How to get your Art in a Gallery

Article by Christine O’Donnell, owner, and director of Beacon Gallery
(Image on the header: Letter from Alfred Joseph Frueh to his wife Giuliette Fancuilli (1913))

How to submit artwork to a gallery

If you feel you are the right type of artist for a gallery, here are some quick tips about how to submit artwork to a gallery.

1. Research the gallery first

Find one that shows work in line with your work, with the appropriate calibre of the gallery (e.g. don’t do this at Gagosian)

2. Visit in person, introduce yourself

While you can say you’re an artist, DON’T show anyone your work without an invitation

3. Follow up with a nice email

… about how much you enjoyed your visit, mention a few reasons you enjoyed your visit. Include a link to your website or Instagram (only if you don’t have a website)

4. Submit to calls to art at the said gallery

… and others in the neighborhood or of a similar ilk (you should be cultivating multiple leads at the same time)

5. Create a proposal for a local artist

A curated show (e.g. something that won’t cost the gallery much to put on) is a good way to get your foot in the door. Your proposal can include your work as well as 1-4 others as well. Have a cohesive concept behind the show. Shop it around to galleries. Be sure to include as many details as you can, including artist bios and CVs, artwork sizes, prices, etc. as well as a curatorial statement.

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How to approach art galleries

The 6 “S’s” of Marketing Yourself to a Gallery (or, how finding a gallery isn’t like dating)

For an artist, marketing yourself to a gallery is kind of like dating. You want to make yourself look available but not too available… so how do you do it? Dating might require ‘Sex Appeal’ but we have X other “S” words to entice the elusive gallerist.

1. Show a solid record of Sales

Just starting out and trying to find your FIRST gallery? This isn’t dating where you need to always “be yourself”! The best thing to do is to put yourself into the shoes of a gallery. What would you think they would want, and think about how you can solve their problems.

What galleries don’t need

What galleries DON’T need is overwrought artists looking for validation for their work. They also don’t need disorganized, flaky artists who miss meetings or can’t put together a checklist of their work.

What galleries do need

Competent, organized adults who know how to sell their art. Concretely this means you’re keeping track of all your sales. What is selling, to whom, and for how much? This information will benefit you in the future.

How to communicate this to galleries

If you are looking to approach a gallery – see our prior post with ideas on how to do this, Sales are a great way to start. Galleries always like working with artists who have solid records of sales.

2. Scarcity: Show you’re in demand

Already have a gallery? Make sure you are upfront about it. Other galleries represent a “stamp of approval” – they mean that someone else thinks you are worthy of time and effort (and aren’t a pain to work with!) You are “in demand”!

Don’t look desperate

Make sure to advertise who represents you – on your website and social media. NEVER advertise that you are looking for representation. If a gallery is interested and you don’t list representation in their geographical reason they’ll figure it out. You don’t need to advertise your desperation.

3. Style Similarity

Got a specific style? Make sure that you find the right match in a gallery.

While in romance opposites attract, that isn’t usually the case with galleries.

If you’re a bleeding-edge contemporary installation artist, DON’T approach a secondary-market French impressionist gallery, even if you’ve sworn to email Every. Single. Gallery. In. The. City.

Just don’t.

Be style-selective

Be selective with your gallery-wooing. Check your style and match it up to the gallery. Have a shortlist of targets in perhaps 5-10 cities where you would like to show. But be realistic. Unless you’re the Leonardo DiCaprio of artists you shouldn’t be wooing the Blue Chip Supermodel of galleries (e.g. Pace, Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian). Those are for your vision board, not for your “target gallery” list.

4. Solicit Support

A recommendation or introductory email is always better than an unsolicited one, any day. It’s the difference between a friend setting you up on a date versus Tinder.

Have you worked with a curator? Are there people in the museum world who like your work? Ask them to play matchmaker for you with a gallery in their “world” – they may know better than anyone what a good fit for you might be. And getting a recommendation from an institutional source is like a gold star of approval in many cases for an artist.

5. Be Social

Don’t forget the power of social media! Yes, we all have a love-hate relationship with it, but discovering art and artists on social media (and seeing who has “traction” or a large following) is meaningful!

(be) Steady

Post on a regular basis. Have a website and social media which consistently shows your work in high-quality well-lit photographs. Cross-promote with any galleries, groups, or others with whom you are working – with tags, and “@”s.

