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How to Find a Gallery
For a lot of artists finding a gallery and having an exhibit is the realization of all their dreams. For me, I thought that was going to be true too, however, it hasn’t necessarily been as satisfying as I fantasized it would be. I thought that once I found a really good gallery my career would be made by the gallery and the director of the gallery and I wouldn’t have to do any more work. This is not the case.
In most cases the shows that I’ve had and galleries have not been economically profitable for me. Of course every once in a while I’ve made $10-$15,000 off of the gallery show but this is only been three or four times in my 25 year career. The results of this is that I’ve now abandoned trying to show in brick-and-mortar galleries and now I show online and sell my work online. Nevertheless, I’d like to share with you my experiences in getting a gallery. If you look at my bio you’ll see I’ve had a lot of gallery shows and I’ve had a lot of experience getting galleries. So I’m going to outline the process here in addition to providing you with the video.
Step One: The Research
It’s important to find galleries that show work that is similar to yours. It’s also important that the gallery be at the level that you’re at. For example, if your students or beginning artist and just starting out and have no-shows at all and no critical recognition you shouldn’t apply to the high-end or blue-chip galleries.
Here’s how to use the Internet to research galleries and to find a gallery that you can work with.
Your first step should be to make a list of artists’ names who make art that’s similar to yours and are at the same level of quality and craft you’re at. You should make sure that you don’t overestimate how good you are.
Things to consider when making your list are, subject matter, type of paint or medium, quality of work.
The next step is to put that person’s name or those artists names into a Google search and find their websites and/or galleries were there showing. You want to look at the artists resumes and look at where they have exhibited and make a separate list of those galleries but make sure you put the artists names on the list with the gallery so that you can refer to it later when you’re writing your letter to the gallery. In some cases, if your work is too similar to the artists work you will have a problem because there will be internal competition and the gallery manager or director won’t want to show too much of the same thing.
The second thing is to Google those galleries and look at the gallery and the type of work that’s in it. As you’re doing this you may also even want to create a spreadsheet or add to the list that you been working with to keep track of the different artists were showing at those galleries and what kind of work the gallery shows in general. If you keep track of them in a spreadsheet using something like Microsoft Excel it’s a little bit easier for you in the long run and you can refer to it again later.
Also when you’re looking at the gallery website, look for their policy on how to submit art sometimes a gallery will be very clear in how they want to receive a package from you and what should be included in the packet. It’s really important to follow those directions to the letter if you want to be considered at all. Some galleries will actually even say they are not taking submissions at this time and if that’s the case don’t waste your time and money applying to them they already have a full stable of artists and can’t afford to show your work there. Keep in mind there are exceptions to every rule and of course if you’re super fantastic you can take the risk but just be ready for no response from the gallery.
After you’ve compiled a spreadsheet or a list of galleries that you’re going to apply to that includes, the addresses of the gallery, this includes the physical and the web URL, the name of the director of the gallery, and some of the artists that are showing in the gallery, you are ready to do a little bit more research on the gallery.
One of the things that you should think about doing is googling the name of the gallery especially in databases for periodicals and read some of the reviews about the gallery so that you prepared to talk to the people in the gallery and flatter them a little bit with your knowledge about the gallery if they give you a call.
Today, most galleries are interested in getting email submissions and the range of the things that they want is varied. Sometimes, they will ask for a PDF with your work, sometimes they just want your website, sometimes they ask you to send JPEG’s and they ask for a specific way of labeling the JPEG’s often it will be with your last name, the title of the work, and the medium. You should carefully look at what the gallery is asking for and possibly include that in your spreadsheet. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s better to make a good first impression and do what they’re asking you to do.
Sometimes galleries will ask for mailed in submissions I snail mail. Often the things that they want included in these packages are a clear short resume or biography, either slides of your work,(this is very rare these days) printouts of your work or a catalog, and copies of any press that you’ve received. Good or bad reviews it doesn’t matter. You will also need to include a cover letter.
One of the things that you need to keep in mind when you’re applying to galleries is that gallery directors are as different and diverse as painters are and there is no one size fits all way of applying to a gallery. You should also be ready to even sometimes get really nasty rejections. For example, one gallery I applied to about 15 years ago sent back my materials with a post it note put on my cover letter that said “definitely not interested.” Definitely was underlined several times. Interestingly enough another friend of mine who applied to your two earlier got the same response. It really hurt my feelings but it did make me feel a little bit better that this gallerist did this to a lot of people.
Something else to keep in mind is that you should also expect to be rejected. I know this sounds pessimistic but it makes it a lot easier. Let me share my stories with you to explain this.
In my last year of grad school I was applying for both jobs and galleries. I applied to 78 schools to find a teaching position. I got three interviews and I ended up getting a job, not as a teacher, but as a curator because of my computer skills. I found a way to teach part-time while I was doing that. So I had a very high strikeout record in fact you could almost say that I have no runs batted in since I didn’t get a teaching job.
That same year I applied to over 125 galleries, I got four pleasant letters back telling me to check in with them later and one gallery that was local who gave me an exhibition. But I got nearly 120 rejections. Again not a stellar record. My point in telling you this is not to discourage you but to tell you that this happens a lot for most artists and that like a baseball player you need to get up to bat as many times as you can.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that often, even though I include a self-addressed stamped envelope to return my package and slides, I only received back about 20% of all of my packages. Whenever I got the package back, I would mark it in my notebook, three hole punch the letter and put it in a binder, and send the package back out with a new cover letter to new gallery.
So please don’t be discouraged when you’re doing this you should expect a 98% failure rate. Like I keep saying though there are exceptions to every rule.
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