Do you dream of being the star of a gallery show’s opening night? Welcome to the club. Whether you’re a professional or a hobbyist, most artists dream of seeing their work showcased in an art gallery. Yet 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, Mark previously 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 by visiting in person, exploring the website or speaking to the curator by phone. Having this intel beforehand will keep you from pitching your show to a gallery that isn’t a good fit for your art — or one that simply doesn’t put on artist shows.
In fact, my take is that it’s worth the effort to create a digital or paper checklist if you’re looking at more than one gallery. With checklist in hand, investigate the following:
• Does the gallery look like it has the space and proper aesthetic to complement your art? (There’s no point in approaching a gallery that clashes with your work.)
• 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?
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. Artwork Archive has additional tips for curating an eye-catching 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 complements the ambience of the gallery itself.
Some galleries offer professional framing services. If the gallery exhibiting your work does not, you can easily and affordably give your pieces a cohesive, gallery-ready look with 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.
To ensure your art is protected no matter the environment, use conservation-grade framing materials, such as pH-neutral matting, UV protective glazing and archival hinging for works on paper. Using archival frame materials doesn’t just protect your work, but actually adds prestige to your art.
4. Promote the event.
Galleries normally do some work to promote the event. However, depending on the size of the gallery and how often they put on shows, this can range from an email blast to a limited mailing list all the way to a nicely designed poster, formal press release and announcements to the local arts scene and media.
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. Ask local art groups, event websites 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.
My extra special tip: Consider making your own event and inviting your friends or sending an email to your local community. Facebook has a pretty easy five-step process for creating events.
5. Enjoy yourself!
Your art is hanging in a gallery show, so enjoy it! On opening night, circulate and talk to all the guests. You probably have a written artist statement that describes who you are as an artist, your inspiration and the type of work you do. For a gallery show, cull that down into an “elevator pitch” of just a couple sentences. I admit that I’ve always hated this part — mainly because I didn’t know what to say. Now I have my pitch committed to memory, plus an extended version on JoelyRogers.com:
“I create food illustrations using colored pencils that I sell on Fine Art America. My favorite subjects are anything related to growing, harvesting, preparing and serving food.”
While your show is up, feel free to stop by a few times to see it in its glory and bring some friends who might have missed the opening. Check in on sales, but don’t pester. Appreciate the fact that you have a successful gallery show and keep a memento — like a flyer or calendar listing — to help you remember the event.
Just think, there are fans out there who aren’t aware of your wonderful work. Don’t make them wait another moment to discover you!