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ideas for how to approach gallery

updated wed 24 mar 04


Kim Marie on tue 23 mar 04

I'm wondering if any of you have ideas or some kind of roadmap as to how to
approach a higher end store or gallery in hopes of having work sold in these
venues. Or how does one make a name for themselves if she doesn't have a
recognized degree as an intro. to herself?

Kim Marie

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Snail Scott on tue 23 mar 04

At 08:12 AM 3/23/04 -0500, Kim M. wrote:
>I'm wondering if any of you have ideas or some kind of roadmap as to how to
>approach a higher end store or gallery in hopes of having work sold in these
>venues. Or how does one make a name for themselves if she doesn't have a
>recognized degree as an intro. to herself?

'Higher-end' galleries seldom give a %$#@& about
academic credentials, but they do want a track
record. Exhibitions on your resume are good; prior
representation by other galleries is another big
plus. Typically, you can't start out at the 'high-
end' places; you work your way up to them. While
the most important factor is that they like your
work, they aren't likely to risk taking you on
unless you can show that you're also a reliable
professional - that's what the resume helps show.
Many galleries will take a few pieces from you,
and see if they do well enough to justify showing
more, but those are nearly always second-string
places. 'High-end' places typically handle only
a few artists (anywhere from half a dozen to
20), but they make a real commitment to those
artists. That's part of what makes them 'high-
end', and desirable to the artist.

What they will want from you is evidence of the
desirability of your work. (Not just whether they
like it personally, but whether you have sold it
regularly in the past.) Past gallery representation
is an indication of this, as is a long list of
exhibitions on your resume. A nice long mailing
list of past customers is another 'dowry' item
you can bring to a gallery which will make them
look seriously at you as a valuable artist.

So, enter shows. Approach galleries which you can
get into, and work with them before looking around
to 'upgrade'. If you sell wholesale, or at art
fairs, that's also a credential - your history as
a self-employed businessperson shows that you are
reliable and can produce work steadily over time.
Every gallery dreads taking on an artist, and having
them turn out to be a flake, who won't produce new
work often enough. Having a good gallery is truly
a partnership. Their reputation is their evidence
that they are 'for real', but check with other
artists they represent, to make sure it's still
'for real'. Your evidence is what's on your resume.

When you first decide to go after a particular
gallery, start by 'casing the joint'. Just because
it's a big-shot place, doesn't mean it's the place
for you. Look at the work they currently show - will
your work fit in, stylistically? Will it fit in
terms of price range? Take note of how many artists
they are showing - a place with very few will be
more selective about taking on new people - they've
got a lot of eggs in not many baskets, so to speak.
If it looks like a likely contender, take note of
the manager's name. Ask the gallery worker who to
speak to about showing your work. Do not show your
portfolio at this point, though you might show a few
pictures (prints, not slides). If the person you are
talking to isn't the manager, you're wasting both
your time, and if it is, it looks unprofessional.

Call and make an appointment to present your work.
It may not be necessary, but it makes you look like
a pro, and you need to present yourself that way,
especially if your 'pro' track record is short. When
you approach them, it helps to have an introduction,
at least for the super-high-end places, but it's not
absolutely necessary. It does help you stand out
from the zillion other artists trying to catch their
eye, though. They may not want to give you an
appointment, but ask to drop off a portfolio packet
anyway, if they're willing. Mark it with the name
of the person in charge. Knowing it will show that
you've done at least a little 'homework'!

When you go to the appointment, bring the ubiquitous
slides, but also a book-format portfolio of prints.
Just as with a show entry, only include good shots.
Good shots of mediocre work will get you further,
frankly, than bad shots of good work. (Preferably,
they'd both be good!) ;) Pull out any bad photos.
Re-write your resume if it's out of date. Fancy
paper seldom counts for much, but a clear format
is a must. A short personal statement isn't essential,
but go ahead and include it. They'll only look at it
if the rest of the materials interest them, but it
might be a clincher. Keep it short, though. If you
habe fairly portable work, you might have a a piece
or two in your car. Don't haul them in to the gallery
to begin with, but if they ask to see the real work,
you'll have some right at hand.

Good luck! -Snail

Cate Loveland on tue 23 mar 04

First time I showed my work (at a Tucson Museum of Art craft show} with my
clay group, someone said "Double your prices and get to a gallery. Your stuff
belongs there."
I was totally intimidated, but game, so I cased out the phone book, called a
bunch of galleries, and most wanted slides, only took on new artists at
certain times of the year, yada yada yada. I finally found one...not high end, but
respectable mid-range, and they said we can't tell anything from slides, bring
your work in. So I did, and they took it.
A year later, and not much wiser, I decided to take off for a week and go
to Taos and Santa Fe. No appointments, just a carful of carefully packed
pots and a set of photographs in an album. Went to Taos, on a Monday, since I
have heard that is a slow day and gallery people are more open to visitors if
they aren't too busy. Walked into a gallery in Taos, holding my album, and when
they asked me what I was looking for, whipped out the album and asked them if
they knew of a gallery that might be interested in my pots. Well, they
weren't; but they literally took me by the hand and led me to another gallery which
took me on instantly.
Tuesday was Santa Fe, and the same approach. I showed my pix at a really
high end gallery, and they sent me to a very nice gallery down on Water St.
I did my little routine, they looked at my pictures, wanted to see my pots,
and took them on the spot..
Both galleries have treated me quite well, are prompt in their payments,
and display my pieces very nicely. I'm not selling a lot, but neither is
anyone else in the fine arts field since 9/11, although things are supposed to be
getting better.
My pots are unusual..handbuilt raku fired, with animal faces sculpted
into the lids. They don't show well in slides, since people think they are wall
plaques, or don't "get" that the faces lift off. I realize that there are
much more professional ways to do things, but I wanted to visit Taos and Santa Fe
anyway,,,and people do like to help, if you're not putting them on the spot.
I didn't expect anything, and was astounded at how pleasant everyone was.
It's another might give it a try.

Cate in AZ