Improve Your Gallery Game

How to apply dating skills to help your gallery approach

Photo: Raphael Koh

If you’ve been actively seeking gallery representation, you know it can be rough out there. Let’s consider for a moment how oddly similar the gallery approach is to dating. To find representation or a date requires you to continually put yourself (and your artwork) out there. If that alone doesn’t keep you locked in your studio, you must do this with the knowledge that rejection is inevitable as well as the accepted emotional mix of nerves, hope, obsession, frustration, excitement, and disappointment.

Success with a gallery, as with a partner, provides its own kind of validation of who we are and the possibility to achieve what we want to become. In the same way we wonder ‘how did this person ever find someone?’ (admit you have), as artists we may wonder how one artist finds representation for their work while others do not.

The answer is often less about who has the ‘best body’ of work and more about the readiness of the artist and their work’s compatibility to the gallery. If you are struggling to find a gallery for your work, it’s time to up your game.

No blind dates — do your research

Do yourself a solid and research the galleries/venues you want to approach. If possible, visit the galleries in person. Ask yourself does my work fit into the type of work they represent or into their exhibition mission? Who is their clientele? Is the physical space compatible with my work? Find out who makes the curatorial decisions and what their requirements are to submit your work.

Get your act together

To be taken seriously as a professional artist you must do the work to present yourself as one. The details of what that actually means matters. Have a professional looking business card, a well-written artist statement, high-resolution images of your work, and an updated website or artist page. Work out a natural ‘elevator speech’ so you can speak clearly about your process and artistic vision.

Find a connection

Stop banging your head against a wall with cold calls and emails, find a connection. Consider your personal network for any connections that could lead to an introduction. Personal recommendations give you a big leg up in any field — the art world is no different. Try to attend the gallery’s events i.e receptions, talks, or lectures. If you can’t attend, track down information online to show your interest and knowledge in what that gallery does and how your work may be a good fit.

Personal recommendations give you a big leg up in any field — the art world is no different.

Play it cool. Play. it. cool.

Genuine interactions go a long way to building a positive repertoire for a successful gallery relationship. Being overly aggressive, desperate, or just plain rude will be no help to you. Tune into social cues and body language to get feedback on how you are presenting yourself. You should be confident but also friendly and respectful in your approach.

Photo: Mitch Rosen

Timing IS everything

Consider the timing and place of your introduction. If it’s in-person, avoid putting a curator on the spot outside work hours or at an event they are hosting. Don’t monopolize their time by launching into a full blown rundown of your artistic endeavors or life story. Exchange contact information so that you can connect at a more appropriate time. Once you’ve connected, give them time to consider your work and the information you sent them as well as time to respond.

Don’t monopolize their time by launching into a full blown rundown of your artistic endeavors or life story.

Be open minded

Approach smaller galleries and unconventional venues to broaden your efforts and gain valuable experience. An exhibit of your work at an up-in-coming gallery or alternative space may offer you more focused attention and provide exposure to a different audience. It can be an opportunity to gain valuable insight on how your work is received, allow you to troubleshoot your presentation, and start to build your clientele. Experience and a track record of sales can increase your chances with higher end galleries.

Turn rejection into a resource

A rejection from a gallery does not mean the conversation has to end. Follow up with an inquiry on how you could improve your submission in the future. They may provide feedback you haven’t even considered. Also, ask if they could suggest a gallery that may be a better fit. If you have a positive exchange, request to keep them on your artist mailing list so you can update them on new work and projects. You never know when they may change the direction of their representation, curate an outside show, or have a new client that fits your work.

A rejection from a gallery does not mean the conversation has to end.

As you aspire to have the kind of gallery representation others have achieved, it’s important to trust that your path is your own. Be open, stay positive, and be willing to fine tune your gallery approach as you go through the process. Practice doesn’t have to make you perfect, it just has to make you compatible.

What are your thoughts on the gallery scene? Feel free to leave a comment with any gallery tips or specific questions!