With two group shows less than a week apart, another in the next month, and a solo show only 7 months away, a lot of pe0ple think I’m really busy. Or uber-busy. It seems normal to me, though, especially if I want to maintain a career as an artist. So this has me thinking that this must not be the norm, which is unfortunate because I like to think that artists are all showing their work somewhere other than their basement. So I have to ask- are you doing all that you can to promote your work? Or do you not know where to start? For those that are beginners, I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss how to exhibit your art. And maybe even those of you who are not new to this will pick up some ideas.
First, I like to ignore all the “rules” regarding getting into galleries. So many people say you should start small and local. Yes, there is some truth to this, but don’t sell yourself short. Some of my very first exhibitions were out of my city and out of my state, so there goes that rule. Secondly, there are a lot of people that say you shouldn’t even approach a gallery, that you should just let them call you. What?? If I want something, I don’t just sit on my couch and will it to me. I go out and get it. Now, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean you can just march into a gallery and dump your portfolio in their lap. You should send them your work in a professional manner- read my steps for doing this in a previous post.
Galleries like to know that you are going to be reliable and not flake out if they book a show with you for several months/years in advance, hence the need for a good resume. So you’ll need to build your exhibition history. But how do you get an exhibit if you have never exhibited before? I know- it’s like which came first, the chicken or the egg. This is where starting small and local comes in since you’re more likely to get into a gallery that knows you personally through local events, plus if they are not solely looking for established artists, you’ll have a better chance. That said, don’t limit yourself, either. There’s no harm in trying to get shows elsewhere- especially group exhibitions since galleries know that if you drop out, it won’t be so hard to replace you or make up for it.
In addition to galleries, there are other ways to exhibit your work. I’d recommend this whether you need to build your exhibition history or even if you’ve done hundreds of shows. You can never reach enough people.
University galleries and museums– great to have on your resume, but won’t result in sales necessarily because the general public doesn’t think to go there to buy art. That’s just the perception they have. However, these venues are very prestigious and build your credibility among collectors and galleries. You will need a few shows under your belt to score one of these, but just to say, this is something you should be aiming for.
Local museums– more likely to show your work these days due to the economic crisis. Their funding has been limited since the government loves to cut arts funding first, so they can’t afford to ship work and give stipends to national/international artists. So get to know your local museum and send them a proposal.
Juried exhibitions– Now there is a lot of debate over these types of shows since some think they lead to nothing, while others think you should never pass an opportunity to exhibit. If you are completely new to exhibiting your work, I say go with the latter. When you’re starting out, you won’t discriminate so much- there’s plenty of time to do that later once you’ve been showing a lot. If you’ve built a bit of an exhibition history, that’s a different story. Personally, I will do juried exhibits, but that’s only if I feel they are worthwhile. I decide based on:
Where the show is being held– is it a good venue or is it some cube in the middle of nowhere?
Who is the juror– someone prestigious in the art world or just somebody’s grandma that took a watercolor class once?
Is the venue insured? Nevermind whether your own work is insured, if the venue itself can’t afford insurance, then it’s probably not a good one (sorry).
What city/state/country is the venue located– again, don’t go with someplace not typically known for art.
Is it a vanity gallery? There are a few of those out there holding juried shows- make sure the gallery has a good reputation.
Lastly, look into exhibition opportunities that are off the beaten path.
Pop-up galleries are the latest “it” spaces and do not require representation, so you are more likely to get into one. Also, if you are just starting out, look into showing at coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, bank lobbies, doctors’ offices, law firms, gift shops, restaurants, etc. Although food and smoke near your work is a scary concept, so just consider that risk, but look into making your own exhibits through these venues. Not all will lead to sales, which is why many don’t bother, but it will build your name in the community, build your exhibition history (until you can gain more via galleries, etc.), and it can lead to future sales since people will see your work and talk about it with others well after your show. Each step builds upon the other. It all takes time- Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, so if you have ideas for opportunities to share, please feel free to add them in the comments section.