The art world, as well as the gallery system, don’t quite look like creative chaos. Although the review process may be unique in each gallery, it has some basics that have been around (and haven’t changed) as long as buying and selling art has been present.
Understanding the process of artist selection in galleries may help you prepare your work and submission materials, and simply put – optimize your chances for success. The method of selection is different in every gallery. Typically, galleries use three different review processes – the committee review, the partner review, and the owner review.
The Committee Review
The committee review is very formal and rarely used. It comes with strict submission guidelines and deadlines, and academic institutions or long-established commercial galleries mostly employ it. Galleries that use a formal review process only review work one or two times per year, and as an artist, you will most likely encounter them when entering shows or submitting to museum events.
In order to succeed, there are no tips and trick you can follow. You should carefully follow their submission guidelines and take a closer look at work of artists who have been accepted in the past. These galleries always look for consistency, so they will choose artists that have common characteristics with other artwork they have shown.
The Partner Review
In an established gallery, the artwork is reviewed by more than one person – usually the gallery director and the owner. The review doesn’t have to be formal. It is completely normal to occur via email or through casual interactions. The review can take from days to months, depending whether or not there is a strict deadline.
In order to succeed, the same applies as we mentioned above. Consistency and quality are two main factors you should focus on. While academic institutions will never take risks, in order not to jeopardize their reputation, established galleries are willing to take risks and lend credibility to an unknown artist.
The Owner Review
Early in your career, the owner review process is often the one you will encounter the most. This review process is often informal. The level of formality depends whether a gallery is relatively new and willing to take higher risks by bringing non-established artists. Smaller and newer galleries are led by the owner who is at the same time the director, the bookkeeper, the secretary and pretty much everything else.
Young galleries often become successful by bringing something new to the market. So, they are most open to risks, and unlike established institutions that look for similarity, they will accept a broader range of artists. Their review process is not structured, and the decision can often be made on the spot. Artists often stay with the galleries that have selected them before they were established.
Since this a far less formal review process, apart from the quality and originality of your work, you should also focus on your presentation, and ways to build chemistry between yourself and the owner. You must be confident in your work and enthusiastic. Since chemistry and first-impression are very important, it is advised to visit the gallery personally.
What Galleries Seek in Artists
Every gallery looks for artwork that will show successfully in their space. Success means different things for different galleries and institutions. Academic galleries are looking for publicity and community interest, and commercial galleries are looking for sales. Your goals should be the same as the goals of the gallery you want to approach.
Commercial galleries look for art that will sell well. Since that fact is rather hard to determine, they will consider things such as whether or not you have an established track record of sales. If you don’t have a sales history, they will judge the work by their own reaction to it. It is as simple as that. If they like it a lot, they will think others will like it to.
Price estimation is also important. A gallery won’t choose art that is dramatically more or less expensive than the work of other artists represented by the gallery. Lastly, they will consider whether or not your work brings something new. Although all galleries look for consistency, they are not looking for duplication. Ergo, your work shouldn’t be similar, but it has to offer similar quality and ideas etc.
Tips to Keep in Mind when Seeking Representation
To be completely honest, due to the unstable nature of the artwork review process, acceptance is in most cases is a matter of luck. In order to improve your chances, you have to be patient but also persistent. You have to make a lot of submissions and treat them like a marketing campaign.
Take Small Steps
Large institutions are rarely on a hunt for new and unknown talents. However, smaller galleries are. When looking for representation, contact smaller or emerging galleries that need your help as much as you need theirs.
Show your work anywhere you can and make sure you participate in your local art community. Go to gallery openings, museum shows, tours, and actively visit all known art hangouts. Make sure you also maintain an online presence. Build a free website, and share your work on social media. In addition to increasing your visibility, it is very important to show your desire to participate and send people a clear message that you’re serious about becoming a successful and committed artist any way you can.
NOTE from Cory: Check out the interview we did with Jesse Reno. When he started his career, he showed in abandoned factories and anywhere with space. Now he’s world-renowned and highly sought after by galleries everywhere.
In order to build relationships with a gallery, collaborate by becoming an intern or volunteering. Work with local galleries that show art similar to yours. This is an excellent way to meet new people. You should also try collaborating (for example through volunteering) with established artists whose art you like and respect.
Build a Reputation
Best galleries only show the work of the very best artists. And the best artists are the ones who have proven themselves over time. The best artists always start hard. They show their work anywhere they can just to remain visible and they build their resume and portfolio patiently one line at a time. Over time, they have established a track record of successful shows which demonstrates that they’re capable of doing what’s expected when it’s expected. Simply put, they have established a reputation all by themselves. Never forget that galleries aren’t there to establish reputations of artists, they only assist in enhancing them. It’s up to you to prove that your reputation is worth enhancing. That is how the gallery system works.
About the Author:
Mary Ann Cohen is considered one of the nations most successful and respected art dealers with over 35 years of International visual fine art experience. She actively encourages the use of art therapy in her galleries.
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