Approaching a Gallery
Commercial galleries are in the business of selling art (and for some galleries, fine craft). If you’re an artist who is interested in selling your work, gallery representation may be the right fit for you. A lot of emerging artists often find it difficult to be “picked up” by a gallery.
Though there are no hard and fast rules, the following information will help you to avoid some of the common mistakes artists make when applying to a gallery for the first time.
Take heed and with hard work and a little luck, these tips may help you to secure a representation relationship with a commercial gallery.
Galleries are as diverse and varied as the artists they represent. There isn't one single business model that works for everyone and once you start looking into it, you’ll likely be amazed at the broad range of commercial galleries out there. Before you inquire about a submission or studio visit with the staff at any gallery, make sure you know about their business: the artists they represent, their reputation, their brand—you might even find information about whether or not they accept artist submissions. Once you’ve learned a thing or two about your potential options for gallery representation, you’re ready for the next consideration.
FIND THE RIGHT FIT
Selecting a gallery to approach is just like shopping for clothes; the right fit is not only flattering, it feels better too. Before you settle on a gallery (or galleries) to approach, it is best to assess your work and career accomplishments as honestly and objectively as you can. Once you understand your own artistic identity, you can assess whether a potential gallery is the right fit or not. There may be one gallery in particular you would love to show with because they are well known and have a great reputation, but if you’re an emerging artist working in contemporary sculpture and installation, and that particular gallery mostly shows established and historical painters, it might not be the best fit for your work. Don’t lose hope. No matter what kind of work you make, there is probably a gallery out there for you.
SOMETIMES THE GRASS IS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE
If you look around your local market and find that no gallery seems to be a good fit for you, don’t stop there. With today’s communication technology, it has never been easier to market your work elsewhere. There are some huge advantages and conveniences to having local representation, but finding the right market for your work is way more important to your long term success than convenience alone. There are definitely challenges and often additional expenses (shipping) that come with selling through an out-of-town gallery, but sometimes it’s well worth it.
We suggest you never submit an unsolicited application for representation to a gallery. Sometimes galleries will post that they accept submissions on an ongoing basis. Sometimes they will indicate that they have an annual submission deadline. If you’ve just missed the deadline, keep an eye out for the next one. Some galleries may specify that they do not want unsolicited submissions of any kind. This is their choice and you should respect it. Sometimes galleries won’t publicize their position one way or the other. In this case, it doesn’t hurt to e-mail or phone to inquire about their policy on submissions, but be prepared to accept their response. Whatever you do, never send an unsolicited submission without asking first or, even worse, if they have explicitly forbidden them.
GIVE A GALLERY WHAT THEY ASKED
When putting together your submission package, give the gallery what they've asked; nothing more, nothing less. If they have posted a call for submissions, or have noted their willingness to accept submissions at any time, they will also likely tell you exactly what you should include in your submission. Make sure you send them everything they have asked for and don’t include anything extra that they have not requested. In general, most galleries will request images of current work and an up-to-date CV. Artist statements may also be requested. Website links are increasingly encouraged since they often include these materials. Most galleries will specify the number of images you should include as well as the size/resolution requirements. They may also indicate whether they would like to see only recent work, or if they would prefer a broader range of current and past work. Whatever they want, make sure you give it to them, it makes for a better start to the relationship for you and for them.
DON’T FORCE IT
Galleries are in the business of selling, and sometimes in sales, people just aren’t buying. When you’re approaching a gallery for representation, remember that you’re hoping to sell yourself and your work to them. Respect their right to refuse it.
DON’T GIVE UP HOPE
Not getting a fit with a potential gallery is not the end of the world. There are many factors and considerations in their decision to turn you down and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of your work. It certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep trying. You may have felt that your work was a good fit, but the gallery may have felt differently. Maybe it was “too much” of a good fit—your work may have been too similar to another artist they already represent. Sometimes it comes down to timing. This is especially true for emerging artists. Most galleries are looking for long-term representation relationships. They want to work with artists that are looking to make a career of their art practice. Sadly, the statistics show that a lot of artists coming out of University art programs give it up within a few years. If you’ve only just begun your artistic career, the gallery may be interested, but will wait to see where you stand in a few years’ time before adding you to their roster.
IT’S A RELATIONSHIP, NOT A ONE-NIGHT-STAND
Nobody likes a cold sales calls, even if the gallery is open to submissions. To improve the chances that your submission may lead to a studio visit or gallery representation, it’s a good idea to make efforts to build a relationship with the gallery and its staff before sending them a submission package. If they can put a face to a name, it might make them more receptive to your submission. Join their mailing list and start attending the gallery's openings and other events. Introduce yourself, and get to know the gallery’s artists and other members of their audience. In addition to improving your submission chances, you might end up meeting some really great people. And, you’ll be amazed at what the engagement with expanding your artistic community might also contribute to your practice.