Having visions of your photos hanging on a white wall while art connoisseurs sip white wine nearby and murmur compliments about your work? Time to stop daydreaming and get the ball rolling.
This article has been contributed from the Fall 2010 issue of Resource Magazine, courtesy of the publisher. To subscribe to the magazine and explore Resource’s online features, visit the Resource Magazine website.
Illustration by Paula Rincon.
It’s crab season out there, kids. Vicious, vicious crab season. But it always is. And just like the ambitious little crab that you are, there is your opposite in nature—the bastard crab. They’re the ones at the bottom of the cage smoking cigarettes and getting the slutty crabs pregnant. They have no ambition in life other than ruining yours, because theirs is meaningless. They wait for you to think you’ve just about gotten a break, and that’s when you feel a claw on your ankle. “What the hell? Is that a claw? On my ankle?”
Yes, it is a claw. On your ankle. You can either give in and sink back down with the bastards—with a sore ankle no less—or you can kick them in their crab faces and get out of there. Those are your two choices. It’s a simple matter of wanting something or not wanting something.
Or, if this not so brilliant crab metaphor hasn’t done anything for you and you’re wondering where the last thirty seconds of your life went, you can just go ahead and skip down below. We’ve got some can’t-miss pointers on how to land a gallery show. But then again, you knew that. It says so on the top of the page.
Step 1: Be prepared before you make contact (know the importance of the website/artist’s statement/jpgs).
Start with an updated, straightforward website. If you don’t have a website, don’t panic. Don’t plan on having any of your inquiries taken seriously, but don’t panic. Gallerists don’t care how much Flash your website has or what tricks it can do. All they care about is the quality of the work being shown and the clarity of the vision. You’re an artist and your site should reflect your artistic taste, but don’t get bogged down with the bells and whistles—unless you want to do a bells and whistles show, in which case, go nuts. Design a clear, coherent site that shows off your work in the cleanest way possible. After that’s squared away, get cracking on your artist’s statement. This written description of your work needs to be good, strong and polished. A little old fashioned (classy) fancy talk never hurts anybody.
Finally, it’s important to always have good quality jpgs ready to send off to an interested party. Make sure they’re not so big that they take a long time to download and slow down the gallery’s computer. You don’t want to annoy the shit out of someone before you even meet them. There’s nothing wrong with carrying a disk or two around with you with samples of your work either. You never know.
Step 2: Research galleries to find the most appropriate fit.
Don’t waste your time and the gallery’s time by submitting work that is not even close to the sort of program it is known for. Don’t submit large-scale color work to a gallery that specializes in vintage black-and-white. Nothing pisses a gallery director off more than getting submissions that make it perfectly clear that the artist has no idea what the gallery program is. Do your homework. If possible, go to the gallery to see their shows and space.
Step 3: Make contact.
The best time to kidnap your ex-girlfriend is at night, when she’s not . . . wait. Which one is this? Ah, right, right. We’re making contact with a gallery. When sending work to a gallery, send a professional and courteous e-mail with jpegs—somewhere between ten and twenty—and a link to your website. Add a personal note to your letter: you might mention how beautiful you think the gallery space is, how much you loved a specific show or your affinity for a particular artist they represent. And don’t use the generic (and mood killer) “To whom it may concern.” Get the name of the person you are targeting. Nor send one email and bcc everyone—way to make the gallerist feel special! Galleries receive hundreds of inquiries a year. It really helps if you can set yourself apart. Gallerists really do look at submissions, so do not despair, your hard work is not going unnoticed. You may not get a call back, but who cares. You’re doing the work that needs to be done and your work is being looked at. People might not always respond but they will always look at the work.
Another great way to get your work seen by a gallery rep is by participating in a high quality portfolio review. Gallery owners, directors and associates regularly find new artists to exhibit and represent at portfolio reviews. No lie.
Step 4: Meet.
Be respectful of the gallerist’s time by being punctual. No excuses. Know that like everyone else, gallerists prefer to work with people they genuinely like and connect with. To this end it truly helps to be warm, courteous and professional (in short, be your best self). Attitude is a turn off, good attitude is not. Have a completed or near completed body of work that is accompanied by a well written artist statement. Be ready to have a fluid and challenging conversation about your work. And always, always send a “thank you” letter by mail. You’ve gone through too much at this point not to show a little courtesy.
And who knows. Anything could happen. This whole deal is a journey, kids. The work never ends. When you clear a sand dune there’s just more sand. Lots of it. You just have to keep walking until there isn’t. Simple, like the crab thing we talked about earlier. Also, you’re probably going to want to look into getting a camera. We totally didn’t even talk about that. Not having a camera is sort of a deal breaker. So, if you don’t have a camera that’s your step one.
Thank you to Sasha Wolf and Michael Foley, gallery owners, for their insight.