Not all artists are interested in being represented by a gallery.

But many are.

How does one do that, though? Approaching a gallery in a professional way is the best start. It's not about hat-in-hand, sad sack earnestness. You have to understand that most galleries, especially here in Albuquerque, are very small businesses, run by a small handful of people (many are run by one person), and most don't make a zillion bucks doing it. If you want to make a bunch of money, being a gallery owner in Albuquerque probably isn't the way to go.

That means that the staff of an art gallery is very busy, all the time. Just like everybody else, the gallery employee has a list of things they want to get done each day when they go into work, and they leave with only half of them accomplished. Sitting around twiddling thumbs is not the life of the gallery employee. As an artist, you need to realize this. These are hard-working, professional people.

That's why when an artist shows up unbidden with a portfolio of work, or even a compact folder of nice photo repros, the response from the gallery employee is not to drop everything that they are doing and give this stranger their undivided attention for as long as that artist feels is necessary. "This is my art! Look at it!" No. Don't do that. Even if the person likes the work at first glance, that simply isn't how it works, and you have just managed to annoy them. That's not what you are after.

1. What is it about this particular gallery that makes you want to be shown there? Most galleries show a particular type of work. No matter how great your ceramic sculpture is, the gallery that shows works on paper isn't going to pick you up. Look around at local galleries. (see: Go Look at Art!) Does your work fit in with what they are doing? Are you sure? Go online. Most galleries have websites. Take some time in the comfort of your own home to look carefully at the work that the various galleries are carrying. If you see a gallery or two that carries work that is somehow similar or resonant with your own, go visit those galleries. Go in empty handed, act natural, have a look around. Now that you see the work face to face, does it still make good sense vis a vis your own art? And how was the staff, were they pleasant, inviting, positive, informed? Do you want these very people to be representing you?

2. Find out how the gallery likes artists to submit their work. Go back another time. The conversation you want to have is: "I've been in before and I really like your gallery and the work you have here. Do you have submission guidelines? I may be interested in showing you my work." Theoretically, they will hand you a pamphlet or card, or they might just tell you, or give you a web address. (Having spent time on their website, you may have already seen this. I would still go in and inquire face to face.) Thank them, have a little further look around for good measure, and leave. If they ask you to mail slides or a disk or photographs, do not respond, "Oh, I've got that in my car, let me just hand it to you." If they ask you to mail it in, then that's what they want. Even if they just want you to drop it by, play it cool. Come back a third time. If they've seen you a couple of times already & maybe know your face & that you have spent some time in their gallery, that may be a plus.

3. Provide a professional, concise submission that meets all of the gallery's requirements. In the end, it will be about the artwork, but I can guarantee you that a sloppily handwritten list of works with a coffee ring folded up and shoved into a CD jewel case is not the lasting first impression you want to make. (I've looked at a few submissions that arrived exactly in that shape. I was not wowed by the aesthetic sense or level of professionalism that inspired those entries.) Now, you probably don't have the upfront capital to get designer folders & fancy stuff made. That's okay! But type the darn thing up, go buy a $.75 folder at the office supply store, and make it look nice. Take some pride! And make sure you cover all the bases that the gallery requested. If they leave it vague, then you should include:
i. your images
ii. a resume
iii.a brief artist statement that is grammatically correct and has good spelling
iv. and perhaps a quick note (Can you state in 2 sentences why you think your work is right for this gallery? If not...)

Most artists have a really tough time writing an artist statement, I know. And I have few suggestions for you. But hopefully you are able to discuss your own work on some level. Hey, get a friend to write one for you and if you like it, go back and make it your own and use that. Avoid gigantic statements about the world & humankind. Maybe you can mention an artist whose work has inspired you, but don't equate yourself. "My paintings are like Paul Klee's..." is a dopey thing to say. "The intuitive geometry of Paul Klee's Tunisian paintings inspired me to loosen up my lines, to let the suggestion of forms play out in less literal explorations of my subjects" is better (but could still use some work).

And give the gallery a series of images that stick together. One each from the five completely different series you've done in the past three years will make it seem like you're a hapless doodler. A gallery wants to see that you have 10 works that make sense together and move around within a unified theme. You want your submission to show that you have applied yourself to developing a cohesive body of works. If you can't do that, you probably aren't ready to be in a gallery.

You're secure enough in your art that you think it merits the considerable time and expense that a gallery is going to put forward in carrying and promoting you, so do it right, don't drop the ball. But go at it with a straight face, and prove that you're dedicated and professional.

Views: 3

Comment by NMBeek on March 31, 2008 at 8:22am
Good blog, Kahn, especially for those of us who are relatively new at this.

Comment by John Prosser on March 31, 2008 at 8:34am
Excellent blog! Thank you for your info and time on this
Comment by Kelly on March 31, 2008 at 9:32am
If you need help as an artist figuring out the gallery scene, try contacting the Albuquerque Art Business Association. It is the association for galleries in town, and has a great handle on the specialities/quirks of each gallery.

*Disclaimer: I'm on the board of the AABA. We're looking for a CPA to join the board, BTW, so if there is one out there with some time to volunteer, please let me know.
Comment by Chroma Studios on March 31, 2008 at 10:09am
Thanks for this blog post Kahn, great information!
Comment by Arvan on March 31, 2008 at 10:15am
Great post, Khan. I would add that many coffeeshops, pubs, etc, feature periodic art shows and that approaching these kinds of places is a good way to pracitce your presentation and people skills.
Comment by Khan on March 31, 2008 at 10:17am
Absolutely. The AABA does a great job at something akin to herding cats, and I mean that in the best way. Getting a large, diverse group of businesses together-- and again, all of these people are busy enough, let alone serving on boards and working on common projects to benefit everyone, even the impossible ones-- that's not easy. But they make it work, they publish maps, cards & guides, they promote the ArtsCrawls & First Fridays, and keep an extensive calendar of everyone's goings on, often for months in advance. Good on the AABA!
Comment by flutephobia on March 31, 2008 at 10:35am
Very informative. Glad you laid the process out step by step. I especially liked your post on hanging art like a pro. Thanks!
Comment by Khan on March 31, 2008 at 10:46am
Ha ha! I actually wrote in a section on the efficacy of landing shows at coffee shops, performance spaces, non-traditional venues, and group/juried shows; but the entry was getting long and I was getting weird, so I deleted it out. But Arvan is exactly right. Resume building is an important part of the whole process, as well. A commercial gallery may feel a little more secure giving you a shot if you can show that you've
A) obviously been working hard to promote yourself in general, and
B) obviously been successful and gotten some other people to pay attention to you
Watch for calls for juried shows, watch for group shows, find out how Bob & Sally got their work hung at the coffee place, check out these artist orgs/communitarian studios like Chroma & the Factory. It's the classic conundrum, you can't get a break without experience, but how do you find that break that will give you experience. It's not just you, so grin & bear it.
Comment by Joan Fenicle on March 31, 2008 at 12:14pm
Thanks for writing this. The good news is that galleries are always interested in talented artists with a body of work ... so don't get discouraged. In the meantime, show your work anywhere you can including coffee shops and other non-traditional venues. The Arts Alliance periodically offers workshops on how to get into a gallery so, if you're not already, get on their distribution list. Their next workshop (not sure of date) will be on the presentation- i.e. framing, etc. so you look like a pro.
Comment by Spring Griffin on March 31, 2008 at 2:29pm
Awesome post, Khan! Thanks for the insider tips and gallery perspective-often artists don't understand what a gallery wants from them and your insight is (of course) spot on.


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