Q&A: How To Get A Gallery Show

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

 Recently, an established photographer contacted me looking for advice on how to find a gallery that will show his work and the kind of work to submit, as he has spent many decades photographing portraits, furniture, architecture and more.

Having a decent gallery show takes quite a bit of time to develop. The myth of walking into a gallery and a curator offering you a show on the spot is fodder for movies, but otherwise unlikely. Anyone that can offer you a real show wants to see commitment and coherence in your portfolio.  It helps to get your schtick under control. Spend time developing your vision and value. You have to have this before you go to owners and curators because they will only show work if it will make them money, LOTS OF IT. They are NOT going to take a chance on you unless there is a payoff.

How do you do that? Go to photo festivals where gallery owners, agents and curators are gathered to review your work. You pay to present to several of them, one at a time. If you choose well and find someone who likes your work, they MAY offer you some type of continuation, i.e. "show me work in a year" or get in touch with someone else that might be interested. Once in a great while you may hear from them to present your work at their institution or publication.

My advice to my students just starting out is to approach local institutions, cafes and libraries. It exposes them to the complexities of presenting their work and mounting some type of exhibit. There are also banks and companies that have very excellent galleries curated with the same zeal as that of a museum. Another trick is to go back to your alma mater. They may take a chance on an alumnus who is willing to show in their galleries. You can amass a large publicity program similar to mailings for commercial clients and send out information to prospective galleries, or you can try to use social networking to get work in front of them. Otherwise you have to contact people of interest to you and take your WELL-PRINTED portfolio and show cohesive collections of work.

But it all takes time. This is a brief synopsis for the long journey. No one makes money exhibiting except the huge stars. Mostly it is ego boosting. It will cost you lots of money to make inroads into the world, a world that is even more difficult and opaque than the commercial world. But it take a semester to learn the basics and a lifetime to get anywhere with that knowledge.


pitchertaker September 7, 2012 at 4:57 AM  

Submit, submit, submit....choose you submission venues carefully looking for jurors that can do you some good down the road. Aline Smithson said as much this past Fast Forward Boston.

Walter Baron September 7, 2012 at 6:26 AM  

Lou - good advice, especially the start local part. Also, have something different than everyone else.
You will be surprised at how little money you will make. Galleries usually take 50%. You will have to supply prints ready to hang, and you will probably be asked to contribute to the expenses for publicity and any refreshments at the opening of your show. If you don't sell a few prints, you may owe them money !

Richard Cartwright March 19, 2013 at 10:45 AM  

Hi Lou,
I enjoyed reading your notes on approaching art gallery. I am taking my first plunge into this world with contacts in the gallery world. Wish me luck my friend.

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.