Marketing Mondays: The Academic Gallery, Part 1


Early in my career I showed in a number of academic galleries. In addition to the wonderful opportunity they gave a then-emerging artist like me to exhibit as a solo artist, I learned what it took to create an exhibition: how to plan my time in the studio, how to think about the relationship of the work to the space in which it would go, how to prepare the supporting materials—resume, statement, eventually brochures and catalogs. Crucially, at the other end, by working with and watching the gallery director, I came to understand what it took to get my work onto the wall: how to plan a cohesive installation, how to actually install it, how to promote the exhibition and then follow up with the press. At the openings I learned how to talk about myself and my work. .



A 2007 solo of my work, curated by Leonie Bradbury and Shana Dumont, for an art college in Massachusetts




Armed with this information and experience, I then focused on commercial galleries and museums and didn’t look back. Until recently. I’ve come to appreciate the importance of academic galleries, not only for emerging artists but for artists at all levels of their career.

I’ll give you a few specifics. In 2004 I had a solo show at the Winfisky Gallery of Salem State College in Massachusetts, just north of Boston. Benjamin Gross, the gallery director, gave me free reign, so I proposed Ten Years of Encaustic Painting. I’m not likely to get a retrospective at MoMA, so I rounded up a decade's worth of paintings for the show, and Ben and I created a catalog.


Many good things came from that show and catalog: a small review in the Boston Globe, and a couple of good shows here in New York City—a terrific thematic summer show with a great group of artists at the Elizabeth Harris Gallery, followed by a solo at OK Harris, where I'd had a solo a dozen years earlier, along with another thematic show there. These opportunities came as a result of the catalog and supporting materials I'd sent to the directors.


Several other academic shows were interspersed among my commercial exhibitions. In 2006, I showed in Luminous Depths, curated by Nancy Einreinhofer, at the Ben Shahn Gallery of Wm. Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. It’s a beautiful space. There was a catalog, and work from that show was included in Material Color at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey, a few years later. (See how the dots connect?) Serendipitously, the painter Merrill Wagner and her husband Robert Ryman were at her opening in the adjacent gallery, and many dealers stopped in to see the show. In 2007 I had a lovely small solo at an art college in Massachusetts. I got to show among my peers, and as a result of the show, I traded a good-size painting with a paint manufacturer for a good deal of paint.

Luminous Depths, curated by Nancy Einreinhofer for the Ben Shahn Galleries at Wm. Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey. This panoramic view shows the work of most of the participating artists: Foreground, Sylvia Netzer; clockwise around the gallery: Rachel Friedberg on the left wall, my installation grid on the back wall, Diana Gonzalez Gandolfi and Megan Klim on the right wall


Below: Netzer in foreground, Gail Gregg on both walls. Read more about the exhibition here


My Story is Just the Prologue to this Post

Earlier this year I asked the directors of two academic galleries, both within liberal arts institutions, to talk to me about the role of the academic gallery. I was thinking specifically about the value to artists of showing in such venues, but reading their email responses, I realized that the topic is larger than just showing. So this is a two-parter, to be continued next week.

Our experts: Patricia Miranda, artist, educator, and director of the OSilas Gallery at Concordia College in Bronxville, New York; and Jane Allen Nodine, artist, professor of art, and director of the Curtis R. Harley Gallery at the University of South Carolina Upstate, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Both directors responded so clearly and informationally that I have decided to run the piece as a Q&A with minimal redaction.


What do you think the artist gets out of an exhibition at an academic gallery?

Nodine: I schedule exhibitions a year in advance. Artists are selected on the basis of work I have seen, but they are encouraged to develop new work for the show. In some cases an artist may have new or experimental ideas, and I am willing to work with them to realize that new direction. In more monetary or pragmatic terms, we design and print a color announcement that is mailed to about 700 venues across the United States. We sponsor a lecture or gallery talk by the visiting artist, followed by a public reception. We pay each artist a stipend, and our communications office promotes the exhibit in the media. Work can be for sale in our gallery, but I encourage the buyer to work directly with the artist because we take no commission.


Miranda: The OSilas Gallery does not have a collection; still, it is a museum quality gallery, with a gorgeous space not generally found in such a small institution. Our exhibits offer artists a beautiful space to show work, but also a unique opportunity to introduce themselves and their work to an audience perhaps outside a typical art community. In our last gallery talk, the artists and curator noted how much they enjoyed speaking to people outside their own community, and how interested and engaged people were at what they had to say despite not being familiar with their work. University galleries can introduce artists to the community and vice versa, and make connections that are meaningful to the exhibition and to their work.

