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How to Approach an Art Gallery

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By Jenny Judova, Guest Blogger  –  Gallery Representation is the Holy Grail for many artists, a symbol that you made it as an artist, that you are recognized by the industry. I will not spend time repeating what I have said over and over again that in this day and age spending time on trying to get galleries to represent you is a waste of time. But for those of you who still want a gallery I will answer the sought after question ‘How to Approach a Gallery?’

80/20 – One of the best gallerists of the last few decades Sadie Coles stated in an interview ‘I always thought it would be good to have a gallery called ‘Stuff I like by people I like.’  The art world and the primary art market is not about art, it is about you and the relationships you build with fellow artists and curators. You can be the greatest artist who has ever lived but unless you leave your studio and meet your peers, no one will ever know or care about you or your work. In order to approach a gallery you have to network. In a perfect world I would suggest that 80% of your time should be focused on networking (online and offline) and promoting yourself, with 20% spent on actually creating work.

Timing – Galleries like artists are desperate for people to know about them, they are desperate to build a community and have people come to their events. Galleries and people who work there are actually extremely approachable if you approach them at the right time and for the right reason. What is the right time to approach a gallery owner? That depends, my personal favorite is after a talk because you have the perfect opener ‘what did you think of the talk?’

With this advice I should add what are the worst times to approach a gallery or a dealer for longer than a fast ‘Hi, how have you been?’

Private Views – they are hosting and trying to sell at the same time it’s stressful and with many people trying to talk to them you are just another face in the crowd.

Art Fairs – they paid a big amount of money to be there, let them sell work, do not bother them.

Before a conference/talk where they are supposed to present – we are all human and we all can get a bad case of nerves.

Introductions – The best way to meet anyone is to be introduced, gallerists listen to the recommendations given by the artists they already work with. So really if you want to start working with a gallery the fastest way of doing it is to network with other artists. The more friends you have within the art world the easier it is to take advantage of the art world nepotism.

Open Calls – Open calls are those rare moments when a gallery actually wants to be emailed by an artist. Unfortunately from my personal experience very few artists actually bother to read the open call and to submit what they were asked to submit. Reading and correctly replying to an open call can actually go a long way.

Have a Following – As I already mentioned the art world is not really about art, it is about relationships, commercial gallery world is about relationships and sales so ‘Stuff I like by people I like.’  This should really be ‘Stuff I like by people I like, that I can sell.’ No matter how much a gallery likes you or your work if they do not have a collector’s base to sell your work to – they will never show it. So sometimes the only way of persuading a gallery to take a chance on you and book you in for a show is to dazzle them with numbers, being an artist is great, being an artist who has a following on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and a mailing list is far better.

Be Online – I do not remember the last time someone told me ‘I found an artist at an open studio.’ Everyone is too busy to waste 3 hours of their week dragging themselves to some warehouse on the outskirts of the city. However what curators, collectors, and journalists do use is Instagram. If you are not on Instagram you are making it harder for galleries, collectors, and curators to find you.

About the Author – This article was written by Jenny Judova. Jenny is the founder of Art Map London, co-director of Tom’s Etching Studio, and she runs a project space in East London. Over the last three years she has been an active researcher into the primary art market and campaigner for the transparency within the art market.  She has recently written a book on “How to Approach a Gallery”.

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