What to look for in a gallery or showspace

Many artists are trying to find spaces to show, and hopefully sell, their artwork.  There are all types of spaces that will show artwork and allow artists to sell it, some are not art galleries and might not even take a commission, coffee shops, restaurants, hair salons, office buildings, the list could go on… The first step is figuring out what your goal is for showing–do you just want people to see your work or do you have sales goals in mind?  Is there people who will be marketing your work in that space or will you be left to do that yourself.  What kind of fees or commission is there?  All great questions to think about when considering your options.

Most spaces are looking for work that fits an idea, aesthetically or culturally, of whatever goes on in the space.  Even art galleries have specific tastes and types of work that they show, and that they feel they can sell.  They have a brand and a market so find out as much as possible about these factors before contacting the decision makers for the space.

Some other factors to consider when selecting a show space are:

  • Do they have submission standards and a long term exhibition plan?

Pay attention to dates and the exact materials they request.  Sometimes spaces are booked out for up to a year or more so having the materials prepared and sending them in quickly when you find an opportunity is critical.  Take time to look online for as many opportunities as you can, calls for art are listed by many galleries and other places that show artwork.  You can find a curated list on this website too under “Artist Opportunities.”

  • Do they have a history of sales?

It is ok to ask if a space, especially a gallery, has been selling work and even ask to see some numbers over the last year or so.  You should know the facts about what you can expect from a show.

  • Is the contract artist focused and beneficial for both parties?

First off, make sure you have a written agreement about what you are lending, how it will be taken care of, how long it will be shown, the prices for sales, and the commission for the space.  The commission should reflect the amount of work and marketing the space will do to sell the work.

Many spaces still have a standard commission rate of 50%, but are they deserving of that?  If the amount of marketing time and open hours is less than 40 per week then the rate should be less than half.  Some of the most successful, and artist focused, gallerists retain a 30% commission—and they work very hard for it by establishing a loyal clientele and marketing heavily.

Representation contracts – Contracts should be clear in the term of representation.  If the show is on the gallery walls for one month how long will the gallery keep the work in inventory and continue to market it?  I suggest a minimum of three months, which allows for three cycles of marketing to build interest.  For exclusive representation I recommend a minimum contract of at least three months, and for artists showing with a space for the first time no longer than one year. Also, pay attention to wording about exclusivity, do not allow any space access to rights over any work that you do not consign into the space, at least until you are with one gallery that consistently sells all of your work.

Artist Tip – How To Approach Galleries

We recently discussed looking for as many opportunities as you can to earn a living using your creativity and to directly market you art. But of course most artists hope to get gallery shows and even representation, as they should. Here are some pointers when you are ready to approach galleries, and by ready I mean that you have all the basic marketing  materials for yourself–a simple website with all of your written materials and images with detailed information.

– Get to know the galleries. Visit as many as you can and get a sense of what kind of art they show and if your work would fit with the aesthetic and focus of the gallery.  If not you would be wasting your time submitting your work to them.

– Introduce yourself to the employees at galleries you would be interested in showing at.  Find other artists that have exhibited with them and learn more about how they work.  Attend as many events at the space as you can; staying active makes you more memorable.

– Do your research and find out how they prefer submissions to be sent in and what materials they require.  Pay attention to the details so that you can edit anything you need to before sending it. Professional galleries that have an open submission policy should have detailed information on their website. Also make a note if there is a time of year that they accept submissions or if it is year round.

– If the galleries you are interested in have group shows submit work for them. If you can get one work in the gallery it could lead to more in the future.

– When you send your submission, personalize it to the curator and explain why you feel your work fits in the gallery, and what you bring to the table.

DON’TS

Do not send a mass email to all the galleries in your area with vanilla information.

Do not send emails to curators without ALL of the requested materials

Do not send a link to your website without anything else asking them to “check it out,” they won’t.

Do not take your portfolio into the gallery during an opening or without an appointment. Gallerists are very busy people and they don’t usually have time to review your work out of nowhere. Submission reviews can often take weeks, especially if they have a pile of them with you at the bottom.

Do not make threats or claims that express your ego–be humble in your approach.  If you are approaching serious, successful galleries this type of behavior will get you blackballed from the community quickly.

As always, let us know if you need help developing your materials, formatting images, or organizing your submissions.