Marketing Mondays: How Did You Find A Gallery?


Not exactly a plan
Sign shot on Tenth Avenue in Chelsea.
Photo: Sid Garrison on Facebook via Mark Pollack on Blackberry.

Recently I recommended an artist to one of the galleries I work with. The dealer liked the work, and the artist is now scheduled for a show. Just like that.

For artists who are sending out package after package, this anecdote is no doubt infuriating. But the fact is that more artists find shows through networking than postage. In How To Start and Run a Commercial Gallery, Edward Winkleman lists the ways he has found artists, in the order of importance to him:

. Recommendations from artists in his gallery, other dealers, curators
. Institutional exhibitions, such as non-profits and contemporary museums
. Studio Visits and Open Studio Tours
. Cold-call submissions

In my own experience, over the years I have come to be represented or to work with galleries in these ways. I’ve listed them in the order of importance:

. Artist referrals
. Dealer referrals
. Networking in general
. Internet search by the dealer
. Cold-call submissions

In one memorable opportunity (which I'd consider in the "networking" category), a juried show at an annual small works show in New York led to a solo show and a warm relationship with a gallery that has spanned more than a decade, including a second solo and a large group show. How did this happen? The dealer made a trip to see what and who was new, a scenario that is repeated many times over by many dealers and curators at many venues, including juried shows and art fairs. Dealers look. Relatedly, dealers and curators are using the internet for initial research. Suggestions here: make sure you have an updated and easily navigable site, research the gallery that contacts you, respond quickly if you like what you see.

I once responded to a "call to artists." Over a decade ago I send my URL to a Southwest gallery that was starting up. I took a chance; hey, what did I have to lose? The dealer came to New York to make studio visits and we hit it off. The relationship continues to this day. Typically, though, most calls to artists—at least the New York galleries that advertise in the classifieds of the national art magazines—are vanity galleries trolling for artists willing to pay to show. Check them out if you wish, but the minute they ask you for money, run.
As for artist referrals, generosity among our peers is the most important way to make connections. I can tell you that anecdotally; Ed Winkleman tells you that officially in his book. You may have experienced this yourself. If you get into a gallery as the result of an artist singing your praises, return the favor if you think you see a good fit--and then pay it forward. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

What are the ways YOU have found gallery representation? I’m curious to see the common threads. In a few weeks I'll tote up the responses to see what kind of picture has emerged.


annell4 said...

For almost five decades I have been represented by galleries. When I lived in a large town it was easier to get to see galleries, and to introduce yourself. Cold calls and then artist referrals and collector referrals. I think many times we don't know? I have always tried to treat my gallery representation as very important, because we don't know? We don't know if people buy our work, because we are represented by a certain gallery? Although I have never tried to sell my work, when it does happen, I always pay my dealer his share, because you don't know if the client has seen the work in a certain gallery or because we show with a certain gallery?

It seems to me, since I have chosen to live and work in what is a remote place, it is more difficult.

Karen Jacobs said...

I was using networking before I knew what it was... I called it being in the right place at the right time. But in those days I was actively involved in many organizations and my work was 'out there.' I was way ahead of most artists having a website (free programs in AOL gave me a start) and built sites for several of my galleries, back in the early days. I learned good record keeping via Works Database (which I still use!) And the connections came.

Now, with several reps having closed their doors, I'm looking for new options. The portfolio/CD thing isn't working so guess I'm going to have to figure how the new way to network...

Casey Klahn said...

Just like you say, I have had success getting in galleries via patron referrals, or the gallery owner sees my work and invites me in.

I am currently without a gallery, but will be hitting the art fair circuit this summer, where a tremendous amount of networking takes place.

Peggradyart said...

A local gallery used to put out a call for artists once a year and I applied and was accepted. I'd been to openings there, knew the owner and many of the artists she already represented. A gallery 3000 miles away I found searching online, contacted them, and was accepted. Both galleries proved to be a good fit, they sold my work for years and everyone was happy. Unfortunately hard times have since closed both places down, but it was great while it lasted.

This week I'm headed for an interview at a gallery I found online. I emailed asking to be put on their mailing list, the owner checked out my website and asked me to stop by for a visit.

It's a constant search and I use every means possible to find new venues. Since I don't live in a large city, the internet is invaluable.

Casey Craig said...

The last 2 galleries that accepted my work were from cold submissions (though I did follow the submission guidelines posted on their websites). One has since closed.

I'm grateful that sales have depleted my inventory, but in the fall will have enough new work to start researching/submitting again - possibly to out of state galleries. I too, live in a rural area and can't travel extensively to check out the galleries in person.

On an semi-related note, I have concerns about sending works out of state, especially in light of galleries closing or being sued for non-payment. I guess this is just a risk we have to take and hope research and networking can prevent any problems.

Randall Anderson said...

