Marketing Mondays: "Where Can I Show?" Part 1

These are the kinds of queries that readers of this blog have sent in over recent months: 
. "Is it career suicide to show in a coffee shop?"
. "What non-gallery settings are OK to show in?"
. “I need to show. What are my options?” 

David Headley large-scale triptych in the atrium of the 153 East 53rd Street Building, New York City, up through the end of February

I'm following up on last week's post on Empowerment. Thanks to the artists who responded with really great comments and suggestions. Let's see if we can keep the converstion going here.

Artists want to exhibit their work. Until or if you get wallspace in a commercial gallery—and let's acknowledge that not every artist necessarily aspires to commercial representation—the answers here are worth exploring. In previous posts I have talked about open studios, co-op galleries, academic galleries in a two-part post here and here, all good, and the dreaded vanity galleries, which are not good, not good at all.  In this two-part post let’s consider some other venues. 

Restaurants and Coffee Shops
I’m not a fan of showing in these places. Coffee shops? Your work, especially work on paper, will come back reeking of of caffé—a lovely aroma in the morning, but not so much when it has permeated your work. Restaurants?  I fine with having my work in a restaurant if it has been purchased to be part of the complement of architecture, furnishing and art (OK, to go with the décor).  Same with commissions. But I don’t think exhibiting is a good option. The art is not the reason people are there; no matter how good it is, it’s going to be subservient to the food. And more to the point: No one is there to sell the art.
Over to you: Who has had a good experience with these venues? Have you had sales? Has the visibility led to a better opportunity? Or conversely, has it not been a good experience?
Design or Architecture Firms
This is a better fit. The people coming into the space are there to design or commission buildings, homes and renovations. Here, art is a more visible statement about how esthetic and utilitarian elements unite to form a habitable space. Bonus if the space is regularly used for exhibitions, has dedicated lighting, and holds openings.
Over to you: Have you shown in such venues? Your experiences?

Sarah Hinckley is an artist whose work I like immensely. I first saw her paintings at Sears Peyton, a commercial gallery in Chelsea, but here it's a 2010 solo at Steven Harris/Rees Roberts, a design firm in New York City. Hinckley shows widely at galleries around the country, as her resume indicates

Even when art is not the primary concern, there's a gravitas to a library setting. Often there's space for exhibiting work. Larger venues may even have bonafide galleries--and the largest, actual gallery directors. Here's an example: The Flinn Gallery at the Greenwich Public Library, in Greenwich Connecticut, with a curator and exhibition space capable of hosting more than one show at a time.
Over to you: Have you shown in a library? Your experiences?

 The Greenwich Public Library (image from the library website) and sculpture, below, by Kim Bernard from a current exhibition (photo courtesy of Art in the Studio blog)

Residential Building Lobbies and Corporate Atriums
Corporations typically install in their lobbies artwork which has been purchased specifically for the spaces, or installed as the result of a corporate curatorial program. Ad hoc showing, then--"i.e. "May I show my work in your lobby?"--is not usually an option. 

Not everyone gets a banner to go with their atrium show. Well, not everyone gets an atrium show; this was curated by a duo of private dealers, Andrea Callard and Karen J. Cantrell, whose by-appointment gallery I'll mention next post)
David Headley banner above, at 153 East 53rd Street, aka the Citicorp Building, and another installation view, below. Bonus: the atrium is open 7:00 a.m. to midnight

Residential lobbies, on the other hand, may offer great opportunities, particularly if you live in the building or know someone who does. A personal experience: When I was president of my co-op, a modernist building in Chelsea, I initiated an exhibition program that drew work from friends and from my own studio to display on a marble wall that faced the entrance. Typically I showed one large work at a time.  Several sales came my way as a result of the exposure—a consultant occasionally brought clients into the lobby to show them the work—and having the work there freed up some storage space in my studio. But an equal benefit was to the community. Each installation enhanced the ambience of a building that 150+ residents called home.

Nancy Azara's 24-foor-long Heart Wall, installed in a Madison Avenue lobby as part of a curatorial program, remained on exhibition for close to a year

The program at DM Contemporary includes a changing exhibition in the lobby of work from gallery artists. Here it's a print by Mary Judge behind the concierge desk

In more commercial terms, a gallery I work with, DM Contemporary in Manhattan, maintains an exhibition program in the lobby of the building where it’s located.  The gallery has a strong presence in the lobby, the artists have visibililty in a gallery-installed show, and the residents get to see great art. Win/win/win.
Over to you: Have you shown in building lobbies? Your experiences?

Do-It-Yourself Spaces
The range of DIY spaces is vast, from an empty storefront to rehabbed office space. The Volta Art Fair, which takes place in March during Armory week in New York City, is not a DIY project, but it's located on one floor of an otherwise empty office building; likewise, other satellite fairs have been locating themselves in empty warehouse spaces around town.  These are good models for an ambitious (and well-funded) artists' project, especially if one of the participants has real estate contacts. On a smaller scale, there was the late, lamented Pocket Utopia  a narrow storefront space in Bushwick, which put on exhibitions, offered residencies, and brought a lot of artists together, the brainchild of artist Austin Thomas.

