How To Get The Elusive First Date: Guide To Approaching Galleries
“We were having one of those really great first dates, the kind you can only have if it’s not really a date.” Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City
After reading the article “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, you should have a fairly good idea of how to determine which galleries are appropriate for your work. Once you’ve narrowed your target list down to those galleries that you feel relate to your work, and would be a good fit for you both stylistically and as a match for your career level, you are ready to develop an approach. Ideally, if you know another artist that is represented by the gallery, invite them to your studio to see your work. Not surprisingly, artist referrals carry the most weight in a gallery’s decision to acquire a new artist. If you are not fortunate enough to know an artist that the gallery represents, you’re left with the option of calling the gallery cold to request an appointment to meet with the gallery director and discuss your work.
At this point, you may be faced with three possible responses:
- The gallery is not interested in looking at new work at this time, or they say the gallery calendar is booked for the next 10 years. In this case, the only way you will get the gallery to see your work is through an artist referral…and even this is a long shot.
- The gallery prefers that you mail examples of your work. This is a screening process. Mail not more than 12 slides of your recent work, a cover letter which acknowledges the initial phone call, your biography (resume) and a self- addressed stamped envelope to ensure the safe return of your slides. Most artists make the mistake of sending too many slides. Just send a cohesive body of work…slides that are representative of your current work, not every single example. Lots of mature artists work in many styles concurrently. However, galleries tend to perceive an eclectic body of work as a sign of immaturity in an artist’s development. You have to also try to separate the best work from the best slides. Remember you have about 10 seconds to make an impression, usually, while your slides are being held up to a light or window. Unfortunately, most galleries do not project your work. Select slides that “read” the best.
- Remember, you are just trying to pique their interest so they will want to see the actual work. Galleries do not look at a slide sheet to find one piece they like…they are looking to find one piece NOT to like. By sending too many slides, you are lowering your chances of success. Be sure not to select work that is
- no longer representative of your current style;
- not properly labeled;
- sold, or otherwise unavailable
Follow up with phone call within two weeks saying you are just checking to see if they received the materials. In reality, don’t expect the slides back…it’s actually a good sign if you don’t get them back. It means the gallery wants to keep them in their files to show people…so don’t nag a gallery about returning your materials. Consider it a good marketing tool and say goodbye forever to every package of slides you send out!
- If the gallery agrees to see you at a mutually convenient appointment time, be prompt. Remember, it is just as bad to be too early as it is to be too late. Be sure to call if you are going to be late or have to cancel the appointment. Try to reschedule another appointment in the same call…it may be your last chance. Bring to the appointment 3-6 original pieces (if possible), more slides and a copy of your biography to leave with the gallery. If the gallery appears interested enough to want to see more work, invite them to your studio. (See Tips on How to Conduct Studio Visits and Gallery Interviews) If you decide to leave work on consignment, be sure to get a signed consignment receipt with an anticipated pick up date not to exceed two months.
Finally, a note on pricing. As in other areas of business, the law of supply and demand determines pricing. At the moment, most artists have a big supply and little or no demand. An increase in price is only justified when this balance shifts. Consequently, I recommend artists price their work as low as they can possibly bear to start out. Remember, it is more important to cultivate on-going relationships with dealers and consultants than to sell one piece. Low prices will attract their interest and encourage them to take a risk on you until they test their market. Ultimately, it is better for the work to be out there than sitting in your studio. I believe art is a verb, not a noun. And, part of the process necessitates that the work be exhibited, purchased and appreciated by others. By the same token, I don’t want you to price the work so low that you’ll regret selling it and resent the process.