Mostly I have worked within the alternative community, artist-run spaces, festivals, etc. However, I was represented for a few years in Vancouver by a commercial gallery, a relationship I found surprisingly open to the kinds of work I was making. This opportunity came about because one day I visited the space, knowing several artists who showed there and I took some pictures of the gallery. Once back in my studio I loaded the images into my computer then Photoshopped an exhibition of my work into the space. It was very convincing. I then went down that night and slipped three pictures through the mail slot with my name and phone number. The next day the gallerist called me up and after a brief conversation offered me a show. I worked with the gallery for a couple of years then moved across the country and found the distance difficult to deal with. I still have an excellent relationship with them though. It was, in some ways, a little bit cocky, but I did it out of respect for the space, which must have been picked up on. You do what you have to do. It always helps to keep a sense of humor as well.

lisa said...

I actually have had some success with "cold submissions". But, I did my research before I did the submissions
and it was mostly before the economy tanked.

I have had recommendations from other artists, from collectors, and have had a few galleries find me from the internet.

You never know.......

lisa said...

PS. I left out something important about the "the cold submission"
Being realistic

Patricia Oblack said...

I have had much luck submitting my web site, I have 1 experience of a gallery approaching me. With Statcounter on my pages, it's been possible to see just how fast a location looks at your site, a definite plus over hard copy ports. I do think that recommendations from other artists in a gallery can certainly help, I've not had that experience yet.While many G's. say they want non regional artists, they often won't pay shipping charges back to the artist, & locals have the advantage of switching out art, there by keeping stock fresh. It's all a slippery slope, but B4 going thru research of various locations, you must 1st have a strong body of work & a great web site. After that, it's somewhat like speed dating.

Marie Kazalia said...

I noticed that most comments mention "you never know" to mean, apparently, that it's had to follow the thread from beginning to end of who, when, where your work is seen, or how you are found?

I was asked to submit a link to my artwork by an art dealer on Facebook,he and I know several people mutually offline. He liked my work etc..I'm in a group show (two paintings) now being heavily promoted...
even with an outdoor street fair in the alley next to the gallery space.

Not only do you *never know* now, but things are changing--new marketing models are being constructed and tried by art reps too!

grovecanada said...

For some reason this blog post has made me want to say: "What is a gallery?" ...
Is it a nice space? A person who sells for you? A company who takes a one third commission from your income in order to validate your sense of self-worth? An excuse not to do the business side of things yourself?
Recently, I showed an unfinished painting to a neighbour...She bought it...This was while I was in between galleries...I am sitting on the fence right now, with galleries at my doorstep, wondering why again I need them? or is this just "hard to get" syndrome? When the guy is hard to get you want him...When he is available, not so much...
But seriously...Do we really Need galleries?

Matthew Beall said...

I'm still looking... it would be nice if the 'you never know' turned out in my favor.

The comments provide some nice insight.

Joanne Mattera said...

Grove wants to know, "Do we really need galleries?" Maybe, maybe not. I talked about that in February.

But let's be clear that a dealer is not "a company that takes one third of your income." It's typically one half of the sale price, which is not your income, but a price that you and the dealer arrive at so that you can both earn a living.(And, yes, some dealers think is that WE take one half of THEIR income.)
I wrote about in here in April:

Meltemi said...

Use those galleries that you have there are so few left in the UK.

grovecanada said...

I give one third. Max. I don't work with a gallery who asks for more. I say no...They respect me more in the morning...& I get more offers since I stood up for myself...

Joanne Mattera said...

Bless you. But with a split like that, you're not showing in any major U.S. city then.

Anonymous said...

How I found a gallery, By anonymous artist.

I found a gallery that had work I liked and friend of the owner, who was my colleague, suggested I meet the owner, thinking we might "hit it off." I kept stopping in to look at the art and sometimes would engage in conversation with the owner about the art. I attended openings, and eventually, I asked if I could show her my work. I started out showing small pieces in her group shows, and when I was having a solo show at another venue, she asked to represent me. The process has taken several years, but I've been offered a solo show. We have a good working relationship, and I have recommended other artists to her who have since become part of the gallery.

While I have had other artists recommend me to galleries, the success so far has been limited.

I've been approached by other galleries via the internet and/or my website, though those have not worked out for various reasons.

I don't do much in the way of cold-calling, but I do like to talk about the work when I'm visiting other galleries, if the gallerist is available and willing. Sometimes I introduce myself, sometimes not.

One thing I'm interested in is the level of success artists have had by submitting work to galleries that have a submissions policy. I am currently considering submitting work to several galleries that have a portfolio review process via email or postal mail.

A final thought about the question of "Do we need galleries?"
My response is "YES!" but not solely for the financial/business relationship or sales, though if I am lucky, sales will happen (and have). I am very much interested in having my art be part of a larger dialogue. The connection and interactions are so important to me, and not just in a networking sense. For me, having the opportunity to show in a gallery facilitates those interactions.

