Marketing Mondays: The Gallery Program

Could you shed some light on

the gallery program?

In a recent post, What’s on Your Mind?, I asked readers to tell me what they’d most like to read about in this column.  One reader asked the two questions that shaped this post: Could you shed some light on the gallery program? And How do dealers define their program?.

Let’s Start with Some Wattage
A program is the gallery’s esthetic as expressed through the work it shows. For some galleries, the program is tightly defined—abstraction with a strong material sensibility, for instance; or new media, which would include video and digital  presentations; or modernist abstraction, which is to say painting and sculpture from the first half of the 20th Century. You name it, there's a gallery for it. In other galleries, the program may be more inclusive.

New York City, with its 500-plus galleries, can typically sustain focused programs—indeed, it’s a way for a dealer to achieve visibility and cultivate a dedicated clientele—while galleries in smaller cities may need to work more broadly to satisfy their clientele (and, not incidentally, to make enough sales each month to stay in business).

Further, the program may include such outreach components as the publication of catalogs for each artist, or exhibition, or season; an artist talk as part of each exhibition or panel discussion as part of a larger group show; curatorial projects beyond the gallery; participation in art fairs.

Most of the time it’s the roster of gallery artists who are included in these outreach efforts, but smart dealers work with a number of artists tangentially (for thematic shows, or to introduce a new artist into a group show or art fair)—see Degrees of Representation—so a program, while well defined, may expand and contract in terms of participants.

There’s a lot of mobility in the art world with the idea that everyone wants to move up. Artists may start with a small gallery and then move to one that’s more established. Galleries look to attract the higher-profile artists and thus move up in the art world hierarchy. Directors may move from working for someone to establishing their own gallery (or make the reverse trip).  Everyone has their eyes open. Dealers are always on the lookout for a new artist whose work complements their program. Artists looking for representation would be wise to follow a gallery, via in-person and online visits, to see how that program has been expressed and how it unfolds over time. And represented artists would be wise to maintain visibility and maintain contacts because, well, you never know, how your situation with the gallery could change. Despite all of this movement, however, the program—in his website, New York dealer Stephen Haller describes it as a “constant aesthetic”—remains at the core of a gallery’s identity.

How do dealers define their 


At an opening at Kenise Barnes Fine Art, Larchmont

I asked Kenise Barnes, owner/director of Kenise Barnes Fine Art in Larchmont, a town in Westchester County, just north of New York City, to share her thinking about the gallery program:

"My program is focused primarily on presenting seven shows per season to attract and engage potential art collectors and to further my artists’ careers through exposure, exhibition opportunities, and sales.

"The two- to four-person show has been the most successful exhibition format.  These shows are concept-driven and give the viewers an opportunity to see a few works by each artist and get an expanded idea of the artists’ visual language.  Simultaneously, we are able to explore how contemporary artists are working within a medium or genre. 

"The artwork that we present and are most successful in marketing reflects not only my personal aesthetic, but also that of our audience.  We present work that we believe has inherent beauty, that has enduring value and is investment-worthy. Although art is highly subjective, a gallerist needs to be able to make an objective assertion of quality based on her experience. This is supported by the artists’ level of commitment, education, and resume of exhibition history.

"The gallery reinforces its presence in the community by regularly organizing artist talks, receptions, and educational programs . . .   Our website, blog and social media outreach becomes a more important vehicle for reaching new audiences each day."

Finding the Info on Your Own
Understanding a gallery's program allows you to determine if the gallery is one you wish to pursue and if so, what you might expect from the dealer. Absent a conversation with the dealer--and most will not drop what they're doing to define their program to every artist eager to find a place--you'll find that information on the website of just about every gallery. Sometimes written as or included in a mission statement, it’s in the section called Gallery or About the Gallery or even Info. If you’re interested in the gallery as a potential place to show your work, or as a collector looking to acquire a particular type of work, this information is invaluable. However, I would add that nothing takes the place of visiting a gallery regularly to see how the mission statement is expressed month after month in an esthetic narrative. If you prefer instant gratification, visit an art fair where you’ll see gallery programs more or less arranged on the walls of every booth.

Here’s a random sampling from around the country. While few galleries are as focused in concept or as clear in description as the Pavel Zoubok Gallery, included below, each gallery offers telling words or phrases. I’ve italicized what seems pertinent to me. Also, it’s worth noting that the annual Art in America Guide has just been sent to subscribers. You learn a lot about a gallery's program by whom it shows, information provided by the listings.

Angles Gallery, Los Angeles: "Throughout twenty-seven years of exhibitions, Angles Gallery has remained committed to contemporary art that emphasizes conceptual work by established as well as emerging artists, encompassing painting, sculpture, video, drawing, photography and installation. The gallery continues to develop its exhibition program with the introduction of young artists, as well as supporting the expanded exhibitions of the gallery artists exhibiting nationally and internationally."

Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco:  "Committed to featuring evocative and challenging work in a variety of media, the gallery introduces collectors to emerging talent who probe the creative and material boundaries of their craft. Regularly scheduled (4-6 week) solo and group shows, in addition to curated exhibitions, bring fresh dialogue to issues of common concern in contemporary art practice. The gallery participates in national and international art fairs in Miami, New York, and Basel, among other cities."

Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York City: "Since 1997, Pavel Zoubok Gallery has exhibited the work of contemporary and modern artists with a particular focus in the fields of collage, assemblage and mixed media installation. From the outset, our program has drawn from past and present works in an effort to create a cohesive art historical and commercial context for collage and its related forms, spanning most of the major art movements of the postwar period."

Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago: "The gallery primarily focuses on abstraction in paintings, works on paper, and sculpture. The artists represented range from emerging, to seasoned mature artists. While many of the artists are from the Chicago area, the gallery also represents artists from both coasts as well as Europe."
Stephen Haller Gallery, New York City: "We strongly believe that a gallery should have a vision and an identity. In our search for artists over many years, the gallery has brought together a group of artists from different parts of the world that have a similar vision and sensibility. The gallery is aligned with these artists and has developed its focus around their spirit and work. This work is emotional. It is gestural and avoids the mechanical. The artists seek to drive the image to its minimal essence."

See? Just when you thought you'd find an easy way into a gallery, you realize you've got to do more homework.

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Mead McLean said...

This is an awesome article, and explains something I've been doing for about a year now, though I didn't always think of it in these terms. I've been tracking a few galleries in different locations with different programs to see how often they bring on new people, how much the work varies from artist to artist, how receptive they might be to new people, and whether their artists are represented by several galleries.

I also track how often I see the upper management in the gallery during the day and at openings and how well I'm treated by the staff. I can't count how many times I've gone into galleries where the gallerinas don't even look up from their desks when people come in. I want to work with a gallery who works with everyone who comes in the door, no matter what their level of interest and income happens to be.

So, yeah, it's going to take me a long time to find galleries I like, but in the meantime, there's the internet, random group shows, and alternative spaces.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post Joanne - The information is really helpful.