How to get into galleries

How to Get Into an Art Gallery

With so many online opportunities to sell your art, a lot of artists are wondering if getting into galleries is worth pursuing. This month I’m exploring the pros and cons of working with a gallery as well as offering professional insights on how to get into a gallery, should you decide to go that route. 

I asked dealers I know to give me their thoughts and best advice. Special thanks to Doug Kacena, K Contemporary, in Denver, Maria Hajic with Gerald Peters, in Santa Fe, and Nikki Todd of Visions West Contemporary, Bozeman, Livingston and Denver, for sharing their thoughts.

Readers, if there’s something I didn’t cover, please leave a comment below so I can answer it for everyone! 

where do you find new artists?

The answer to where dealers find new talent was unanimous: 

1. Art fairs (prime territory to consume a lot of art in person, says Nikki);

2. Instagram;

3. Through trusted artists.

Maria Hajic cites museum shows, independent curators and fellow dealers as other great resources. 

Where dealers are NOT finding new artists?

From people who drop in and make cold calls.

“People do wander in off the streets wanting to show me their portfolio,” Doug Kacena tells me, but warns, “it’s not a good idea.” 

He says the worst possible time to hit up a dealer is during an opening, which happens surprisingly often. “When artists do this,” Doug says, “I usually ask them to imagine this was their opening. How would they feel if my staff and I were off in a corner looking at someone else’s website instead of tending to your work? They usually get it then.”

How to Get Into Galleries
Doug Kacena, K Contemporary Gallery

What About Emails?

Doug put it this way: “Have I brought on an artist from a random email? Yes, but I get more artists through recommendations from artists I currently work with.”

The Big Takeaway

1. Put yourself out there where people in the biz can find you. 

2. Keep your Instagram account populated with strong visual content.

3. Getting seen at an air fair requires a dealer to take you, which may sound like a catch-22, if you don’t have a gallery that attends art fairs. An alternative is to applying to Calls for Entry to shows that dealers working in your genre attend. (Subscribe to my site for my e-Book, “Upping Your Game” for help with this process.)

4. Ask artists you know about their galleries and if they would put in a good word for you. 

How Important Is Your Online Presence?

Social media is definitely a factor these days. And though posting can feel like shouting into the void, there are things you can do to increase your visibility, such as having a business account and using hashtags wisely. 

You should expect that when a dealer does reach out, chances are good that they’ll ask what kind of following you have. 

Beyond social media, make sure you have an up-to-date website. If you don’t have a website or are frustrated with you current site, check out FASO sites. You can be up and running in an hour. 

Other online opportunities include having your work listed on Artsy

“Artsy is gallery driven; you have to be in a gallery to get on Artsy,” Doug says, “which means you’re in important galleries, because Artsy is not cheap, but it’s important. If your gallery puts you on their Artsy account, that means you have a following and an audience of people interested in purchasing your work.” 

Keeping up: Tips for Managing Social Media

Concentrate on just one or two social media outlets. 

Convert those outlets to business accounts and keep your posts professional.

Be positive and spread the love by commenting on other artist’s work and successes. 

Share great posts you see, especially if they’re coming from a gallery you’re interested in joining. 

Set a timer to remind yourself to get off the infinite scroll.

Look into time saving apps such as Later or LinkTr.ee that will help you broadcast to various platforms.

Canva is an invaluable tool for creating exceptional creative materials and they have a feature for scheduling releases over several weeks.

Qualities of a successful Artist-Dealer Relationship

“I look at this as a business partnership,” Doug says. “We do a lot of development strategy with our artists, mainly, how do we get them in front of collectors and in museums? So, for me, I want to know: is the artist all in? Is this their job? Is this how they’re making a living?”

How to Get Into Galleries
Maria Hajic, Gerald Peters Gallery

“Professionalism,” Maria says, citing that this is her favorite trait in an artist because it encompasses things like time management, attention to details and deadlines, and indicates that an artist is a clear communicator, and responsible. 

And she adds, “Honesty, clear boundaries, willingness to collaborate, flexibility, and a sense of humor always help during a rough patch.”

The artists become like family. We are lucky to count several of our artists as close friends. I think when artists really listen to our advice and know that we are striving to advance their careers as much as just selling the art and putting money in their pockets, that's when I feel like we have reached a successful place in the partnership.

