Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Finding galleries when you live in the hinterlands

Back in October, I think, I published a 9 part series on Productivity in the Studio.  In that series I talked about finding group shows and non-profit spaces for exhibition.  That is pretty much how all of us, at least in the Midwest, start or even complete our exhibition careers.

But sometimes the work needs something different...perhaps a commercial gallery.  This is hard to accomplish from our studios located anywhere that is not a major art market.  It's hard even if you live in a major art market.  The usual way to find commercial representation is through referral from other artists, visiting galleries over and over again until you can develop a relationship,  and then studio visits.  Pretty hard to pull off from the "hinterlands."

I can't afford to fly to New York enough times a year to develop relationships with likely galleries.  I dare say you cannot either.  So, I had to develop a new way to approach this conundrum. While I cannot say I have been overwhelmingly successful, I've had 2 nibbles since I began this program in March. Here is what I am doing.

Step 1.  Look really hard at your artwork.  Try to describe to yourself what it looks like and what kinds of artwork it would look good with.  Consider the overall "look" of what you do.  Consider the media you use.  Consider your "audience."  That is a word thrown around that has flummoxed me for years.  Yes, it is your current buyers and email list...or the people you most imagine could or would buy your work.  "Audience" is both a concrete and aspirational word.

Step 2.  Start looking at galleries online.  I started with the Artsy website (They have a good online magazine as well.).  This is a strong collection of worldwide commercial galleries.  I got a sense of what is showing, what is selling and who is being shown.  I then searched this website by media that were similar or compatible with mine.  I also read Artnewspaper, Hyperallergic, Artnet and ArtNews.  Not every word, not every day, but I try to keep up.

Step 3.  Make a list of artists whose work you admire and believe your work to be compatible with.

Step 4.  Make a list of the galleries showing their work.  This information is available in many ways:                         •;
                   • the artists websites and resumes;
                   • google search the artists to find their exhibitions if they are not listed on their                                         personal webpages.  If they do not have their resume online, there is a reasonable                                 chance the have gallery representation.

Step 5.  Start building your database or excel spred sheet.  Information you may want to track:
                   • Gallery name. address, phone, email
                   • Owner and/or director's name and email
                   • webpage
                   • artists who referred you or you feel you are compatible with
                   •  Do they accept unsolicited portfolios  YES or NO ( A no does not eliminate them from                          your list.)
                   • Submission requirements ( ALWAYS FOLLOW THEIR DIRECTIONS                                                      PRECISELY)
                   • also provide a way to keep track when you contacted them and what the answer was.
                   •  You may want a field to keep extra notes about the venue

Step 5.  Google "galleries who accept submissions"  or a similar search.

When you are looking at gallery websites, be sure you look at their mission statement, if available, their stable of artists, their overall look, and other characteristics that might be important to you: do they do art fairs?  How long have they been in business? how can I find out if they are reliable? Do  you actually think your work belongs there?

Step 6.  Develop a series of image folders that you can easily access for this process.  For instance: I have put together 4 or 5 different portfolios based on themes in my work.  It makes it easier to go through this process more quickly...less searching and "re-invention of the wheel."

Put an up-to-date resume, bio and artists statement (pdf form) with these images so  they are quickly available as well.

Make sure your website is all times.
OK, now you are sort of ready to begin to send out information to galleries that are seeking submissions.  Do exactly what they ask.  Most are email contacts.  Some only want a website link, some want 3-5 images, some want 20. Some want small sized images, some want giant images sent to dropbox.  Some want sales history, some want press clippings, some want other mysterious things.  Do your best to precisely follow their requirements.

But with all of them you will need some kind of cover letter.

This is where your research will really help you.  Cover letters should be short, polite, to the point and uber gracious.

My successful letters referenced the gallery's program, specific artists they have shown and one of the letter's mentioned my fond memories of the town, since it was my grandfather's home town!

Whenever possible, address the owner or director by name, Mr. Gallery Owner, Ms. Gallery Director.  Make the letter a brief and personal as possible, while maintaining formality.  Often the gallery director is the more active chooser of new art.  Fulfill their requirements precisely.  But, as a matter of course, it is a good idea to invite them to view your website, using an active link in the body of the email, for more complete information.

Remember, even if they actively seek submissions, their time is valuable.  Be kind.  Thank them for taking the time to look.  Never, I mean NEVER, do a follow-up email/phone call unless invited to do so. It's not like a job interview.  The etiquette is different.  The jury is out about whether to ask for referrals.  Sometimes I add that "if the work does not fit your program, I would welcome referrals." Some find this pushy and pushy is a big no-no in gallery submission etiquette.  I think it is OK if done gently.

As a side note:  it is a good idea to have your webpage address be part of your email signature.  Then, if  anyone is  curious, they automatically have the link.

If you do get an affirmative or "maybe" response, do respond immediately and graciously, and cross your fingers for the future. Do not hound them.  Keep in touch with postcards of shows, an occasional newsletter.  Send notes when you see artwork in their galleries that really excite you. But keep it truly occasional and undemanding.  You are just starting a relationship.  It is a kabuki dance for sure.


I have not made it to the "no submission" part of my database yet.  But, here is the plan.

If you really, truly believe the gallery would be a good match: say so.  But only do this after following the gallery for sometime.  Know what you are talking about.  You might write an email that says , "I would like to introduce you to my work. I have been following you exhibition program for sometime, especially the exhibitions of artists "so and so," and I believe that I could be a benefit to your program."  Now that is pretty you might soften it somehow, but keep it short.  Include a website link and maybe a couple of images, but not many.

It might be a longer campaign that begins with postcards from new exhibits your are in, with emails asking about aspects of the current show in that gallery, with in person visits if you can.  I have a couple of galleries I am following pretty closely who have "no submission" policies.  I have emailed them with questions and congrats about their shows, and received gracious responses. That is my first step.


 I have yet to do this, but I hear that galleries are starting to do Skype and Facetime visits!  How cool is that?

SO, that is where I am at in this late-in-life push in my art career.  If you have anything to add...please do!  I'd love to get a conversation going.


Unknown said...

I miss your thoughtful and thorough evaluations and the way you think through situations and possibilities. This is a really helpful article, though at 83 I'm not hunting up many galleries. Eunice

Susan Hensel said...

Thanks, Eunice. Miss your thoughtful input as well!