Artist professional practice: How to build long-term relationships (2009)

The following is an excerpt from Jackie Battenfield’s The Artist’s Guide: How to make a living doing what you love.

Artist professional practice: How to build long-term relationships

The Artist's Guide How to make a living doing what you love Jackie Battenfield

Introducing your work to a gallery can feel like an extended courtship. The director of a gallery wants to find or discover artists on her own schedule. She alone carries a singular vision of what she is looking for in her gallery’s program. That’s why her response to how she knows she wants to show an artist’s work is: “I just know it when I see it.” I understand your frustration at that vague response, but it’s the truth. Gallerists are always looking for a good match for their programs to keep them fresh and exciting. They don’t want to plow through piles of unsolicited packages or extensive email submissions, even if the submitting artists think they are a perfect fit. This is where your assertiveness comes in handy. Attending gallery functions and developing a cordial relationship are a better approach. Continue to exhibit at other venues whenever possible. Art dealers gather information by visiting other shows, doing research, and talking with curators, critics, and artists. This means that your visibility in the art community and your relationships with a variety of art professionals are crucial. A studio visit with an independent curator could lead to gallery representation. Allow art dealers to become aware of you by including them on your contact list and attending their events. Don’t forget to develop relationships with all levels of gallery staff. The young man sitting at the desk could be your future fabulous gallerist.

The fact that commercial galleries work year after year with the same group of artists means they are some of the hardest venues to access. An established gallery will add one or two artists to those they represent every few years, generally choosing ones whose work they have been following for some time or artists recommended to them by art professionals. They may do group exhibitions of other artists to shape their program and to audition new ones.

When looking for opportunities in this area, keep track of commercial galleries just starting out. Many gallerists get their start working for other art dealers. As they learn the business, meet collectors, and develop financing, they make plans to open their own space. Mary Boone once sat at the front desk at Bykert Gallery, an influential New York gallery run by Klaus Kertess in the late ’60s and early ’70s. When a gallery is brand new, they are developing their program and haven’t solidified their relationships with a group of artists. This is the period of time when they are most approachable. Some even post on their websites guidelines for submitting work.

This excerpt is on pages 129-31 in the chapter: “How to Build Long-Term Relationships”. The Artist’s Guide: How to make a living doing what you love (2009) is published by Da Capo Press. For more information and reviews, click the link above the article