Show your art

Once you reached some consistency in your work (creativity and productivity), you need, as a professional artist, to show your art. The most traditional way is by finding art galleries, which has their advantages and drawbacks, but the disruption of social media can offer you new possibilities.

(Artwork: Gao Brothers)

Should I pay to exhibit my work

This kind of question isn’t rare :
‘I was contacted by a gallery in Italy. They offered to exhibit my work for a year, for 800 Euros. I have never exhibited in an art gallery before. Should I accept this deal?’

Getting laid example

The answer can be a question: if you are an adult, would you pay to have sex? Some people would never pay to have sex because it means the other person is not in love with them so they are doing it for money. Or it could also hint that “if I had to pay means I am not attractive enough”. Some people don’t mind paying, because “we all need to eat”. I compare these two questions because it all comes down to “are you attractive enough for them to do it for free”.

Before or after, not both

OK, let’s be serious for a second here. I would not pay to exhibit my work. I think when a gallery charges money to represent an artist, then the gallery should not charge the 50% commission. There is a local gallery in Madrid called ‘White Lab’. They have two kinds of services:

  1. you pay 2500 to exhibit for 14 days, you do not pay commissions. They provide installation and customer service during opening hours on your behalf.
  2. you don’t pay anything to showcase your work there, but you will be charged a 50% commission.For me this is fair. They hire several full-time employees and keep your artworks nicely illuminated. They are asking 2500 to exhibit your work OR 50% commissions, which goes towards the salary, rent and utility bills.

It should be a collaboration

Of course, every coin has two sides. There is another side to this story. A gallery owner told me that she lost two of his best artists after years of collaboration and mentoring. These two artists left for a bigger gallery in the same town without any hesitation. It’s not only unethical but also inhuman. Charging artists money is also a coping mechanism for many galleries.

show your art
“There are these artist predators. They are looking out to take a buck from you. They realize how much artists want to exhibit. How desperate artists try to get in the door of an exhibition so they take every measure to basically steal from artists. This is the kind of stuff that blows my mind because a lot of artists fall for it.”
-Jose Trujillo

The Bride Price

In China, there is a tradition called The Bride Price. Bride price is the money a man has to give to the future wife’s family when he marries her. It can range from 5K to 50K depending on where you live. It offers a ‘startup capital’ for the new family and prevents the man from messing around with other girls.

I see that the gallery is the woman: ‘are you serious with me?’ the artist is like the man: ‘maybe I can find better.’ When a gallery commits, it spends time and money to promote the artist. So the gallery wants its artists to commit too. In some cases, with money.

The deposit idea

However, I would rather have the artist pays an 800 deposit to the gallery. If he leaves the gallery before the contract ends, he loses the deposit. I am not sure if this is the best way to build trust, but it’s commonly done. For example, when you rent an apartment, you pay a deposit.

Contracting the gallery

If I were this artist, I would say to the gallery: Let’s sign a contract for X years, you represent me exclusively in Italy. I can send over X amount of paintings each year. I can send over 800 EUR the first year. From the second year, you take that 800 out of my account. However, this money must go to my communication, such as website maintenance, social media promotion, or brochures and printouts. This is a win-win situation, they get the money, you get communication. It also prevents the gallery from making business out of selling dreams to artists.


How to get my first art exhibition

Art market experience

If you are asking this question, you must be young artists who are still at school or making art as a hubby, who has never had any experience in the art market. Now you are ready to show your work to the world.

10 art exhibition type

First of all, let’s look at where an art exhibition can take place? Here I have made a list of 10 venues where art exhibitions may take place:

  1. Auction houses
  2. Contemporary Art Museums
  3. Art galleries
  4. Cultural centers
  5. Art fairs/Art festivals
  6. Art and craft markets
  7. Artist Residencies
  8. Art themed cafes
  9. Other alternative private locations
  10. Outdoor public areas

Being an established artist

Look at the top 5 and the bottom 5 venues. Can you tell a gap between the two groups? Normally, you need to be represented, or to be an established artist in order to get into the first 5 locations. You need to have one foot or both feet in the art circle in order to showcase your work there. It is extremely unlikely for you to get a chance if you are not yet a proven professional.

