Saturday, July 10, 2010


How to Get Commercial Gallery Representation
Valerie Atkisson / ArtBistro

The Big Picture

Like many things in life, reaching an important goal involves a lot of hard work. It also takes time, patience and a little luck. It is impossible to achieve an important goal, such as getting gallery representation alone. It takes a network of people and supporters. Whereas a very few artists seem to land in a gallery with no effort right out of graduate school, this is likely not the case for most artists. There is usually a back-story of hard work and connections that have landed her or him there.

Many artists want a commercial gallery to represent their work. Over the last 100 or so years commercial galleries have been the most desired way for artists to sell their work. Last month I wrote an article about the pros and cons of gallery representation. I would recommend reviewing that article before proceeding with this article.

Everyone Has a Network

So, you have decided to seek a commercial gallery to represent your work. How do you do that? Some artists believe their art needs to stand alone on its merits and if it is good enough, it will eventually rise to the top. This occasionally happens, but more often than not, artists receive recognition through their network. This is because of human nature. If you were going to hire someone to be your assistant would you call your friends to see if they knew a trustworthy person for the job or only put out a notice online? You might do both, but you might be more inclined to take the recommended candidate, as there is seemingly less risk for you. So it is with commercial galleries. They also rely on their network of collectors, artists, critics to make a decision about whose work that they can sell.

Getting Your Foot in the Door

This first step is not has hard as it may seem. Edward Winkleman of Winkleman Gallery gives these four tips to artists seeking gallery representation:

“The single most important aspect of getting a gallery is picking the right one.

Still, there are things you can do while you search for the right one, or wait for the right one to appreciate their mistake in not working with you. Consider these four ways to get your foot in the door of the NY art world. These are written to apply for both NY-based and out of town artists:

1. Build a support network of NY artists. No one is a better ally in your fight to get the recognition you deserve here than other artists. They’re undoubtedly the most qualified critics of your work, they understand completely what you’re going through, and if you share what you hear about opportunities with them, you should be able to expect the same in return. There’s strength in numbers. Get some artist friends.

2. Submit your work to registries. Registries are curated generally, so your work may still be rejected, but they do indeed lead to group exhibitions and other opportunities. There are two primary registries you should apply for: the one at Artists Space and the one at White Columns. Please note that both of these spaces focus on emerging artists engaged in the “contemporary” dialog, so if you’re more of a traditionalist, you might not be accepted…all I’m saying here, is consider their mission before you submit.

3. Take a survival course. Two to consider: Artists Space offers an amazing series of workshops. And the Bronx Museum of the Arts’ “Artists in the Market Place” is a remarkable program that I’ve seen change everything for some of its alumni.

4. Get involved in another way in the meanwhile. The best advice I ever got before I opened my gallery was “You MUST get in the game.” So much of getting the career you want is being aware of the opportunities. Being involved in the art world (in any capacity) greatly increases your chances of hearing about those opportunities. So organize an exhibition, write reviews, work for an art handler, work for a museum, hell…work for a gallery, teach, join an artists’ critique group, start an artist critique group, go to salons, go to lectures, go to openings. Be out there, be seen, be heard, look, hear…etc.”

Not Seeking New York City Representation?

If you do not live in New York City or close to a large art market in another part of the country it maybe best to focus your efforts locally. The same steps as stated above apply, but you will need to do some research to find the non-profit galleries in your area, a business practices class, and creating your own critique group. Building your network of artists and art professionals is the most overlooked asset that you can build into your career.

What Not to Do

Sending a gallery an unsolicited packet of your portfolio and resume is not very effective. Many galleries do not look at the work. It is best to make personal contact as mentioned above and invite the curator or someone on the gallery staff to make a studio visit.

You should never berate or get angry with a dealer for not taking you on as an artist. This could only have a negative outcome. Be gracious for their time. Have back up plans and ask the dealer for recommendations. If they give you a recommendation follow up on it.

Maintaining Your Professional Network

You know the Verizon commercials with the cell phone network that is a huge group of people? Envision that commercial when you visualize what your network should be like. Professional networking and portfolio sites like ArtBistro can be very helpful in keeping your portfolio fresh. ArtBistro also make it easy for your to update your professional network of your new work. You can spend a lot of time creating your network online and by attending art events. You must keep motivated to do so. But what do you do after some time if you have not reached your goal and your network becomes stagnant? There are a few things you can try:

1. Invite several artist or artist professionals who have not seen your work before for studio visits. These should be people who you see as in the next step of your career.

2. Organize a show or open studio for your network. Many things in the art world happen because of returning favors. If you include a friend in a show they may include you. If you recommend a friend to a curator, a friend may recommend you. Realize that you are all in this together and helping each other can only be positive in the long run.

3. Constantly include more artists and art professionals into your network so it remains fresh.


If you implement the suggestions above you will see your career start to climb. Take the opportunities are offered to you. Make the most of them and also create opportunities for yourself and other artists. These actions will put you on the path to success.

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