How to get into a gallery

It’s just like a job search.
Yes, gallery representation is an attainable goal.

“I guess I really don’t know how to get gallery representation,” an experienced artist told me. “I tried a couple times, unsuccessfully.” As with a job search, you have to try many times before you get there.

There are no shortcuts.
Make sure your website is up-to-date. It should include your newest work, dimensions, media, and, optionally, prices. A neat, easily-navigated portfolio of photographic images, including current curriculum vitae (CV), is good to have in reserve, but don’t plan on taking it around and sticking it in gallerists’ faces. Instead, introduce yourself, hand the gallerist your card, and follow up with an email.
Don’t assume you have to talk to the top dog. A good gallerist trusts his or her assistants’ judgment.
Do your research. If you’re mass-mailing enquiries, you’re doing it all wrong. At a minimum, you should have visited all the galleries in an area before you approach even one.
Don’t approach a top gallery if you’re an emerging artist. It’s a waste of time. Be sure you like the galleries you approach. While there are often vast differences in style, there are always commonalities, too. Visualize your work on their walls. Are you a good fit?
When you write, direct gallerists to an online portfolio—either your website or one you made especially for them. Always include a current curriculum vitae (CV). Ask the gallerist to review your work against their future needs. Talk about your experience and why you think you’re a good fit. And remember—there are lots of candidates out there. Rejection may have nothing to do with your skills; the gallery may simply be overloaded.
Doing this event in Camden Harbor started my relationship with Camden Falls Gallery. (Photo courtesy Howard Gallagher)
No stealth visits
When I’m scoping out galleries, I make it clear that I’m an artist, not a buyer. I don’t ask to show my work at that visit; I give them a card and follow up with an email if I’m interested.
Misrepresenting yourself is a terrible way to start a new relationship. Many of my best conversations with gallerists have been because I’m an artist.
Respect their time
Never stop to chat when they’re changing their show. They won’t appreciate the interruption. Likewise, don’t interrupt a potential sale, ever. If they say they review portfolios at a specific time, respect that.
Historic Fort Point, by Carol L. Douglas. This painting at another event started my relationship with the Kelpie Gallery.
Maintain your image on social media
You love Facebook; gallerists do too. Be professional, up-to-date, and informative, and don’t include information that will shoot you in the foot.
Reverse engineer resumes
Identify a few regional artists whose careers you admire. Their CVs are usually on their websites. You can track their progress from local shows to important galleries. This will give you ideas on what paths to follow.
A Little Bit of Everything, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, long since sold.
Choose a smart path in
Almost every gallery invitation I’ve received has been the result of an event I did in that community. Gallery owners pay attention to them, especially when they organized the event. If the gallery you’re interested in hosts group shows, apply to them.
I (almost) never turn down an opportunity to show my work, but I know the difference between my local farm and a university gallery. Not every venue is a resume builder.
The studio visit
Should you be lucky enough to net a studio visit, be neat, clean and organized. This is your workspace, and it shouldn’t look like a party house or boudoir. Don’t expect miracles, and don’t try to push the gallerist into taking work he or she doesn’t like.
And, above all, be nice.

Going by the numbers

We should all immediately switch to Instagram. But as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability on the internet. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.
Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Yesterday I had my left foot operated on, giving me a matched pair of incisions and some hope for less pain going into the summer.

