How To Get an Exhibition in the Big City When You’re a Nobody
There’s a crazy concentration of artists, buyers, sellers, collectors, and galleries in big cities like New York and London. They’re practically bursting at the seams with creativity. The opportunity as an artist is incredible but these major cities also attract the best of the best. In other words, your competition is tough. Really tough.
We talked to six successful artists, curators, and collectors to get their top tips for getting your foot in the door with galleries in major cities.
If you don’t buy a ticket you’ll never win the lotto
A few months ago, I chatted with an artist named Cande Argiluar (amazing guy, doing amazing cross-cultural work). He was busy preparing for his first exhibition in New York. His story was almost a depressing one — for the few weeks before getting the good news from New York, he was thinking of giving up on exhibiting altogether.
But he got the call. And now he’s so busy painting, creating, and exhibiting, that he couldn’t even find the time to give me a quick quote for this article!
Point is, getting into a gallery is tough. But if you get scared and don’t jump into the fray, you’ll never make it.
Every day a man begged God to win the lottery. But he stayed poor until he died. Soon he accused God, “I begged every single day to win the lottery, but you never helped me!” and God replied somewhat exasperated, “You never bought a ticket.”
How to start talking to gallery owners and curators
I’ve spoken to artists and curators, and they all say the same thing. Developing a personal relationship with gallery owners or curators is the best way to get your work on the wall.
“It’s about researching if your work fits with the profile of the gallery, however from personal experience I have had most success when creating my own pop-up exhibitions in unusual places.”
But what about getting your work into bigger exhibitions?
“All galleries are hard to get in to and invariably it comes down to cultivating relationships with curators and jumping on as many competition and group exhibition opportunities as possible. Curator Space is an excellent platform to find out about new exhibition opportunities.”
And if you don’t actually live in the big city? There are plenty of ways you can still create a personal connection with gallery owners, and in some cases, bypass that need entirely. Simon’s first big win was through applying for a group show.
“I got into my first big gallery, the Royal Academy of Art by applying for the Summer Exhibition. With a rotating committee each year it’s a bit of a lottery, but nothing ventured nothing gained. More often than not it [applying to galleries] is as part of a group show or charity fundraising exhibition. For example I will be participating as part of Art for Youth UK, which takes place at the Mall Galleries from 11–13 December.”
Participating in charity events can be a way to put your career on the fast track. It shows that your art has a market (people will buy it), puts your name out there, and according to an artist we interviewed, can generate lots of commissions. Click here to get all the details.
Here’s some parting advice from Simon.
“It’s all about personal contact and recommendation — pursuing each and every opportunity — and demonstrating a track record of exhibitions and a decent mailing list. Also a genuine commitment to marketing, social media and developing a sales strategy.”
Know what type of portfolio to use when
Getting your portfolio right can be a tough task. That’s why we’ve created an entire post dedicated to it. In a nutshell, just one version of your portfolio isn’t going to cut it.
If you’re applying by sending in a physical portfolio (a technique many artists use), you might actually be wasting your time.
“It’s a challenging process, especially as so many galleries use relatively unqualified interns to assess portfolios.” Simon Tarrant
In some cases, curators are looking to receive a specific submission centered around a theme.
“When I put out a call for submissions, I ask for artists to submit up to three pieces. What I prefer to see from artists is a cohesive grouping because I like to give each artist their own section of wall space. When I get submissions that do not relate well to one another either in technique, subject, or point of view it’s difficult for me to understand what the artist is trying to say. I like to hang pieces that are immediately recognizable for that individual artist.”
— Joseph Abbati, Curator for Scott Weiber’s California State Senate Office
Here are some must-haves for your portfolio toolbox:
- An offline folder with hi-res photos of your art on your phone or tablet
- An online gallery/dedicated portfolio on an app like D Emptyspace
- An up-to-date website with hi-res images of your work and more detailed descriptions
- Small printed samples of your work that you can carry around with you (some artist laminate these and put them on a little ring binder)
- Bigger prints to show art galleries (either in person or via mail)
The key to a good portfolio is to “Keep it simple,” as pro fashion and portrait photographer Andrew McMeekin says.
“Don’t go on about yourself and about how you were a photographer when you were four and your grandma bought you your first camera. No one is vaguely interested in that story. If you check some statistics on websites, you’ve only got about 3 lines before someone gets bored and switches the page. So make sure your vision and portfolio is very easy to navigate.”
— Andrew McMeekin, Photographer
Start Collaborating with Other Artists
Collaboration is a no-brainer. When you work with another artist, or even with a group of artists, you instantly get a group of people with different strengths and resources working towards a singular goal.
It’s a powerful thing.
Street artist Mohammed Ali regularly collaborates with painters, musicians, and other creatives for his live painting shows. He’s got some interesting criteria when choosing to work with someone or not.
“The artists I collaborate with have to not only be good artists, but also good people. If you’re a basic asshole with a big ego, I can’t work with you. I can’t connect with you. I want someone who’s gonna share positivity. Just be respectful and nice.” — Mohammed Ali
When looking to collaborate with people, make sure you find artists who compliment your personality type, and who are just as passionate as you are.
Blend creative passion with business-sense
Burnout is real. If you overwhelm yourself with an endless list of tasks and a plan that you never stick to, you might start resenting your work. The solution to this? Build a strategy that supports you in your pursuits.
Prolific painter Ricky Joyce (who’s aiming to get into the big New York galleries soon) gives some parting sage advice, “To continuously set up exhibits and show your face takes a lot of time and money. It’s important to make sure exhibits are worthwhile for you financially and time-wise. Always make sure they are a good fit for your art practice.”
Download D Emptyspace for iOS: https://apple.co/2MhsxCs
Android version coming soon!
Follow D Emptyspace for more company updates and art-curated content!