Doug adds, “When I sit down with an artist, I am always asking, what’s the next goal, what are we trying to achieve? Each artist is different, and each has a different path, but they are serious; this their career.”

Interestingly, he says having multiple galleries is a good thing. “I don’t think it’s the same for all galleries but I think it’s better to have multiple galleries supporting them. It’s in everyone’s interest.”

How to Approach Galleries: What Not to Do

#1 response: Do NOT show up unannounced. 

“I would advise never just popping in and asking for the work to be looked at on the spot.,” Nikki advises. “We get that so much and it just shows lack of respect for the business and for the artists that are hanging on the walls.”

“Respect our time,” Maria says, and adds, “No cold calls, please. I prefer an email approach as I can give the artist’s submission my full attention when I am free.”

According to Doug, the biggest issue he sees is that many artists are not self-aware. “You have to be honest with yourself about where you really are in your career and ability,” he says. “And if you can visit a gallery in person, do so before reaching out. Get a feel for the price points of the artists that gallery represents.”

how to get into galleries
Nikki Todd, Visions West Galleries

So, though it feels like a catch-22, if your prices aren’t there, hold off on applying until you’ve built your career up to that point where you’re pricing is commensurate with the others in the gallery. 

Another major faux pas is submitting your work to a gallery online when it’s clear you don’t know anything about the gallery, the kind of work they carry, their goals, and mission. 

“I will tell you that 99% of the submissions that come in are from artists who haven’t done their homework. It feels like artists send out blanket submissions–copy and paste–without researching the gallery.”

Fun Fact About Most Dealers

“Even though, on the website, it says we’re not looking at new artists,” Doug says, “I do love looking at art.” He says he used to respond to everyone who emailed but now he doesn’t have time. So, whether you get a response or not, know that Doug, as well as most other dealers, are looking at every single solicitation they get via email.

Tips for Submitting Your Work

Don’t send materials through the mail. No one wants to deal with returning them to you.

Do send via email:

Multiple jpgs of current images

Resume/CV

Artist statement

Cover letter

Do you need help creating cover letters, artist statement, CV and bio? Schedule some time with me to get this done. Click Here and scroll to Calendly to book time.

Is the Process Worth It?

“Galleries are the king and queen makers,” says Nikki. “I don’t think that will ever change. Galleries will take artists to fairs and give exposure that is impossible to achieve from Instagram or a website presence: a brick and mortar place to exhibit; dedicated staff whose sole job is to promote, sell, organize your work and career; and networking with important clients, institutions and museums.”

“If you want to sell online, you have to continually feed that beast,” says Maria,” which takes precious time. Most, though not all, artists would rather concentrate on their art. Cultivating relationships with clients and viewing artwork in person is very different than viewing it online. Of course, a gallery must do both in this digital age. Does an artist have time for all that?”

Doug agrees and adds, “You can’t go to an art fair without a gallery, and every curator in the country shows up to fairs. I know some artists who have gotten big enough that they don’t need a gallery and can do it on their own. But how do you think they got there? Other people were doing the work for them.”

Ultimately, dealers are taking care of you while you’re concentrating on your work. They’re motivated to make sales for you because it keeps their doors open and the lights on. They’ll handle the negotiating with collectors and make sure your work is put in front of the right audience. They speak for you when you’re not around.

 

Final Thoughts: Playing the Long Game

Only you can decide whether it’s worth the effort to get into galleries, but consider the vast benefits that come when you do find the perfect fit. 

Understand that this is a process. You will get rejection letters–or simply not hear back–don’t let that stop you from trying. It’s a business, so keep searching for galleries and dealers who are excited about your work; they’re the ones who will become the kind of partner, promoter, and confidant you most need.

Check out my blog The Artist Curator Relationship for a deeper understanding of the nuances of working with professional dealers and curators. 

Do you need help putting together your presentation pitch to galleries: cover letter, artists statement, CV, etc.? I can tackle this for you. Schedule some time with me to discuss.

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Curator, writer, and strategist for artists and non-profits, Rose Fredrick has spent the last three decades producing exhibitions that have not only raised considerable funds for scholarships and education, but have also launched artists’ careers. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and her essays and interviews have been used in workshops, college courses, and museum exhibitions. She has won the National Endowment for the Arts grant, Rock West Curator of the Year, Denver’s The Big Read, Best Multicultural Book from the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards, and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards.

