Getting exhibited

Author: Paul Greenaway
Date published: 14 November, 2003

Paul Greenaway, Director of Adelaide’s Greenaway Gallery, provides an insider’s view of considerations for visual artists wanting to get exhibited - domestically and internationally.

FIND AN APPROPRIATE GALLERY

The relationship between a private gallery and an artist can and should be one of mutual respect, support and even adventure. There are several sources that list the responsibilities expected by both partners; NAVA in particular provides artists with sound advice (http://www.visualarts.net.au). If all else fails Arts Law Centre of Australia can be a great life line (http://www.artslaw.com.au). But how do you find an appropriate gallery or extend your profile into another state, and when do you start to build an international career?

There is no single formula and while the bible might suggest “time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes), it is often difficult to know when it is your time and easy to miss a chance; it might be wiser to consider creating chances and choosing your timing. While you are working hard to create your artwork it is important to put in a similar level of energy into extracting the maximum results from exhibiting same. Be strategic, don’t be used by wannabe curators, well meaning cafes or massive group exhibitions unless you are sure that it will really help your career.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

When you are looking for a gallery do your homework. Understand the galleries philosophies, talk to artists showing regularly with the gallery. Not all artists have the verbal skills to “sell themselves”, consider being introduced by an artist showing at the gallery who is supportive of your work.

If you are presenting a package of information naturally include a stamped addressed envelope, follow up with a phone call after three weeks, don’t include too much, 20 images is enough to give an overview, don’t include work that goes back to more than 4 years. If you don’t feel confident ask for help, run it by a couple of artists whom you respect.

Document your work methodically and cultivate a couple of people to write responses to new groups of work. Writers needs to be paid by the magazines/journals or commissioned to write by the artist. Keep your own database, when you meet a curator, gallery director or artist who has acknowledged your work. Keep them informed of a group show or event you may have work in. Invest in yourself. If you can afford to print a postcard of a new work once a year, do so and send it out to keep your work and name fresh in peoples minds.

NEVER FEEL REJECTED

Realise that just because a gallery has 3 or 4 photographers working with digitally manipulated images this does not mean they will be keen to take on another. Never feel rejected, there are so many reasons a gallery may not take you on. The common excuse/reason is “we have a full house”, 90% of the time this is true. In the last 5 years the number of private galleries in Australia hasn’t increased and yet the 30 odd art schools have all produced new graduates.

The old adage “less is more” keeps resonating, don’t be caught up with the desperate urge to jump on the treadmill of exhibiting – nothing is more important than your studio practice – give time to consider work, be ruthless in what you destroy.

INTERNATIONAL

Every week there is one Art Fair, Biennial or Triennial held. In theory this means more opportunities for artists. In reality most curators use the same shopping list and very few take risks on unknowns.

Art Fairs are now very competitive between each Fair and between galleries wanting to enter new markets. Basel, Cologne, Armory, ARCO and Miami are 5 of the larger Fairs with  some 250-300 galleries participating in each but over 600- 700 applying. The Fairs cost most galleries between $40,000-$50,000 to participate. This means a gallery has to balance the virtues of looking fresh with unknown artists and taking some better known artists who may sell enough to cover costs. There are several ways to eventually participate in this international circus.

The Australia Council has several studios and scholarships available in over a dozen countries. Working abroad is often good for your practice and helps facilitate contacts. Lets face it, if you want a long term relationship with an overseas gallery in their country then it is prudent to consider spending some time there each year.

At the risk of singling out one artist, Jenny Watson maintains good relations with her gallerists in the US, Japan and Italy. But has travelled the world every year for the last decade to do so. Think carefully before embarking on an international career, target the country you feel is most sympathetic to your work and go there for a while. Work with your Australian gallery to help make it happen.

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