professional respect.
By always putting your best foot forward, you will ensure that you are on the best path forward.
I hope you found these tips helpful.
I share them because I’ve spent my career working in and around the world of contemporary art.
I have sold literally millions of dollars in art to galleries all around the world.
I’ve worked as an art broker, an art gallerist, an art curator, an art critic, and I’m an artist myself.
Today, I’m committed to helping my fellow artists like you to create a thriving practice.
If you’d like to learn more, join The Working Artist Masterlass.
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