Getting into galleries

Q. I have a collection of works that I’d like to show to galleries, but I’m not sure how to present them. Do I bring my actual paintings, slides or transparencies? And what’s the proper way for me to approach a gallery? Can I walk in unannounced, or do I need to make an appointment?

A. The best way to start a relationship with any gallery is to visit the space. Does it strike you as being organized and efficient? Is there harmony among staff members? Are browsers treated with consideration? Do you get a sense of optimism and profitability? Or maybe you feel tension among the staff. The place may lack optimism and energy. Is it shabby or ill-maintained ? Finally, do the director and staff behave like snobs? Even if it’s a profitable gallery, this kind of attitude drives away hordes of people who would otherwise participate in the arts—and collect your work.

If you’re comfortable with the gallery and one of the assistants seems to have a second to chat, you can briefly show a portfolio to see if they’re interested in making an appointment. Be sure to get the gallery’s business card as well so you can mail in visuals; e-mail is acceptable for directing the staff to your website or for sending digital images of your work, but I find it’s not as effective as a portfolio sent by regular mail.

To mail your presentation, assemble the necessary materials in a simple but attractive presentation folder. CDs or DVDs of your work are preferred these days, but photos and slides are still a valid format. No matter how your art is presented, the photography must be sharp and of professional caliber. This doesn’t mean you have to pay professional prices—just find a competent photographer who works out of his home, or learn to shoot photos yourself.

Next, type a brief letter, preferably on your own stationery (which you can print via desktop computer to save money) and include your resume, a postcard or brochure of your work, any articles about you that have been published, and a business card that should match the stationery in terms of layout. Finally, be sure to include an SASE if you want your materials back. If your work is strong, then every minor thing you can do to enhance the perception of being professional and established is critical.

After you’ve mailed the packet, wait a week before calling the gallery to politely ask for an appointment. Be prepared to get rejected many times, as this is more common than not. It’s for this reason that you want to approach several galleries. If your work is mature, you’ve put in the hours and have realistically assessed where you are artistically, you’ll ultimately find the gallery you’re seeking. Yes, it will take perseverance, but you’ve come this far as an artist, so persevering should be nothing new.

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