show your art
“If you approach a commercial gallery, there are few things you wanna keep in mind: their opinion about your art is based more along the lines on whether or not they can sell it to their market, it doesn’t necessarily mean your artwork is good or bad. They are constantly bombarded by people approaching them in a professional way and people approaching them in a very unprofessional way. Don’t just show up bringing them your portfolio and just expect them to drop everything they are doing. They are very very busy people”
-Rafi Was Here

Art and craft markets

This is one of the easiest ways to access your local market. You can just get some friends to help you carry the works and pay a small fee to the event organizer. Some of these markets have regular clients, who can give you some feedback on your art.

Artist Residencies

Normally at the end of an artist residency, you will be put together with other artists-in-residence in a group show. These group shows don’t produce many sales, but nevertheless, it’s a good way to start your career. You need to be patient for the long selection process. Some residencies ask for a fee to cover your accommodation or studio space. For a free residency, you need a strong portfolio.

Art themed cafes

There are many art cafes around the world, it has been trending for a while. It’s not difficult to get permission to hang your work there but usually won’t get a solo show. Also, you are putting your artworks in a high-traffic environment, they can be damaged. Don’t bring anything significantly valuable to these locations.

Other alternative private locations

There are so many alternative locations, such as schools, bookstores, and restaurants. In Madrid, there is a high-end real estate company that are showcasing artworks in million-dollar properties while on sale. It’s a smart idea. Perhaps the buyer could purchase the artwork with the house too. Get in touch with your location real estate brokers to see if they are interested.

Outdoor public areas

You can do it in the plaza or a big park or metro station. This is typically done without any authorization or organization. You just go out there and put your art in the middle of public space. This is especially suitable if you are an art activist who wishes to make a statement. However, in some countries, it is strictly illegal to do this in public spaces without authorization.

Show Your Art!

I am sure if you are creative, you will find a way to showcase your artwork. Don’t be too ambitious, this is just your first step. I would suggest starting with what you can do, instead of what others can do for you. For example, setting up your own booth at an art and craft market. This way, you are in control of your own destiny!


Art exhibition ideas

Your exhibition, your own initiative

Many artists ask

‘I haven’t found a gallery that is willing to represent me. Where else can I show my art?’

The answer could be

‘You can exhibit in a gallery. But there are so many ways you exhibit without one!’

The following is for those of you who would like to hold your own art exhibition without a gallery.

Here a list of 8 art exhibition ideas

#1: Pop-up exhibition

A pop-up exhibition or a pop-up gallery is a temporary space to exhibit which can be held at any place with a roof and walls. You can rent a storefront or an empty garage to host your own pop-up exhibition. In Madrid, there is a small storefront for rent called ‘Ventana de la Cebada’, at the entrance of underground parking. It’s definitely the smallest pop-up gallery I have seen, just enough for a double bed. You can rent it for 2 weeks. During the time, you are fully responsible for your own exhibition from set up to clean up.

#2: Open studio

If you have a studio space separate from your home, then you can use your studio to exhibit your artwork. Most of the open studio events I have been to are organized by an association. However, you can do it on your own. It’s easy to prepare and a great way to build a relationship with your local collectors.

show your art
“Life, living in the society, is mostly about the disconnection and the gaps. I thought there was a beautiful idea of presenting that.”
-Danh Vo

#3: Hotel room

There is an art fair in Madrid organised by a hotel chain. They invite small independent galleries to come and showcase the artworks in hotel rooms. During the day, they welcome thousands of collectors. During the night, the hotel beds become actual beds for the gallerists to sleep in. You can also organise your own mini art exhibition in your hotel room when you travel.

#4: Rental home

Perhaps you have used Airbnb or another website when you travel. Today Airbnb covers over 81,000 cities and 192 countries worldwide. You can showcase your artwork at your local rental homes, or list a spare bedroom at home on Airbnb. This way, you can get visitors to appreciate your work from around the world without leaving home.

