Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spaces: Exploration of Art Venues, Notes 3: Galleries & Art Fairs

On Saturday, March 9, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition offered the Artist Survival Kit workshop, "Spaces: An Exploration of Art Venues." During this workshop, five speakers shared their experiences with different art venue types including retail, restaurants, commercial galleries, non-profit venues, and auctions/secondary markets. In this series of blog posts, we share notes from each speaker thanks to ASK Committee Co-chair Sarah Atlee.
Holly Wilson, With Her Birdens, Bronze and Silver, 8.5" x 4" x 4"

Holly Wilson: Commercial Galleries and art fairs

Holly emphasizes that the worst thing a potential gallery can tell you is "No." That's as bad as it gets. The important thing is to muscle past the fear, and just ask. You never know what will happen after you start the conversation.

They may tell you that they love your work, but that it's not the right fit for their gallery. Be courteous, thank them for their time, and ask them to recommend other galleries that you might approach.

Holly also emphasizes visiting potential spaces in person. Know what the walls are made of, and if the gallery uses a special hanging system. This is especially true for wall sculpture.

Research, research, research! Holly goes to art fairs like SOFA and Art Chicago. She gets all the information she can about a fair ahead of time. She visits the website of every single gallery that will be there, and narrows down a list of those she wants to investigate further. She gets a floor plan of the fair exhibitors, and spends a whole day walking around and making further notations about what galleries may or may not be good for her work.

Holly may research specific artists she likes, to find out where they've shown, and cross-reference that information with her gallery research. She also asks other artists for gallery recommendations.

When approaching a gallerist, she makes sure to have an *excellent* image of her work on a postcard to leave behind.

Tip: dress like a buyer, not like an artist. Keep in mind that galleries spend $20,000 - $80,000 for a booth at the best trade fairs, not to mention all the advertising they do.

Questions HW asks about potential commercial galleries:
Do they have branches in other cities?
Do they go to art fairs?
Do they have good relationships with their buyers & collectors? Have they cultivated these relationships over time?
Do they work to have magazine articles published about their artists?
Are their websites good? Do they make good use of social media?
Is the gallery in an arts district? Is there a potential for foot traffic from nearby businesses?

Specific advice for artists who work with bronze or similar materials:
Research your foundry costs. Your casting cost per piece, multiplied by 3, is a good guideline for the piece's retail price. A gallery that takes a 50% commission on sales of paintings should only take 30% on sales of bronze works.

Holly recently participated in the Heard Museum Guild IndianFair & Market for the first time. Rather than use the typical art fair exhibition booth setup, she built herself a tiny white-walls gallery, in order to better show off her work. She built three 4x8' panels of cabinet-grade plywood, supported by custom-cut and threaded plumbing pipe (hidden by 1x2 strips). The setup is modular, transportable, and reusable. It was very eye-catching and made her work much more visible.

As an exhibitor, Holly chose to apply specifically to the Heard Museum and Santa Fe Indian Market art fairs in order to attract high-end galleries, curators, and collectors. She took out a $400, 1/6-page color ad in a Native American arts magazine with a very large circulation, specifically to bring people to her booth at the Heard fair - it worked, and also resulted in a significant increase in her website traffic.

Remember, an artist is a business, so conduct yourself accordingly. You're responsible for promoting yourself. When you make sales, reinvest that money back into your business.

For print promotion, Holly makes sure to have excellent photos of her work. She carries a basic postcard and business cards that she gets from to hand out. She also uses business cards from Moo, which are higher quality prints, for more special occasions. Holly has created a larger foldout brochure specifically to send to certain high end galleries.

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