I saw a lot of interest in my latest career move - joining a gallery. So much so, that some of the people who heard about me started to contact my gallery in the search of the show. But it's really tricky to achieve anything at that scene if you don't know how things work on the inside, so I thought it would be helpful to you guys if I share my experience.
First of all, I am only in the beginning of this career path, so maybe I myself am making mistakes that I am not aware of, but here's what I learned so far.
Lesson 1. I started to move in the direction of gallery work when I came to the US 4 years ago. It was very slow process and I never wanted to switch completely - I love fashion and working with brands is much more practical than working on the unpredictable art market, at least it was in 2017, now during covid fashion industry is under a lot of pressure, and art sales are growing esp. for more affordable art.
Lesson 2. Your first few shows don't spend money that you are not prepared to loose. Especially don't spend money to buy space in a vanity gallery - serious art-dealers and critics don't go there. I was approached by many of such "galleries" and it's always the same conversation: "Could you tell me how much artists sell in your space?" "It depends.", "Could you send me some reviews of your shows" - I am getting a review on their own website. And I am supposed to pay 2000-3000/month for some wall space.
Lesson 3. Showing in cafes and other venues like that will not bring you a lot of sales (at least for me it didn't happen). Think about it: how often do you notice art on the walls of cafe - quite often if it's good. But how often do you ask about it, and even if you do, how often the waiter knows the answer? I went to many cafe that show art (and I know from their website that it's an exhibition of an artist), only once they actually gave me artist's card and tried to sell me some art, most of the time waiters say they just don't know and sometimes they say it's just a decoration bought somewhere to decorate a cafe.
Lesson 4. You can sell more in 1 night on a showcase than in 3 month of exhibition. When I just came to the US I was approached by Raw Artists community. I know you can read on the internet that they are super fraud, but that wasn't true in my case. I sold several works on my first show - more then I sold on longer exhibitions. I also could collect tone of emails of potential future buyers if I knew I should do that. I also learned a lot about buyers persecutive, the questions they asked, the price they were comfortable with. My biggest lesson was - works that get most compliments are not the ones that get sold most.
Lesson 5. After I had that experience under my belt I started to build up my resume by appearing on several group shows. I was looking for open calls here https://fotoroom.co/photography-awards-competitions/ and studying the winners. I also joined See.me community which is an online community with featuring in real life art-fairs (and quite big ones too)
Lesson 6. At some point this book really helped my to structure what I learned so far as well as fill the gaps: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Work-Revised-Updated-Everything/dp/1501146165/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=art+works&qid=1596904834&sr=8-1
Lesson 7. When you are picking a gallery:
- ask yourself if you are not too different from other artists there (so your narratives won't be in conflict during the show)
- ask yourself if you are not too similar to other artist in the gallery (and will be a direct competition for his/her sales)
- see if there are other photographers in the gallery (it's much harder to sell photography in gallery than paintings)
- visit the gallery and see how they will sell to you as a potential buyer - do they favor certain artist and not other ones, do they provide info, are they friendly and not too pushy
- I visited in person dozens of galleries in San Francisco, picked 7 or 8 as targets, negotiated with 4 from the top of my list and picked this one. Not only they show photographers, but didn't have a photographer too similar to me, they are also located in a business district of Palo Alto where there are a lot of people who can afford art and most of them are older and more experienced artists who live from selling art and are open to teach me what they learned over the years from recession to boom to the next recession.