What Emerging Artists Can Learn from a Veteran Gallery Owner

Artwork Archive | June 29, 2015 (Updated September 20, 2022)

“The art world needs to be considered as a giant beast with lots of tentacles and you should think about every art gallery as a niche within a greater sphere. “ - Ivar Zeile

Looking for valuable art career advice from someone who’s seen it all? After 14 years in the art industry and thousands of submissions, who better to ask for insight than the owner and director of Plus Gallery, Ivar Zeile.

From applying to emerging artist shows to determining the reputation of a gallery, Ivar has valuable recommendations for artists seeking gallery representation. Here are eight tips to guide your efforts.

1. Research Galleries Before You Reach Out

It’s important to not reach out blindly to galleries for representation. You won’t do yourself any favors by approaching a gallery without looking at the type of work they show. There’s a good chance you won’t fit in and it will be a waste of everyone’s time. Make sure to research far in advance - it saves you time and you can focus only on who is the right fit. 

My gallery is a progressive contemporary gallery and you can see that easily by researching our online presence. With the advent of the Internet, you don’t necessarily have to walk into galleries or pick up the phone anymore.  Much of what you need to know in advance about the type of gallery you’re looking at is online.

2. Be Aware of Gallery Protocol

Many artists that are searching for galleries and want to submit are emerging artists. Emerging artists might look to show at top galleries, but they must understand why these galleries are in the top position. A lot of established galleries may not be able to represent emerging artists because there’s a different protocol.  

Price points are a huge factor and emerging artists usually can’t command a price that a top gallery needs to sell. That doesn’t mean emerging artists can’t approach the top sphere, but be aware and understand how established galleries run. There are other ways to get noticed, such as emerging artist shows held by established galleries - that’s a great entry level way to access a gallery.

3. Research if a Gallery is Emerging or Established

Most galleries’ websites will have a history page that states how long they’ve been in business. A gallery becomes very humble after ten years based on what they've learned. You’re going to be able to determine if a gallery has been around for a while by doing research outside of their website. Say they don’t have a press page or a history page - they might not have been around that long. Google search and if nothing shows up outside of their website, then they're probably an emerging gallery. If they have a reputation, they will have results that aren't related to their website.

4. Begin With Cooperative Galleries and Network

Emerging artists should focus on arenas like cooperative galleries (Pirate Gallery and Spark are two great ones in Denver). Their role is to provide a platform for artists to learn how to show their work before making the leap to a greater stage. Emerging artists should look into those opportunities first, instead of submitting to established galleries.

They can also attend openings and focus on networking at established galleries. Everyone knows that the main procedure of an opening is a celebration. If an artist goes to an opening, it shows interest in the gallery and respect for the artist showing his or her work. Once a gallery knows who you are, they are more likely to become aware of your work.

5. Apply for Emerging Artist Shows

Artists who are starting out can also consider showing in an emerging artist event - it’s a great resume builder. As Plus Gallery progressed, we realized we could no longer work with all emerging artists - but could still host a group show for them. I thought, we may not be able to represent emerging artists, but I wanted to satisfy my desire to test new works and artists. We have made great discoveries that way.

A group show leads to potential interactions with great new artists - that can lead somewhere. I make sure one of my slots each year goes to a group show with a thematic concept, not to my represented artists. My first one was back in 2010 and led to two long-term associations with artists that wouldn’t have happened without that group show.

6. Maintain Your Image on Social Media

I love Facebook. I think it’s a great tool. I do my own research online that artists have no idea about. It’s important to maintain social media profiles so they speak the way you want them to. Be sure to use professional language, update with new artwork and works in progress, and keep your viewers in the loop about your art.

7. Understand Gallery Representation Takes Time

For us, the minimum amount of time to achieve gallery representation is typically a couple of months. If I see a wonderful possibility, it could be an immediate thing - but that is a rare situation. Also if someone’s local, it’s not just about their work, it’s about them as a person. I want to get to know prospective artists first. From that perspective, it could take at least three months, but occasionally could be as long as a year or two. Three months is the most common time frame.

8. Know That Galleries Contact Artists, Too

The longer you’ve been in the art sphere, the less you want to deal with the learning stage. Established galleries have earned the right to say “I’ve cut my teeth” and don’t want emerging artists to hone in on their success by sending an email or just showing up. If an established gallery is interested, they will contact the artist. Most emerging artists don’t think that way.

Once an artist is established, they shift thought processes too. Emerging artists are in a catch twenty-two. How do you get in without experience and how do you get experience without representation? It can be daunting. There are, however, great opportunities to get noticed that subvert the need to submit to galleries. Artists can be savvy and work through the expansive nature of the system.

Are you ready for when a gallery responds? Get organized and sign up for your 14-day free trial of Artwork Archive today.

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