The road to getting into a gallery can seem impossibly rocky with obstacles at every turn. How do you know if you’re choosing the right path and using the right approach? We chatted with a veteran gallery owner, Ivar Zeile, and turned to the experts for 6 important do’s and don’ts to achieving gallery representation.
1. Do Respect the Process
Galleries get masses of submissions. Asking outright for representation won’t do you any favors. Treat getting into a gallery like applying for a regular job. Research the gallery and learn specifics so you can customize every letter you send. Gallery owners put a lot of stock into their relationships with artists. They want an artist they represent to understand their mission and space. Instead of asking for representation, ask a gallery owner to review your work. Asking for feedback gets you on the gallery’s radar and isn’t too pushy. Be sure to include context and briefly explain your most recent work. And let the gallery know how you’d fit in and why you’re significant. A gallery will want to know why you’re contacting them.
2. Don’t Linger at the Coffee Shop
Gallery owners pay attention to art when they’re out and about, but generally not at coffee shops. There’s a much better chance of catching the eye of an art dealer at a cooperative gallery or nonprofit exhibition. These are much more powerful venues. They offer a sense of legitimacy. If you’re looking to make a leap in your art career, move on from coffee shops to cooperative galleries.
3. Do Be Your (Best) Self
When gallery owners do a studio visit, they focus on more than just the art. They want to know how the artist operates as a person. Be sure to be gracious and spend more time listening than speaking. This shows an art dealer that you have it together and you are not a risk. Keep your expectations low and resist the urge to be pushy. While these visits can be very nerve-wracking, remember to be humble and to be yourself. Being yourself is very important. Gallery owners want to get to know you as a person so they can offer you representation with confidence.
4. Don’t Act Like a Collector
When you’re looking for gallery representation, it can be tempting to visit a gallery you’re interested in. It’s nice to show respect for the gallery and the artists represented there. If you do visit, make sure to announce that you are an artist - but don’t ask to show your work. Gallery owners want to spend their time intentionally and need to know if they are talking to a potential buyer or not. Don’t let a gallery owner think you are a collector - it can only hurt your chances. Instead say something along the lines of “I’m an artist and would love to do some research. I really like what you’re doing here, may I look around?”
5. Do Provide the Right Information
When you send a gallery to view your work online, make sure they can see all the details. Galleries usually want to see mediums, dimensions, and price ranges. They also want to see your newest and best works. Keep these works in an elegant, organized, and simple online portfolio. Gallery owners have limited time, so you want them to be able to navigate through your work with ease. Consider sending them to your Artwork Archive Public Profile - a polished online portfolio that will let your work shine.
6. Don’t Use Gimmicks
Gallery owners often get emails from hopeful artists. If you write with respect, there might be a chance they’ll take a look at your website if they have time. If you try to use a clever catch phrase or gimmick to get the gallery owner or director to pay attention, you risk turning off the gallery. The best approach is to be honest and respectful.