5 Surefire Ways To Annoy A Gallery

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 8.10.45 AM“Knock, knock,”

“Who’s there?”

“Another artist with his portfolio under his arm.”  (Sigh)

To many artists, being an artist isn’t “real” unless you have a gallery to exhibit your work. Although there are several other options available to artists in terms of showing and selling their work, it seems, for some, there is just no substitute for getting gallery representation. To this end, many artists are willing to bend over backwards, do insane things, make ridiculous claims, and, in short, embarrass themselves. The truth of matter is, not all artists are ready for galleries, nor are galleries, necessarily, the best choice for many artists. Especially in these hard economic times, the last thing on most gallerists minds, is acquiring new artists. Much of my time is spent helping artists develop a realistic set a goals, and then a game plan to achieve those goals. Nevertheless, there is always that rogue artist, wanting to strike out on their own, thinking this time it will be different. They muster up the courage to start approaching galleries before they are ready, and without regard to common sense gallery protocol. If you recognize yourself as that rogue, or you know another artist that is, please forward this article to them.

  1. Being confident about the quality of your work is a good thing. It identifies the fact that you have reached a certain stylistic maturity and understand the complexity of where your work fits into the contemporary art world. However, telling the gallery director (or anyone for that matter) how great your work is, is not a good thing. Confidence is something that grows with experience and doesn’t need the constant reassurances from the outside world. Quality is not something that is “told” but rather discovered, and changes with each individual and their primary experience with the work. Let your viewers have their own experience with your work. Be confident enough about the quality of your work to allow people NOT to like it. And, never, never, never dictate what that response should be. There is no “right” way to look at or interpret art.
  2. Don’t show the gallery director every piece of art you’ve made since your high school graduation. Galleries are most interested in looking at your most current body of work and seeing if it holds together as a series. Showing fewer pieces that represent a cohesive body of recent work, is much better than showing a ton of older work. If a gallery ASKS to see the development of your work, or is interested specifically in older work, you can have that available on your website. (Yes, you must have a website!) Remember, most people can only absorb so much visual information at a time without getting hydroscopic (can’t absorb anymore). You need to be sensitive to the fact that you look at your work every day, and although it might not be tiring or stressful for you to look at 40 pieces of art, a normal person can’t absorb that much visual information. Limit presentations of your work, either by snail mail, email or in person, to 10 pieces at the most.
  3. Learn the most efficient way to send your materials. If you are mailing, don’t send it insured or registered mail, this requires a signature and/or a trip to the post office. Don’t send a ton of materials, or exhibition announcements in which you are one of many artists, reviews with your name mentioned once (and probably underlined in red), or miscellaneous stuff that you think is impressive. It’s not, less is more. Don’t expect your materials will be returned, unless you include a stamped, self addressed envelope (and, maybe, not even then…) Never, never, never, send originals or nag the gallery for the return of your materials. Remember, it’s actually a GOOD thing if they want to keep you on file. If you are emailing, write a coherent cover note and send a link to your website. If you must send images attached be sure that they are appropriately sized digital files. Keep in mind that many email addresses do not accept more than 5MB of attachments to an email and that many people do not feel comfortable opening attachments to an email.
  4. Respect the gallery director’s time. Galleries are in business to sell artwork. Do not try to show them your work when they are at an art fair that has cost thousands of dollars to attend. Do not try to show them your work at the opening reception of another artist. Do not come into the gallery without an appointment, carrying your portfolio, and expect the gallery director to look at it. Do not pretend to be interested in another one of the gallery artists (or in buying something), then ask them to look at your work. Do not be insulted, if during your meeting, the gallery director leaves to greet a visitor in the gallery, or take an important phone call.
  5. Fixate on your goal, not your fantasy. If you are lucky enough to get “face” time with a gallery, focus on what it is you can realistically accomplish. Most artists go into these meetings thinking they will come out with the offer of an exhibition, or a gallery that loves their work and wants to represent them, or maybe even a sale. False on all counts. I’m not saying it never happens, I’m just saying your odds are better if you buy a Lotto ticket. In reality, you have a two prong goal when showing your work to a gallery. One scenario could be, you could get them to recommend other galleries that may like your work and/or be more appropriate for you, than they are. Alternatively, and the most preferable outcome, would be the gallery would agree to take a few pieces on consignment, on trial. Keeping your eye on the ball is the only chance you have at hitting your target.

