How to approach a gallery

How should I approach a gallery to consider my work? (from our article in February’s The Artist magazine)

As an ex-songwriter, I completely empathise with any artist approaching a gallery and exposing their art not only to rejection, but sometimes negative feedback. It’s for this reason I’m very sensitive with artists who approach me.

Looking for representation is one of the hard parts of your job and for many, it’s a quagmire: Should I just go in to the gallery with a handful of work? Should I phone or email? How should I tone it? Should I include examples of my work? How long should I wait for an answer?

Of course, every gallery is different so I’ll do my best to give an idea of some dos and don’ts, but this should be more a guide than a bible because there’s sure to be gallerists who differ.

The first thing I’d suggest is having a look at a gallery’s website. They may have information on artist submissions and how long they take to reply. This is an excellent way to avoid any guessing. Secondly, have a good look around what artists a gallery stocks and if there’s any synchronicity with your work.

In the main, my gallery features works depicting the local area. Although not 100% of our work, it’s clear that I would be unlikely to take work from outside of my county. Knowing this could save time and disappointment. That said, if you feel your work would jack a gallery’s trend and you have a good argument for that, try us. But your reasons for us breaking our mould should be sound and only suggested, not insisted upon: we tend to know our audience!

You would not believe some emails I receive. “I’m looking for a gallery, have a look at the work on my website.” Rude, impersonal, no links or images to make viewing their work easy… and sometimes copied to several galleries. You’re about to embark on what will hopefully be a lucrative, long-lasting business relationship. First impressions count. Gallerists may or may not have big egos, but we all have feelings, so sending bulk, impersonal emails asking us to do all the legwork will never cut the mustard.

Before you approach any gallery, make sure any websites or social media pages you’ll be directing us to are up to date and have your best work at the fore. Facebook, for example, has a ‘pin to top of page’ function, so you can lead with your favourite work. Make sure the images are true and, where possible, square and easy to see, not on the easel in the middle of a large room. Although fun for your fans, this isn’t the first thing you want to sell to a gallery, so lead with your best.

Personally I prefer approaches by email. We could be in the middle of a busy day and if you phone, we can’t see your work so will have to start writing down website addresses which could be untimely and may easily be lost. If you do insist on ringing, ask first if the person has time, or if not when you might call back.

When writing to us, keep it short and polite. Let us know why you’ve picked us as a potential partner. Add a live link to your website or social media page (if you have one) and maybe a couple (not hundreds!) of example images along with a short biography.

Personally, I don’t care what you’ve done before. I’ll go with a relatively unknown artist if I love their work, they show a solid style, and I have room, but many galleries aren’t like that. They want to see provenance. However you word your biography, be truthful and straightforward and try not to write a novel!

Any gallery that you’re going to want to be in will be busy, so respect that by making your initial enquiry brief. Give us time to read and digest your submission. Don’t ring us to chase unless you’ve tried several times by email and have had no answer after a reasonable amount of time… weeks, not days!

Above all, just imagine you’re sending this to yourself at the busiest time of the year. What would you want? I hope, polite, succinct, respectful and a light approach All galleries want to find our next star, but it’s easier to say no than yes, so help us to help you.

Common errors:

  1. Too much info in your initial email. At the outset, you’re like an unwanted salesperson at someone’s door. Regardless of whether you have quality goods or not, make sure you make it polite and succinct so as not to waste a gallerist’s time.
  2. Sending bulk mails to multiple galleries or CCing or BCCing recipients. Although it may not be necessary to name your addressee on the first email (but if you can find a name, all the better), you should never email more than one gallery at a time. If you can’t be bothered to respect them individually, why should they respond?
  3. A multitude of images. If you do want to send images, keep them to a minimum (3 or 4) and medium sized, not huge or too small. A link to your website or online portfolio is the best but make sure you have easy access to some great images right at the fore. Don’t make us do the legwork!
  4. Suggest don’t ‘sell’. We know what’s best for our gallery so if you think your work off off our beaten path, ‘sell’ your argument as a suggestion, not a fact. A curator or director will know what is best for their clients. Also, to suggest your work is just like an artist who we’re already represented is actually less desirable, not more! We would be remiss in our job if we took on a direct competitor to an artist we already have.
  5. “I would like to hear what you think of my work.” A gallery does not have time to critique your work. If you are asking for representation, ask for it. Good galleries are busy and just don’t have the manpower to give insecure artists a boost or feedback. We’re here to sell the work of the artists we represent. We may choose to give feedback on application for representation, but otherwise there are a multitude of social media outlets for personal feedback alone.
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