Jane Allen Nodine: "Our gallery mission is to present challenging material that supports the academic programs which are the foundation of the University, and the University mission includes ties to the community and life-long learning. So, by default and by design, I make an effort to integrate these concepts into our schedule our events."
Patricia Miranda: "Exhibitions in academic institutions are often willing to give artists leeway to explore and develop larger ideas, further their work, and give them a forum for this exploration."

Above, view of the Spring 2010 exhibition, A Delicate Point: Images from a South Asian Diaspora, curated by Miranda and Priyanka Mathew
A talk during A Delicate Point draws many members of the art community as well as the community at large



And is there a larger benefit to showing within the institution?

Nodine: Association with an academic venue adds credibility and validation to an artist’s record. We have coordinated exhibits with other departments in the university such as Women’s Studies, Sociology, and International Studies, which can extend into paying workshops or seminars. Also academicians survive on the publication of their research; an exhibit can draw a faculty or grad student to write critically about work, writing that might get published.


Miranda: I think exhibitions in academic institutions are often willing to give artists leeway to explore and develop larger ideas, further their work, and give them a forum for this exploration. Work that might not be considered for a commercial setting, whether because it is not object-based, does not fill a more commercial purpose or is more conceptual may find a place in an academic setting. That's true, too, for the an artist doing good work but who has yet to be recognized. This has been my experience both as artist and as curator. I think academic galleries are a wonderful place to exhibit work!


How do you select the artists for your gallery shows?

Nodine: I‘m always on the lookout for art, artists, or topics for exhibitions in the gallery. Someone I met four years ago may not have been selected at that time, but now might be doing just what I need for a particular show. Looking back at the artists I have exhibited, it appears I have personally known about 40 percent. The other 60 percent have come to the gallery in various ways: I have followed their careers, seen work in exhibitions, or had them recommended by another professional. I do get packets and proposals, but I usually follow an artist for a time before I schedule an exhibit. I make selections based on the content and quality of work, and I try to schedule a variety of media and art forms throughout our exhibition season. Our gallery mission is to present challenging material that supports the academic programs which are the foundation of the University, and the University mission includes ties to the community and life-long learning. So, by default and by design, I make an effort to integrate these concepts into our schedule our events.


Miranda: The OSilas Gallery focuses on a wide range of thematic group exhibitions, connecting the gallery to the larger campus and academic community. I plan the themes for exhibitions, based on ideas I am interested in or ones proposed to me, considering the year’s program as a kind of “year of ideas”. The curator of each exhibition, which might be myself, or someone I have contracted to curate a particular show, chooses artists. I love to look at work sent to me by artists and will keep work on file for possible future shows. On occasion we may do a solo or two-person exhibition, but primarily we mount group shows.


I plan about two years in advance, so artists who have ideas for exhibitions or who send a package should keep that in mind. It is always good to keep us current with upcoming shows. Even though it can be difficult to respond to every package or request--like most non-profits and commercial spaces we are on a very tight schedule and work with really limited staff--I do keep info and really do look at work that comes in.

In Part 2: The directors offer advice to artists thinking about submitting work to an academic gallery, and we look at how the academic gallery fits into the larger community.


Over to you: Have you shown in an academic gallery? Do you direct one? Do you visit academic galleries? Are you interested in showing in one?


Catherine Carter said...

A thoroughly presented and helpful post, Joanne, thank you.

I've had good luck in the last few years with combining shows at academic galleries with sales by art consultants. The college galleries allow me to get my work out there in a variety of locations, and the consultant sales allow me to bring in a decent income from selling my work. This arrangement has all the benefits of commercial gallery representation, with more flexibility.

Unknown said...

Joanne, so glad to see this post!! It was a pleasure to participate and I hope the information will be helpful to your readers.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

I have been fortunate to have had exhibitions in two academic galleries in the past three years and both were excellent experiences. It was exciting to have an opportunity to present work to a young audience and give them a fresh perspective on work being done in my area.(textiles) The first exhibition was at Furman University in Greenville, SC and the second at Columbia College in Columbia, SC.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. It humanizes the academic gallery. I will be having my first exhibition at the University of Iowa Hospitals in March of 2011. I am very excited to show in this venue since it will provide me with a chance see the work all together as "one thought". I'll also have a new audience to relate with. Having a show so far in advance also gives a person some time to really develop ideas.

thanks as always for your posts. So informative!

marc said...

