Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Foot in the Door, 101

I've gotten a few emails from artists (thanks for the encouraging words about the blog) with questions about the gallery biz, and at the risk of turning this site into an "Ask Aunt Edna" (advice columunists should always be named "Edna" in my opinion), while the art season is still just warming up, I thought I'd try to answer a few of them online. (I won't have much time to do so soon, so it's now or next summer.)

One question that I hear frequently is would I recommend artists get involved with vanity galleries or other organizations that say they'll help you enter the NY art scene, for the right price of course.

No. I would not recommend it. To be blunt: I think they're a dead end, a waste of money, and it's critical to remember that context is very, very, very, very (ad infinitum) important. Having said that, if you're so frustrated with the other avenues you've tried that you feel it's worth the risk, do be sure and ask those organizations for recommendations from other artists who've paid for their services.

OK, you say, "But I've sent my slides to hundreds of galleries and they always just come back. What CAN I do?" First and foremost, stop sending slides to hundreds of galleries. You should choose the gallery that's right for you by carefully studying their program to ensure its a good match for your work. I'm always amazed by artists who will send submissions to a gallery they've never even been to. It's not an online catalog sort of business. One dealer I know tells artists quite bluntly, don't even bother approaching me until you've seen at least three exhibitions in my space. This is the single most important aspect of getting a gallery...picking the right one.

Still, there are things you can do while you search for the right one, or wait for the right one to appreciate their mistake in not working with you. Consider these four ways to get your foot in the door of the NY art world. These are written to apply for both NY-based and out of town artists:
  1. Build a support network of NY artists. No one is a better ally in your fight to get the recognition you deserve here than other artists. They're undoubtedly the most qualified critics of your work, they understand completely what you're going through, and if you share what you hear about opportunities with them, you should be able to expect the same in return. There's strength in numbers. Get some artist friends.
  2. Submit your work to registries. These are curated generally, so your work may still be rejected, but they do indeed lead to group exhibitions and other opportunities. There are two primary registries you should apply for: the one at Artists Space and the one at White Columns. Please note that both of these spaces focus on emerging artists engaged in the "contemporary" dialog, so if you're more of a traditionalist, you might not be accepted...all I'm saying here, is consider their mission before you submit.
  3. Take a survival course. Two to consider: Artists Space offers an amazing series of workshops. And the Bronx Museum of the Arts' "Artists in the Market Place" is a remarkable program that I've seen change everything for some of its alumni.
  4. Get involved in another way in the meanwhile. Best advice I ever got before I opened my gallery was "You MUST get in the game." So much of getting the career you want is being aware of the opportunities. Being involved in the art world (in any capacity) greatly increases your chances of hearing about those opportunities. So organize an exhibition, write reviews, work for an art handler, work for a museum, for a gallery, teach, join an artists' crit group, start an artist crit group, go to salons, go to lectures, go to openings. Be out there, be seen, be heard, look, hear...etc.

OK, unfortunately, I have to stop there for now. Please consider this an open thread and share any tips you have for artists starting out.


Blogger Mark said...

Donate a piece to Visual Aids, or other charitable fund raisers. Be chosey, but don't dog it, give the good stuff.You never know who will show up to bid on the work.

8/24/2005 09:25:00 AM  
Anonymous E. Tage Larsen said...


I agree with all of your recommendations. Salander-O'Reilly very very rarely takes on new artists, but i'm always glad to steer people towards other galleries that i think might be appropriate. I usually only do this when asked, however it's a good way to supplement doing your own homework on the galleries you'd like to be associated with.

When I review new works, it really doesn't matter to me what format they're in. I mostly tell artists to send digital prints. It's easier for me to review and much cheaper for the artist to produce. The prints are essentially disposable – which cuts down on postage.

8/24/2005 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent advice - thanks for taking the time to post this.

8/24/2005 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Good point about format and the disposable submission, ETL (is there something up with your site today? I can't seem to access it...which is a pity, because it's awesome). I've been seeing more of this and it totally makes sense to me (save on postage folks, don't send materials you need sent back if you're contacting a gallery cold).

I know it's nice to get some indication (yes or no) from a gallery, but you can include a stamped postcard (with room for a comment) if you like.

8/24/2005 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Oh, and Mark's advice is so good (donate to auctions and such) it deserves its own full post. I'll work on that for later in the week

8/24/2005 10:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget - website and blog!


8/24/2005 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous h lowe said...

I spoke to a gallery director in L.A.recently who gets loads of submissions and she also prefers digital prints to slides.
YAY! no more slides. As an artist--much less laborious.
Juried shows almost always ask for them (another reason to avoid juried shows!)

8/24/2005 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous bw said...

How often do galleries find artists from unsolicited submissions? Is it worth making and sending out materials this way? I spent a few hindred dollars to make a small edition of a catalog of my work out of high-quality digital prints and a couple pretty good galleries asked to keep it on file and it got a couple of positive comments but other than that nothing has come of it, and at this rate I'm not expecting much else! Is it even worth the effort?
Also I think a good idea for artists is to make postcards that are basically oversized business cards with a couple images and your name/e-mail/web page. 1-800 postcards does super quality at very cheap prices, and I did some for myself and it has been pretty invaluable when people ask what my work is like and I can just whip on out and show them instead of trying to describe it.

8/24/2005 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Astor said...

Great post! I run two galleries in L.A. and I wish more people read things like this. And as far as I am concerned, slides are totally over, or at least in hospice care.

