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.

 

 

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

18 Comments

  1. Hi Jason,
    I agree with your comment to follow up with the gallery via email. Things change in galleries all the time, and though you feel he may have cooled off, it is possible that there were other circumstances in play. There is nothing to be lost by sending some fabulous new images so the gallery can reassess your works, thanking them for their time and interest at the same time.
    An art exhibition opening is definitely the worst time to approach a gallery owner and it amazes me that artists still think it is okay to do this. I have had artists thrust their business cards at me when I am dealing with clients in the gallery, and this certainly skews my ideas of how easy or difficult it would be to deal with this artist should their works make it to the gallery walls.
    My advice to artists (as a gallery owner), is that if a gallery expresses interest in your work, to follow through in every way as soon as possible. Don’t leave it for a couple of weeks, or months as the gallery will have moved on. Jason’s previous advice in this regard is to be prepared in advance when approaching galleries – have a new body of work ready to go. Portfolios, images with details all prepared etc. When sending images, make sure to give the size, and medium and general expected pricing so that the gallery does not have to email back and forth to find out these basic details.
    Best wishes Maria, and just keep sending your art to galleries and you will find a fit 🙂

    1. quick question.. these days since much has changed over the decades I have been an artist…when a gallery owner talks about a portfolio…what kind of portfolio? One on a DVD, in a bound book, on a website, in a physical portfolio? I suspect that seeing art on the internet is definitely easy but hardly preferable as it is many times hard to imagine the size and texture etc of an artwork. I have had so much advice over the years and it changes constantly from the days when slides were submitted to self published pamphlets, to lugging a huge portfolio from door to door, to sending in a CD/DVD, to hoping the gallery owner will bother to look at your website. A successful artist suggested I make some books online of work now that we can do slick actual books and leave with the galleries I want to be in. Another artist suggested flying into the major cities after looking up their inventory online and emailing them asking for an appt on the day you will be in that city. It all is a bit confusing and it has actually stopped me from looking for a gallery for the very reason that if I approach with the wrong portfolio I will be dismissed out of hand.

      1. Hi Kay,
        I think it does not matter so much HOW you get your work to be viewed by a gallery, because your work will speak for it self to them; if they see it in an email, or on printed paper, or online, or if you take it physically to them. If the gallery likes what they see, they will then ask to see a piece up close, and take it from there.
        For our gallery, the best thing an artist can do it to email us with a few images attached of their most recent works, with details about the work and a very brief summary about themselves and previous sales, other galleries they are represented by etc. We can then make an appointment to see an artwork if we are interested. It is quite an immediate process, to decide if we think an artist’s works will sell well in the gallery.
        It is also okay if an artist comes in to the gallery, and asks us to make an appointment to bring new works in to show us.
        The worst thing an artist can do, it to make us look while they scroll through their mobile phones to find a picture of their work. Or as before, approach us on a gallery opening evening.
        Email every gallery who you think might be a good fit for your work. Research the galleries you approach as well – take an interest in them and their artwork journey.
        Hope that has helped. Best wishes to you.

      2. Hi Kaye, Jason showed his followers how to assemble a portfolio with a Google program in response to your portfolio question. Although I liked the idea, being a designer, I use another format for artists in my area that can be texted to a gallery owner’s phone, in other words, I get into his back pocket, or wherever he keeps his phone and that works well for me, Bob

    2. Hi sorry I did not answer properly. By portfolio, I think a PDF portfolio is good. Easy to attach to an email, easy to look at and the gallery can print it out if they wish.

    3. Your response here was so very appreciated! Jason has always given great advice and it’s good to hear another gallery owner validate him. Funny, I have the opposite problem from the timing issues mentioned. My portfolio has been ready to show for some time. Jason’s critique helped with that. I just have to take the plunge and start showing it.

  2. Don’t focus so much attention on one gallery. You want a gallery which is excited about your work, and anxious to represent you. If your work has changed significantly then I would reconnect with him, however don’t sit around waiting for his answer.

  3. Try your best to sell a few of the new pieces on your own and approach galleries with images and the prices of what you sold the work for. The best way to show your value is already having a few sales and this way the gallery owners see the demand for your work.

    1. You make an excellent point. As a gallery owner it really helps if the artist has a track record even if it is a small/short one. With limited wall space I and my partners need to know that we and the artist will make a profit. We are not a museum – we are a for profit art gallery.