Thanks for this post!

Jason Hoelscher said...

I got into my first gallery (and still my main gallery, 13 years later) after the owner saw my work in a student show and liked it. The chair of the painting dept. showed there too and talked me up, so it was a combination of "seeing the work in person" + artist referral.

My first NYC show came via cold-call submission, in the form of walking up to Ivan at OK Harris and showing him some slides. He liked the work enough that I approached him every few months with new images for about two years and it finally resulted in a show.

My first NYC representation came about when the gallery owner asked a mutual artworld friend for people to show, and my name came up.

My first show in Europe came as a result of my works being seen on Facebook, after which I was invited to show four paintings in a group show that's up now.

Regarding cold call submissions:
I used to work at Pat Hearn Gallery in the 90s, and was in charge of going through the hundreds of submissions we got every month. As an FYI to people making cold submissions: do your homework. Of 200 submissions we might get any given month, 150 of them were completely inappropriate for the gallery: figure paintings and still-lifes, etc. The main reason most galleries don't accept unsolicited submissions is that they know 80% of it is not-appropriate-for-the-gallery work, submitted by people who haven't done their research.

Even the work that was remotely relevant to Pat's aesthetic were sent back, even the Yalies and other big-name school people, because Pat only took on people via referrals from people she knew and trusted, or from work she saw in group shows. Of the couple of thousand submissions we got in the mail every year, not a single one got into any of Pat's shows.

Lastly, my former NYC dealer (not OK Harris) was once on 27th St. He said the first hour of each Saturday was taken up by people walking in hoping to show their slides. In the middle of the day it would slow down, then the final hour of the day was the same deal, more people wanting to show him their work. He finally realized that, being on the north edge of Chelsea, the first hour was people wandering locust-like through Chelsea ready to show their slides to anyone who would look, starting at the north end and working their way southward. The last hour of the day was the people who had started on the south edge and had worked their way up.

Nobody among those folks ever got into a show there either.

grovecanada said...

I don't want to say where I am & where I am not exactly(it's a little too specific for comfort)...I am a Canadian & my interest is primarily in Canada...But every international artist has to deal with other countries & other customs, & you might be surprised at how many gallerists worldwide are very aware that one third is & was the traditional take...Newer, younger gallerists either don't know or don't tell, but one third was the old style max...I'm 43, & come from a couple of generations of artists-we know the rules...Sure I've messed around with the numbers just to see what would happen...But I did it knowing the rules...Now that the economy here is bouncing back, I'm back to old school...& the important galleries in the big U.S. cities know darn well what I am talking about...(If you pin one of them down they will confess...) (I have also been writing this with the conscious knowledge that this information will help my fellow artists to the south of me to stand up for their rights...& I believe will also help them to establish some parameters of respect that have been lost in this disastrous decade...)

kim matthews said...

Where I live, if you want a gallery to actually promote your work, you'd better be prepared to pony up 50%. If you're happy showing at places like nonprofits, then you can pay anywhere from nothing to 30%. But colleges, coffee shops, and hospitals are not in the art-selling business. They'll give you a nice reception, maybe buy snacks and send out some postcards. But they're not making phone calls, bringing your work over to clients' houses for a "test drive," or attending networking events to get the word out about you. A good rep earns every nickel. Wish I had one!

Kate said...

My gallery discovered my work at one of the big independent warehouse exhibitions during the first Art Basel Miami, but the dealer knew lots of the same people that I did, so I expect she asked around about me, and/or it was suggested that she look at my work. They wanted to represent me straight away, and gave me a solo show without the group show first. They represented me for several years before they closed.

A mutual friend recommended my work to another gallery in New York, they put me in a group show, sold a piece, were very enthusiastic about the work and wanted to do more, then went under a short while later.

Eva said...

When I first arrived here 13 years ago, I showed in alternative spaces, sending dealers cards from all of those shows. Eventually I zeroed in one gallery because he showed work I liked, liked art in art history I liked and I knew he had been around, has been in business since the 70s.

Still, it wasn’t easy. It took me forever to get him to my studio; he eventually said he would put me in a group show …. but then 9/11 happened and things stalled. I just kept showing up at his openings, being interested in what he did and being present. I figured that hey, if he took the trouble to come to my studio, there was hope. Don’t let them forget you.... Then one day in 2004 I just walked in with glossy printouts of digital images of new, big paintings. I tossed them on his desk (as if I did something like that everyday, which of course I did not) and said very casually “This is what I am doing now.” He said “I would like to see these” - which felt like a miracle by that time. I had my first solo show with him in 2005 and I am still with him.

What I learned from that and also from running a gallery is that it is a relationship and a constant negotiation. Dealers want to know who you are. It’s not just about the work. It’s also about trust and a conversation.