Is 2023 your year to work with a gallery?
Perhaps you’re becoming increasingly frustrated with the photo-sharing app we all love to hate, you’ve been building up a collection that you would love to exhibit in a space, or you’re looking to make connections beyond your local audience.
Whichever reason is driving you, I know that while it’s exciting to be at this stage, finding the right gallery can also be a confusing process for many artists. Galleries often do not have clearly stated submission guidelines on their websites. So do you apply anyway? (Yes, unless they say outright that they are not considering new artists right now) Or does that mean they’re not looking? (Not necessarily) And if they don’t specify, what should you submit? (Read on to find out!)
Here is a step-by-step process that you can utilize to find a gallery for your art.
- Start by defining what is important to you when it comes to a gallery relationship. For example, what commission split are you willing to accept, do you care if it is online-only or do you want to exhibit in a physical space, or what if they ask to consign your work for a multiple-year contract (meaning you would not be able to show or sell those pieces on your own or anywhere else during that time). Make a list and keep it handy as you do the next step.
- Next, you’ll need to start doing research. Look online, ask peers, network, attend art fairs, and check out who the artists that make work similar to you exhibit with. Start compiling the gallery names and contacts you find. Search for the director, curator, and/or manager’s name and ideally their email address too.
- Aim to make a connection before you send a submission. If you can attend a gallery event or an art fair where they have a booth in person, go introduce yourself - but do it without an agenda. This is not the time to show up unannounced with your portfolio or ask for an immediate review. Read more about why that doesn’t work here.
- If you’re not able to visit the gallery in person you can still connect in meaningful ways. First, you can follow the gallery on social media and interact with their posts. When you leave genuine and thoughtful comments it’s likely they will click through to your page and start to remember your name. You can also do this by joining their email list and replying to one of their newsletters. Finally, you can collect a work from the gallery if you have the budget for this. They will definitely get to know your name this way! (This last tip is one I picked up from artist Ingrid V. Wells)
- Once you’ve started to build your relationships, it’s time to put together your submission materials. If they have set guidelines, then read all of the directions and follow them closely. If not, gather your images, artist statement, biography, and resume. You can put these together in a Dropbox folder or PDF presentation. Or, you may simply include a link to your website if you have all of the above materials easily accessible on your site. However, even in that case, I would still include at least a few images of your work directly attached to the email so that there is something the other person can see right away.
- Draft your application emails. Email the highest person in the company who you can get access to. You ideally want to reach a decision maker, not an assistant. Make sure to talk about why you think you’re a match for the gallery and why you want to work with them specifically. Don’t forget your links and attachments so try sending a test email to ensure they all work and send through properly!
- If you’ve done your research and feel it’s a good match, be proactive rather than passive. Don’t write to ask if you can show your work to them, go ahead and invite them for a studio visit, submit your proposal for an exhibition, or include the link to your latest collection of work for them to consider. Fortune favors the bold!
- Hearing nothing back might happen. That’s normal and happens to everyone. But hopefully, you’ll receive some responses shortly. When a gallery says no thank you, feel free to ask for feedback although not all may be able to provide it. For the yeses, continue to get to know each other and ask any questions you may have about what working together would look like before signing any contacts. Confirm deadlines, expenses, and expectations in advance to avoid disappointments.
- If you haven’t heard back, follow up one time a week or two after your initial message. I generally don’t recommend a second follow-up message unless you think they’ve just been busy. You can always send another submission six months or a year later when you have new work to share.
Repeat this process until you secure the best gallery matches for you! A few final bits of advice to note - I always recommend thinking about their current program and the audience they reach. Are both really a match for you?
I often hear artists ask the question: do you accept or would you show X art? Maybe it’s surrealist art, glass art, or NFT art, for example. If it’s a fit then the gallery will work with you. But, if you have to ask this question of a gallery consider the following. Asking this question means that you likely haven’t seen much of that type of art on their site or social media feed. If that is the case, that may mean it is not their specialty or what their audience generally buys.
Galleries are happy to find new artists that are doing something unique from what they already show. This helps them grow their business, stay fresh, and expand their program. However, they also usually have a niche where they’re most successful when it comes to sales. Would you really want a gallery that didn’t have an expertise in your style of work representing you?
Just like your work is distinct and has a specific audience, galleries are not one size fits all. Don’t waste your time applying to every and all galleries that you find. Be targeted and intentional for the best chance of securing your dream gallery partnership. Best of luck to you!
If you want even more advice on how to pitch your art, including an example of a gallery pitch, click the link.
And for more general advice on preparing for and working with galleries click here.
Alicia Puig has been a contributing writer for Create! Magazine since 2017.