  4. I would concentrate on other galleries and I’m a few months just send an update with your pdf portfolio or just a single image of your recent best work
    Who knows by then you may have a gallery and be included in a show
    In a different way this happened to me
    A gallery turned me down, then several months later sent me an invitation an event. I had to decline but included an image of my most recent work
    They were excited by it and now represent me and I have a solo show next year
    My previous work, she said, seemed too abstract for their public. Not so the new work
    Don’t give up
    You never know!
    Gay

  5. Hi Maria,
    As a gallery owner for many years, like Jason (who I agree with), I would urge you to make contact again either by phone or email requesting a 30 minute appointment. I don’t think an explanation is necessary other than you want to be considered as a contributor to the gallery. You might say you have been a follower of the gallery for years and believe your work would be a good fit. Timing is everything. Thinks can change rapidly. I represent 40 artists and typically replace one or two artists annually for a variety of reasons. This year, however, I had openings for 5 artists due to family crisis, medical reasons, moves, etc. You just never know. If you receive a rejection, ask if you can contact them in 5 or 6 months (things change) and never feel embarrassed to ask why you are not being considered. It pays to be persistent. Good luck.

  6. Know your gallery. Many galleries have specific requirements in the way they want you to submit your portfolio for review. See if any of the galleries you are interested in have an open call / juried show and apply for it. Sometimes this is a good way to get your foot in the door. They will often invite you to show again.

  7. Yes I had a similar experience except I never really had a proper meeting, I just dropped off a small portfolio and she said she’ll get back to me. Many months later I haven’t heard back from her and I was too shy to follow up, now 20 years later 😂 still no word. (I’m not waiting btw). In hindsight I know why she never got back to me, back then my ‘art work’ was pretty ordinary, and immature.
    I would never bring up any conversation about my work at someone else’s show, I believe that would be rude and so unprofessional. That would be like if someone jumped up on stage while another band was performing and asked if they could sing one of their own songs.
    These days I’ve learnt to do my research on any gallery that I might approach and only then if they post a call out for artists to exhibit.
    My opinion anyway.

  8. I’m almost in the same situation.
    My most recent artworks are different from my previous,my professional artistic life in the studio is more organized,thanks Jason.
    I will get ready my portfolio and send to the Galleries, I’m trying to see if I can have my Born again art on the wall of a client.

  9. I recently went to a two artist opening at a gallery I’ve never been to before. One of the showing artists is a friend who introduced me to the owner.

    The owner was a lovely man who follows me on social media and was familiar with my work. He said, I’d love to discuss having you show here so let’s go into the office for a quick chat. It was a busy show and people were buying art so I said, I don’t want to distract you from the crowd and I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to “take time from the artist showing tonight” I have your info and I’ll reach out tomorrow to set up an appointment.

    I emailed the next day and crickets. I sent a follow up email a week later and tried to reach him on the phone, no luck. I felt I was doing the right thing (and still do) I find it weird though that the owner ghosted me for being thoughtful of the artists and his gallery

  10. Jason, your advice is, as always, right on the money. Finding galleries for our work is a lot like dating, and sometimes there’s just not a good match. It’s nobody’s fault; just a message to keep looking. As in dating, accept the turndown with grace and move on.

  11. This year (2023) I have found myself in a position to understand how gallery owners think and act. I have shown my work for that past several years but now I own a gallery here in Port Townsend, Washington. I partnered with three other successful local artists and took over an existing gallery when the last operator let the lease go to concentrate on their other gallery. Our first showing was in November. Although we are only showing our own work this year – starting in January 2024 we will bring other “guest” artists in for one to two month shows. Since we opened we have been inundated with either artists or someone who knows an artist, wanting to get their work in our gallery. We already have all our guest artists booked for 2024, but still artists are wanting to show in 2024. As we are all artists as well a owners of the gallery – we simply don’t have the time to talk to individual artist whenever they show up. To add some level of organization to the process we are going to do a call for artists in a few months and take several days to review work and have a discussion with artists who wish to show. It will be very orderly with sign up dates and times and artists will be told what to bring and what will be expected. I hope this will help future exhibiting artists who want us to see their work but it has to be in a structured way. We may do a couple sessions throughout the year. It would be nice for us to have a list of artists who’s work we think will sell and who are ready to go as things happen – such as a scheduled artist suddenly unable to show. So many good artists don’t have inventory. We don’t want one or two pieces we want 30 pieces ready to go. I hope new artists don’t have a sensitive ego and they can handle rejection. We can’t accommodate everyone. Sorry for the ramble but I now have great sympathy for gallery owners.

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