My mind is muddled, so I’d hoped to reprise an old post. To that end, I consulted my stats for this blog. Blogger tells me what my top posts are (although this blog has been on three different platforms over the years). A few years ago, the most popular posts were The One Thing Every Painter Should Know and a recipe for scallops from my friends Berna and Harry.
Plastic bags, dethroned by art history.
Since I last checked, art history has steamrolled over them. The top view-catcher is this post about Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc. It’s eleven years old, it violates the modern dictums of length and language, it’s complex, and it continues to get readers. In fact, there are a number of art history posts on that top ten list, including The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow and Ingres and Napoleon.
Measured week-to-week, however, art history is a slow starter. Those posts usually have the lowest immediate readership, even when they have much to say.
Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, 1806, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, courtesy, Musée de l’Armée, Paris
After more than a decade of blogging, I still see no discernible pattern for what will be popular in a post. That’s liberating. It means I can write about whatever I care about, rather than pitching content to some ‘expert’ idea of the public’s low taste.
A surveytells us that new galleries are opening more slowly than they did a decade ago. This is part of a general decline in entrepreneurship in the United States. It’s no surprise to those of us who worry about our battered small town Main Streets, but there’s good news in that same report.
It surveyed a group of high-net-worth individuals about their collecting habits. These are people with more than $1 million but less than $5 million in assets. The vast majority (89%) spent $50,000 a year or less on art and objects. That suggests they aren’t buying from tony Manhattan galleries, but from low- and mid-tier galleries. In other words, they’re buying works by people like you and me, in places like S. Thomaston, Camden and Ogunquit.
The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, 1567, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, courtesy Oskar Reinhart Foundation
Meanwhile, the online market for art and collectables continues to grow, but at a slower pace. That makes sense as a market matures, and it’s nothing to worry about. More than half of online art buyers said they will buy more art online in 2018 than they did last year, according to the Online Art Trade Report.
Instagram has dethroned Facebook as the preferred means of online promotion. In 2016, galleries used the two platforms almost equally. Now only 31% of respondents prefer Facebook to the 62% who liked Instagram. Instagram is also the favored platform for collectors under 35, 79% of whom said they discover new artists on Instagram and 82% of whom said they use it to keep up with artists they like.
Going by the numbers, we should all immediately switch to Instagram. But just as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability in sales. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.

It’s about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

The high price of selling art

A gallery is worth every penny of the sales fee you pay it.
Dyce Head early morning, sold at a plein air event.
“Can you address the issue of [sales] commissions?” a reader asked. “Perhaps what we as artists should expect in return for whatever percentage commission is being asked? My interest in this stems from the fact that our local art guild is charging 40% commission on pieces in member shows. I think that’s too high for a group of artists who are, for the most part, hobbyists and amateurs, and for what we artists receive in exchange for that commission. I should note that we also pay membership dues every year.”
I got a call from a gallerist who represents me last week. He wanted to follow up with a buyer who’d expressed an interest in one of my paintings, and wondered if I’d agree to a small markdown to close the deal. He’s doing exactly what a sales agent should do: working hard to bring both parties together in a deal.
Wadsworth Cove Spruce sold at a plein air event.
He pays rent in an expensive building, pays and trains assistants to work for him, and advertises. He keeps a database of customers and constantly works it. When paintings sell, he packs and ships them. He’s earning his 50% of the selling price, which is, by the way, a pretty standard retail markup. The alternative is to sell the painting myself, and that’s a lot of work.
Member shows like the one my reader asked about are a time-honored way for painters to get their work out into the marketplace. I’ve done many of them, both as a student and as a member of plein air groups. In my experience, the organization just passes through the sales commission of the hosting venue.
I’ve shown in university shows, which charged no commission at all (and paid a stipend). I expect to pay a commission of around 25% if I sell through a restaurant. Plein airevents take between 25-40%. In return for that you get the imprimatur of the place, follow-through, sales closure, exposure, and hospitality, in greater or lesser measure.
Curve on Goosefare Brook sold through the Ocean Park Association.
Non-profit, artist-run galleries (cooperative galleries) require a monthly rental fee and volunteer work hours. In some cases, there’s a nominal sales commission as well. In exchange, they provide wall space, openings, and a place to hold events. Many of them are respected galleries.
Then there’s the so-called vanity gallery. These arose because there are more artists wanting to show in perceived ‘hot’ markets like New York than there is gallery space. Wherever there’s a shortage, there’s an entrepreneur happy to spin your pain into money.
Vanity galleries offer artists a temporary balm for the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection. They’re expensive, and they won’t get you discovered. No reputable gallerists are searching them for new talent. A traditional gallery takes its cut after the sale; the vanity gallery takes it up front. That means the traditional gallery works to sell to customers, whereas the vanity gallery works to sell to artists.

Selling: The Venues (Part 2 of 3)

While I don’t generally sell on-line, sometimes someone sees a painting and wants it. This was painted in Castine in 2014 and bought by a collector in New York City.

Yesterday I wrote about N., who is a retiree now painting full time. She wants to sell paintings but doesn’t want to be a full-time businessperson. “Would a blog and Pinterest be a way?” she asked. “I have enough work that I could probably post one painting a day.”

