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 new. 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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19 Comments

  1. I agree with Jason that artists should try a number of galleries. But before contacting one, check out the gallery either by visiting in person or by taking a look at its website to make sure the gallery is a fit for your work. My gallery receives inquiries from artists who have clearly not done either. Their work is far from what we would ever show.

  2. I would do exactly as suggested – drop an email and be very open. ‘I realise how busy you were at the opening, so it wasn’t a great time to talk about my new work. However I really feel my work is falling into place and I am excited to share with you the new body which has more maturity and cohesion than the paintings I showed you all those months ago’. He can say no, but in which case at least you know where you stand and can move on to approaching other galleries. I approached a gallery several years ago and they said no, as my work was too close in style to an artist they represented etc, I have developed a new strand of work so I approached them again and they are now representing me. It’s so much easier via email – no face to face rejection or embarassment. Go for it!

  3. I had a similar experience where the gallery owner showed interest and said he loved my work but never moved on to the next step. When I had a display at an important summer art festival I invited him to the grand opening and he came with his wife who was also his partner at the gallery. They made a point of coming to my booth and even waited to meet me when I was away from my booth, they were both very enthusiastic and said they loved my work and would be in touch. But I never heard from them. When I followed up with a thank you for attending my opening and asked if we could arrange a meeting they politely put me off while at the same time continuing to show enthusiasm for my work. I couldn’t figure it out but a few weeks later while driving by the gallery I saw a high sign that announced their gallery had suddenly closed for good. I breathed a sigh of relief that my work wasn’t there and perhaps lost in the sudden closure which I imagine was due to financial problems.

  4. I agree with you Jason, send an email with an updated portfolio. I have grown a very thick skin & broad shoulders. Keep marching on, show your work to as many people as possible. If you truly believe in your work, other people will too… I got an email & a friend request on Facebook from the famous American Artist Stefan Baumann a few days ago because I just keep marching on…

  5. I have had a similar experience after leaving an ‘art’ community and a more than healthy living from my art work. I am now living in what I call a cultural wasteland. At my old studio/gallery I was used to hosting 400 people on a weekend and
    many sales. After 3 years in the new place and tons of promotion the largest turnout at my new studio/gallery has been 26 people – how sad is that? I have no idea how to solve this problem but to just put your shoulder to the wheel and don’t give up.

  6. Go to galleries in person and find out some things about them first. Do not introduce yourself as an artist at this first visit. Instead, look at the work and you decide if it is a good fit for you. Also, see how the staff greets visitors.. Some are warm and helpful. Some are distant and do not say hello even. Some might be overpowering. You need to decide who you want to represent your work. Also, find out how long the gallery has been operating, and if you are really interested, make note of a few of the artist who are in the space if you need to get references. I have heard horror stories about artists loosing money and work from bad management or dishonest gallery owners.
    Then, find out how galleries like to receive applications. Sometimes this informaton is on their web site. If not, you could call or email to inquire how to make a submission. You never want to show up with art in tow and ambush the staff with unscheduled visits, that shows you are not a professional from the start.
    Be prepared for at least 20 pieces so the owner knows you have art to show, and art for replacements when things sell. No gallery wants to take on an artist who is part time, or cannot fill wall space when sales are made.
    Find out if the gallery shows only local artists, or regional or national and international artists. Do they have a focus: contemporary, traditional, landscape etc…
    Personally, I prefer that artists send me an email, and include their web site which should have all information anyway, cv, statement, photos of current work and maybe past work. I can then look at it on my time frame, and see if it is something I want in the gallery. If the artist does not have a web site, I would not consider them right away.
    For this gallery, shoot them an email with a link to your updated web site and just a short note. Hopefully you had sent a thank you after the first visit, and you can mention again how much you appreciate the time, and that you enjoyed the meeting. Nothing says professionalism better than good follow up, thank you notes (a written one is the best) and respect for the owners time

  7. Rejection of your work is not usually personal. It just means you don’t have a match for one reason or another and that reason could have absolutely nothing to do with your work. Unless your work is not up to par, any other reason you received a rejection doesn’t matter … move on. Do you really want to be in a gallery that you don’t have rapport with and is not super enthusiastic about your work? Not a very nurturing situation for your creativity.

  8. Thanks. I have been unexpectedly ill and still in recovery. It appears to those who do not know of my sudden and unexpected accidents, that I am a part-time professional. I am trying to overcome not only the results of my series of debilitating accidents but also the lack of support from my long time gallery owner someone who I, also, thought was a spiritual friend.
    I am revamping my website and working in a more contemporary style but slowly as I have been left with a lot of pain and lack of strength. I will not stop painting.
    Things happen in life and one must not give up or stop being your true self. In my case, I am a painter.
    Thanks for the encouraging comments about looking for a good fit with a good gallery. It is seeming like I will be going forward with this in mind. Thanks again, it was important for me to hear about this information.

  9. I think that perhaps I have had a similar experience with a gallery that started to carry my work based on some older pieces and now does not show the same interest in my newer work. As much as it is difficult for me to show older work there, they have sold several paintings so I find I keep some of the older work there and focus on a differant gallery for my newer work. Artists like to continue to grow but that should not mean that our older work is bad, just differant. I still show them new work, but have had to accept that there are differant brush strokes for differant folks?

  10. I don’t have much to add to the conversation except I will never depend on email introductions to galleries again. Some demand email solicitations but not once have I received a legitimate response from any of them. If you don’t strike a chord with your first volley don’t expect a second. They don’t have time for you … your email can be deleted with one tap of the finger.
    It takes more effort to open and sift through an envelope of 8 x 10 photos and then discard them. The difference between physical images and small email thumbnails will make or break you. I cringe when I see the difference in my images and the actual painting. There simply is no comparison. I’m not speaking of photos I’ve done, these are professional studio photos … it’s the presentation.
    The goal in this situation was to pause the gallery owner long enough to honestly evaluate your new work. He may have associated your name with old effort but hit him with new work he has to intentionally discard. He received them without physical confrontation and you saved him the time of an appointment.
    He can toss your photos but it may slow him down long enough to make him truly look.

  11. I have determined from reading these comments, and from talking to artists over the years, that we as artists seem to hold a one sided view. We want gallery representation and try to figure out how to convince the gallery to accept us as one of their gallery artists. I think we loose site of the fact that the business relationship should be made of mutual respect for each other’s work. Do we really want to be in a business relationship with a company that couldn’t be bothered to even send a no thank you response to our requests? We need to toughen up and realize that as artists we are as important and essential as art dealers to that relationship and demand an equal amount of respect.

  12. I have taken a benign approach. I give them a card with my website. If they are interested, I ask that they please contact me. If they do not respond, they are obviously not interested in carrying my work.

  13. General sales wisdom: The more the greater the chance of interest. For every ten, a return of an average of two. Keep in touch but don’t overdo if you feel push-back. It’s just general sales and marketing. Networking or cold. Keep on. Next – and don’t take it personally!

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