#5: Minivan

One day I was walking home from my office, I saw this van parked outside. It’s written ‘No Show Museum’. It’s a travelling art project. The curator travels with his minivan everywhere in the world and exhibits in the van. If you enjoy being on the road, make your vehicle a travelling show!

#6: Hacking an art fair

Last year during ARCO art fair, the biggest art fair in southern Europe, a group of people ‘hacked into’ the art fair. They sneaked in some artworks and hang them on an empty wall they found. Alongside other galleries, they looked like a real deal and no one even realised that they were ‘fake’. Later they revealed that these abstract paintings were made by children in a video. You can hack an art fair, but don’t get yourself into trouble.

#7: In the streets

Exhibiting in the streets is easier for street artists than others, of course! It goes both ways though. It’s harder for a street artist to exhibit indoors. If street artists can exhibit in galleries overcoming many difficulties, you can do it in the streets!

It’s especially suitable for performance artists who wish to make bold statements. Artist Milo Moire went to the streets and invited strangers to touch her private parts in public, sparking conversations on sexuality, power and consent.

#8: In the space

American artist Trevor Paglen initiated a project called “Orbital Reflector”. It is a gigantic reflector designed to be launched into space as a temporary satellite, reflecting sunlight in the night sky. Its $1.5 million budget was funded by the Nevada Museum of Art, some private donors, and a Kickstarter campaign.

Infinite possibilities

It’s not easy to access the space from here, but you get the idea. Sometimes it’s not about going to the exhibition, but hearing about it. You can do it in the mountains, in the sea, in the ice, in the forest, can broadcast it online.

Now you have the 8 extraordinary places where you can showcase your art. I hope it brought you some fresh new ideas to try for your next exhibition.

How to set up an art exhibition

The following is for those of you who decided to go ahead and give it a try, either at a rented space or your own art studio.

Get prepared

Imagine the exhibition is like a small theatrical performance. You need a script and a stage, rehearsals before the show, and a box office. You need to come prepared when you go in front of a large audience. Are you ready to be in the center of the stage?


6 essential steps to prepare for your own exhibition

#1: Choose a place

If you are holding your exhibition in an alternative space that is not designed to show art, you need to make sure there is minimal viable infrastructure, including electricity for the illumination, water for bathrooms, wheelchair accessibility, Internet connection. The most important is illumination to ensure a professional presentation of your work. If you are going for cost-effective places, like an empty garage, you can rent generators, however, they are noisy. I would not rent a venue that has no secure power source.

#2: Install your work

You can do the installation yourself, all you need is a drill, a screwdriver, a cable detector, and a self-levelling laser. You can rent them or buy them, about $50 each. You do need the landlord’s permit if you plan to do some changes in the space. Make sure you have a written permit. It can be an email or a text message. For many of you who might not know, an email saying “yes I agree” is a valid legally binding contract.

show your art
“Show your art no matter what kind of artwork you do, there’s always somebody that gonna be interested in the kind of artwork you do, and it’s just a matter of finding where those people are.”
-Scott Serkland

#3: Set a date

Your exhibition can run for a couple of weeks or a couple of months. You can even extend it if it goes well. But you need to set a fixed date for the inauguration and stick to it. Weekends are good, but avoid holidays or other important days. Don’t compete with other inaugurations or exhibitions. Most importantly, make sure the date is realistic.

#4: Spread the words

Make sure you market your event with a strategy. Facebook events, Instagram, Google Map, Meetup, Youtube, Reddit… the list is inexhaustive. Choose one or two social media and focus on them. One of the best ways to get the words out is by direct email. You can use Mailchimp a free tool that allows you to create a list of up to 2000 emails. Create a mailing list so you can invite your contacts to this event.

#5: Run the show

I assume you do this exhibition to sell your work. So it is very important you have different ways to collect money from your clients. Have the bubble wraps prepared and certificates of authentication printed. Last but not least, a book where you can add more contacts to your mailing list.

#6: Art price

Someone might try to bargain with you, offering a lower price. I would offer (at most) 10% off, as a friendly gesture. If they are not able to pay you now, offer them to reserve the work with a down payment of 20%. A gallerist friend told me she would offer to be paid by instalments. She trusted people and they haven’t failed her.

