The Gallery Owner Who Cooled Off

A question from a reader:

I recently moved to a completely new place and as my life and my visual input changed, so did my work. I started a couple of new series, which are related to my previous work through the subject matter, but the style is quite different. I have been looking around to see which galleries of the area could show work such as mine and have been preparing a new portfolio with my new stuff.

Some months ago, a friend who wanted to be of help, arranged an appointment for me with a gallery owner she knew. I didn’t want to show my old work, which I had already exhibited a few times and several pieces had been sold. However, I now know I wasn’t quite ready with my new portfolio at the time. I met the gallery owner and we had a very nice discussion. He seemed very professional and I liked the gallery. He looked at my portfolio and web site and said the best would be to arrange a studio visit. He kept my documentation and said he would get back to me for an appointment.

After several months, he hasn’t called and when I politely renewed my invitation during one of his openings, he said he was rather too busy. My suspicion is that he was being polite in front of our mutual friend, but I think my work was not mature and coherent enough to really interest him. Now that I have reached a point where the various pieces in my work are really falling into place together and I can present everything much better, I wonder: How can I get him to give me a second chance? It is hard enough to get a gallery owner to look at your portfolio the first time. Have you got some piece of wisdom to share on how to get back with better, more mature work to a gallery one has made a poor start with in this sense?

Maria

My response:

Thanks for sharing your experience. What you describe is definitely a situation in which many artists have found themselves, and I can understand why it would be difficult to figure out what to do. I suspect that you are right in thinking that the owner wasn’t as interested as he had initially presented himself to be. This can happen for any number of reasons. It could be, as you said, that he didn’t want to offend the mutual acquaintance. It could also be that he simply changed his mind over time. It’s also possible that the opening wasn’t the right time to try to strike up the conversation again. Openings can be very busy and it may be that he was trying to focus on other things and just wanted a quick and decisive way out of the conversation so that he could focus on buyers and the featured artist.

It can’t hurt to send an email with recent works, but I would also suggest that you contact other galleries with your work. The name of the game when approaching galleries is to show your work to a lot of galleries. It’s typically not a good idea to focus too much effort or place too many hopes on any one particular gallery.

What Would You Do

What would you suggest Maria do in this situation? Have you found yourself in similar circumstances in the past? What did you do? Please share your thoughts, experiences and ideas in the comments below.

 

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. I’ve been in that situation. I don’t know the wisdom of this, by what I’ve done is to wait at least a year so I have a good amount of new work, and then if I’m still looking for representation I’ll try the gallery again, starting from scratch through their submission process.

  2. First impressions last, so while it may not hurt to send an email with portfolio link, I think it is better to connect with other gallerists whose stables are simpatico with your work.

    I was in a top, Chelsea gallery a few years ago with another artist, looking at some of my favorites represented there. My friend approached the owner asking if they could show their portfolio. The gallerist agreed, and flipped through the work on his iPhone, commenting that the work was very good.

    My friend pulled me into the dialog, telling me that I should show my work also. It was a bit awkward for me, I was not prepared to approach anyone with a portfolio deep enough to justify their interest. However, I consented and showed the most recent work I had completed, also receiving a compliment from that prestigious owner. I thanked him later in an IM, receiving a reply reiterating that I was very good, and that my work would be hard to sell.

    That honest response was great to receive, even though it was a polite rejection. I doubt that my work would be easy to sell among the collection of artists represented there, the vibe being somewhat orthogonal to mine. Though I admit it would be fun to participate in a group show there sometime… maybe.

  3. I could have written that note. I’m in a kind of similar situation.
    I’ve been busy working through getting my new work established in my portfolio and testing it in some selected juried shows. My goal is to see how it stacks up (it’s an emerging medium and not especially accepted yet to add to the complexity). What has happened is that currently I am in 3 national shows (CA, VA, MI). This will not necessarily generate sales, though I’d rather receive checks in the mail than freight packages but the work is in a more general context of art.
    My thought and strategy is this. Prove the work by having a juror include it in a show. Document it if you can with a catalogue or exhibition list. The new work can gain a bit of credential that way. When you approach a gallery, this additional information together with images might help the gallery owner along in accepting the new work. You are still at the discretion of the gallery owner but it makes for a more substantial presentation. At least in my, mind. That said, the gallery research is crucial in finding as close a fit as you can ahead of gallery contact.
    I’m thinking that the coolness might be a kindness instead of a bluntness, or, there could be just a lot going on for the gallery person. Would it hurt the re-introduce yourself and your newest new work without mich reference to the previous meetings?

