Getting art representation with a gallery is not easy. Unfortunately, far too many artists don’t succeed due to simple supply and demand. There are a lot of artists and fewer art galleries, especially the brick-and-mortar kind. If you are pursuing a gallery as part of your creative career plan, what measures should you take when approaching galleries?
Being a Good Fit with the Gallery
Once you’ve found your target gallery for art representation, make sure to begin following their social media feeds across platforms to get a better sense of their gallery aesthetic. This initial step will give you the edge by allowing you to familiarize yourself with their priorities and the type of work they exhibit. Additionally, as galleries become aware of your practice, they will be able to tell you are already familiar with their gallery aesthetic when they go to follow you back.
It’s crucial to take more than a cursory look at the gallery’s website, too: In addition to knowing the artists they represent and understanding their gallery aesthetic, take a closer look at the type of press they feature on their press page. Find out which BFA/MFA program their current roster of artists attended. Observe visual cues within their gallery aesthetic to align your work with these existing guidelines. This attention will prove crucial when approaching gallerists, as you’ll be able to demonstrate knowledge of their gallery aesthetic and mindfully create links to what they are seeking.
If you’re able to visit before you reach out virtually, attend gallery openings where possible: perhaps, while you’re in town visiting. Make strides to find ways to reach out to artists currently represented by the gallery through mutual friends or alumni programs. Christopher Stout, the founder of ADO Project (formerly Christopher Stout Gallery), acknowledges the importance of artists having familiarity with the gallery aesthetic and current list of artists when approaching gallerists. “If you want a gallery to get excited about working with you, make it a dedicated point to attend our openings and engage our artists in conversations about their work. I lean heavily on the opinions of our artists for decisions in working with new people.”
By spending some time to get to know a gallery for art representation, you’ll be ready for the second step when approaching galleries: creating a targeted and relevant email approach.
Have Compelling, High Quality Materials
Get rid of the form letter and reach out to galleries with a targeted artist bio and portfolio. Or, at least tweak it. Artists who use form letters when approaching gallerists for representation are the norm, so why not stand out? It’s ok to use a succinct message, but by sending a generic sounding email template with just the name of the gallery changed in every email, gallerists are sure to lose interest.
When galleries receive hundreds of emails daily, every effort to stand out makes a difference. It’s important to include your artist bio information such as links to a website, social media platforms, and some significant press links. The way you introduce your artist bio should be succinct and compelling. When drafting the email, use a cordial but polite tone and establish links between your artist bio and experience to the artists and contacts currently in the gallery’s inner circle.
Familiar with any artists currently at the gallery? Ask them for an introduction email with you in copy, and mention how you admire their work in the email body response to the gallery. Don’t have any direct links? Indicate what you admire about the gallery aesthetic, and show how your artist bio and artwork aligns with their focus. Keep the email to a max of two short paragraphs, and make sure your email isn’t rambling. A coherent and compelling email is enough to spark the interest of a gallery who believes your work could resonate with them.
Stout reiterates the importance of artists being familiar with the gallery’s aesthetic when making a case for examining their work, and even outlines how an email to gallerists should start.
“The most exciting emails I receive are ones where the writer has a firm command of the artists we show at our gallery. They understand how their art and how the art we show relate to each other….a winning email introduction would read: ‘I absolutely love that you work with artist (insert name) because her work talks about… (the BIG idea)’… [then].. ‘I also love that you work with artist (insert name) because her work talks about… (the BIG idea).’ “
By indicating that you’ve made a thoughtful choice in singling out this gallery, there will be more interest from the gallery in question to reach back out to the artist.
Be Politely Persistent
In addition, don’t stop at the initial email. While follow-up is important two to three days after the email, keep tabs on the gallery on social media. Like posts across different platforms in the days following the initial email, so that you remain on the gallery’s radar. Make sure that you give the gallery at least two days after reaching out – or three to four if it’s a busy art fair week – to circle back around and ask for feedback. Be sure to solicit a response from the gallery about what they see in your work that is compelling, or to request a chance to speak on the phone to discuss your practice and artist bio in greater detail. Finally, remember when approaching gallerists that they’re busy: Reminding them that you’re awaiting a response is crucial, but doing so in a courteous way will gain you more respect.
The importance of respectful persistence cannot be understated. Plan a trip out during the gallery’s next opening and casually give the director your card while praising the current exhibit on view. Continue to find ways to engage on social media as they arise. Galleries have their hands full in courting collectors and museums, and it’s easy for artists to fall to the wayside. Just because you don’t hear back from a gallery after reaching out twice doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested, it means you need to improve your next approach.
While reaching out to the gallery is a key part of seeking art representation, you must continue to focus on increasing exposure for your own practice in parallel to reaching out to galleries. In our current social media focused climate, get expert advice on how to grow your following. Court press contacts to increase your press coverage. Make strides to ensure that you are an artist worth noticing. By continuing efforts to be visible, the number of people engaging critically with your work can improve. Connect with other art world figures who can continue to advocate for you and the case for representing your work will become even more compelling.
Stay positive, be persistent, and continue to empower yourself so that you find the right gallery invested in supporting you toward the next level of success.
What are your strategies for approaching galleries for art representation? What has worked well and what hasn’t been successful? Let us know in the comments!
Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.