Recently I reviewed The Artist's Guide by Jackie Battenfield. Now in a lovely bit of publishing symmetry, there's a dealer's guide, How To Start and Run a Commercial Gallery by Edward Winkleman, about to be released by Allworth Press.
Ed has a gallery in Chelsea. He's also a widely read blogger, which you probably know already even if you haven’t been to his gallery. Ed's blog attracts an assortment of artists, dealers, collectors and critics who come in all degrees of intellect, anger, creativity, bitterness and kindness—in other words, an art world in miniature. His online generosity has flowed into his book, which in turn has flowed out of his experience as a respected New York art dealer.
While the book's intended purpose is to help a potential dealer understand how to start and run a commercial gallery, it also provides artists with a clear look at what goes on behind the scenes.
Why is this important?
For one thing, understanding the dealer's concerns and activities will help you present yourself in a way that complements the gallery's program. For another, it underscores the idea that artists and dealers are not so different. Here's Ed: "This is a business in which very little is stable . . . rent in your neighborhood will skyrocket, forcing you to find a new location (and consuming all the money that moving requires); and critics will inexplicably hate your latest exhibition. . . It never really gets easy. Some months you’re flush; others, you’re scrambling." Sound familiar?
Identity and branding; pricing; contracts and legal issues; logistics like crating, shipping, framing; cash flow; and the art fairs are all covered in specific chapters. Independent artists will find the information eminently useful. Though the crashing economy will undoubtedly require second-edition revisions in the Art Fair chapter, it's edifying to see how closely the submission process for dealers to art fairs parallels that of artists to galleries.
I found these chapters of particular interest to artists:
Ed talks about job titles and responsibilities. Wondering whom to send your materials to? He explains the hierarchy. But more than that, when he tells you what it takes to run a gallery, you can see it's almost the same as what it takes to run a studio. We make, the gallery sells. But we all share the same tasks: photographing work and archiving images, tracking inventory, maintaining records, PR, packing and shipping, bookkeeping. I particularly liked reading about how several New York galleries divide the workload with staffers. The smaller galleries take on multiple tasks, just like artists.
The information here will help an unaffiliated artist create her own promotional strategy. Better still, extrapolating that information, once you follow a gallery and understand the way it presents itself to the art world, gives you a way to approach that gallery.
. Chapter 14: Artists: Where to Find Them; How to Keep Them
Make a beeline for these 24 pages. Nothing takes the mystery out of the submission process better than learning how a dealer puts a roster together. Here's how Ed found/finds his artists, in order of frequency: "recommendations (including from other dealers), institutional exhibitions, open studios, cold call submissions."
Will reading this book automatically get you into a gallery? No. But it will give you insight into the gallery process. An artist who understands the system and is willing to do her homework to find the right matches and submit to the rigors of the process has a much greater chance of getting into a gallery she has targeted.--and equally, important, flourishing there.
And here's the corollary to that: When the economy finally starts moving in the other direction, a new crop of passionate entrepreneurs will be poised to open their doors. Galleries need artists.