by Carolyn Edlund
How can artists approach galleries and gain representation?
Before you get an offer from a gallery and sign a contract, you must be noticed and then get your art in front of the decision makers. That involves knowing how to select galleries to approach. One of the biggest problems galleries have is that they are constantly being solicited by artists and find the sheer numbers overwhelming. That tends to get inquiries deleted immediately. Why? Because many of the artists who contact them are not at all appropriate for the gallery, their concept, their brand, and their collectors.
There are far more artists who want representation than there are galleries to handle them. That puts you as the artist at a statistical disadvantage, and this can seem daunting. However, it’s best to start by determining which particular galleries are the best match for your work.
Do your research
It’s often a good idea to start locally. You could begin with an online search in your region, looking at websites of galleries whose focus and price range is similar to yours. There will of course be many galleries who are not a fit, and you can take them off your list. When you do compile a list, visit their space, attend events, and follow them on social media.
Some galleries will have a Call for Artists at times, or will allow submissions, and you can send them portfolio images for consideration. They will most likely have very specific submission guidelines, which should be followed to the letter when applying. Of course, you will want to send them a group of high-quality images of your very best work. They will be looking for consistency and outstanding technique. There may be a panel or committee who reviews artists and makes selections.
Although this is more common for gallery exhibitions that an offer of representation, it can be a good idea to apply to an exhibition at a gallery which is a match for your work. Being in a show will bring their attention to your art and can be a precursor to a conversation about representation. Often, artists are chosen during off-season when gallery owners and managers have time to focus on this rather than at busy times when making sales has all their attention.
Consider starting small
Sometimes a less formal approach to selecting artists occurs. That may be a meeting that you schedule with a manager or owner. Newer and lesser-known galleries are more likely to take a chance on a new artist, whereas large established galleries take the course of less risk. Artists often start out at less established galleries. When sales are proven and their name becomes well-known, they will be sought after by a larger gallery. Newer galleries are more likely to fail, so the artist takes a risk as well, but that is the law of the jungle when it comes to working with galleries.
Co-op and nonprofit galleries exist that may be the first stop along the road of gallery representation. These generally take a smaller commission, and some may require the artist to pay a fee or spend time working in the gallery in exchange for consigning their work.
The hot list
An informal survey was taken by a gallery owner in New York City to determine the Top 10 ways that galleries find artists. Here is the list:
Solo or Group shows
Slide registry or flat files
Notice that the majority of these items have to do with networking and building relationships. Being introduced to a gallery as a referral is best. Meeting gallery staff and management at openings, and industry social events is important, too. You will notice that email inquiries are not on the list.
Email solicitations are one of the least effective ways to get your work in front of gallery decision makers. Many of them routinely delete emails of this type without reading them. If you are serious about getting your art into a gallery, you need to work harder than that.
It’s essential for artists who want to connect with galleries to get out there and speak with people face-to-face. Start with your art community and your personal network, and go from there.