9 thoughts on “How to Get Into an Art Gallery

  1. Rose, nice summary. I fear for a lot of older artists the whole on line presence is just overwhelming. There are probably a dozen seminars etc “Online for Luddites” ? Any you have come across that you recommend?
    The other side of this coin is when and how to leave a Gallery when your string is played out. It is hard. As you and several of your interviewees alluded, these are friends as well as business partners.
    Hope you are doing well.

    • Ooh, I have the perfect class for you, Walter. Try my Blogging with Pictures workshop. It’s geared toward luddites. And I know you’re thinking, I DON’T WANNA BLOG! But I have a hundred reasons why you should, and have developed this workshop to make it super easy. I walk you through how to generate online traffic and conversations with people who, unlike social media, are truly interested in you and your work. The workshop is essentially Online, SEO, and Marketing for Luddites all rolled into one. I can tell you more about it, if you wanna chat sometime (and it would be nice to catch up).

      As for the long goodbye with old, dear gallerists, that’s a tough one. I prefer the, “It’s not you, it’s me” approach. And when appropriate, the old Irish goodbye. 🙂 But here’s another thought. What if you have a conversation about sales and ask point blank if they’d like to move on and, if not, what you all can you do together to juice up sales?

  2. Thank you for this Rose. Great info….
    I just have to tell you how grateful I am for my galleries. The personal relationships I have with these directors just may be the primary reason I’m in them. I consider them as friends and family. They have stuck with me when I have been unable to give them much work. I have stayed with them through their slow and/or seasonal times. I don’t know how I would sell much work without them, or how I would be able to make much work with out them.

    I am in awe of what Julie Williams and Christine Trisc do at Mountain Trails in Sedona. They constantly post on social media and do press releases to the magazines and papers about the in house shows they creating, which usually include most of their artists in each one. I have been with them a long time.

    I joined Mary Williams Fine Arts in Boulder in 2006. Mary has worked tirelessly to sell her artists works, and she’s been at it a long time. When I have had a rough patch with personal /life problems that have affected my work, she is there for me.

    Krista Steed-Reyes at the Broadmoor Galleries in Colorado Springs is also amazing. She is extremely professional, also fun, energetic, and art saavy. It has been a joy to work with her, but also to share in her young family’s joys and happiness. Her friendship means so much to me.

    I have been with the Oh Be Joyful Gallery in Crested Butte for 15 years. I met Nicholas Reti through the gallery when he was helping the gallery under a different owner. Nic is a personal friend since that time, and we have shared many adventures, backpacking, camping, painting in the middle of the night in the forests and mountains in pursuit of painting the natural world. Tracy and other coworkers there have been nothing but helpful, professional,amazing.

    I was contacted last winter by Kristen of Legends of the West Fine Art in Santa Fe to bring work to the gallery. While I have wanted a gallery there for 15 years, the timing was never quite right. She has grown up in the business and I have every confidence she will do everything in her power to promote my work. She is young and has a handle on new ways of promoting her artists that I am rather deficient in. I am looking forward to having this relationship/partnership be as rewarding as my others are.

    In effect, my approach to and relationship with galleries is probably considered “old school”. Are these the kind of galleries that are going to the big art fairs? Maybe not for the most part. But I can tell you that I would prefer to work in my studio (or outside) and spend less time on my computer and phone anyway. The biggest payoff for me is that I have made lifelong friends who have become my partners to our mutual benefit personally and professionally. It is this that I cherish most about the world of art that I personally navigate. I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful….

    • I think, ultimately, when looking for galleries, artists should try to find the places where they feel at home, and “at home” will feel different for us all. But when you get the right dealers working with you, then I think it’s as you point out, a partnership and friendship with people who feel like family. Thanks for reading, Susie!

    • Hi Susie,
      I really appreciate your thorough reply, sharing your experience. It’s great to hear about strong gallery relationships with artists. Sometimes the honest and capable gallery owners and staff don’t get enough credit.

  3. Another wonderful blog Rose. I have some time today and have enjoyed reading through yours advice and interviews with dealers. You’re a brilliant writer and really hit the nail on the head honestly and with information artists can use. Thank you!

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