6. Show your Statistics

Statistics can entice. We talked about sales statistics already, but that’s just the start of using data to market yourself to a gallery.

Break it down for the gallery

Talk about the number of hits to your website per day, the number of online sales, and the number of DM inquiries leading to sales. The average price per piece, the number of pieces sold. This information will interest a gallery. Most galleries aren’t leveraging their own data. Use this information wisely!

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Working with a gallery is a two-way street

You’re giving up a portion of your sales for their physical overhead, their sales and marketing expertise and connections, an exhibition, and more. Making the right match (as opposed to any match) is important.

You have a lot to offer, you just need to figure out how to present that information in a way that will attract galleries to you! One or more of the suggestions above may help you – and make sure to consider the method of gallery outreach – from Part 1 in this series.

Gallery representation PROs and CONs

PROs of gallery representation

1. Ready to show

Those who want to be shown in museums, or who have hard-to-place, niche, artwork for whom galleries exist (hello, outsider artwork!) – you are the ones who need galleries.

2. Ready to do the work

Working with a gallery often requires the nitty-gritty that artists hate: all the clerical work of naming and measuring their pieces, remembering the year they were created, and writing it all down.

If you’re not willing to do the work (or haven’t been doing that as you go!) you’re probably not (ever) going to be ready to work with a gallery. It’s definitely not all the fun and games of simply putting your art on the walls and selling it.

3. Ready to negotiate

First, you have to be ready to negotiate your contract with the gallery and to confirm what the gallery-artist split is. Usually, the standard split is 50-50. This might be different depending on the status of the artist, or if you’re working with a non-profit space, but it MUST be hammered out at the start of your relationship. Without a written agreement, you are leaving yourself vulnerable. Don’t let discomfort with confrontation, conflict or asking questions make you avoid necessary questions.

4. Artwork pricing

The second question is pricing your work. This is arguably an even more complicated issue than the artist-gallery split. There are many factors that go into pricing your work. If you’re not comfortable with working with the gallery and coming up with prices that suit both of you, working with a gallery may not be in the cards.

5. Investment in your art

If you have alternative channels or want to limit yourself to art fairs where individual artists can participate, then more power to you! Especially because that probably means you have multiple thousands of dollars to bet on yourself and your art. On the other hand, letting a gallery take that gamble on you and your art instead can avoid that financial risk.

6. Marketing, promotion, logistics…

One of the main reasons that successful artists (and yet-to-be successful ones) continue to work with galleries is because they run the “business” side of the art. They do the marketing, the promotion, the logistics, the art handling and installation, the inventory, etc., in addition to selling the art.

7. Networking

Everything is a trade-off: the reason to go to a gallery is to make your life easier – the gallery can introduce you to new collectors, new markets, and new media contacts, but perhaps you can do that all on your own!

how to get your art in a gallery - Beacon Gallery

CONs of gallery representation:

1. Just started out as an artist

Just finished your first masterpiece? You may wonder, “How do I get represented by a gallery?” Your first move shouldn’t be to contact your local art gallery. Galleries can be excellent resources for artists, but usually, a better first step for fledgling artists will be a local art association. They will often run shows where you can enter your work and start racking up accolades and also get to know more seasoned artists – all of whom will have loads of advice (and perhaps contacts!) for you.

how to get your art in a gallery - artist portfolio

2. You don’t want to sell your art

If you don’t actually want to sell “your babies”, don’t talk to a gallerist. Oftentimes gallerists will meet with very promising artists but will realize they either have no interest in selling their work or will price it so astronomically high (with no prior sales data to back up such prices) that it is virtually unsellable. If you want to sell your work, be ready to listen to a voice of reason.

3. You are not willing to share profit

You may wonder, “What percentage does an art gallery take?” Alas, galleries are a retail business, and they are selling art. The piece an artist provides is essentially the item at wholesale cost, marked up 100% to retail.

Artist takes home 50%, the gallery the other 50%.

The only difference is that the work is on consignment. If selling your work and only receiving 50% of the price rubs you the wrong way, perhaps a different sales model might suit you better!

4. You don’t know what kind of artist you are

Knowing what kind of artist you are can help you to focus your artistic efforts in a more targeted manner rather than having a scattershot approach that may be less successful. We develop this point later in this article.

5. You don’t know what you want from your artistic career…

… nor how to get there.

While art galleries and curators may have an idea of your potential as an artist, nothing beats knowing where you want your career to go.

