In a recent Art Business Academy Q&A session, we discussed the ins and outs of gallery shows and receptions. I thought I would share some of the key points here, as many RedDot readers will have the opportunity to participate in gallery shows during their careers.
Artists’ receptions at galleries are a time-honored tradition that dates back centuries. For many artists, having a show and reception surrounded by their artwork, with collectors flocking to the gallery to see their work, is a dream come true.
However, there is more to a gallery show and reception than meets the eye. As an artist seeking gallery representation, it is important to understand the dynamics of shows and what goes into making them successful.
Shows Have Become Less Effective, and Less Common
I’ve been in the gallery business for three decades now, and in that time, I’ve seen a decline in the effectiveness of shows. When I started in the gallery business in the early 1990s, shows were a huge part of galleries’ business strategy, generating a lot of sales. Over the last decade, attendance and sales at shows have declined. We now see more sales coming from the day-to-day operations and marketing of the gallery and less from shows.
Shows are still beneficial, of course, and they can generate sales, but the stakes are high. If a show doesn’t go well, it can be a real setback for the artist and the gallery owner. I’ve seen firsthand how a bad show can negatively impact an artist’s confidence, and I’ve personally felt the disappointment that comes when a show doesn’t go as planned.
It’s important to remember that shows are just one part of the gallery business and shouldn’t be relied on too heavily. There are other, more important, things to focus on, like building relationships with clients and promoting artists and their art in an ongoing manner.
Shows From the Gallery’s Perspective
Not only is a show a financial and emotional risk, it is also a big undertaking. A lot of planning and coordination goes into putting on a successful show.
We generate promotion for the show through our gallery newsletter, print invitations or catalogs, and market the event on social media.
Once the artwork arrives, the gallery has to rearrange artwork and create the display for the show. The gallery also has to prepare for the reception, a key part of the equation, as it is the opportunity for the artist to interact with collectors and potential buyers, and for the gallery to create a special experience for the everyone who attends.
Show Preparation From the Artist’s Perspective
From the artist’s perspective, there are a few things to remember if you are hoping to participate in a gallery show. First, building relationships with galleries and showing your work regularly is important. Second, when the opportunity to participate in a show arises, be prepared to take advantage of it by having your artwork in top condition and being ready to promote your work to the fullest.
With a little bit of planning and preparation, participating in a gallery show can be a rewarding experience for both the artist and the gallery.
Artist’s Preparation for a Show
Artists can do a few things to help make the show a success. These include:
First, getting on the gallery’s calendar as early as possible is important. This will allow the gallery to start promoting the show and give them time to plan. It will allow you time to create a grouping of your best work.
Second, focus on creating the centerpiece for the show early. This will allow the gallery ample time to generate promotional materials and help you create direction for the rest of your pieces for the show.
Third, the delivery of artwork should be scheduled as early as possible. This will give the gallery plenty of time to set up the show.
Finally, the show opening reception is a time to celebrate the new work. Relax and be yourself, and the sales will follow. I encourage the artist to be outgoing (or at least as outgoing as is natural) and to share their story and inspiration for their artwork with potential collectors. If the artist is genuine and authentic, the collectors will respond positively.
My staff and I work diligently to help collectors make purchases at the reception or during the show. We also follow up after the show to ensure potential collectors who didn’t complete their purchases at the show have ample opportunity to buy.
Overall, gallery shows can be a great opportunity for artists to sell their work, build relationships, and practice talking about their art. However, there are some things to keep in mind, such as the added pressure on the artist to create work if they don’t have a substantial inventory already, the expense involved, and the possibility that the show might not sell well. With a little bit of planning and preparation, participating in a gallery show can be a rewarding experience for both the artist and the gallery.
What are your thoughts on gallery shows? Have you had any good or bad experiences? What do you think artists should do to prepare for a gallery show? Do you think gallery shows are a good way to sell art? Why or why not? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.