Sunday, September 06, 2009

Art as Business: Galleries I

This has been the hardest post for me to write in my series Art as Business.
galleries - where to start?

Should it be about galleries in relation to making a living as an artist?
Should it be about hypocrisy and the real rules of the game?
Should it be about the difference between galleries and GALLERIES?
Should it be about how hard it is to establish contact with galleries?

I’ve written four totally different texts about galleries … and none has felt like the right one to start with. Then I raised my gaze. “Start where you are” it says on the window glass above my computer screen. And that’s what I will do – I will start with myself.

Very important background knowledge: There are two, no maybe you would say three, Art Schools in Sweden that really count when it comes to GALLERIES. I have not studied at any of these Art Schools.

So I didn’t get that ticket, the VIP-card that opens doors. I have instead tried to go for the middle galleries – the best way to start I thought: working your way up. I then realized that those who exhibit at these galleries never seem to move up a league. Or that the ones in the top league never seem to have played in the lower leagues. Why? The reason could be that the latter will not put that part of the history in their CV – or it could be that it is very very rare to move up a notch. I’ll be back to this interesting subject – but for now I will stick to my own story … so far.

my exhibition in Kungsbacka last year was thanks to an invitation

I’ve had 9 separate exhibitions in galleries without really having continuously followed any strategies or set any goals but “preferably two separate exhibitions a year”. In art school no one ever talked about how to make a living as an artist or how to get exhibitions. So surprisingly I’m not the only one who has had to learn by doing. People ask me often how I do to get exhibitions in galleries – and very often the ones asking are artists themselves. Its’ like they want to know how others do it – could there be a better way?

My ways have been:
  1. Through art school – after graduating (1 separate exhibition)
  2. Artist colleague’s invitation (1 separate exhibition)
  3. I joined 2 artists’ organizations with galleries and applied in written form to exhibit. A good way to get your first exhibitions. (2 separate exhibitions)
  4. I made sure to have a good website and to be present on internet through the artists’ organizations (2 galleries found me this way – one separate and one group exhibition)
  5. Invited to exhibit thanks to networking by volunteering in artists organizations (1 separate exhibition + 1 up-coming separate exhibition)
  6. Written applications to galleries run by an organization/board (1 exhibition up-coming)
  7. Personal meeting – that is: presenting myself at galleries (3 separate exhibitions and one group exhibition in a good gallery)

The two last ways are the ones you would like to know more about, right?

Let’s start with the written application – the less scary one. So far I've only gotten one exhibition this way - but I've also gotten "positive" rejections. That is personal (handwritten) replies explaining why I didn't fit into their program this year - and that they would encourage me to apply again. The written application I haven’t done enough considering I don’t find it that hard. I’ve actually just started doing it properly. The key words here are research and preparation.

  • What you need to do is to find out about art galleries run by municipals/cultural institutions or by some kind of organizations. This means they will have meetings going through applications and that they do not want any personal contact (thank God!). A good way to find these are to look at other artists CV:s and google the galleries. (It’s not always obvious through the names of the galleries.) Or you could in Swedish google “konsthall”.
  • Then you have to check what artists they are exhibiting (do I want to exhibit in this context? Is it in my league – or am I trying to exhibit next to Damien Hirst?) – and very often contact them to obtain details about deadlines etc. They will most of the time not put that information on their websites. And very often you will only find out that it is possible to apply for exhibitions if you ask directly. (some of them are by invitation only)
  • They want a well-written artist statement, an exhibition idea, good reviews from earlier exhibitions, a (long) CV and visual physical materials (not just referring to a website). The visual materials could be big paper photos – but I’ve recently learned that a printed portfolio normally does the trick better. (I’ve asked). You have to IMPRESS. And good packing helps.
my portfolio

But these galleries get hundreds and hundreds of applications so you have to apply to many - and that you are being rejected could be just because you didn’t fit into the theme of the year – or that they had had too many other minimalistic mime artists exhibiting the last years…

What about the other kind of galleries, the more commercial ones? Ah – the DRAGONS!

Join me next Sunday to find out about galleries, my fears and how I am learning to Face my Dragons! (It will be an adventure - exciting and ... a bit scary)


Alexandra Hedberg said...

blogger has been behaving really weird. It took me one hour and five trials to be able to publish this post! said...

This was fantastic. It's so nice to learn about galleries from someone who has been there. Thanks so much, I'll be linking to this.

Christine Clemmensen said...

Endnu en fantastisk post. Jeg tror du hjælper mange mennesker med din viden og din energi.
Tak fordi du deler ud af det. Og som altid: lykke og mere lykke og mere lykke til :-)

nathalie et cetera said...

Very instructive! Maybe you should publish a book with your posts.
p.s. wishing you lots of inspiration in your new beautiful studio!

Olivia said...

Alexandra - I'm really enjoying another artists' perspective on this often haphazard career! Looking forward to the next installment!

Daniel Milton said...

Hej, du har härmed en ny läsare. Jag befinner mig i ett liknande läge som dig (dvs. ingen konsthögskola, men kör ändå). Vi är inte ensamma och jag vet fler som det går riktigt bra för. Lycka till med allt! /Daniel

Marchi Wierson said...

thank you so much for sharing this process!! It really is generous!

Maggie said...

Thank you so much for your "Art as Business" series. It has been so insightful and wonderfully informal. As a young artist, I feel (as perhaps many do) that "making it" in the art world is something that people expect you to miraculously understand without any practical knowledge, or advice is told from a very sterile viewpoint that is unhelpful. It is so refreshing to hear a real person's account of their journey!

Esti said...

My husband says it'd be a nightmare if I had to live out of my artist's works/skills.

Great post, Alexandra. I'm pretty aware how hard it is for you and other great artists around, no matter how talented you are. It's not fair.

aimee said...

this is a fascinating peek into a world i don't understand at all. thanks for demystifying it a bit. your series is really catching on - i'm starting to see others link to it. keep it up!!

Momo Luna S!gnals said...

Hi Alexandra,
i always enjoy these posts a lot. I've read them all so far and reread them also sometimes.

I now wanna write to galleries here in Holland, so these posts about galleries are a good tip and inspiring.

Question: you wrote about a portfolio instead of large photographs. I know that a portfoloio looks great. Do you send a portfolio to the gallery and isn't that very expensive to do?

Sweet greetz!

Alexandra Hedberg said...

Moma Luna
- I've printed simple portfolios with print on demand (lulu): last time I printed 10 soft cover portfolios with 9 paintings and my 2 pages CV. I paid approx 15 Euro each.

Momo Luna S!gnals said...

Okay, thank you Alexandra. That's cool indeed. I heard from another painter with some experience, that a portfolio don't need that much work in it. Ten or 15 in the most will do.