art business journal

When and Where to Show in an Art Exhibition

As artists begin to manage their art careers more strategically, multiple options emerge. Once artwork is regularly shown at the local, national, or even international level, suddenly new challenges arise: chiefly, how to prioritize multiple exhibitions. Until an artist’s studio has significant resources, it may be difficult to participate in every single art exhibition.

How can you be sure that the exhibition you’ve decided to participate in is reaching your target audience? How can you pursue the right press coverage by participating in the best exhibitions? Why is it so important to hit these targets when developing successful art careers? Below we’ve outlined the factors that need to be considered as an outline for ensuring that all of the hard work that goes into an art exhibition goes toward the best possible outcome for an artist’s studio practice. Because as the saying goes, time is money – and exhibition prep takes nothing if not a ton of time!

Weighing the work involved against the benefit of participating in a show is an important step to take before agreeing to participate.

Local Exhibitions: When to Participate

It’s hard to go wrong when being invited to participate in a local art exhibition, as the ability to engage with audiences personally is a crucial step in building art careers. The most important factors to consider in participating when weighing local art exhibition ideas rely on your studio schedule – the capacity you have to adequately prepare, and the bandwidth to devote yourself to making a good impression on all parties involved with the art exhibition. Do you have the ability to meet with the curator as needed to prepare the exhibition? Do you have the work available to show?

Assuming that you have the time and energy to devote to preparing the show, the next steps are to examine the background of your partners planning the art exhibition and the venue itself. It’s important to conduct due diligence on potential partners: Are they known for dealing fairly with artists? Do other artists have good words to say about working with the curator or gallerist/dealer? Does a Google search yield any lawsuits attached to their names? By protecting your work and those associated with it, your work will be more highly regarded and you’ll have fewer problems when sales and collector relationships develop.

Along with researching key art exhibition partners, it’s important to consider the space in which the work will be exhibited. Have other contacts in your network shown there? If so, did they have any complaints about the space? Were any events held at the space by third parties after-hours when the artists’ works were on view? Is it a mixed-used space and, if so, is there a clause in the contract guaranteeing that the works are insured for any damages that may occur?

In addition to the responsibility of the space, what’s the location is the venue – is it centrally located or farther away from densely populated areas? Is there a high likelihood of press and collectors attending? If a site is not in an easily accessible location, and the owners of the space do not have strong networks with art influencers, it may be worth reconsidering unless you are working to build your CV. Finally, if the art exhibition is a group show (especially of more than 10 artists) in an area far from public transit, particularly if it’s of short duration, it may be more hassle than it’s worth to participate. Otherwise, if all other factors check out, the art exhibition is definitely worth serious consideration.

Invited to Participate in a Regional Art Exhibition?

A regional art exhibition is a step up and a guaranteed sign that your work is making an influence in the wider community. When partnering with contacts at the regional level – whether at university institutions in nearby cities or institutions at a regional urban center – it’s important to make sure all deadlines and meetings can be met. Whether the person or team organizing the art exhibition are friends or complete strangers, you want to leave an impeccable impression after the exhibition ends. Before deciding to work together at the regional level, it’s important to consider how your work is being presented, such as whether it’s a solo art exhibition or a group show. Does your work match the theme of the exhibition? Has research been conducted that places your work within the proper context? Again, knowing the history of the venue is important, as well as the background of participating partners. It will also be important to have some background on the art exhibition’s sponsors, as at the regional level and above you may be unwittingly partnering with environmental polluters or toxic bond financial institutions.

At the regional level, you will encounter more complex contracts and hopefully, more opportunities for press consideration and catalogs to increase scholarly awareness of your work. It’s key to have a legal team in place to advise on all legal matters related to the art exhibition and to negotiate a proper budget for your work to be shipped and handled/installed as needed: A painting will need different treatment than a delicate sculpture, for example. Finally, it’s key to make sure that any work included in the catalog is represented in professional-looking photographs, and to promptly respond to all curatorial and editorial inquiries related to this documentation. It’s important to take pride in regional exhibitions, as participating in exhibitions at this level will be the gateway to being considered to show farther from your home base.

Experienced artist Arlene Rush notes of participating in a group show in the New York tri-state area. “The result of this exhibition was a feature on my work in an international art publication. I also appreciated that the show was in an educational setting. It was a great addition to my bio and brought a larger awareness of my practice to a new generation of students,” she says. Rush notes of preparations for a show: “Prior to submitting for this show, I looked at the venue’s past exhibitions, examined my relationship with the curator/director, and reviewed specifics for insurance and installation of the show. As with other shows, I requested prior notification for the dates for installation and de-installation, the opening reception, and for contract specifics and consignment agreement.”

Long Distance or International Art Exhibitions 

It can be thrilling to participate in your first international or cross-country art exhibition. Finally, the larger community has noticed your work and you are able to travel and speak on your work, meeting new contacts and further expanding awareness for your practice. In most cases, it’s absolutely the right step to take, and the following considerations are the warning signs to deter you – but otherwise, full steam ahead!

First, is the art exhibition free to participate in and will you have a shipping, handling and/or travel budget? If you have to pay to participate, unless it’s the application fee for an open call, it’s not an exhibition you likely want to be affiliated with. It can be especially tempting as an artist located outside of a major city to participate with a gallery more centrally located – however, be aware that spaces in major urban areas that charge money for artists to show are not institutes that will benefit the artists exhibiting with them.  Secondly, as noted above for regional exhibitions: who are the sponsors of the art exhibition? Will they be quick to censor work that does not conform to their expectations? As with artists Andres Serrano and David Wojnarowicz, some government or private sponsors will hold artists to account to ensure that the brand’s message or public decency norms will be adhered to – whatever that vision may encompass.

Finally, if the art exhibition occurs in a place with different cultural norms, will the work be correctly presented and translated by educators so that the public will be able to engage with it? If the medium or subject matter is rooted in the artist’s cultural background and this is not explained to a local audience, then certain key elements of the piece may be overlooked. In addition to concerns raised for local and regional exhibitions, these are the important factors to review before moving forward with such a career-defining opportunity.

In short, making sure that your artwork is shown in diverse settings will gain new audiences for your work and net you greater opportunities for future exhibitions. Participating in solo shows at the right venues will ultimately gain you more credibility than taking part in large group shows unless taking part in group shows held at a large-scale venue or venerated institution. Artist retrospectives also take precedence as they will likely produce greater scholarship for an artist’s future library or catalog raisonne. Most importantly, ensure that the teams and liaisons who are soliciting your work are reputable, knowledgeable and accredited. By following the above guide you will gain greater chances to show your work in a prestigious art exhibition, but also to continue making a strong impression on new fans.

How do you determine whether you’ll participate in an art exhibition? Let us know in the comments!


Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.

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