Just keeping these things in mind, remembering to be polite, respectful and professional, will get you closer to your goals. Good luck!


4 Responses to “5 Surefire Ways To Annoy A Gallery”

  1. Devy Wolff said:

    Apr 10, 10 at 6:30 pm

    Dear Sylvia,
    The art of selling art , is an art in itself and this task is better left off to a professional like you. In this economic tsunami we were the first to be affected and like you mentioned, buying art will be the last thing on most of people’s mind unless the inner voice tells them that no mater what they must have it.
    I don’t mean to sound too dramatic, but you are in many ways a Godsend.
    Sincerely yours,

  2. Sylvia White said:

    Dec 21, 10 at 6:59 pm

    Dear Stephanie, I will not post your comment, but I wanted to let you know how terrible I feel about what you went through. You ABSOLUTELY did the right thing leaving the gallery. I wouldn’t be concerned that the other galleries have not approached you…you should be direct and approach them…no single gallery can “ruin your reputation.” In any event, this is probably a good time for you to make a decision to search for galleries outside your immediate town. There is an entire world out there…go get it!

  3. Kathy Ostman-Magnusen said:

    Apr 01, 11 at 10:59 am

    i’ve been laying low locally on galleries for the last 3 years. I have a rep in NY, but that is NY. I’ve been in many galleries, sold work in most of them, but honestly? Almost every single one, contract or not, has screwed me.

    I had one gallery/gift-shop that signed a contract that I provided, then upon a sale, asked me to change it from 50/50 to taking only 30% and giving the salesperson my extra 20%. I refused, feeling yes send the salesperson a nice bottle of wine or slip them an extra $100. but coughing up another 20% for the galleries employee? No. Obviously not long after that I pulled out of that gallery.

    Another gallery/gift-shop i was in closed the doors overnight leaving my work inside and I had to find the owner of the building to get my work back. The gallery owners had sold a piece and when I actually did locate them, refused to pay me. I did however finally get my money after several months.

    A gorgeous gallery in San Francisco on Union Square closed their doors without prior notice and took off with six of my paintings. I have never found the owner and lost those paintings.

    I think one thing to steer clear of or at least scrutinize well, is gallery/gift-shops. These are not true galleries and the owners of them have little knowledge of contracts, how to sell art or treat artists. I wish that was not the case though, because hanging my work in those places is easier to establish and I do appreciate their staying afloat with low ticket items and I support that.

    I have never had a gallery agree to telling me who the purchaser of my work is. Boo! This is part of staying low right now and trying to figure out just what my next move it going to be. My best advice to myself right now I guess is to put my work in local art group exhibitions. It avails me to make sales where I can keep in contact with the people who purchase my work and to create a buzz about my work. Moving from Hawaii I know this to be true. Moving back to CA I must establish the buzz about my work from scratch again and I guess that is in part why I’ve been laying low.. it is a lot of work to re-establish yourself locally. As I write this I am realizing a lot, most importantly, it is time to get back out there and pick myself back up again.

    Phew.. this has been a lengthy reply! Sorry, but at least I came to a conclusion on my next step.

    I really appreciate your knowledge and have taken in your advise for sometime now. I sure wish I was in Ventura because your workshop sounds absolutely fantastic.

    Thank you for your time Sylvia,

    Kathy Ostman-Magnusn


  4. Susan B Phillips said:

    May 08, 11 at 9:36 am

    Dear Sylvia,I found your site quite unexpectedly-2x removed from some other link. I am so glad that I did.I have been an exhibiting artist for over 30 years( while teaching ,to make “actual ” money.I am also “of a certain age”. Having had a consultation with a Chelsea Gallery owner in NYC, I came away disheartened ,as she(perhaps 10 tears younger than me) said she really liked my work,but that age was a factor,although she hated to admit it.
    I live in NYC , where I am the Gallery director for The National Association of women artists.As well, I have a house in Woodstock, NY,where I am very involved in the arts community, and am currently exhibiting.I think you provide a great service for artists-your articles are very to the point and informative.Would I like to exhibit in Ca,or Santa Fe? You bet. I will read more of your articles. That being said, I did recently get my work into a lovely gallery,in an upscale NY community, merely by asking the director if he looks at websites.So-sometimes I take a chance.Again,thanks for all the help that you give to artists.Best,Susan Phillips.