We are thrilled to share with you our new column Career-In-Focus dedicated to providing you with tips to advance your artist career! We know that there are many aspects of the business of art that are often left to each of us to figure out on our own—so we are starting the conversation here! For this Career-in-Focus, we asked experts in the field to share professional advice on how to create solid relationships with galleries and best practices on how to approach them.
This iteration of Career-in-Focus was originally published in issue #25.
Britton Bertran / Director of Carrie Secrist Gallery
1. Send a professional looking website (not an Instagram) that includes all information about each of your works (title, size, dims, material, etcetera)
2. Don't contact the gallery with a form email (cutting and pasting the name/gallery)
3. If you live in the same city/area where the gallery is, visit the gallery at least once (ideally many times) before you contact the staff to look at your work
4. Never bring in artwork to the gallery or ask the staff on hand to look at your images on your phone
Amy Donaldson / Artist
“It is important to present yourself and your work with professionalism. Have a good website with accurate and good quality images. Find a gallery with similar work to yours that would make a good fit. Approach your career as a business and keep track of your inventory. I look for artist submissions on gallery websites and email them with a few good images of my work. I like to treat the galleries like family with honor and respect. They are representing me so I want them to know I care about their side of the business just as much as my side.”
Gita Joshi / Independent Curator & Author
If you are making work in different styles such as abstract and figurative, I would say lead with one of them not everything all at once. Research the gallery or curator, even their social feeds will give an indication of their taste and preferences. Then choose which of your collections would be appropriate for them and lead with that.
Based on insider knowledge from working for galleries, art fairs, museums, and auction houses, I’ve put together the best do’s and don’ts for applying to galleries:
1. 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.
2. Just like if you’re job searching, you want the relationship with your gallery to be mutually beneficial. 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!).
3. DON’T submit an unsolicited application if a gallery’s website explicitly says that they are not currently looking for artists.
4. 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.
5. DO read their application instructions carefully, triple check your materials, and have a friend look for typos!
6. 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.