I called 100 art galleries and this is what I learned…
The US art sales market is valued at over $28 billion a year, with an estimated 90% of sales occurring in New York.1 In this market, NYC galleries play a critical role since 76% of collectors use NYC galleries always or often to purchase art.2 As such, for an artist getting represented by a NYC gallery can be a life-changing experience. However, city galleries are not uniform. There are approximately 1,400 art galleries across NYC employing over 3,800 people and they vary significantly in terms of size, type of artists they represent, and in their approach to get new artists.3 For artists looking to break into the gallery scene all these factors need to be considered.
Artists working to get their art represented at NYC galleries have a big hill to overcome. As businesses, these institutions are generally looking for artists with an established reputation and a strong following because that will enable gallery owners to sell the works easier resulting in better cash flow management and profitability.
100 Galleries interviewed – less than 10 are open to submissions
For this article, I interviewed 100 galleries4 to get a better insight into how emerging artists can get their foot in the door. Just 26 of them accept submissions from the public through email and among this subgroup – less than 10 galleries declare they’re open to submissions on their website.
But wait, there’s a silver lining here.
I called some of the top tier galleries like Gagosian, Zwirner and Gladstone and many other galleries that were not top tier and my questions were straightforward – Do they accept submissions from artists? If so, what is their submission policy? And finally, I asked what their recommendations were for artists trying to build relationships with galleries?
What the galleries suggested (because you should never say never).
Throughout my interviews, all the galleries were open to sharing tips on how emerging artists could get their foot in the door. A key recommendation shared by many galleries is that artists need to embrace digital tools. To start, it was strongly encouraged that artists have their own professional website, and many gallery directors will ask to see the site right away. For instance, the Peter Blum Gallery, will only look at submissions that include a weblink and a jpg of the artist’s work. Another helpful digital tip was shared by the Kravets Wehby Gallery. While the gallery doesn’t accept submissions, the staff recommended that artists should invest some of their time to showcase their work on Instagram and build a following. Furthermore, building a strong social media presence would raise the visibility of the artist making him or her more likely to be noticed by influential artists, collectors, and art galleries.
Paula Cooper gallery, also shared some very important tips on how to approach a gallery; “Interested emerging artists should attend exhibits and openings and network with the gallery artists and directors. Doing so, would create more authentic experiences.” In addition, the assistant recommends “doing pop-up exhibitions in retail locations that are currently vacated would also be helpful.”
Networking plays a critical role in furthering an individual’s career across any industry – art is no exception. Just like Leonardo da Vinci needed an introduction by Lorezo de’ Medici to enter the services of Ludovico Sforza, referrals still play a critical role for emerging artists looking to break into the gallery world. Across my interviews with galleries, staff members highlighted that there were a few key folks that emerging artists should concentrate their networking efforts on. Getting to know the artists that are currently represented at an existing gallery is a critical first step. These individuals can be a helpful referral source for artists looking for an introduction.
Getting an inside recommendation
Among the 100 galleries that I interviewed, 95% of them list on their website the artists that their galleries represent. Many of these institutions post resumes of their artists showcasing their major milestones. By studying these profiles, artists can better prepare themselves when meeting these professionals. The staff at the Sikkema Jenkins gallery also shared a valuable networking asset many emerging artists disregard – their teachers and professors. These academic professionals have a wealth of contacts and experience that many emerging artists should try to leverage by building a strong relationship with them. Furthermore, many galleries host several exhibition openings throughout the year. Interested artists looking to foster a working relationship with a gallery are encouraged to attend exhibition openings and network with the art directors and artists. While networking is crucial, a few galleries recommended that emerging artists approach it carefully during art fair conferences such as Basel – since gallery staff during these art fairs are focused on closing commercial deals.
Understanding the target audience of a gallery is another vital important area for emerging artists looking to be represented. Among the 100 galleries I interviewed, no two galleries were alike. Some galleries focused on represent art from specific regions like Korea or Brazil. While other galleries focused on the intersection of the digital world and art. Studying a gallery’s vision is crucial when trying to showcase to a director or gallery owner why you would be a good fit as opposed to other artists.
Top Tier Galleries vs. Small galleries and pop up spaces
Almost all of the galleries I called were medium to large galleries and are major players in the art world. There are galleries all over Brooklyn that are much smaller and would be easier to connect with, and opening up your own exhibition space in a studio or empty storefront is another way to get your art out into the world.
While the hill for an artist to overcome is steep, these tips shared above hopefully can better provide helpful direction on how to navigate breaking into the gallery scene. In speaking with many gallery staff members, they all stressed the importance of persistence and that its vital for emerging artists not to give up as the process can take several years.
In conclusion, follow these tips that come directly from galleries to increase your chances for an exhibition in NYC.
The sources for this article are listed below including my call list with emails and phone numbers.
- Page 7 – slide 11: https://nyartmarket.independenthq.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Independent_The-New-York-Art-Market-Report-2020.pdf
- Page 8 – https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/resilient-neighborhoods/west-chelsea/gallery-guide-102015.pdf
- Spreadsheet of calls I made to 100 galleries. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/17XLx-OAfkCCZX5XtdkPAKfdetfttQlhB/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=106024681950970629882&rtpof=true&sd=true