Making Contact with Art Galleries
How to Do it Right
Art galleries and dealers are continually deluged with requests from artists to either show, sell, represent, or critique their art, or to otherwise help them advance in their careers. They make contact through direct messaging on social media, by email, phone, in person, by mail, by spontaneously appearing at galleries, through people who refer them, and so on. Unfortunately, many of these attempts fall far short of what galleries expect from any artist who approaches them with their art.
Ways artists sabotage themselves include the following:
* Sending generic messages or emails rather than individually personalized ones.
* Providing little or no background information about either themselves or their art other than maybe sending a few images or links to their websites or social media pages.
* Not giving specific reasons why they're reaching out in the first place, why they're making contact, why the gallery or dealer should look at the art, or even why they should reply.
* They only talk about what they want, not about what's in it for the gallery or dealer they're contacting to represent or show their art.
It's your responsibility-- while keeping your inquiry concise and to the point, and abiding by a gallery's submission guidelines if they have them-- to show that you actually know who they are, care about them, tell why you're making contact, and talk about how they would benefit from getting to know you and considering your art. If you can't come up with really good reasons that have a gallery's or dealer's best interests in mind, don't bother contacting them.
Once you've established your purpose in making contact, the most important details to provide are specifics about your art-- not all of your art, but the recent work, what you're currently in the process of creating or working on, what you want them to focus on and why. They don't want to see everything you've ever done; they want to see what direction you're going in now and why you believe it's worth paying attention to. In combination with that, your website and/or social media pages should clearly back up everything you say.
Limit your presentation to art that you feel is relevant to any gallery you contact. For instance, you might mention how you think it fits in with the art and artists the gallery already shows, and briefly say why. If a gallery asks, be prepared to tell them approximately how many pieces you have completed and currently available for sale, how many more are in process or that you intend to complete, and about how long it will take to complete them. Additional details are also helpful, like sizes, mediums, dates, titles, edition sizes, and so on (a good way to handle these is to include them with images of your art on your website or social media pages).
Don't inundate a gallery with information or images of older art, art that has nothing to do with what you are contacting them about, or art that you've already shown at other galleries or on your website or social media pages. Galleries tend not to want work that's been out in public for a while or that has failed to sell elsewhere. They want to see your newest, freshest, best stuff.
Make sure you have your pricing act together. Are your prices net to you or are they retail prices that you and the gallery split? You don't necessarily have to go into specifics early on, but at least be clear on what ranges your art generally sells in if the question comes up. The reason for talking prices at certain points in a conversation is that any gallery you contact needs to know whether those dollar amounts fall within the ranges they typically sell art in. For example, if a gallery typically sells work in the $15000-$20000 price range and your art typically sells in the $800-$1200 range, then the gallery will likely not be interested in your art. Better yet, don't waste time contacting galleries that sell art way out of your price range in the first place.
No matter where you send someone to look at your art, make sure it's organized, presented, and introduced in ways they'll be able to understand and appreciate. If necessary, give instructions on where to start, what to pay attention to, and where to find basic information on what your art is about. Think of this part like handing them a roadmap of your work. As an artist you have to remember that whenever you contact anyone who has little or no previous knowledge of either you or your art, you have to be exceptionally clear about why you are contacting them, what the significance of your art is with respect to them and their gallery, and how they can locate and see your work. If you can't put that information together in an effective presentation-- what your art is about and why it's worth their attention-- wait until you can.
In terms of organization, present your work in easily understandable groups, series or categories, each having a particular theme, subject matter, point, purpose, philosophy, or whatever your unique criteria are. You typically do this on your website or social media pages. Whenever a gallery is not familiar with you-- especially if you're early in your career-- you pretty much have to arrange your work almost like you're curating your own exhibition. The closer your can come to presenting your art in terms of groups or series that are basically ready to show, the better. And make sure your current work as well as work that's most relevant to the gallery is clearly labelled and easy to find.
If you are early in your career or are just starting out, presenting completed or nearly completed groups or series of work is best. That way, galleries can see that you're capable of finishing what you start. If you already have a respectable resume and track record, you don't necessarily have to present a completed or nearly completed body of work. For example, you can say something like, "These are the first few works of my XYZ series. When completed in six months, it will consist of 20 pieces all themed on this specific subject or concept or philosophy or idea or whatever." That way, the gallery or dealer can get a reasonable idea of your capabilities as well as the significance of what you're working on.
Regardless of what you're contacting a gallery or dealer about, make sure your work is accessible in a systematic and easy-to-understand format. It's your duty to do the heavy lifting up front so that they don't have to-- and essential if you expect to make any headway at all in terms of having them represent you. This level of attention shows that you are serious about getting your art out there, and will do whatever you have to do to make sure they get what you're up to. No gallery wants to waste time trying to figure you out.
Now let's talk business. Galleries are not likely to respond to artists who give little or no specifics about what they're looking for other than someone to show, sell, represent or pay attention to their art. Open-ended or general "look at my art and get back to me" types of requests will get you nowhere. So be very specific about what you're looking for. And don't have any conditions or requirements around representing or showing your art. If you insist on conditions (and hopefully you won't), state them up front so a gallery can quickly determine whether or not you're compatible with their agenda.
Also be able to tell a gallery why you believe you're at an appropriate point in your career to contact them. Be prepared to direct them to your resume, your artist statement, or to any other information that supports your reasoning. If the conversation progresses beyond initial contact, be ready to go into greater detail about what makes your art unique, special or significant. Perhaps you're extremely knowledgeable about a particular theme or subject matter or aspect that's prominent in your art. Perhaps you've been working on a certain type of art or perfecting a proprietary technique for a long period of time. Maybe certain aspects of how you live or conduct your life are instrumental in the creation of your art. Focus on whatever separates your art out from all other similar looking art. A gallery needs the back story; they need to understand your work in depth, the way that you understand it, to essentially see it through your eyes.
One final reminder-- personalize every presentation to whoever you contact. Know exactly who you are dealing with and why. Way too many contact attempts look like form letters, like the artist is sending out the exact same materials to anyone who they think might be interested in their art. When galleries see that an artist has little or no idea who they're contacting or why, it's over before it even starts. And don't think you're going to get lucky if you spam enough galleries, because you're not. In fact the opposite is more often the case because word will get out, and you'll likely end up reducing your chances of success.
Whenever you contact any gallery about your art, make sure you're fully prepared to get them up to speed on what it's all about in case they like what they see and want to know more. You have to put this kind of time and care into your presentation in order for whomever you're contacting to put the equivalent amount of time into continuing the conversation. There is no shortcutting this process. If you make a compelling relevant personalized presentation, you can be certain that sooner or later a gallery or dealer will give you the opportunity you deserve.
Want to know more about about getting your art into galleries? Read this: How to Get a First Show at a Gallery
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