Beyond your endpoint, what will it require to get there?

  • Do you need a gallery in New York?
  • What about a co-op?
  • Would a community of like-minded artists where you’re guaranteed consistent shows be a good fit?
  • Would a coastal vacation town suit you better?

If you don’t know where to find a gallery or what type of gallery you need, you’re not ready.

6. You haven’t researched gallery-artist relationships

Relationships with art galleries are all different and go far beyond simply having someone else sell your art.

  • Will the gallery be representing you and all your art or just a few consigned pieces for a certain duration?
  • Are you willing to work with someone else?
  • Are you willing to write an artist statement?
  • To do the work of logging all the information of your artwork?

No one can do that for you (unless you hire an intern or an artist’s assistant!).

7. You’re not comfortable talking about money

No one really enjoys talking about money, but there are two different aspects of money discussions that are primordial to working with a gallery:

8. You love running your own art business

One question to ask yourself (again) is why you want to work with a gallery? What is a gallery going to do for you as an artist? Remember that you will be giving away approximately 50% of your revenue to someone else in exchange for… what? What will you gain?

9. You have your own retail space or collectors

If you have a studio (or another space open to the public), or even a website or social media page where you have enough traffic that you’re able to sell your works without the assistance of a middleman, why bother getting a gallery involved?

10. You are not interested in art fairs

One of the toughest nuts to crack if you’re an individual artist is the mid to high-end art fair market, and yet this is often how artists either launch their career and where galleries (at least pre-Covid) would make their biggest sales of the year.

How do you get represented by a gallery?

If you *do* want to be represented by a gallery, the ideal is to have a gallery discover you. Short of that, developing a relationship with a gallery that shows work similar to yours (but no artist who does work exactly like yours) is a good place to start.

1. Don’t cold call (or cold visit!) a gallery

Instead, research the gallery, visit in person (as a patron) if you can get on their mailing list. At some point, once you are known to the director or assistant director it may be appropriate to ask for a portfolio review or to inquire whether they are taking on new artists. Whenever you hear a “no”, you can always ask if they would have a recommendation of a gallery that would be appropriate!

2. List the galleries

Getting art into a gallery is similar to your art career as a whole: it can be a slow and painstaking process. The best way to start working with galleries is to follow a lot of them and to respond to the calls for art they put out there.

3. Choose only those from reputable galleries

And those that are most in line with your art. These will be the lines on your CV that others judge you by, and where others learn about your art – so choose carefully – and know that you’ll bankrupt yourself if you apply to every call you see!

 

how to get your art in a gallery - Beacon Gallery

Artist gallery relationship

A good and beneficial artist gallery relationship depends on which kind of artist you are: Remember – you may fit into more than one category:

Instagram tips for artists

1. Designer’s Darling

A designer’s darling is an artist whose work sells well with or through interior decorators or real estate agents. It’s work that often “matches the couch” – and this isn’t a bad thing! It means that your work is flexible, easy on the eyes, and most likely abstract or impressionistic. You may also work “off-spec” on commission projects easily – another plus for making and selling art. Conceptual artists rarely fall into this category.

If you’re a Designer’s Darling you also don’t need to be showing in galleries. You can put in all that effort, in the hopes that a designer, interior decorator, or real estate agent finds you, but you can also skip all that hard work and market yourself directly to the designers.

Instagram tips for artists

2. Institutionally Inclined

Institutionally Inclined artists are those who are keen to be collected by museums, are looking for museum shows or who make work that only an institution or serious art collector could love. Your category includes the entire spectrum of art and artists – from the absolute best of the best – the pinnacle of fine art – to anyone aspiring to get to that point.
It’s all about how you define yourself and where you see your career going.

Those who want to be showing in museums, or who have hard-to-place, niche, artwork for whom galleries exist (hello, outsider artwork!) – you are the ones who need galleries.

Instagram tips for artists

3. Professional producer

A professional producer is an artist who has a product that doesn’t require an art gallery. Either you’re successful enough on your own (with a traditional product) or have something so unique that you’ve found a different way to market and sell it.

This includes artists selling at craft fairs, artists selling online or from their own studios or galleries. It also includes digital artists, graphic designers, and all of you who don’t easily fit the two categories above.

If you’re a professional producer, galleries are probably not for you: instead, you need to figure out how to get your product to your market. You might need a consultant if you’re shaky on the marketing side though!

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