As a practicing artist, working with galleries can be something of an enigma. It's not really taught at art school and it can be hard to know how to proceed, and how to distinguish the good opportunities from the not so good ones. Jenny Judova, Founder of Art Map, has written a series of How To Work With Galleries tutorials, exclusively for Cass Art, to teach you all that you need to know, and here is the second in the series.
Part 2: How To Approach A Gallery
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.’" This very simple phrase defines all the relationships in the arts. Collectors don’t just buy stuff - the great ones take their time to meet the artist.
In case of galleries working with artists, liking your work, and liking you as a human being are often not enough. When it comes to the relationship between a gallery and an artist it’s ‘Stuff I like by people I like that I can sell’. Galleries are businesses; they stay in business if they can sell enough art. Each gallery has its own audience and collectors' base and no matter how good your art and how good the gallery, sometimes it will never sell. It’s not uncommon for an artist to be selling well in one gallery then moving to a different one and the sales disappearing – or vice versa.
George Shaw at Wilkinson, Art Map London instagram
This is why it's important to do your research about what the gallery shows and for what prices it sells before you approach them. Otherwise if you are an abstract painter approaching a figurative art gallery, no matter how much they like your work, or how much they like you, they will not take you on because you will not sell in their space. Now let's look at how to actually approach a gallery.
Beatrice Loft Schulz at Arcadia Missa, Art Map London instagram
First of all, forget the idea of 'approaching a gallery'. You are not approaching the brick and mortar venue - you are approaching the human being who runs it. The majority of emerging and mid-size galleries are run by a team of 3 people (usually it's the owner, gallery manager, and assistant, or two directors and an intern), and usually it's one or two of these people who are in a position to make decisions. In other words, start thinking about it as ‘How do I approach Anna and Mary from Gallery X?’
In my opinion there are only two acceptable ways to approach a fellow human being, be it a gallerist, a writer, or a curator. Remember you are not approaching a gallery but a human being.
Theaster Gates at White Cube, Art Map London instagram
Everyone is approachable the trick is to find the best time to approach them. In my experience people are most approachable at a talk, a conference, panel discussion, tour, or networking event. First of all you have something to talk about - you have a shared experience of being at the same talk. Second of all, those events are all about conversation and discussion it's almost anathema not to engage. Also it's a lot easier to start the conversation with a simple line such as "What did you think about the talk?"
With this advice I should explain which 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 there are many people trying to talk to them. You are just another face in the crowd.
Art fairs - they're paid a big amount of money to be there, let them do their job and sell work. Do not bother them.
Before a conference/talk where they are suppose to present - we are all human and we all can get a bad case of nerves!
Dominic Beattie at FOLD, Art Map London instagram
The best possible way to meet someone is to be introduced by a mutual friend, thus never be mean or rude to your peers. Make friendships and build bridges - you never know who knows who and people usually tend to be connected in the weirdest ways. The most important tool at the artist disposal is their peer group.
#Bonus: Be more than an artist
Running a project space, a blog, or a studio alongside your art practice often gives you opportunities that artists who are just artists are not exposed to. It also makes you stand out above the crowd because, let's face it, anyone can wear paint splattered clothes and call themselves an artist.
Print Club London at Somerset House, Art Map London instagram
All advice given boils down to - go to more galleries and meet more peers. We often have this idea that an artist is a sole genius working away in their studio - that has never been the case. Meeting people and going to shows should be an integral part of one's practice.
Someone recently made a comment that ‘"my priorities have shifted a lot in the recent years, so it's more about making my art and getting it out there than the socialising bit." I would argue that the viewing the ‘socialising’ and ‘getting work out there’ as two opposite things is incredibly flawed.
Networking and socialising does not mean drinking the evening away with your buddies in the corner of a gallery. It means meeting new people and engaging with them. ‘Socialising’ and ‘getting your work out there’ are not two different things; they are one and the same. The only way to get your work out there is to show it to other people and to allow them to have a conversation about it. Trust me - the better those people know you, the more interested they are in your work. In other words, if you want gallerists, curators, and other artists to know and care about your work, they have to care about you - so start socialising.
By Jenny Judova
Jenny is an art writer and speaker specialising on the primary art market. She is the founder of Art Map London.
Art Map London is an art events listing website that developed into a peer to peer network for artists and curators.
Feeling inspired? Keep checking our blog for the rest of Jenny's tutorials on working with galleries.