Whether you’re a professional or a hobbyist, most artists dream of seeing their work hung in a gallery and being the star of the show’s opening night. While art is all around us, landing a gallery show can be mystifying. Who do you talk to? What should you expect? How do gallery owners decide what shows to put on? How does the show actually happen once they say yes?
To help take some of the mystery out of the process, we reached out to our friends at 15th Street Gallery in Boulder, Colorado and asked them for a few tips that could help hopeful artists land a gallery show.
1. Choose your gallery wisely
Not all galleries are the right fit for every artist. When you’re shopping your show, it’s important to research the galleries you approach.
Read about the gallery you’re interested in online. What kind of art or artists do they specialize in? How often do they change shows? How far in advance is their show calendar booked? Do they accept artist shows or are they strictly curated? If you can’t find this information online, call the gallery and talk to the curator.
Next, visit the gallery if you’re local or look at photos online. Does the gallery look like it has the space and proper aesthetic to compliment your art? There’s no point in approaching a gallery that will clash with your work.
Having this information beforehand will keep you from pitching your show to a gallery that isn’t a good fit for your art or that simply doesn’t put on artist shows.
2. Know your priorities … and the gallery’s
Another important aspect of selecting, being selected by, and working with the right gallery is to make sure your priorities and goals align. Do you want to sell or simply display your art? Does the gallery sell or just display art? If you’re interested in selling art, how much commission are you comfortable with and how much does the gallery take?
Once you’ve identified your priorities and found galleries with the same intention, carefully curate a custom portfolio and present it to them. If the gallery prefers to show the works of local artists, play up your local angle and present any pieces you have that showcase your local ties. If you’re most interested in art sales, choose pieces that have the most commercial promise for your portfolio.
3. Work together on great framing
Once your show has been scheduled, work with the gallery to get all your pieces mounted and framed in a way that matches your vision, enhances your art, and compliments the gallery itself.
Some galleries offer professional framing services. If the location of your show doesn’t offer this service, you can easily and affordably give your pieces a cohesive, gallery-ready look with some high-quality DIY framing. You can even purchase durable bubble bags and frame corners to protect your art during transport to the gallery or to the new owner’s home after a piece has been sold.
If you want to ensure your art is protected no matter the environment, be sure to use conservation grade framing materials, such as pH-neutral matting, archival hinging for works on paper and UV protective glazing.
4. Promote the event
Galleries normally do some work to promote the event. Depending on the size of the gallery and how often they put on shows, however, this can range from a poster and email blast to their mailing list, all the way up to a formal press release and an announcement to the local arts scene and media.
Be sure to ask the gallery what types of promotions they do and how you can help them. Share the calendar listing and event on your social media. Consider making your own event and inviting your friends or sending an email to your local community. Ask local groups and publications if they have a free calendar you can get your show listed in.
If the gallery prints posters or flyers for shows, work with them to select a compelling image that represents your work and the show. Then ask them for some extra flyers and take them to your favorite haunts and popular spots in town.
5. Enjoy yourself!
Your art is hanging in a gallery show, so be sure to enjoy it! During the opening night be sure to circulate and talk to all the guests. While it may be tempted to enjoy any adult refreshments provided, don’t forget to drink plenty of water during the night. It’s important to remember that while the opening can be fun, it is not a party; it is an art event. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the excitement and attention, ask the gallery if there’s a quiet office or room where you can rest for a few minutes.
While your show is up, feel free to stop by a few times to see it in its glory, bring some friends who might have missed the opening and check in on sales, but don’t pester. Enjoy the fact that you have a successful gallery show and be sure to keep a memento – like a flyer or calendar listing – to help you remember the event.