Sunday, September 13, 2009

Art as Business: Galleries II

I have been just outside galleries, well prepared and just there to make contact ... and I have turned on the doorstep.

There was a dragon inside.
I felt threatened to my life.
Today suddenly didn't feel like a good day.

I do not like the "contacting galleries"-part. I fear the “contacting galleries”-part. Why do I fear it? It is not like the galleries are dragons right?

"Dragons are legendary creatures, typically with serpentine or otherwise reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of worldwide cultures." (

Yes. They are - to me they are dragons!
I do not like to be humiliated, I do not like impolite rejection, I do not like the fact that I’m not even given a chance to even show my work, I do not like the hypocrisy.

But is it really a threat? Should I instead sit in my studio and hope for someone to come and rescue - I mean discover - me?

"Do one thing every day that scares you" Eleanor Roosevelt.

WE all have fears. Rational and irrational. In this context I see myself as a dragon killer - there are some things I fear and I should face them. Maybe I will not overcome my fears - but I should at least not be their prisoner.

My sword and my shield has been preparations (or should have been) - and setting a meeting. I ALWAYS chicken out if I decide to just drop by a gallery and see if it could be a good day for establishing contact. Let's face it - I am a coward. But I am a coward who will at least show up if I have an appointment. Besides - most of the time (hmmm?) someone who has agreed to see you will have given you an appointment when it's a good time for them ... and they have chosen to see you. Right?

So what I have done is to make a phone call (after days of just staring at the phone) and say that I'm an artist and that I would like to exhibit in their gallery (doing my best to sound confident) and that I'll be in Stockholm/Copenhagen/Malmö/wherever for some specific days - could we arrange a meeting? (note: I've never really done this in my own city)

Responses have been from worse to best:
  • hahaha. I do not know who you are (little girl) and what art you make - but I can tell you directly that no way you can make it into my gallery or any good gallery in Malmö. Not a chance! (man in his fifties)
  • did you study at XX or XX? No? Not interested. (many galleries!)
  • we do not work like that (instead: recommendations/want to "discover" artists by themselves)
  • I have hundreds of artists contacting me every week ...
  • We are working with too many artists as it is (I convinced one of these to meet me anyway by joking and insisting. I got a separate exhibit the very next autumn)
  • send me a link to your website and we'll see.
  • Yes, you are welcome - I always want to see new art.

It is good that I will get up after getting hit. Ok - I might have gotten exhibits in galleries by first giving a phone call and then meeting in person ... but I have had more unpleasant experiences as well.
  • I have come to appointments to just discover that the gallery owner is not there - even though we had decided to meet. (several times)
  • I have come to a gallery to discover that it was WAY out of my league (didn't do enough research...) The guy felt very sorry for me and tried to give me some addresses to galleries where it could be better to start out.
  • I have come to galleries to discover that I didn't think it was good enough (didn't do enough research...)
  • I got really good contact with one of the owners at a gallery (this was in Copenhagen) - and she wanted to give me a separate exhibition the very next year. She said she rarely felt this sure intermediately. But we just needed to confirm with her ex-husband who she ran the gallery with. He showed up very drunk, patronising me and telling me in detail why my paintings weren't good enough. He could be kind and let me hang a small print in a dark corner at their Christmas group exhibition. (He thought I was 20 years old - not 33. Not good excuse, though). Need I say I didn't want to exhibit there? Later I found out he was a painter himself ... and in my eyes not even mediocre.

Nowaday you could say I'm an experienced Dragon fighter. (But I haven't faced the big dragons yet.) I say no to exhibit in some galleries where I've exhibited before because I want something better. And I can give some advice:

  1. Research the gallery: who are exhibiting there? What are their background? Do your art fit in there (pointless to contact a photo gallery if you just make sculptures). Do you think the art is good?
  2. preferably have a good website with recent material or good digital photos to send in e-mail (3 photos is my lucky number) if that's what they want to see.
  3. Call first. Sound confident - say you will be around for another reason.
  4. Come with good photos/portfolio, CV.(will also make you feel better). Remember that they might want to keep the material so prepare several sets if you plan to visit many galleries.
  5. Listen. Ask questions about the gallery, the present exhibition etc. But do not suck up.
  6. Do not take it personally. There must be another reason for their bad behaviour (they probably envy your talent and good looks! Or suffer from haemorrhoids or a bad childhood.)
But so far I haven't really tried to get to the very best galleries (except for once, by mistake). I do not say that what I have done so far has been wrong. No. It has been part of my journey. I needed to make mistakes, to improve in my art, to get the time to know myself better and to learn to take drawbacks. I have now come to a point where I feel confident with my art - and I have decided that "I didn't really try" should NOT be my excuse looking back at my life.

Some people might think about me now: Does she really think she is that good?

My answer is: There are so many others who try to convince you that you are not good enough. If I don't believe in myself - what is the point?

The walk of a thousand miles starts beneath your feet. How I plan to start that walk towards the very best GALLERIES I'll share with you next Sunday...

read next post >>


Alexandra Hedberg said...

ooops. how come this post got sooooo long?

I hope some people will have the patience to read it anyway.

Daniel Milton said...

Det är ett nöje att läsa dina söndagstexter. Jag har gått på flera av nitarna du beskriver men aldrig råkat ut för män som de i Malmö och Köpenhamn. Fy.

Mitt bästa sätt att få kontakt med gallerier att jobba med har varit konstmässor. Det kanske har varit ren slump men både mitt galleri i Stockholm (Mårtenson&Persson) och mitt finska (Uusitalo) hittade jag på Market respektive Sthlm art fair.

