Where do you find a gallery that can effectively market and sell your work to both new and established collectors? The process can be intimidating for emerging artists looking for first time representation and even those well-seasoned artists who are trying to place their work into areas they haven’t shown before. The process is essentially the same for both emerging and established artists. There are art galleries in most mid-size to large cities across the country and more are opening in small towns. Finding the right fit for your artwork can be challenging and sometimes downright frustrating. Galleries can’t guarantee sales and even if the public loves your work and buys up everything you have, eventually you will saturate that market and the rising cost for your work will be out of reach for beginning collectors. While this may be a good problem to have, it leads to new challenges, namely finding new markets.
Do Research and Visit the Gallery
If you’re ready to begin looking for representation you must first find a gallery that you’d like to work with. While there are helpful print and online publications listing galleries and their specialties, the easiest place to begin is by using the web and focusing in your local or regional area. There are different types of galleries including consignment, commercial, vanity/rental, and the artist co-op. Keep in mind, dealers are often kinder and easier to approach in smaller markets, which makes your chances better than trying to launch yourself in a larger city. The farther up the gallery chain you ascend, the tougher the process becomes and the better your chances of being rejected. Additionally, staying closer to home saves you time and money dealing with transporting your work.
It’s important to understand that what is expected from you will vary from one location to another. A certain amount of aloofness is expected from gallery staff in larger cities like New York or Chicago, but in the south that would come across as rudeness. Look for staff to be polite and helpful but not pushy, this is best. The more you know about galleries in your area, the better able you are to decide which ones you want to approach.
Take into consideration the styles of work a gallery shows. If you paint traditional landscapes and you approach a gallery that presents only abstract work, they will know you did not do any research about them. Gallery owners use their own aesthetic in selecting works to sell. If they are not attracted to the work, how can they try to sell it? Don’t assume a gallery has a need for your specific style of work because you don’t see anything similar in their space or on their website. If a certain style is not there, its most likely because the gallery does not want to offer it.
Personally visit as many galleries as you can…go to as many of the art hops/walks in your region that you can. Attend other artists’ openings and art fairs. You never know when you’ll make a contact that will open doors for you or provide valuable insight to galleries you are looking at. These visits are NOT usually an appropriate time to approach a gallery about reviewing your work…this is time for clandestine research. See how they present their artists’ work and deal with customers when they are busy [or not]. This will tell you a lot about them. Pay attention to the overall look of the gallery, the lighting, signage, demeanor of the owner/staff, and the vibe of their openings. And don’t forget their website! Remember, you hope to eventually be on it, so make sure it will make you and your work look good. And, check back to see that it’s changed or updated frequently.
Network with other artists you know. Ask them to share their knowledge and opinions about galleries they have previously worked with. Ask which ones are the most vibrant and commercially successful. You want to develop a sense of each gallery, the owner’s aesthetic and personality. Galleries want you to be professional, so you should expect them to handle themselves the same way. You don’t want to find yourself in a gallery that has a poor reputation, doesn’t pay promptly, or closes their doors with your work stuck in limbo. Learn as much as you can from word of mouth but know that it is up to you to do regular reconnaissance and protect yourself.
A word about placing your work in distant galleries….be careful. Unless you personally know artists that have been in that gallery or have an existing relationship with them, don’t assume what see on their website is what their gallery actually looks like, or that they behave ethically and professionally. There are too many stories about grumpy staff, unkept display areas, lost/damaged artworks, late payments, etc.
Look for Part 2 – Preparing for Representation next month