  4. I never take ‘no answer’ for an answer. I assume that everybody is busy, which is largely true. I personally would email. phone or drop by the gallery and remind them of my portfolio. I found that with this attitude in mind, many times, the person has in fact been busy and is very glad that I didn’t give up on them.
    And in case they were originally just polite and were not as interested as they looked, it allows me to confirm that by receiving a simple ‘not interested’ and move on!

  5. There are several factors at play when contacting gallery owners. First of all, it was made clear to me early in my career that gallery owners feel it is very unprofessional to contact them in person. To my understanding ,the prefered way to make contact is e-mailing a cover letter, a couple of good jpegs of your latest work and a website address. This gives the galley owner all the information he needs and a comfortable way to decide on representing you. Well- meaning friends have introduced me to gallery , and it was always awkward. SImply give him a card with your website and phone on it and say you would appreciate it if he would take a look, and leave it at that. Second, A bad start has a lot to do with what is selling and , frankly how accomplished you are in your work. If they say “We only represent local artists” or” that kind of work is not selling right now” r the gallery is full right now”, or other excuses, they do not like your work. Third, galleries like oils, because they make more money on them.(said by a watercolorist ,LOL). Take the no for an answer, but submit again a year or two later. It is a lot like dating….Don’t go to pieces over a single brush-off. The more galleries you apply to the better your odds of getting displayed. This is a delicate business relationship, so “yes” and “no” are all part of the job.

    1. Thank you, I needed to hear that. I am one of those professional artists and a longtime instructor who had fallen chronically ill and gratefully nearly recovered. I was in a gallery and garnered awards and sales in State, National, and International Exhibitions. Moving forward to a better life and still painting, it was wonderful to hear your message which has given me hope for a happy future.

  6. That is great advice. Though I’ve never been in this situation before, it’s good to keep all this in mind as I start approaching new galleries to display my work.

  7. It sounds to me that this gallery owner is just not into you. That’s okay. We all know that art is subjective and there are others out there that will be into you. He did you a favor letting you know by saying he was too busy. If he was into you, he would make time. Likewise, you won’t be wasting your time chasing after someone who has already made up his mind. Know that you are good. Know that you will find a gallery that’s right for you. Wishing you an abundance of success!

  8. In this instance I would have a nice post card made with a couple of my new images that might interest the gallery owner. Then I would send them a Thank you for looking at my work in the first place and that I have a new body of work along the lines of the images on the card. And of course I would include my contact information as well….

  9. I’ve been applying to galleries for awhile and haven’t had much luck. I’ve hung some work in restaurants for the exposure, to no avail and am about to take some friendly advice and hold my own show at our local library. This show will only cost my time and effort but will not have any out of pocket ti the library. I still need to have prints and cards made of a few of my pieces, to sell at the show. I am not discouraged and keep trying. If only one set of cards or one print sells, ny work will be out in the public eye more than it is now. I think I would recommend other artists try touching base with their local libraries.

  10. One thing that seemed glossed over in the original letter is whether the writer’s art is within the styles represented by that gallery. If it was either too similar or too different, that will make the gallery owner hesitate. Having a friend who knows the gallery owner is helpful, but only if it’s a gallery where your work will fit in without competing too much with artists they already represent.

  11. I recently had a review of my work where the mentor expressed astonishment at my lack of sales…. Yes, well… Although I do a good job of showing locally and throughout the province mainly in group shows with some solos I have yet to spend the energy on contacting galleries. It is time. And time is the problem. Perhaps I could take a week off and concentrate on just that. As spring approaches with its chorus of responsibilities, now is better than later. Perhaps the contacts I made a year or two ago will bear some fruit.

  12. Maybe this would work…don’t open the new conversation or email with…”We met that one time when I showed you my work…” Don’t begin with the earlier situation at all. Instead start with images of your new work, no name, no information, but open the email with a few images of your new work. This would be meant to make the gallery owner think “Hmmm…it’s quite good…looks familiar somehow….” and at the end make a brief re-introduction of yourself. Don’t take too much of their time, make it short and just let them enjoy your new work and make their decision. It’s an invite to reach out to you and letting them know you’re there with a new collection of work. If they like it they will respond! If they don’t, they won’t.

    If they don’t respond, just keep contacting more galleries with your newest and best work. I remember a Western artist who told the story that he didn’t want to start at the bottom, with the idea of working up. He started at the very top, thinking that if they didn’t like the work he’d just try the second biggest gallery. They took his work! You just never know. Why not shoot high and adjust a little lower only if you have to, rather than start lower and try to make progress higher. What a coup! I’ll never forget that story. Good luck!

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