Marilyn Fairman, Brad Marshall and me painting on the shore of Long Island Sound at Rye’s Painters on Location in 2013.
Although I get hundreds of repins from Pinterest I have never sold anything there. I don’t attempt to sell via my blog, but Jamie Williams Grossman can and does with her Hudson Valley Painter. It’s a model of neat, efficient marketing.
Showing work in person raises the ante, because there are high costs to framing and mounting a show. Still, I prefer physical selling to internet marketing.
The auction at Rye’s Painters on Location, 2013.
While art festivals can net good sales, I avoid them as a solo businesswoman; it’s a lot of work to schlep, mount and tear down a show of framed paintings.
Instead, N. might consider entering some plein air events near her home. Restrain your work to common board sizes, and you have a great opportunity to sell without a high entry cost. If the work doesn’t sell you can reuse the frame. The real fun is in hanging out with like-minded painters for a day or two.
Plein air events are an opportunity to hang out with pals as well as sell art. From left, Mira Fink, Crista Pisano, me, Marlene Wiedenbaum, Laura Bianco, Kari Ganoung Ruiz, Tarryl Gabel at Adirondack Plein Air, 2014.
Many buyers want a sense that the work they’re buying has been judged in the marketplace and found worthy. There is no short-cut to this point, but entering juried shows and being shown in galleries are the two time-honored ways of building a resume.
Sometimes people complain that galleries take “too much” for commissions, but that is money well spent. Even if they only sell a few pieces of your work a year, their bricks-and-mortar stores assure buyers of your professionalism, and the sales process is painless.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Growing pain

The Yellow Christ, Paul Gauguin, 1889, is no longer the “art of the present” but it’s one of my favorites at the Albright-Knox. 
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has announcedthat it plans an addition to its venerable space on Elmwood Avenue in the city of Buffalo. While it’s true that the current 19,000 square feet of floor space is crammed, one wonders—of course—who is going to pay for the addition.
The museum’s collection contains about 6,740 works, of which it can only exhibit about 200 at a time, according to Thomas R. Hyde, president of the museum’s board. “Campus development is no longer an option; it is a necessity,” he added. “We are, in many ways, a middleweight museum with a heavyweight collection.” And then he mentioned the cracks in the marble floors of the gallery’s original building.
(Veterans of capital campaigns will recognize that last gambit: throw in some deferred maintenance and people are supposed to stop kvetching about major changes.)
Side of Beef, Chaim Soutine, c. 1925, is another of my favorite Albright-Knox pieces.
Meanwhile, gallery director Janne Siren insists that plans are still in the ‘conversation’ phase. Having said that, the board has been rattling the can for expansion since publication of their 2001 strategic plan.  “Siren took over the directorship of the Buffalo gallery shortly after city fathers in Helsinki, Finland rejected a plan he had spearheaded to build a large Guggenheim museum there using public funding,” reported WGRZradio.
In 2007 the Albright-Knox Art Gallery deaccessioned a Roman bronze sculpture that subsequently netted $28.6 million at Sotheby’s. It was part of a larger deaccessioning of works that fell outside the ‘core mission’ of the gallery, which then-director Louis Grachos defined as “acquiring and exhibiting art of the present.” Alert Buffalonians immediately wondered what that meant for their own favorite works.
The deaccession vote was approved only on the contingency that the funds raised would be used to buy additional artwork. That meant that the money from the sale would be added to the paltry $22 million acquisitions endowment. (The overall endowment of the museum was then about $58 million.)
Being from Buffalo, I first visited the Albright-Knox while in diapers. Deaccessioning the Roman sculpture and clearing that exhibition space for other work was the right thing to do. But I share the Buffalo cynical mind, and I have my doubts about the viability of this project.
Buffalo is now half the size it was the year I was born, and there’s no sign that the population drain will abate any time soon. Clearly the board is counting on tourists to make up their numbers, and with the elegant expansion of the Burchfield-Penney Art Centeracross the street, an argument can be made that an arts corridor is possible on Elmwood Avenue.

La Maison de la Crau (The Old Mill), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, is another Albright-Knox piece that can no longer be termed ‘of the present.’ 

But that doesn’t address the question of how it will be paid for, or where the expansion will go. The Albright-Knox is landlocked, with Delaware Park at its front and Elmwood Avenue by its back door. Any kind of significant expansion would infringe on its parking lot, its neighbors, or the park.
1957-D No. 1, Clyfford Still, 1957. The Albright-Knox has a large collection of Still’s paintings. Last time I was there, I noticed how many 20th century paintings needed conservation. It’s not as sexy as expansion but still necessary. 
I await future developments with great interest.

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