Next Steps: Approaching galleries

We highlight a number of a-n resources focusing on approaching galleries, including top tips from artists, arts managers, curators and gallery directors.

There are numerous different routes and methods artists might use when approaching galleries. Importantly, there are no hard and fast rules that make it easy for an artist to become represented by a gallery or be invited to exhibit with one.

In the a-n resource Approaching galleries, independent curator, artist and writer Jennie Syson says that while it is something we are “often encouraged to do at art school by peers and tutors”, it’s important to remember that contacting galleries is no substitute for an artist building “a sincere and valuable relationship with a person or organisation who has an interest in selling or showing their work”.

So why do it? Well, Syson says it is a time-trodden method. Since the days when recent graduates lovingly compiled plastic portfolios of carefully selected slides to show to gallerists, to the more modern phenomena of tagging the world on social media, it’s all about getting your work out there and attracting attention.

Do your research

The key, however, is to do your research and think carefully about who you approach. 

Find out more about the galleries that are out there and what their interests are. What kind of artists do they usually work with? Do they exhibit recently graduated artists? What kinds of exhibitions have they put on in the last few years? Create your own tailor-made route that feels appropriate to you and the kind of work you make.

You should, however, be careful not to come on too strong. Don’t pester or annoy galleries – if you do, it’s very likely your advances will be rejected.

And don’t put all your energies into approaching galleries and nothing else. As Syson comments: “It’s a huge waste of energy and can feel emotionally draining when efforts come to nought.” 

Make it personal

In the additional a-n resource Approaching galleries: top tips from artists, arts managers, curators and gallery directors, freelance curator and one half of the Day + Gluckman curatorial partnership, Lucy Day says finding out who you need to actually speak to is important.

“Sending an email starting ‘Dear Sir’ to a feminist curating partnership won’t get you the result you hope for. Also, visit a range of art fairs – they are a great place to quickly see different galleries and different perspectives from across the country and internationally. You may not get a chance to talk to them but it can give you some insight into the commercial art world.”

Other things to think about

  • Could you find your own venue, or start a collective or gallery yourself?
  • Invite curators/ VIPs personally
  • Research galleries you enjoy visiting and engage with them
  • Make a great website and make your social media presence engaging
  • Do you feel an affinity with the work of the artists already represented or taking part in a gallery’s programme?
  • What can the gallery do for you?
  • Is it right to commit to a particular gallery?

To read the full a-n resource on approaching galleries, available to a-n members, click here.

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