The Inside Story: Tips from the directors of four world-class galleries will help you get your foot in any gallery’s door

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Miller Gallery art

51st Street, Wende, by Daniel E. Greene, pastel, 46x30, Photo courtesy of Miller Gallery

The Inside Story
Learn from the best: Tips from the directors of four world-class galleries will help you get your foot in any gallery’s door
by Betsy Dillard Stroud

Many pundits believe that, because of their innate ability to adapt to changeable circumstances and uncertain conditions, artists will not only survive under the current economic crisis, but will thrive. Opportunities abound. Some lie in unlikely places, but selling your artwork through traditional galleries and art dealers remains a time-tested and profitable marketing option. These dealers and galleries aren’t just interested in the process of selling but are also dedicated to the importance of art itself, and they relish the opportunity to exhibit the works of artists they represent and promote.
If you’re at a point in your career where you have a body of work that best represents who you are, and if your work has a distinct style, this article is for you. If you’re a neophyte, read on, for this information from the owners and directors of four highly regarded and well-established galleries will give you necessary tools and ideas for the future.

Hirschl & Adler · New York City · www.hirschlandadler.com
“If you wanted to go to Harvard, you wouldn’t just stop in,” says Shelley Farmer, director of Hirschl & Adler Modern in New York City. In other words, before you approach a gallery, do your homework. (This advice, by the way, was echoed by all the gallery directors I interviewed). Farmer continues: “It’s important to look at our submission form-and even more important to look at the work in our gallery. We usually receive four to five submissions per week and put those submissions on file to be reviewed jointly by three of us at the gallery.”
Although most of the gallery’s artists have impressive credentials, Farmer says she and her colleagues look at everything they receive on an ongoing basis. “We periodically check submissions, and we’re always open to new artists.” These new artists may come from recommendations from artists already represented by the gallery or from other gallery directors. “I’m cultivating a program of living artists,” Farmer says.
Hirschl & Adler has a selection that is both varied and vast, comprising everything from sculpture and paintings to works on paper. “It all fits under the broad umbrella of representational and figurative work,” Farmer says. “Basically, we’re interested in everything.” The gallery also has a large print department and a decorative arts department; it shows photography, although that’s not a main focus.
Located in a five-story townhouse in which the first two floors are exhibition space, Hirschl & Adler tries to schedule its varied number of shows around certain auctions, such as the Winter Antique Show in January.

Miller Gallery · Cincinnati, Ohio · www.millergallery.com
Gary Gleason, co-owner of Miller Gallery, remarks, “We thrive on eclecticism, working hard to have individual artists who are different in style, so that there won’t be overlapping. As Cincinnati is the ‘River Town of Seven Hills,’” Gleason explains, “we feel that our eclecticism fits the landscape.” Gleason finds this broad range of styles exciting. “I don’t like to feel boxed in,” he says.
Founded 50 years ago by the late Barbara Miller, the Miller Gallery is operated by owners Gary, his wife Laura Miller Gleason and director Rosemary Seidner. The gallery, situated in charming Hyde Park Square in Cincinnati, represents approximately 50 artists and accepts two or three new artists each year. Gallery submissions are high-two or three a day-and are filed away until one of three or four meetings a year when the three colleagues discuss their personal choices. At that time, they review collations of images filed during the previous months and only choose the artists they all agree on.
“Credentials are important to us, of course,” Gleason remarks, “but we also like to help young artists just getting started. So we have artists at the beginning of their careers, like Jonathan Queen, as well as established icons like Daniel Greene.”
Each year the Miller Gallery hosts about nine shows. Exhibitions range from one-person exhibitions to theme shows and exhibitions of two or more artists. The gallery prefers works on canvas primarily, for they sell better, although it does have some works on paper-all works of original art-no giclées or prints.

