Advice For Approaching Galleries
One of the more challenging steps for the professional artist’s career is securing a gallery–if that is your route. This delicate process can be competitive for emerging artists as well as established ones. In this article, I’ll share some commonly suggested practices in addition to some of the pitfalls that one should avoid.
This is the companion article to, “Choosing The Right Gallery: An Explanation of Gallery Types”. I encourage you to first read that article before you dive head first into approaching a gallery. Take the time to acquaint yourself with some points of interest (both good and bad) regarding the major gallery types. Also included is an infographic that visually explains the relationship between the artist and gallery types. Read onward for more information.
First, Do Your Homework
Look them up online! Check out their website to see what sort of artwork they sell. Look up their hours, location, and see if they are active online. Having a quality website isn’t just for the artist. You can learn as much about their professional reputation as they can about yours. Additionally, you’ll learn how to correctly spell the gallery and/or the director’s name (both very under-recognized potential pitfalls). Narrow down the list to 4 or 5 galleries.
Have a heart-to-heart with yourself. Choose galleries that ACTUALLY complement your style and match your skill level.
Approaching A Local Gallery
Visit The Gallery
Ed Winkleman, contemporary NYC gallerist and art writer, gives some terrific advice for artists on his blog (check it out if you can). During a great podcast interview from way back in 2008, he dispenses some simple, but astute advice that was also given to him: Go to at least 3 events put on by the gallery first. Know who the gallery is and what kind of work they show before you approach them.
Trying to sell yourself to a gallery without any previous knowledge of their space is awkward at best and downright invasive at worst.
Go to an opening or stop in during slow periods and actually look at their artist’s work. Check out their average prices, look to see how much they’ve sold, re-evaluate if your work fits their gallery, and get a feel for the foot-traffic that might happen on a regular day. Be present and show enthusiasm, but don’t be a ‘used car salesman’. Just try to enjoy the artwork and then leave. Among a whole slew of practical knowledge this visitation can provide, you are showing a true and honest support for their efforts.
Don’t Be A Wall-Flower
Be more than an onlooker at gallery events. Come prepared to be inviting and conversational. Introduce yourself to the exhibiting artist and the gallery director. Take a moment to say something nice about the artwork. Both the exhibiting artist and the gallery director appreciates genuine supportive comments. Be mindful of their time and make way for other conversations as the crowd grows.
Remember, this is still just an introduction period. Don’t force an impromptu business meeting. You’re there to be a friendly part of their event.
Initiating Contact In Person
Prepare beforehand by turning off phone apps and sounds that may make weird visual pop-ups and awkward distractions. I do this before going to any formal art gathering. If you’re comfortable with the option, you may also want to use your phone to show your recent work. I’ve found it’s always a good idea to separate artwork images into albums so that they aren’t mixed in with the day-to-day photos on my device.
Know Who Is Who
Before you connect, be sure to familiarize yourself with their name and position at the gallery. If their name is really hard to say, look up interviews online to hear how it’s been said in the past. Now you’re ready to make personal contact.
At this point, you’ve hopefully gone to the gallery a few times. This is a terrific time to compliment a recent exhibition you’ve attended or remind them of a previous conversation you’ve shared. Be organic and let things happen naturally.
Are They Familiar With Your Work?
Galleries should be pretty knowledgable about outstanding artists around them, but they simply can’t get to everyone. If you’re pretty sure they don’t know your current work, mention that you are an artist and wait for their response. If they seem interested ask if they’d like to see some images on your phone or if they’d like you to send an email with a few images and your website.
*If you get a really great vibe* Ask if they’d be opened to scheduling a time to meet at the gallery and privately go over your work. This is a case by case situation though–you don’t want to come off as pushy if they aren’t even looking for artists right now. Remember, you can always ask this in a follow up email.
Connecting Through Email
Emails are among the best and worst aspects of the art world. Only a decade or so ago, one would have to ship a carousel of expensive image slides to a gallery and simply hope that they took the time to set up a projector or light table to look at them… and then send them back. However, with the simplicity of an email comes the sloppiness of informality. I’ve spoken with many gallerists who snicker at the overly informal, grammatically incomprehensible, and often image-bloated stream of emails they receive.
Say No To Bulk Emails
Don’t send the same email to tons of galleries as a bulk email. The gallery gets many emails requesting a look. Most of those are generically addressed and they can tell that they are not being treated as special. You should take time to create an email that is specific to that gallery. And definitely DON’T send a bulk email to many recipients as a CC or BCC email.
Sample Email To Gallery
Personal yet professional salutation, (5-6 sentences) Introduce yourself and why you're contacting the gallery. Compliment current exhibit or comment on any past connection with gallery. Briefly show parallels between your work and their gallery. Ask if they are accepting proposals and what format they prefer. Personal yet professional close, Name Website Include 2-3 quality images of your work
Professional Tone, Personal Communication
This email is essentially a job interview and the tone is incredibly important. Like in the real world, you don’t want to be considered sloppy or blasé. Your tone should be professional without being formulaic. Having said that, a respectful attitude applied in proper sentence structure is generally more appreciated than standing on formal ceremony.
The gallery directors, owners, and assistants have names. Learn them. Use them. Being too vague or non-specific when addressing your contact lacks attention and a personal touch.
Good: “For the attention of Margaret Bush”, “Hello Mr. Klopenstein”, “Dear Director Brown”
Bad: “To Whom It May Concern:”, “For the Attention of The Turner Gallery”
Relate In A Sentence
As with the suggestion I made earlier, take one or two sentences to comment on a past conversation, recent exhibition in their gallery, or an artist in their roster. If you haven’t been to the gallery before due to distance or timing, you should have already done your homework and found some of their info on their website.
Why Your Work Fits
Briefly explain why you think your work fits in their gallery. Don’t misunderstand–this shouldn’t be why you ‘deserve’ a space in their gallery or even why your artwork is ‘perfect’ for the gallery. That is up to them. Rather, this is a sentence or two acknowledging that you know some of their artwork and can intelligently draw parallels to your own work. You want to show thought behind your partnership that also takes into consideration their vision as well.
Include A Few Quality Images
One of the biggest (and embarrassing) mistakes I’ve made in my career is attaching too many full-scale images in the introduction email. The gallery doesn’t want to open 20 GB of your images. Additionally, if you have crap images you need to fix this before even considering approaching a gallery. They are the most important factors in getting a gallery to take a closer look. Include 2 or 3 well-taken shots of your work as .jpegs. If you need help, here are some Tips For Photographing Your Art
Tips Are Not Guarantees
Naturally, this is simply some advice to help get a leg up on the competition. By no means is this a guaranteed path to success. There are far more rejections in store for you than successes… and that’s ok. It’s part of the job. If you’re a gallerist or an established artist, I’d love to hear your take on what works and what doesn’t.