Photography: Lili Vieira de Carvalho
In this blog, we’ve come across people who have exhibited their work in a number of different ways. Brandy asked a café owner to display her photography and sold an image on the first day they went up. Jeremy Mason McGraw persuaded a friend to open her home for an exhibition and found himself invited to a number of other shows as a result.
Both of those approaches require a little creativity. But there is an alternative way of having your own exhibition.
You can show your work in a traditional gallery — one that specializes in art and photography and whose business is to sell the work of artists like yourself.
We’re not saying that’s going to be easy. But it is possible and it does bring some huge advantages.
Big Sales and Bigger Bragging Rights
The first advantage, of course, is the prestige. The difference between showing your images in a high street gallery and displaying it in a friend’s home is like the difference between self-publishing and landing a contract from Random House.
Winning an exhibition at any professional gallery adds a very impressive line to your resume and gives you some huge bragging rights.
The other advantage though is the marketing. Gallery owners don’t just provide a space to show your work, they also bring buyers in to look at it. Any decent gallery owner will maintain a list of local art buyers, understand what they want and have different ways of notifying them about an exhibition. While the artist might be free to spread the word too, you should be able to rely on the gallery owner to provide the bulk of the market.
That is, after all, what you’re paying them for… and that’s where the disadvantages begin. Private galleries tend to charge around 50 percent of the sale price for artworks, which sounds like quite a large cut. Of course, without their help and their contacts, it’s unlikely that you would have made the sale at all.
The biggest disadvantage of approaching galleries though is the competition and the selectivity. Gallery owners won’t accept the work of every artist who walks through the door. That’s not because they’re mean, snobbish or don’t want to sit in a gallery all day filled with bad art. It comes down to those contacts again.
The gallery’s buyers have to trust the gallery owner to show them works that they’ll find interesting. If the gallery owner continually calls them to see mediocre works, they’ll stop coming. And if they’re invited to see works that are good but which they don’t want to buy, then neither the artist nor the gallery owner will make any money.
It’s not you, it’s the Market
The Kirchman Gallery in Johnson City, Texas, for example, is an art gallery that shows paintings, drawings and sculpture as well as photography. Susan Kirchman, the gallery’s owner and a retired photography teacher and artist herself, says that she receives around 50 enquiries from photographers each year. She accepts just three.
Like many gallery owners, Susan expects to see an impressive portfolio of around 20 well-chosen works, but she also wants to see an artist’s statement and resume. The statement doesn’t have to be long — less than 300 words is often enough — but it should be sufficient to communicate your approach to your art.
“I want to know what inspires the artist and how they relate to the work,” Susan says.
The resume though is a little tougher. An impressive resume for an artist looking for an exhibition doesn’t have to include a long list of solo shows but it should include juried shows in which a board of experts have selected the works.
In addition, it pays to check the gallery’s website and call ahead to arrange a time to show your images.
“The gallery owner is selling your credibility as well as your work,” Susan explains. “You have to work hard to build that resume with many group shows before approaching a gallery, and then it should be with all of your paperwork in order… and follow that particular gallery’s rules as far as how they want to see work. Never walk in off the street and expect to show something without an appointment.”
Of course, even doing all of those things won’t guarantee a show. Placing art in galleries is still just another way of selling a product and if there isn’t a market for your work, the gallery owner won’t accept it. Susan notes that her buyers in Texas aren’t looking for edgy works that people might snap up in, say, New York. They want items that they can live with.
Getting your work in an art gallery isn’t just about producing the right photos then. It’s about finding the right gallery for your art too.