Jag har betydligt sämre erfarenheter av spontana drop-ins eller mailutskick/telefonsamtal. Men man lär sig ju av allt och jag vet ju verkligen vilka typer av personer/gallerier jag INTE vill jobba med.

Ser fram emot nästa text i ämnet, god kväll!

Marchi Wierson said...

really really good and not too long at all!!

Lori said...

Thank you for this- I do not have much experience with galleries so I found this very helpful. Plus you are funny- I enjoy your point of view.

aimee said...

the gallery world always was intimidating to me. now it seems terrifying! but it sounds to me that you're going the right way about it. you're promoting your work but not sacrificing your integrity - and both are important. i don't think you are a coward at all by making appointments in advance instead of just cold calling. it shows that you are professional and that you have confidence in yourself and your work.

nathalie et cetera said...

I agree with aimee about the the appointments. thank you for sharing in such an honest way. very interesting post again.

marie-louise said...

Hm, det är så jäkla svårt det här.
Önskar bara att värsta agenten dök upp så att vi slipper hålla på själva - det vore väl bra?!

Men jag håller på dig!!!!!!!!!

annapernilla said...

ja, många är drakarna som ska besegras på vägen...
Du skriver verkligen underhållande och det är intressant att få ta del av dina erfarenheter!

Veja cecilia said...

välformulerat och otroligt läsvrt Alexandra. Jag tycker du är otroligt modig som vågar dela med dig av dina erfarenheter och jag kan verkligen känna att det hjälper mig mycket att få läsa det du skriver. tack!

Shell said...

Alexandra, I commend you for going out there to get work. I'm actor. It's still the same thing in the end. Getting work, getting seen to the right people, dealing with rejection, happy when you get a yes. I look forward to your next post.

●• Thereza said...

excellent observations alexandra, and thanks again for sharing such useful thoughts and approaches... although my priority isn't gallery searching i can see a lot of links to other parts of the industry within your fun observations.

Christine Clemmensen said...

GREAT read. Du har så mange gode pointer, betragtninger, og jeg beundrer dig for din følsomhed OG din beslutsomhed. Stærkt gået!

"I have decided that "I didn't really try" should NOT be my excuse looking back at my life." var præcis en af grundende til at jeg sprang ud i at starte mit eget firma. Det værste i verden må være at sidde på plejehjemmet som 104-årig og tænke:"hvorfor gjorde jeg det ikke bare ...?!"

Når jeg står overfor at skulle opsøge nye steder for at få opgaver (jeg er heller ikke supervild med det) tænker jeg altid lige inden jeg går ind til mødet: "Helt ærligt! Hvad har jeg at tabe? INGENTING! Alt at vinde."

(Til slut vil jeg - på vegne af min by - sige undskyld for din dårlige Copenhagen-oplevelse.)

Tak for at du - endnu en gang - deler så gavmildt ud af din erfaring, viden og råd.

Grumpus Zissou said...

Galleries are businesses. They make money on their shows. When they are responding to your request to be shown they are saying "I'm not sure we are good enough to make money on your show".

The business world and the natural world are similar. Let's compare the galleries to food and you will be a tiger. Tigers will go for food 10 times and only get to eat once. That does not stop the tiger from trying to eat every chance it gets -- it knows that the 10th time will fill its belly. And as it gets better at eating, it may get to eat every ninth try...

Keep pouncing on those galleries that do not have the creativity to sort out how to make money on art they might like. There are galleries out there praying for you to walk through their door.

Bibbi said...

You are a brave lady. Tänker att det är som du skriver, man måste hitta sin "match". Som i kärleken :)

Bibbi said...

You are a brave lady. Tänker att det är som du skriver, man måste hitta sin "match". Som i kärleken :)

Anairam said...

That was a great post, Alexandra. Again I have to say that it is relevant to areas other than art. I think you are very courageous - good for you. I am a real ninny when it comes to selling myself. But I am going to set myself some goals and I am inspired by your Sunday series!

Maggie said...

Again, this series is so helpful and inspiring! I especially liked what you said about believing in yourself instead of worrying that other people will think that you are not a good artist. Your candor and humor about this scary (and almost taboo) topic is so appreciated!

kate alexandra said...

read it .. loved it!
Laughed a lot .. ( with you, not at you! )
Thanks for the insight!

Kitty Kilian said...
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Kitty Kilian said...
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Kitty Kilian said...

Ha ha ha, now you have me laughing out loud! Very funny gallery-owners-quotes. Yes, the dragons.. they do not only live in high brow (and low brow)galleries.. they also live in places like expensive women's clothing stores (where they look you up and down and make sure you feel you are way out of their brand's league - even though they're only hired help themselves..). One succesful artist just told me that he had made and sold thousands of pieces in his life and that he STILL was afraid with every next piece that no-one would like it.. so fear is within all of us.

GREAT illustrations! Very effective and really original and clever. I like the wide range of types and materials that you use for your illustrations - at this point in your blog series I find I am starting to look forward to your inventive illustrations as much as to your next humorously written insights. Good for you for being so open and sticking your neck out! Very courageous.

Momo Luna S!gnals said...

I like this post a lot Alexandra. But now i also wanna face the dragons it gots me a bit scared too haha. To contact a gallery by mail or post will do. Not scary. But contact by phone or even scarier in real life is maybe better, so i will try that also. But i'm in my fifties, did artschool a long time ago and didn't even graduate because after two years studying at artschool i thought it's better to develop myself at my own and i had lots of gigs with the 2 bands i played in. So... after reading this post and the reactions one can get from gallerists i begin to tremble already haha. Hmm where my sword and shield?

Sweet greetz!

Momo Luna S!gnals said...

Oh yeah and i forgot to mention: you really are THAT GOOD! :-D