One of the questions we receive most often from artists is how to approach a gallery. Should I call or send an email? Is it appropriate to follow up or is that too pushy? Should I pop into the gallery and introduce myself? The reality is that most of these decisions should be made on a case by case basis, depending on who you know at the gallery and what your relationship with them is. Here are three strategies that will help you improve your chances of success.
1 Warm Introductions Work Best
Have you ever received a cold-call from a sales person trying to sell you an insurance product or a credit card? Our guess is that the call made you uncomfortable and that you got off the phone as quickly as possible. Nobody likes to be sold to. Perhaps cold-calling works for seasoned sales professionals. But let’s face it: it’s difficult to pull off successfully and more importantly, it’s also off-putting. You don’t want to talk to the pushy person.
This is why it is so important to be proactive about building your network from the start of your career. Because warm introductions are much more effective than cold-calls. We are willing to bet serious money (actually, not really, but you get the point) that 99% of gallery representation relationships are the result of warm introductions. So when you have researched a gallery and determined they are a good fit, check if there is anyone in your network who knows the gallery before you reach out.
For example, if you know an artist who is represented by the gallery, ask them for advice on how to approach representation. Worst case scenario, they’ll give you some tips or share their story on how they got to working with the gallery. Best case scenario, they’ll offer to make an intro. Taking the time to strategize about approaching opportunities like these will drastically improve your chances of success.
2 Set Yourself Up For Success: Prepare
We come across artists who approach conversations with galleries from a position of weakness. They feel like they are asking the gallery for a favor when bringing up the subject of representation. No wonder you hate pitching your art! It’s difficult but important to try and change that attitude to something a bit more positive.
There is of course no need to be arrogant, but you are a creative/ successful/ fill-in-the-blank artist. You may not have as much leverage as you’d like to have, particularly at the start of your career, but it’s important not to undersell yourself either. You have to believe in your own work and that you have something valuable to offer.
The gallery wants to know if they can sell your art to their collector base. It’s up to you to convince them. Mentally preparing for a pitch is important, but you also need to prepare the evidence that will back up your story. Leverage your career achievements to date and present them in the best possible way.
A professional online presence goes a long way to achieving that. Update your website with high quality photographs of your work. Have your artist statement and career vitals easily accessible for the gallery. This will also make it easier to talk about your latest ventures, new series, recent sales and so on at the meeting. Make it easy for the gallery to say yes.
3 Communication And Follow Up
There is a fine line between being proactive and being pushy. Proactive means being strategic and patient, pushy comes across as desperate and rude. So before you fire off a series of emails to your gallery contact because you haven’t heard from them, think about how your communication will impact the way the gallery views you.
Nobody owes you anything: not the universe, not the art market and certainly not the gallery owner. You are not entitled to a gallery contract nor is a gallery obliged to review your work. As talented as you are, you are competing with a multitude of other talented artists and generally speaking, good manners and being easy to work with goes a long way to creating fruitful, long-term relationships.
So if you see the gallery owner at an art fair, hustling for sales to cover his overhead, maybe leave him alone. Choose a better moment when things are more quiet for him. This way he’ll actually be able to concentrate on what you have to say. On a daily basis gallery owners have a million things going on (don’t we all) so your application may not be his biggest priority.
After an initial successful meeting or phone call, you owe it to yourself to follow up. Did you send them images they said they’d review and they didn’t get back to you? Give them a call or send an email after a week or two, depending on who your contact is, and politely let them know that you want to make sure they received the images you sent. If the answer is no, resend them, and if the answer is yes, ask what the next steps are and let them know you’ll follow up to get their feedback.