Bonus tip

Make your art exhibition a spectacular show for everyone, families with children, elderly, with pets… You can invite a local DJ, empty a small corner for kids to draw, or leave a bowl of water for the dogs. It shows you care about others, and you want to make it an inclusive event for your community.

It’s about meeting

Running your own exhibition could be one of the easiest ways to meet your market as an emerging independent artist. It will be a great way to learn and to grow.

How to get my art into a gallery

 Today there are so many ways to sell without gallery representations, and it might not be the best solution for you. But if this is what you want, you can work towards getting there.


4 essential things to consider before approaching a gallery

#1: Online Portfolio

  • Do you have an artist website?
  • Are the artworks organized by series?
  • Is the layout easy to navigate?
  • Is it fast to load?

Your own artist website is the best way to showcase your body of work. 60% of our surveyed artists do not have a personal website. If you want to show that you are serious about your art career, you need to have a website. It might not be the state of art technology, but it needs to be functional with your art and your biography.


#2: Your Style

  • Do you have a clear style?
  • Is your art style in line with other artists in this gallery?

An art gallery is like a high-specialized boutique store, either selling menswear, women’s clothing or children’s clothing. It’s not a department store where they sell everything. Unlikely they will change everything to suit you, so you have to make sure your artwork will suit the exhibition environment.

show your art
Traditionally art has revealed a few key roles can be used to explain the world. It can explain the world through religion and it can be a luxury commodity but in 1793 Enlightenment thinking was diminishing the role of the church and the influence of religion in art was shrinking. It seemed as though art in the future might just be a luxury, a plaything used to flatter the egos of Europe’s Elite the suddenly a new idea arose: to make art into its very own religion, a spiritual system of pure aesthetic contemplation. Genius artists would be as prophets all was needed was a place of worship and with that, the art gallery was invented
-Peter Drew

#3: Production

  • How many artworks can you deliver every month?
  • Can you handle the packing and shipping from your studio to the gallery?

Galleries love working with professionals who are reliable, consistent and can handle the logistics on their own. Imagine if the gallery is a fruit store, you produce high-quality oranges that taste great. The first question they would ask is: ‘How many kilos of oranges you can deliver every day?’ If your supply is not consistent, your logistics is not reliable, then the store won’t want to work with you.


#4: Communication

  • Are you influential on the Internet?
  • How many potential clients you can bring to the gallery?

If they have to do your communication from zero, they are risking all the work. It’s like hiring a junior salesman from high school, you send him to college, pay for the training, but he might leave you when he graduates. That’s why companies prefer to hire senior salesmen who can bring contacts to the company.

Contract and exclusivity

Bear in mind that you need to sign a contract with the gallery, with or without exclusivity. I would not sign an exclusive contract unless it’s a regional exclusivity. Most of the smaller galleries work without exclusivity, but they expect you not to go next door to their close competitors. They expect you to follow some kind of code of conduct and ethical practice.

 Online galleries

For more info on this topic, there is another article: “Share your art online”

“I was offered a chance to exhibit in a virtual gallery”

But they ask for a small fee to exhibit. Is it worth a try?’ I checked the company’s website, there is only one demo video linked to a Youtube Channel of 3 subs. I assume they have 3 employees? The start is difficult for any project, totally understandable. They don’t look like a scam. The idea is you will exhibit in the 3D mockup of an art gallery, you can ‘walk around’ like in Google street view but with your VR glasses.

