One of the quintessential markers of an artist’s success is often securing a gallery to represent their work. The application process can be daunting, whether you have already sent out hundreds of emails or are mustering up the courage to reach out to your first gallery. While it does take time and a little bit of research, it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. Based on insider knowledge from working for galleries, art fairs, museums and auction houses and my own previous experiences approaching this as an artist, I’ve put together my thoughts on what to have prepared before you submit, how to find the right fit for your work and the best do’s and don’ts for applying to galleries.
First, if you haven’t read Kat’s post “5 Things Keeping Your Art from Being Featured”, please pause right here and check it out first! A lot of the rules she mentions relate to this topic as well.
1. Adding to her tips about your artist website – DO choose a simple, memorable domain name and email address. You’d be surprised at how many people send applications with websites or personal emails that are not related to their art! You want your first impression to make you look like a professional, practicing studio artist.
A few good options are [yourname].com, [yourname]art.com or [yourname]artist.com. If you have a more common name you can play around with adding your middle name, initial, or using a shortened version of your first name like Kat did! https://www.katerinapopova.com/
2. DON’T jump the gun and submit before you’re ready. Have a consistent body of work that includes at least 15-20 pieces viewable on your site. They don’t all have to be one medium, but should demonstrate that you’ve put effort into developing an idea. This allows a prospective gallery to imagine what a full solo show of yours would look like. If you only send five images or don’t have many posted on your website, a dealer might think that you don’t have enough work to fill a gallery.
3. DO compare galleries. In the best-case scenario, you would visit galleries and talk to the owner, director or manager in person beforehand to get a feel for whom you would be working with. Just like if you’re job searching, you want the relationship with your gallery to be mutually beneficial. If you don’t like the space or didn’t connect with the staff, you’ll be glad you didn’t spend the effort applying.
4. DO your research if you can’t go to the galleries to find the best match. Find out who they already represent. Visualize a group show with all of these artists and honestly answer the question: Does my work fit the aesthetic? Read their résumés to see where they studied and have exhibited (and how they are formatted!). Do you have similar accomplishments?
If you're a younger artist, try looking for galleries with a smaller project space where they are often more willing to show emerging or experimental work. This could be an easier way to get your foot in the door.
Finally, if you are applying to galleries outside of your local area, always consider how much you are able to spend to ship your work to them. That is usually a cost that you will have to incur and it can get expensive very quickly, even if some dealers are willing to split the shipping fees 50/50.
5. DO look closely at a gallery’s website and social media channels. A quality gallery will maintain their online presence using the same standards that they expect of yours: modern, clean and up-to-date. You might also want to note if a gallery regularly produces a catalog for their artists’ exhibitions, if they are private versus open to the public and which art fairs they attend, if any. If these things are important to you, don’t lose time drafting applications to galleries that don’t meet your requirements.
6. Along a similar vein, DON’T submit an unsolicited application if a gallery’s website explicitly says that they are not currently looking for artists. I worked at a gallery where we noted that we were not actively seeking applications and we were still contacted by multiple artists each week! Please read their website thoroughly to avoid making this mistake.
Think about it from another perspective – if you were an artist already represented by this gallery and they continued to take on more people, you would likely have less opportunity to show and they would focus less effort on selling your work specifically. Though I would personally avoid applying to galleries that aren’t looking altogether, if it otherwise seems like the perfect fit for your work, my best advice is to see if you can get a face-to-face meeting with the director.
7. Please DON’T just show up to a gallery with your portfolio. Again, I’ve worked at galleries where this happened weekly and it is not the right way to start the conversation. If you arrive unannounced, you are catching the staff off guard and there is no guarantee that someone will be available to meet with you. Similarly, exhibition openings and the first few days of an art fair are tough times for long conversations with a dealer because they will be focused on their clients and closing sales. However, if you notice a lull when you are there, certainly take the chance to meet them or ask them for an appointment at a more convenient time. This way, when you follow up via email you can say that you’ve already met – mention when and where so they remember.
8. DO find other opportunities to introduce yourself. Besides showing up to gallery openings, attend art events in your community and you are likely to meet the people you are looking to work with organically. Practice speaking to people about your work confidently, like an elevator pitch, and ideally be able to do one that is short (one minute) and one that is a little longer (five minutes) in case you have the time for a more in-depth conversation. Pinpoint what are the most exciting or unique things about your work and you as an artist and use those to convince a gallerist to want to represent you.
9. DO read their application instructions carefully, triple check your materials, and have a friend look for typos! If they do not list specific instructions, send a brief email stating your interest in the gallery and attach your professional artist resume, images as a zip file and your artist statement (check out our article with tips on writing one). For large files, you can also use programs like Dropbox and WeTransfer, but be wary of having to send more than one email. Ideally, you want to send a complete application in one message. Look on the gallery information page of their website to find the name and email of the owner or director so you can address it directly to him, her or them.
Your message could read something like this:
Dear [Gallery Owner],
I am writing in reference to the call for artists listed on your website [OR to submit my work to be considered for representation]. My current body of work [describe in one or two sentences]. I have exhibited most recently at [name notable exhibitions, preferably solo or two-person] and am part of the permanent collection of [list any]. [Also mention relevant awards, recent press, residencies or other gallery affiliations].
Please find attached my artist statement and résumé, as well as a selection of my work. Additional pieces can be viewed on my website: [list website here]. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at [list email, phone or both]. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.
This example is more formal, but it gives you an idea of what you can say to keep it simple and direct. If you want even more advice and examples relating to sending a cold email to a gallery, check out this resource on how to pitch your art.
10. DON’T get frustrated if your application goes unanswered. Hopefully, a gallery will at least do you the courtesy of acknowledging your application, but they often do not. My general rule is that once I apply to something I “forget” about it rather than worry or obsessively check my email. If I hear back, hooray! – if not, oh well. There will always be more to apply to. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow up. It is appropriate to send a message about a week or two after the initial one to ask if your application was received or if it is being reviewed. If they still don’t respond, however, then it’s time to move on.
11. DO consider alternative models like co-op galleries. Depending on where you are in your career, it might be worth it for you to exchange a few sitting hours per month for the opportunity to show. Always read their agreements carefully to decide if the exhibition potential outweighs the membership fees and/or working requirements.
Speaking of alternatives to the traditional gallery – connecting with independent curators, art advisors and interior designers can help broaden your client base as well. While most galleries sell to private individuals or people purchasing on behalf of an institution, a curator or designer might be looking for art to place in a corporate office, hotel lobby, restaurant or department store, and some are tasked with finding artists for large-scale mural projects. But most importantly, never underestimate the power of building your own personal brand! With a strong website and social media presence, you can start to make sales on your own.
12. Lastly, DON’T let the fear of rejection hold you back. When I was still in art school, I remember finding a gallery focused on emerging artists. I compared myself to who they were already showing and thought that I fit the bill, but I was too scared and talked myself out of submitting an application for a whole YEAR! Luckily, once I finally bit the bullet and applied, I heard back shortly after and was asked to bring in a few pieces for a final review. At my meeting, the gallery director decided to take all of them and I signed a contract on the spot. Sadly, the gallery eventually closed, but at the time despite being overjoyed at the positive outcome, I was a little disappointed in myself for having given into my self-doubt for so long. Don’t let that be you.
Everyone at Create! is cheering for you! So, go, apply to amazing galleries and get represented. Tell us about it when you do ;)