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Finding Gallery Representation

Capistrano Mission Sketch – Ink and Watercolor

 This article was originally written for the National Watercolor Society Newsletter when I served on the board several years ago. I suggested it’s inclusion after having artists come into the gallery and seek representation with seemingly no thought for how to do that.  The approach is often so clumsy that the artist gives themselves very little chance for success. Just this morning I received a phone call from a young man wanting to find a place to show his work. After I asked him a question or two I found out that he had never visited the gallery, worked in acrylic and in an abstract manner. Had he visited he would have seen that we are very full with seven painters represented and furthermore we specialize in watercolor with a representational approach. I sent him this article and was glad to hear that we were the first gallery he’d called on his long list. Since I am an artist, I want to do all I can to help those who are seeking gallery representation. Right now, after this long downturn in the economy and the subsequent closing of so many galleries in our area, knowing a few ground rules can be very helpful.
  After spending years learning and perfecting your craft, finding gallery representation might be your next goal. Since there are many more talented painters than there are galleries, it is crucial to know the various ways to introduce yourself and your work so you increase the chance of success.
         I am a painter and teacher and for the last fifteen years have owned and run a gallery with my daughter, Katie, who works in fused glass. Because of our respective disciplines, our gallery specializes in watermedia and art glass. We have watched many artists who desire representation in both media come into the gallery and request representation. Sadly, the majority has not done their homework.
         Do not:
         Walk in to the gallery with your paintings or a book of photographs of your work under your arm and expect an immediate meeting to discuss your intent.
         Expecting immediate attention in spite of a gallery full of guests is a sure way to get a negative response. The person working owes their time and effort to those artists whose work is in the gallery and to the customers in attendance. Even if the gallery has no customers, this is not the way to introduce yourself and your work.
         Go directly to the person in charge and ask, “How can I get my work into this gallery?”
         By approaching the person working the gallery about representation, you are making the big assumption that they are in a decision making position. There are many more appropriate ways to communicate your desire.
         Call on the phone during gallery hours and ask for representation. It is easy to tell if the caller has ever visited your gallery. Sometimes they don’t even know what media you specialize in. Getting a list of galleries and making a phone call to all of them without first visiting is a waste of your time as well as the gallery owner.  
Many telemarketers call during business hours and you do not want to be included in that group!
         Make disparaging remarks about the work on the walls. This should be intuitive, but it is done. If you don’t like the work included in the gallery mix, perhaps that’s a gallery you want to cross off your list.
         Expect your friendship with the gallery artists to gain you entree. Or, for that matter, expect your relationship with a friend of the gallery owner to assist you.
 Knowing an artist in a gallery can be a real advantage in that you can ask them for the appropriate way to approach the gallery owner. Some gallery artists will recommend fellow painters but that depends upon their relationship with the gallery.
         Visit several times and observe the variety of work offered by the gallery. Galleries have “personalities” and probably reflect both the owner and the area where the gallery is located. Pay attention to that. By visiting numerous times, you get a good feeling for the kind of work that is included in the gallery mix and you can observe the gallery personnel interact with customers. This is good information to have before you make a decision about approaching a gallery.
         Be very honest with yourself about the quality of your work compared to the work on the walls.
         Oftentimes artists leave a card and a website address. It is wise to offer that information after you have had some affirmation in the artistic community. Entering shows, receiving awards for your work, and or asking for critiques from well-known and respected artists will give you a good picture of your readiness. Having said that, don’t be so hard on yourself that you wait well beyond a time when you deserve gallery representation. A neighboring gallery owner told me he thinks that 60% of artists are better than they think they are while 40% are the opposite.
         Also, by leaving a card, you put the gallery owner in the position of having to find your website and be responsible for contacting you. It’s likely that your card will be discarded if the owner is either very busy or not interested in new work at the time.
         Take note of the pricing and how it compares with yours.
    Write a letter asking if the gallery is welcoming new artists, including some photographs of your work and a request for a meeting at the gallery director’s convenience.
         Follow up with a phone call, which you have promised to do in your letter. If the answer is negative, ask if they will keep your information on file for the future.
         For this important step, doing at least as much homework as you commonly do for a large painting is a very wise use of your time. Whereas you may have more than one chance to approach a gallery, the old adage, “You have only one bite at the apple,” has some truth to it. What you don’t want to do is get off on the wrong foot at the beginning. Be methodical in your planning and keep good records. And finally, “Good Luck!”

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