Two DIY venues
Above: Austin Thomas's Pocklet Utopia in Bushwick (photo via Newsgrist)

Below: Castleton Event Space in Hudson, New York

Installation of prints by Marylyn Dintenfass in the main exhibition space of the Castleton Project and Event Space in Hudson, New York. The show was curated by Lisa Mackie and Peter Mackie, and organized by John Stookey
Below: The Castleton building

Last summer I took part in a three-floor show curated exhibition in an enormous renovated building: the Castle Project Event Space, a gallery/workspace in a renovated Oddfellows Hall, in Castleton, New York, about 100 miles up the Hudson. It was unconventional but visually effective, 12 artists showing on three floors and an opening that drew the artists, their friends, some New York dealers, and local residents.
Over to you: Have you shown in DIY venues? Your experiences?
If you do it right, DIY projects can offer great opportunities. But they require no small amount of sweat equity. You—or someone—is going to put in a shitload of work to pull it off.  Sales? That depends on the venue. Publicity? Typically that's up to you.

Next week: The By-Appointment Gallery, Flat Files and Curated Online Projects


annell4 said...

Another wonderful post!

lynn arbor said...

Hi Joanne,
One venue you didn't mention is hospitals. I was invited to show in the corridors of the Detroit Medical Center in the children's hospital a number of years ago. I had the show. A doctor bought one small painting. But then a year or so later the hospital complex purchased 15 paintings for the Huron Valley Sinai Hospital, Women's Center.
Lynn Arbor

Charles George said...

Having targeted exposure is more important than just exposure. In marketing “Exposure” is like taking your marketing message and throwing it against a wall and hoping it sticks. “Targeted Exposure” is much more effective in building your list of clients, prospects and sales. Choosing the venues that you display your art has a huge impact on your overall art-marketing art marketing strategy. This is important because of the perceived value and people’s perceptions of the art and artist as it relates to the venue. said...

I have been gallery represented and I was thrilled at the time . I continue to look forward to my gallery exhibits. however, I no longer go looking for them. I am really enjoying the control over my own work, hanging and alternative gallery spaces that come with limited gallery exposure.

Coffee shop - No. I have only done this as a special case where showing at the cafe is part of a mutual, local, neighborhood support. It's not a place for sales.Consider it publicity and good works.

Restaurants- No, thank you.

Libraries- Yes.

Open studios- Yes

Other opportunities are evaluated one at a time. Depending on work available, time, place , prestige or good deed.

Martin said...

i've done it all!

sub shop -

killer group show at same place -

bizarre and cool office building lobby -

richard prince's burned out house takeover -

one-night show in friend's bushwick studio -

lots of fun and great times had by all.

Casey Klahn said...

Did the restaurant gig 3 times, first as a group show, then 2 solos. The first 2 shows went very well, heres the reason: The assistant rest. manager was an active curator of their monthly exhibits. She talks it up, helps you hang the show, and the restaurant puts on an opening. You invite your mailing list, and then on her end, she sells dinners (special hot table right there!). By the third show, she had dropped off to cavort in New Orleans, and I got picky about the lighting.

Key to restaurant shows: lighting, and active participation at the venue.

Library shows fill the resume well in the first year, but I'd be interested to see how they help sales. I did two, and they are low key, which isn't a bad thing.

This year I was approached for a large hospital show, but the vibes weren't right. A couple years ago, I was approached to display in a curated (gallery hosted) building lobby (big urban venue), but I demurred because the gallerist said sales were spare. I'm thinking about getting back to her, now.

Randall Anderson said...

My very first exhibition in 1984 was in a condemned building in the downtown east side of Vancouver. I had to light the piece with the headlight of my car driven in through the back door. I was new in town. 8 people saw it. A curator, who subsequently arranged several shows for me, a writer, who reviewed it for the local art magazine, and several artists who have remained friends. I have done many self initiated projects, especially in public space, because it's not always necessary to have a gallery space or institutional stamps of approval. I let my work tell me what it wants and everything feeds back into the next project. I currently have a work at the Toronto Sculpture Garden that came directly out of a series of projects I'm now doing where I install a piece in a mini-storage locker and then send people the information and lock combination so they can go and look at the work whenever they want. I have one coming up so I'll keep you posted. The first one was in Manhattan Mini-Storage in Chelsea. Here is a link:

Kim Matthews said...

Good call on hospitals, Lynn. I've shown a couple times at Hudson, Wisconsin's hospital via their Healing Arts program, which is funded by a Phipps family endowment and run by the Phipps Center for the Arts. The people are terrific. I thought the purpose of the shows was to make the patients feel more at home but the curator explained what a valuable service it was for staff as well. I haven't gotten rich showing there yet but have sold some work, and it's an enriching experience in other ways.

