Marketing Mondays: How Dealers Are Considering Artists Now, Part 2

“Man, it’s hard out there now.”
—Kathryn Markel, principal, Kathryn Markel Fine Art, New York City

“Be positive despite rejections, and always let dealers know you appreciate the time they have taken to view your work.” —Gregory Lind, principal of Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco
"A rejection is for now, not forever."
—Hope Turner, Arden Gallery, Boston
Do your homework. Keep networking. Galleries are split between those that look at unsolicited packages and those that don’t. Best advice here: Read the gallery’s submission guidelines. What’s equally relevant now: Understand that times are as tough for the dealer as they are for the artist. Keep working. Don’t give up. .

Q: Do you look at the unsolicited j-pegs or hard-copy packages artists e-mail to you? Have you ever responded favorably?
. Hope Turner:
. Melanee Cooper: “I always look.” She breaks down her response this way: “One third of the artists who send in work are extremely talented but don’t quite fit in with the esthetic; one-third are just not right for the gallery; one third are not of the quality we're looking for." Yes, there has been an occasional positive response: “When you see it, you know it.”
. Midwest Dealer: “I do look but I almost never respond favorably. I try not to be annoyed by hard-copy packages, since it says on the website not to send them, but I understand that artists are trying really, really hard [to find gallery representation].”
. Kathryn Markel: “Yes, but I prefer a [link to a] good website, with current work.”
. Benjamin Tischer: “We do look at everything, though not in a timely manner. If the work looks interesting, I usually send a note that I would like to be kept on their mailing list. As of now, no unsolicited work has made it into the gallery, but there are two artists I am watching develop.”
. Valerie McKenzie: “Yes. While most of these packages and e-mails show work that is not appropriate for the gallery, here and there I have received packages that made sense and looked strong—usually because they were from someone who was a frequent visitor to the gallery and knew what type of work we show, or who was a referral from someone I know. Once in a while I have worked with some of these artists.
. Nancy Toomey: “I rarely look at a package unless [the artist] has been referred. My director looks at the unsolicited emails. If he likes something, he passes it on to me, but that is quite rare.
. Chelsea Dealer B: “I look quickly, but very, very rarely respond at all, favorably or otherwise. It’s stated on our website that we’re not currently looking,” said
. Leigh Conner: "No."

Q: What one piece of advice would you offer artists who are looking for representation now?
. Chelsea Dealer B:
"Figure out which galleries are most likely to want to work with you and then network your way in through the artists, curators, collectors that gallery trusts”
. Benjamin Tischer:Read the blogs [so you who’s showing where]. Take it slow. If you come to the gallery once and demand a studio visit, I am not likely to spend the time. But if you have come to five exhibitions and had actual conversations with me about the work on exhibition, pro or con, then I might want to see what you are working on.”
. Leigh Conner: Read Art/Work, Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber’s book on being a successful emerging artist.”
[I’d add Jackie Battenfield’s The Artist’s Guide and Edward Winkleman’s How to Start and Run a Commercial Gallery, different views of the same world, and I'd Rather Be In The Studio by Alyson B. Stanfield, a Midwest-based author and former curator. Taken together, these four books offer a current take on what to do and how to do it.]
. Kathryn Markel: “The most important thing for an artist is to show a consistent body of work. She must also do her homework to make sure the gallery she’s approaching has a similar sympathetic sensibility.”
. Chelsea Dealer A: “It is never easy being an artist, and it is difficult to get work exhibited and to sell it, especially now. Having said that, there are still hundreds of galleries in New York City. If an artist feels they have something unique to say, they should pursue that. Become familiar with they galleries and programs the like, and try to meet the artists and people who work there.”
. Hope Turner: “Understand that galleries see many presentations, and even if my response is favorable there may not be an opening for a show. Keep a gallery aware of your work by sending show cards of email images of a new work. I like to say that a rejection is for now, not forever.”
. Nancy Toomey: “Unless you sweat blood if you don’t create every day, consider a day job that will sustain you.”
. Midwest Dealer:Do your homework, the same as always. But understand that now the challenge is greater as some galleries scale back their investment in new artists while trying to conserve their resources. Get a day job if you must, but keep working in the studio, free of the pressure of having to pitch yourself. Many artists who are already well represented are doing this, just as their galleries scale back to find the next successful model for the art market.”

So what can we learn from all of this?

Much of the same advice applies now that has always applied: Visit the galleries. Network. Sending unsolicited material is a crapshoot (odds are increased if you read and follow each gallery’s submission protocols). Don’t allow yourself to be crushed by rejection. However, it was a surprise to me to see how many galleries do still look at and consider unsolicited material.

At least half of the responding galleries have been affected by the economy, which means they are downsizing in terms of space, work size or price point.
But I want to close with a dealer who wished to remain anonymous:

“At the same time that I am pulling back and tightening up, I am also more open to artists I would typically hesitate to show because there is less risk at the moment in taking a risk. If safe work is not selling, I might as well show work that really turns me on, even though it may not have commercial appeal. Going out on a limb may well help to invigorate the personality of the gallery.”

Ha! So while the reins have been tightened and protocols are in place there’s always room for a wild card. Like the lottery.


Nancy Natale said...

These posts have been just great, Joanne. Thanks for pursuing the gallerists and thanks to the gallerists for responding to your intelligent questions.

Your last, anonymous quote really rang a bell with me because that is the attitude I'm taking with the work I'm making - if I'm not selling work anyway, I might as well make the work I like that most galleries view as unsaleable. I'm going to continue pushing in this direction because I have nothing to lose and my own satisfaction to gain. Whee hah!

Philip Koch said...

Joanne, once again an excellent post.

Things were tough for artists before the current recession and now they're, well tougher than before. This is not a profession for the faint-hearted. If the truth were told, a whole lot of artists from the past who are now in all the museum collections labored in near obscurity for a long, long time. They worked day jobs for decades and/or had supportive partners or spouses. There is no shame in any of that.

When artists finally have books written about their work, how hard they had to struggle and some of the compromises they had to make almost never get written about. (I've always found this a big failing of the art historians and art writers in general. Of course when they're interviewed, artists try to shine the spot light on their successes rather than their struggle in the face of their repeated rejections. It isn't entirely the writers' fault).

Unknown said...

I would like to send a virtual kiss to the anonymous dealer whose comment is at the end. I applaud that fantastic attitude!

Thanks again, Joanne, for another wonderful post.

Catherine Nash: Desert Paper, Book and Wax said...

Terrific assessment...thanks!

Amanda said...

What an informative and useful post! Thank-you Joanna for devoting the time to put this together. Although the situation may be somewhat different in the Australian market, these comments provide a survey of attitudes from which to launch our approaches. Thank-you.

S said...

Thank you for such an encouraging post and good advice.

Daniel Sroka said...

I think that the key takeaway from all this is *not* that the artist must keep networking, do your homework, etc. It is that galleries rarely add any new artists to their collection.

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