Some artists have dreamed about having their work on display in art galleries since they were young. Others dream of the fame it will bring the moment the doors extend on opening night. There are few inbetween that know the true reality that one does not always follow the other. So how do you know if having your art in a gallery is the right step for you?
Remember those days as kid when your mother would hang your best artwork on the refrigerator just to glow in excitement every time she walked by it? You could see it in her eyes and you thought you were the next Van Gogh in the making because of how talented she thought you were. Fast forward to today and you look at your own work some days in the same way, and others in absolute disgust feeling the fear of being a fraud on your hands. Where is your mother when you need her to hang that art work on the walls to feel reassured once again?
An issue many artists come across with the galleries is the idea that potential art buyers will be as elated as their own parents were many moons ago. Knowing the expectations of gallery exhibits will better prepare oneself for what lies ahead. There are many myths associated not only with the galleries themselves, but also with what it means for the artists as well.
Myths and Truths
The biggest myth is that galleries have people ready to buy work at every opening. This idea could not be further from the truth. While there are many art buyers ready to browse the new exhibits, not all of them are ready to buy your work in question. They buy work that speaks to them at the time, or perhaps even some they feel would be a great investment. Allowing yourself to believe that the moment your work is on the walls you will have a monumental sale will only be a set up for a possible disappointment. Not to be the downer, but the preparation for the reality will help in the process. If the expectation is only a monetary destination, art gallery exhibits may not be the best choice for your form of advertising.
Instant Fame - False!
The second myth is that gallery representation will create a career because galleries are the the key to fame. Reality is there is no real key to overnight success anywhere in any industry. Becoming successful as an established artist takes time as well as based on consistency. The gallery show is just a stepping stone to the process. If you are looking to get rich quick from gallery work, you might want to rethink your investment.
Nothing Out Of Pocket - False!
Myth three works off my last thought of investment. The myth is that the gallery itself will pay the costs for your work. While there may be an artist they commission solely for an exhibit, in most cases for a newer artist the cost for printing, painting or other medium will be at your own expense. In my gallery exhibit that just finished up after a season at the Thrasher Horne Center for the Arts, the entire cost of products was on myself. While the staff, who were incredible, helped me along the entire process for hanging the art and all my many questions, the cost of production was still on me. 38 pieces hung in my "Submerged" underwater art gallery and 38 pieces came back home. Did this deter me from future gallery exhibits? Not in the least. This was due to the fact after the gallery I was featured front page of the newspaper which lead to the sale of a piece weeks later.
The sale of the art work was not the reasoning behind the gallery exhibit but more for the leads and the start of the process to more gallery shows.
Another gallery exhibitor, Dave McMahan of Dave McMahan Photography understood these investment risks as well when he was approached for his own underwater art collection.
In my situation I have a sales agreement written up between the gallery and myself which extends only to the images created for the gallery and is a non-exclusive sales agreement. The thing I’ve lost the most sleep over is accepting that I am taking a $3,000 risk that may or may not yield results quickly. At the end of the day the opportunity to display the work that large in the ArtLantic Fine Art Gallery in Jupiter, Florida with the potential for sales and or future commissions out weighed the potential risk.
So if you are thinking that all your work will be sold to offset the cost of your production think again. Financially you should be ready for a jump into the gallery world, otherwise find some investors who care for your work as much as you do.
There Are Special Printers for Galleries - True!
There are definitely printers who specialize in print work for galleries. Jonathan Penney, Laminart Industries, and Shiny Prints were a few of the names McMahan and myself used during our gallery process. Penney and Laminart were vendors who I previously had relationships with for printing large scale.
For McMahan there was some research involved from his assistant.
You know those tiny details we obsess over that no-one else on the planet will notice. A few nuts and bolts, I’ve worked with multiple printers over the last few months and my assistant and general make everything happen person, Niki Jahns, found the lab we use now in Jupiter, Florida. Shiny Prints works with photographers who work with galleries and have great prices. These 40'' x 60''s are $400.00 each and will retail in the gallery for $4000.
The Reality of it All
While I hate to be a Debbie Downer, I am first and foremost a realist. I know ahead of time all the issues that would come along with being part of a gallery exhibit so the preparation that was in place saved headaches and worries. Gallery exhibits are an incredible way to show your work across a newer audience besides social media. It will bring art lovers face to face with your work and they can embrace the fully scale of what you have created. In the end, financially it can be a trying time if you plan to have an entire gallery room as I chose to do.
However there is a moment you are there by yourself, surrounded with the work you have carefully carved from your vision and you can foresee bigger picture. If you are ready for the financial investment (without a possible immediate return), the hours sitting in the gallery trying to arrange where you want them hung, naming your art work (I have never named a single piece before this exhibit) and for the anxiety that comes on opening night, then you are ready for gallery exhibits.