Joanne Mattera said...

These are great comments, everyone.

. Lynn, I'm glad to hear that sales came about as a result of your showing in a hospital. They are not on my list of places to show, though I'm happy to be in a hospital's collection. Have you experienced the stringencies of showing in a hospital--i.e. nothing red, for instance? wonderful commission for a hospital wing.

. Kim, also apropos of hospitals, mentions a curator. Having someone actively involved in the placement of of artwork for a venue, whether as a sale or a temporary echibition, makes a huge difference in how the work is shown and possibly sold.

. Charles, I totally agree that "targeted expiosure" is the effective way to go.

. Marion, your comment resonates: "I am really enjoying the control over my own work. . ." That's one of the great things about DIY shows, isn;t it?

. Martin, you bring the enthusiasm of youth. I'm curious to see how your ideas for showing will evolve as you become a middle aged artists. (Yep, it happens.)

. Casey, you have summed up the restaurant exhibition experience: "lighting, and active participation at the venue."

. Randall, you are a role model for entrepreneurship. I'm adding your storage locker idea to Part 2

Ann Brauer said...

Yes, I was delighted to have my work shown through an art consultant at the Landmark Campus in Tarrytown, NY. The facility was a major corporate headquarters and I thought the work looked fabulous. The down side was that the site was closed to the public so not that many people saw it. Here are some images:

Martin said...

joanne i am in my forties and have been showing for twenty years but thanks.

Joanne Mattera said...

No offense intended. I was thinking you were close to 40, which is why I referred to "the enthusiasm of youth." It's all relative. Anyway, I love your fearlessness is showing in some wild and crazy venues. I'm also aware, as I hope my readers are, that you are gallery represented.

j. marcus said...

While I agree that coffee shops are a lousy exhibition venue, for someone in-school or just out of an undergrad program, they can serve good purposes. Simply organizing, arranging, hanging and making sense of pieces away from one's work space gives opportunities for self-critique, reflection and growth. (Along similiar directions, I remember ridiculously fun ad-hoc warehouse exhibits in conjuction with band shows.) Recently, a few condos 'round my little part of the world have been throwing group shows in their public spaces and even buying work.

Joanne Mattera said...

Coffee shops might be a good venue for students, but to be honest, I'm not writing Marketing Mondays for students. My audience consists of serious artists who have been at this for a few years or a long time. For them a coffee shop is absolutely the wrong place to show. And, frankly, I would urge even students to find venues other than coffee shops. (Has anyone every sold anything, or gotten any kind of boost--aside from a caffeine buzz--from a coffee shop?. I totally agree with you, however, that the process of putting on a show is valuable. I also liked your other ideas: the warehouse show, condo shows.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joanne,
I live in a medium-sized upstate NY town, where there are a lot of artists, and few showing spaces. But I have exhibited at most of the possibilities, including restaurants, wineries, libraries, alternative art spaces, furniture stores, galleries, and my own studio. What I have concluded after 20 years of trying to be a local artist is that sales are hard to come by, and usually occur from people I know. Most shows seem to be a public service, with the public benefiting from seeing the work, and the artist ending up being "over exposed".
The question I now have is how do I get gallery representation with the goal of selling my work, outside of the area that I live in. I don't think that I have the time or money to spend on hotels in a city/cities in order to scout out galleries and get to know the dealers. Without a personal recommendation from someone, it really seems like a shot in the dark.
Any advice?

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to your next week disscussion about flat files and juried web sites. I remember earlier post(s) about juried shows, but nothing about New American Paintings type competitions... At what point does admission fee become become a variation of pay to play? Or are these fees nominal administrative costs?

Joanne Mattera said...

I will be talking about flat files but not about juried websites. The online sites I'm talking about are founded and run by artists and as such serve as role models for others who might consider taking on such a project.

As for New American Paintings, that seems to be a unique project. Think of it as a juried show in print form. Only you can decide whether you wish to to spend the money or not. When you consider what it takes to publish a book, "nominal administrative cost" can be quite costly for the applicant. I believe New American Paintings is a for-profit business venture, so consider that a juror has to be secured and paid, an editorial staff must be hired and paid, a designer must be paid. And then there are printing and mailing costs. Unlike magazines, which take big ads that offset subscriber fees, I don't think that's the case with NAP. People can't work for free. On the other hand, fees tend to be lower at non-profits because, well, profit is not the motive--and often there are state or federal grants to help support the institution.

Alas, it't not inexpensive to be an artist.

jend said...

Early on, I showed at a bunch of cafes. I never sold work from any of them, (except for one, wherein I sold $600 worth of work--I believe this was a lucky fluke!). As an artist just starting out, the cafes were great for learning the basics of exhibiting.

Issa Abou-Issa said...

Hi Joanne:
I have been selling my works in upscale furniture shops for years and I do very well (every month is a sale) This is where i feel most comfortable right now and it works for me.

Thanks for the wonderful blog