In cities without commercial galleries, college galleries and community centers are typically the main exhibit venues. In smaller towns, I've noticed a really open and appreciative audience for shows. Getting exhibitions can be tough though (go figure). Sections of the exhibition schedule are typically reserved for student and faculty shows, and shows curated for very specific programs or events. Freinds and alumni have a leg up for college shows. (Similar to getting shows in the gallery and museum world, I suppose).

Joanne Mattera said...

@Jane: Your comment gives me a chance to thank you publicly for your participation in this dialog. You have really helped to demystify the process. (And I love the part about a stipend and a catalog. Lucky are the artists who work with you!)

@Catherine: I love how you have found a way to combine academic galleries with a commercial component. It's a smart way to show without the pressure of having to make sales, yet having
the opportunity to make sales.

@Terry: You point out the reciprocal aspect of the experience. I remember being an adjunct teacher in Albany, NY, many years ago. I was cut off from the New York art world, so I looked forward to the exhibitions and talks. I'll bet you reached many of the professors with your exhibition and presentation, not just the students.

@Marc: Right you are that the selection process can be every bit as rigorous as at commercial galleries. But we all want to show in galleries worth showing in. It's a worthwhile tradeoff. (I have seen that at some of the smaller academic galleries, particularly ones in which faculty rotate the job of director, it's easier for emerging artists to have a shot--especially if they have a well-prepared package, and/or if they make a detailed and clear proposal.

Joanne Mattera said...

@Mary: Didn't mean to leave you out of that previous comment. You are right about the opportunity to see your work together as "one thought." Most of us don't have the kind of studio space that allows for a full view of a body of work. The solo exhibition gives us that full view. And if the show is installed by the director, it's a view filtered through someone else's eye. While it can be scary to relinquish control in that way, it's also instructive to see how our 'dots' are connected by someone else's professional eye.

line and color said...

Thanks for this post and interview. This is the kind of article that helps keep me grounded as I try to manage a very small commercial space. Challenges and temptations are many, and blogs like yours are rather helpful. On the personal side, I'm a painter and have shown in two academic galleries in the past three years.

Chris Turner Art said...

I really liked reading this article and found it very insightful. I just had my first solo show at West Main Artist Co-op in Spartanburg, SC. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done! Getting everything together was a lot of work to say the least. Thanks to Nodine and others, it was a complete success (she's a great professor). Maybe one day I will have a show at an academic gallery; it would be a great honor to do so. Who knows... Thanks for posting!

Mink said...

Hi Joanne, I showed my work in mpls back in the 90s at a community college and it was a very supportive environment having been a recent grad at the time. i was nervous but i managed to do an artist talk with the students there.

nov 16 i will have 6 paintings in a group show with 6 other painters at U Mass, Amhearst, I am really excited about showing this work, maybe you could get to the show, its up for two weeks.

i love that you traded a painting for paint.

Claudia said...

Excellent, in-depth post – thank you, Joanne.
I am looking forward to Part 2.

I had a solo show earlier this year at the Edward Williams Gallery at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and got a taste of what it takes to mount an exhibit.

Kim Matthews said...

I've been in several academic shows, and they're very satisfying. Schools may not be out there hustling your work like a commercial gallery does, but how often does a commercial gallery give you a solo show without a proven track record? Over the years I've met some really cool people and hope that I've given students useful, interesting information along the way. Good approach, Catherine!

Gwyneth Leech said...

Back in the '90s and early '00s I had numerous solo exhibitions in, and curated group shows for academic galleries. Often there was a residency element where I made new work for the show, gave talks and did critiques in the institution's art department.
There was usually some payment for the personal appearances and the shows were always beautifully presented, with much attention given to hanging, labeling and lighting - frequently part of the students' curriculum.

There is real scope for setting up tours with shows like these - once a couple of venues come on board more follow. One of the group shows I curated traveled around the country for three years, and the final venue was a regional museum.

A final note. Back in the early '00s, I was very interested in university teaching. An academic gallery show gives you a chance to connect with the faculty. I walked into the office of the chair of one graduate fine arts department just to ask for general advice on how to get teaching jobs. He told me to send in a course proposal. I made up a course, sent it in with a sample syllabus and my resume and they hired me to teach it!

Joanne Mattera said...

I love Gwyneth's story of finding a teaching job as a result of showing at the institution. Sometimes the opposite holds true, too: There's a solo show as a result of the teaching.

Reminder: Part 2 posts on October 4.

Kate said...

Thanks for this post! I have spent most of my career showing in academic galleries. In almost all cases, I was given an unprecedented amount of control in the planning and execution of the show, and could create an ideal context for a body of work that I felt needed to be shown together. I have received a great deal of press from these endeavors and sold a few pieces as well.