John Pence Gallery · San Francisco · www.johnpence.com
“I choose to represent the artist as opposed to the work, as often an artist’s work will change from time to time,” John Pence, owner of John Pence Gallery in San Francisco, explains. Pence himself is an aesthete dedicated to preserving the academic tradition of representational art. “I’m a stalwart supporter of academic realism,” he says, “and I’ve never lost an artist I like, and I’ve never worked with a contract.” The Pence Gallery, with its 10,000 square feet, puts on 10 shows a year: seven are one-person shows, and three are group shows.
One entire room of the gallery is dedicated to drawing: “From a drawing you get an emotional observation,” says Pence, “from which you can catch the spirit of the painter.” How does Pence find his artists? “I take recommendations from my other artists and like-minded galleries that are literally stepping-stones for one another.”

Forum Gallery · New York City and Los Angeles · www.forumgallery.com
“If it brings tears to my eyes, I want to show it,” says Robert Fishko, owner of the Forum Gallery, which is a leader in the field of modern and contemporary art. Although the gallery isn’t actively looking for artists, Fishko will take a look at new artists. Four times a year, a group reviews submissions, working together to decide on their selections. Fishko is most interested in artists who have already established a reputation for their work and a history of exhibitions, even if the galleries are only local or statewide.
Founded in 1961, the Forum Gallery represents 30 contemporary artists plus an inventory of works by social realist and international artists. The gallery customarily has six to eight one-person shows a year and two to three group or thematic exhibitions. Other venues include rented booths at art fairs (like the Associated Art Dealers of America), where a gallery may showcase the work of one artist or host a thematic exhibition. Forum Gallery also shows the works of gallery artists at the Four Seasons Hotel seven days a week.

It’s Not Just About Money
From my conversations with gallery owners and directors, a theme emerges. That resonating theme involves integrity-dedication and passion co-mingled. Good dealers represent art that appeals to their hearts as well as their vision-art that stimulates their aesthetic senses-but they must also consider whether they can sell that art. Their commitment to and passion for your art, combined with your passionate commitment to excellence, invention and self-expression, are usually the makings of a successful partnership.
Just as the gallery has to know its clientele, an artist must know her audience, and that includes researching diligently everything about each gallery you wish to approach. Present your credentials-shows, awards and biographical material; then make certain your images look professionally prepared, whether in photographs, slides or digital form. And, who knows, you may get a foot in the door and some work on the wall!

Before You Approach a Top Gallery

  • Make sure you’ve achieved some professional success as an artist. In your portfolio, include information about your past one-person exhibitions, as well as lists of people and corporations that have bought your work.
  • Have professional-quality digital images, photographs, transparencies or slides taken of your best work.
  • Your portfolio should be a folder where you can place a disk or transparencies, as well as your résumé and catalogs, brochures and postcards from your previous shows. This
  • folder should also contain a brief artist’s statement, as well as a business card.
  • Do your homework. Make sure that your work is appropriate for the gallery that you’re applying to and, at the same time, realize that sometimes, if your work is very similar to the work of an artist the gallery already represents, the director may decide that your work would show to better advantage elsewhere.
  • If possible, go to the gallery and look around. At this time, remain anonymous. Get a feeling for the atmosphere in the gallery: how the staff treats clients and potential customers and how the work is displayed.
  • If you land an appointment, present yourself and your work in a professional way, but listen to your feelings. Although it won’t be, at least at the start, a personal relationship, make sure you feel comfortable when discussing business arrangements. Just as you would with your art, pay attention to your intuition. Ignore the butterflies, be yourself, and engage in a spirited conversation.
  • Unless you happen to be Picasso reincarnated, start with local galleries and work your way up.
  • When working with galleries, always honor your agreements and make sure you know what the director’s expectations are. Be careful not to undercut or undermine in any way your business relationship.

Betsy Dillard Stroud is a frequent juror, as well as an artist and writer. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is the author of The Artist’s Muse and Painting From the Inside Out.
Excerpted from the October 2009 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. Used with the kind permission of The Artist’s Magazine, a publication of F+W Media Inc. Click here to subscribe.

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