Marketing Mondays: Cloud Nine to Square One

Posted: An Early Summer Roundup
Posted: Louise Bourgeois's Fabric Works 
You did your homework and (after a few/some/many rejections) a gallery has expressed interest in your work. You're invited into a group show. The turnout is great. Sales are made. Over the ensuing months, you are invited to join the gallery as a represented artist. Conversation begins for a solo show.
You're on Cloud Nine!
Then, seemingly out of the blue, you get the dreaded email: “The gallery is closing. Please come and pick up your work.”

It happens more often than you think. As rents rise and the cost of doing business climbs (galleries may pay $10,000 or significantly more for a ground-floor space, and not just in New York City), some dealers may decide to close their doors, opting for private dealing or consulting. Others, having been in the business for many years or feeling particularly burned out, may opt out entirely while they still have some savings left.

It’s a long, hard fall from Cloud Nine to Square One
Best-case scenarios
. The dealer may not know what the next step is, but when the dust settles you may be invited to show in a new location—or be one of the artists the dealer represents privately
. The more responsible dealers who know they’re closing for good may try to place some of their artists with other dealers. It does happen
. If you have been actively visiting galleries, networking, making studio visits, being visible outside the studio, the shock of being suddenly gallery-less will be mitigated by people who know you and your work. You find yourself invited to participate in group show or two
. You never know who has seen your work, noted your name, Googled you and visited your website. Then (seemingly) out of the blue, a request for a studio visit or an invitation to show arrives 

Worst-case scenario: You have to start all over again. .
Rethinking the "worst case":
. You’ve got that recent exhibition on your resume and possibly some new collectors. These are the bonafides that help you rebound into another gallery
.  Whether you realize it or not, you’ve learned a lot about working with galleries: making contact, projecting confidence, following up

. Keep your collectors on your mailing list. Let them know of exhibitions you're in, projects you're involved with
. Show in good juried shows as much as you feel is professionally acceptable
. Participate in a good DIY show if the opportunity arises; better still, organize one
. You may not want to go back to the conventional open studio events, but consider a studio evening with white wine and light snacks for your collectors, supporters, local arts writers, and, yes, bloggers--folks who are in a position to help you connect the dots. They know why you've invited them. Keep the bubbly flowing and be charming. And, of course, make sure your most fabulous new work is on the wall and well lit. This is not a party for your hungry artist friends, but you might ask a few of your most well-connected colleagues to attend. (You'll do the same for them if the time comes)
. Create a catalog of your work. Update your website. Something tangible, or clickable, will help dealers and curators connect with what you do
. Network with other artists. You will learn of, or be recommended to, group shows that keep you visible
. Sometimes gallery assistants decide to strike out on their own, inviting a few of the original gallery artists with them. It’s a chance, but perhaps one you wish to take
. You may decide that with the savvy use of online media you can manage your career on you own
Have you been with a gallery that closed? What did you do? Where did you land?

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Images via the Internet


annell4 said...

Over the years, galleries I have been with have closed. At the time, it didn't seem to matter, as I was represented by other galleries. But you have given lots of good ideas. As a woman, who lives on the" far side of the world", and an "older" woman, I have found it is hard finding representation, but I continue. Of course just like any other artist I would prefer to just be in the studio and work, but I am also trying to work my "plan."
It seems like it might be a "bad" time, or that is what I am hearing... I think 17 businesses have closed in my town, of Taos, New Mexico. Including the art supply...lots of galleries... said...

Oh yes...galleries come and galleries go. If it doesn't kill you , it makes you stronger. When hope dies action takes over. These are the mottos which have helped me survive the disappointments and land on my feet.

LXV said...

This is a tough topic and I have also recently dropped from "Cloud Nine to Square One". If I were 20, 30 or even 40, I would probably think of it as just another bump in the road, but at 60, when so many other aspects of life are profoundly altered, and the concept of "future" is now short and urgent, the break seems irreparable.

But, with age comes perspective and the truth is, over the course of my long career I spent comparatively little time on Cloud NIne. I have never actually sold much work—selling was never a goal in itself—and only regret that the time remaining to complete my work grows less with each day.

What's harder now is making a living at all. I'm lucky to have a few freelance gigs which have bounced back over the last year. To go out now and hustle for a well-paying career opportunity at this point would likely be an exercise in frustration (It's the gray hair). Besides, such jobs eat up more time & energy than I have to give. My responsibility as an artist is—and has always been—to acknowledge and honor my gift and support it by whatever means I can muster. I would never want to depend on my art to support me—hence the patchwork of freelance day jobs—but I can't neglect my studio time. Double-bind? or opportunity for growth?. Finding the right balance, staying resilient and open are the challenges all artists have to face. The "urgency" of my present situation will, no doubt, affect my art. I can't wait to see how things go.

Tina Mammoser said...

I'm at square one, nearly. Circumstances mean that many of my past galleries have closed, or simply we've parted ways (my prices rised too high for their clientelle, my style slowly became too abstract for their clientelle).

But some of your worst case points apply. It's frustrating, but I'm not really at square one. I've made a lot of contacts and my name is known in certain local and regional circles now. Even those galleries I've left it's been on good terms and so we keep in touch. Sometimes we give each other leads or mention other galleries/artists to contact. I know my city's gallery scene far better now so can be much more focused with my next round of gallery hunting. Plus, of course, I simply am better at presenting my work and knowing how to proceed to approaching galleries than I was ten years ago!

And we shouldn't forget that with the gallery side of the industry changing, so is the customer side. You mention open studios, which I've never stopped doing. Direct contact with my collector base has become increasingly important (but never bypassing or undercutting the few galleries I do still have). The customers themselves are more saavy and changed in how they want to interact. So while my galleries have suffered in the recession, oddly I in fact have not. Yes, this requires more work on my part on the marketing side right now, but in the long run I know (thinking positive!) I will find new galleries that I hopefully can work with for many years ahead of me. My name is still out there and active and I think that's one of the most important factors.