“Curators visit artists for all kinds of reasons. Maybe I'm planning a show and am considering your work; maybe I'm curious about work I've seen in an exhibition and want to see more; maybe I'm doing someone a favor or accompanying another curator on her rounds; maybe I'm actually interested in possibly offering you a solo show; or maybe none of the above. The important thing is to not read too much into it. I sometimes sense an impatience on the part of artists I've visited when nothing immediately comes of it. Curators have lots of other factors that influence whether or not they will work with a particular artist--often out of their control. Remember that if a curator visits you there's a good likelihood he/she liked your work to begin with. That may be all you get--at least for the moment.”
So take the visit seriously and be prepared for whatever does, or doesn't, happen.
. Directions: Provide them if you’re in a hard-to-find location. Be prepared to take the elevator down to meet the visitor if you’re in a building with a rickety lift (it’s reassuring to the vistor) or if the hallways seem foreboding (s/he doesn’t know the building the way you do). If you’re way out of the way, offer to pick up the visitor at the train station. A few across-the-river artists I know have even picked up dealers at their Chelsea galleries and driven them back after the visit
. Food: Some years ago Ivan Karp came to my studio on Saturday morning on his way to the gallery. I’d put out a small spread with coffee, juice and some breakfast nosh: bagels and cream cheese, croissants, fruit. He looked at it and said, “So you don’t think I had breakfast before I left for work?” OK, too much. (I had a full breakfast every day for a week.) On the other hand, water is always appropriate. And on a hot day, a cool drink is appreciated. I think that chocolate or fruit is nice, too. Make sure it’s set out on a clean space. Provide napkins
. Bathroom: If the dealer has traveled expect that s/he will want to use it. If it’s a shared bathroom, make sure it’s clean. Put in a roll of paper towel and toilet paper
. Heat or A/C: You may be willing to work in a barely heated studio in the winter or in 90 degrees in summer, but provide some kind of comfort for the person who makes the special trip to see your work: a space heater, a window fan—even a hand held fan, which most people don’t usually carry with them
. To clean or not to clean: You don’t have to overhaul the space—it’s a working studio, after all—but the visitor should be able to negotiate the space without stumbling. “I went into one artist’s space and felt as if I needed a miner’s hat,” recounted a dealer friend, describing a space claustrophobically full of stuff. If you’re using toxic materials, close them and ventilate. (You should be ventilating anyway.) If paintings are still wet, keep them away from a traveled pathway. Visitors who leave with paint on their good clothes—and most are working, so they’re dressed for work—will not be happy if your paint has ruined their clothing. Clean the chairs!
Now, On to the Work
There are a few ways to set up. Personally I like to ask the visitor ahead of time, “How do you like to see the work: all at once, a bit at a time, or do you like to be surprised? If you don’t ask, consider these options:
. Make it like a gallery visit. Don’t cram the walls. Show the work in a way that allows the dealer to see how your work would hold a gallery wall
. Create a salon show. There’s more work here, but it’s still an opportunity to “show” the work. Leave one wall empty (or provide an easel) so that you can move specific works there for closer viewing
. Show work in progress with a few finished pieces. For curators who are interested in process, it’s a change to talk about the how as well as the why
. By the way, don't leave out anything you don't want the visitor to see. It once happened that a painting I'd rejected was the only painting a dealer wanted. I let him take it and hated myself for months afterward
Pick a Chair
I make sure there’s a comfortable chair as well as a straightback chair for the visitor. Call me an armchair psychologist, but the person who goes for comfy is at ease in the studio visit process and likely to stay a while.
. I also make sure there’s a notebook and pen. Visitors like to take notes
. And did I mention to make sure the chair is clean?
. A small package with resume, statement, a CD with images, and a printout of the images on the CD; couple of reviews or articles
. A card with your contact info
How Long the Visit Lasts
I’ve had art professionals literally “stop in”—say hello, give a once over, and then leave. It’s a disappointment, but they don’t want to waste their time on a visit that will go nowhere. It happens. On the other hand, I've had studio visits last the afternoon. I once had a studio visit from a prospective dealer who spent five hours looking at everything, and then we went to dinner. I’ve been with her gallery for over a decade and had three solo shows there. If someone travels a long way, expect a reasonably long visit (see Food and Bathroom, above)
Studio Visit with Another Artist
Most of this same stuff applies when another artist comes to visit, though they understand—probably in a way a dealer or curator does not—just how much it takes to get a space presentable, so you don’t have to set up in quite the same way. But studio visits can and do lead to connections and opportunity, so take it seriously.
. Don’t have just anyone over. Your studio is as close to the inside of your mind as a physical space can get. I think about this when I blog about my studio visits. I want to give my readers a look into the artist's space, but I always ask, "May I photograph your bulletin board? Your in-progress work? Ideas and unusual techniques could, and do, get ripped off
. Some artists "hide the silverware," so to speak, to keep expensive expensive brushes or tubes of paint from disappearing. My feeling is that if you can't trust a visitor with your supplies, that's not a visitor you want in the studio. (Open Studios are, of course different because you are opening your space to the public. But the same caveats apply.)