You need to think of what you get out of this virtual exhibition:

  1. Can you sell?
  2. Can you get influence?
  3. Can you get recognition?

Important points for a good online art gallery:

#1: Online Payment Method

First of all, can you get paid? Is there a payment method? I would join an online art fair held by Paypal or Stripe, because I know they can collect payment online. If this online gallery doesn’t have a functioning payment method (for example the URL isn’t https), I would rather exhibit in a local cafe where there is a cashier.

show your art
“I think artists sometimes tend to think about this backward they think that well if I’m showing in a physical I can be at one price because they are more prestigious and have higher cost and I can show in an online gallery and get a lower price because I can make a higher commission… ”
-jason Horejs

#2: Website traffic

You can easily verify the traffic of such websites via online tools (e.g If this online gallery has existing customers, or a large number of unique visitors to their website, then it can be interesting. For example, online marketplace Saatchi Art, they have a reasonable number of web visits, 2 million per month to be exact. If you have never sold online, you can use some help to attract collectors and get exposure.

#3: Online reputation

Lastly, is this online gallery influential in anyways? How do you measure it? You can check their domain authority (DA) or page authority (PA). Check on Moz. It’s a way to see if they have a long history and solid foundations. You can also ask around if they are reputed among industrial professionals? For example, Saatchi Art is reputed, although they had a legal dispute with the actual physical gallery, they are known. The rule is if your website has a higher authority than the online platform, better to sell from your website.

Common mistakes when showing your art

Here is a list of the 7 most common mistakes and misconceptions artists make when showing their art.

#1: I have made one work that I am happy about and ready to show my art

Finding your own art style is never easy. Perhaps you are trying for a while, finally, you made a work that you are proud of. It’s time to share your art on social media and among your friends so you can get some feedback. However, likely it is not the time yet to show your art on a formal occasion such as an exhibition. You can’t go far with just one piece of art. You should need about 10 artworks similar in style in order to demonstrate your body of work and be sure you will be able to keep a consistent and regular creation.

#2: I need an art gallery

Getting a gallery representation is on the priority list of many emerging artists. But when you don’t have a gallery yet, can you show your art? The answer is definitely yes. You can showcase your art in many alternative locations, which we mentioned before in the art exhibition ideas.

#3: Paying to show my art in an art gallery

Investing in your art is a crucial part of managing your art business. However, paying to show your art in an art gallery is not a great idea. Art galleries make money by charging you around 50% commission after a piece of your work is sold. If they charge you to show your work, it probably means they don’t intend to sell your work, or they believe your work won’t sell. Why paying to show if even art dealers think your chances of selling is very low? Invest this money on your online communication instead!

#4: Paying to show my art in an art fair

Galleries normally don’t charge their artists when bringing them to art fairs. But art fairs are becoming more and more expensive to enter. Possible galleries ask you to chip in your share – from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. It could be justified because there is this extra cost, and you get more exposure to this opportunity. They probably can only bring works of 2 or 3 artists due to space and logistics, so there is also a competition – this opportunity goes to whoever pays. I would still say, not worth it. What you are paying for is the communication and marketing of the gallery, because their names appear on the banner. Use the money to pay for a Shopify account so you can start selling online as your own brand.

show your art
“This is really difficult if you separate yourself: This is what I do for money – this is what I do because I’m a genius. This is much better and this was really a decision I made a long time ago that is the same thing as one thing. It’s great if you are one person with one orientation and one thing to say”
-Peter Lindbergh
SHOWstudio interview, uncut footage – May 2017

#5: I’d rather have a solo show

Solo shows are worth celebrating. It’s a milestone of becoming a professional mid-career artist. But early in your art career, group shows might be even better for you. Other artists could invite their collectors to the show, who later can become your collectors as well. You can’t expect potential collectors to show up to a solo show when you don’t have a mailing list. Additionally, you get to network with like-minded artists in group shows.

#6: My own art in my exhibition by myself

It’s good to be active and involved in your own exhibitions, but you can not do it alone. You can not be the artist, receptionist, security guard and salesman all-in-one. An insightful tip I got from a successful entrepreneur: always put a different face for a different job. It appears more professional. Also, it helps to take the pressure away from your customer, so he can enjoy a conversation with you without having to think about your intentions.

#7: Ultimate goal: to sell my art at top auction houses

Top auction houses don’t work with artists directly. They are in the secondary market, as opposed to the primary market. The primary market is when a customer can purchase directly from the producer (you, the artist). In most cases, you can not work directly with top auction houses. Set up another goal instead with a similar impact in the art market.


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