Beating the Gallery Game

James, an artist in one of my classes, attended a friend’s opening last year. It was held at a small gallery in Chelsea and it was well attended. When the show closed a while later, he met up with his friend for coffee. Most of the art sold, his friend said, and because of the show he already had another exhibition lined up.

James was very happy for his friend but when he left the coffee shop he was feeling frustrated and pretty jealous. For years he’d been wanting to be discovered and have his own work on exhibit in a gallery and it hadn’t happened for him. He knew his work was good and although he didn’t think it was fair to compare his work to his friend’s, he had more training and education and overall experience. It just didn’t make sense.

Finally, James swallowed his pride and texted his friend to meet up again. He had to know if there was some secret he was missing that was landing all these shows.

Turns out, there was. And it was the simplest answer imaginable.

No one had discovered his friend. And the gallery show hadn’t come easily. It was only after a year of researching and reaching out to galleries that would be a good fit for his art that James’s friend landed that first show. Up to then it was a weekly routine of emails, follow up calls, and even in-person meetings. Not to mention loads of rejection.

But for every rejection, there were several more inquiries. At last the first gallery accepted. This didn’t mean he could relax though, far from it. What it did mean was a gallery show on his CV that might have made it a little easier to land the next one.

There is so much to be learned from James and his friend. Like pretty much every creative career in the universe, there is absolutely no sense in sitting around hoping to be discovered. Unless you’re Norma Jeane Mortenson circa 1945, the chances of being “discovered” are basically zero.

Finding your way to gallery shows takes considerable research and work.

The first step is to compile a list of galleries that would be suited to your work. Dig in a little and be sure that what you are producing fits the overall aesthetic and philosophy of the gallery.

Once you have made a hefty list it’s time to begin reaching out. There are many ways to do this, and some might get you noticed more than others. Consider our digital age and how many email inquiries the average gallery gets on a daily basis. Maybe this is a good moment for some snail mail, and in-person visits to multiple openings as well.

Follow up is key. Don’t just send off an inquiry into the ether and hope for the best. Follow up with the person or persons to whom your inquiry was addressed, everyone deserves an answer be it yes or no, its a matter of professionalism.

There are definite steps you can take to make the process of landing your first gallery show (or any gallery show) way more likely. At Praxis Center we offer a whole course on exactly this process. Give yourself a leg up and find the support you need to get your work into galleries. In the class you will also get feedback from a New York private dealer, Cheryl McGinnis, who awaits your questions in the course.

P.S. if you’re not sure who Norma Jeane Mortenson is, just take a gander at this big hint 🙂

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