I have shown artists from unsolicited submissions. It's all a matter of sending your work to galleries that focus on work that has a feasable connection to yours. IMHO, I don't get turned on by advertising postcards from artists, they don't tell me anything. It's better to send postcards to a gallery for shows that you are in (highlight your name if it's a group show) and write a little note, like "please check out my work." I'm not saying that garuntees interest, it's better than having your own postcards made to advertise your work. Having your own postcards can appear very commercial, and some galleries might be turned off by that angle.

8/24/2005 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Great post Ed, and so many great advices for both sides.

8/24/2005 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Mountain Man said...

I am loving these open threads and all your frank advice. To me, connecting with other artists whose work I respect and creating a community where we help each other has really been the best, albeit slow, way to go. Some people get lucky when sending their work to galleries unsolicited but it must be like .5% or something. And I have to say, I do think blogging is becoming a viable way to connect as well.

Thanks Ed!

8/24/2005 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous bw said...

marhsall, that's something I was wondering, if my presentation is too 'slick'. I have graphic design skills and personally think it would be silly not to put them to use in the presentation of my materials. After all, I AM trying to sell the work, why shouldn't it look great? I've worked too hard on my art to just make some crappy little prints or slides and throw in a folder or something, from my point of view I think it shows that I'm serious about my work, which I am. And I am aware about over-design and just use my design skills to neatly and professionally present the work and let that be the focus.
And I've found people tend to love the postcards, they're basically like little tiny prints with just my name and website, and the design is very unobtrusive and simple and lets the image be the focus, and people tend to love being able to keep them. And again it is extremely helpful when asked about my work: I can just show them what my work is instead of giving some vague description and it has been very helpful for me. I'd rather have something to show people and risk looking 'slick' than not have anything to show at all. I mean, galleries have all their advertisements and materials nicely designed, make nice postcards for their shows, why shouldn't artists do the same to promote themselves as well?

8/24/2005 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

After all, I AM trying to sell the work, why shouldn't it look great? I've worked too hard on my art to just make some crappy little prints or slides and throw in a folder or something, from my point of view I think it shows that I'm serious about my work, which I am. And I am aware about over-design and just use my design skills to neatly and professionally present the work and let that be the focus.

It all depends, bw. I've gone both ways, feeling a slick presentation was overkill and feeling that an artist was telling me they're unprofessional by slapping loose slides and a typo-ridden bio in a crumbled envelop.

I have graphic design skills and personally think it would be silly not to put them to use in the presentation of my materials.

Only if those graphic design skills melt away and beome invisible. If they command any attention at all, they're hurting you, IMO.

8/24/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous E. Tage Larsen said...


my service provider is a bit... challenged today. something about a DOS attack. blah blah blah. But, thanks for the kind words.

Towards postcards and presentation: I agree that one postcard tells me nothing about the artist unless i know the work already. I need to see 6 to 8 current pieces to know what's going on. And again re slides, i look at so much art work in multiple formats that i can pretty much "get" what's going on even when there's a wild color shift in the media.

About picking up from promotional materials i think it depends on the gallery and how agressively they're looking for new people. 90% of what we do is secondary market and in addition to that we have roughly 30 contemporary artists we represent. So, we're already pretty loaded.

A great way to meet people and find venues is through art fairs. A lot of the regional fairs are attracting big galleries and you would be best served by a dealer that wants to do business in your neighborhood anyway. In New York, I find that the Scope fair is the most interesting for young art. The Armory show is too overwhelming and too much of the same work.

8/24/2005 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Very generous, Edward, thank you for taking the time to lay this out.

8/24/2005 03:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just go out, be friendly and make sure you have many witty things to say. that way you can get studio visits with artists, dealers, curators, whoever you have good vibes with. the studio visits are what lead to inclusion in group shows and perhaps gallery representation ultimately. if you are generous and amiable and excited about your work, and are moderately social, eventually you will get your work seen and be in the game. also if you can curate your own show or as ed already mentioned, write a review, even on a blog or in a small publication, you are contributing positively and helping others, rather than always being in the position of "needy artist."

one more thing:

ladies: the braless look will get you far.
guys: two words...breath mints!!!

8/24/2005 04:12:00 PM  
Anonymous FranklinEvans said...

All these suggestions are very helpful and generous to newly emerging, emerging and emerged artists. It is essential for and the responsibility of the artist to do his homework and to determine the right context for his work. In addition to submissions to Artists Space and White Columns, The Drawing Center accepts submissions and upon acceptance schedules meetings with artists to establish a dialogue/relationship and welcomes the artist to continue meeting with the curator as new steps are taken in the studio. Also, where appropriate, the local residencies (LMCC, The Space Program, Art OMI) give artists an expanded network and even for those not selected, the applicant’s images are projected before an audience of curators/critics/academics introducing the work to others, getting out there and being more a part of the New York artworld.

Finally, I think that the emphasis on studio time cannot be overstated. Really important work does not typically come easily.

8/24/2005 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Sex and mints, I like it.

8/24/2005 04:25:00 PM  
Anonymous James Leonard said...

Ed, thanks for taking the time to post this.

I'm just starting my second year here in NYC and have been champing at the bit lately. Your advice echoes some of what I've done over the past year.

When I first moved here, I received some second hand advice that I now find very suspect. The crux of it was "it is uncouth to ever directly approach a gallery with work without an introduction by a mutual colleague or some other sort of prior connection." I was (rather erroneously) led to believe that there is no "front door" into the New York artworld.

I found that a bit depressing for two reasons. First, I did a number of years in Chicago. In that community, initiative and candor are valued character traits. I liked that. I want to believe that they are equally valued traits here. Second, I'm new to NYC. I did not go to school here. I have friends in other cultural fields, but not many in the arts. So I'm here with a very limited network of friends and colleagues. Those that I know moved here recently in a similar state of disassociation.

This discussion--and the prior open thread--have rejuiced my batteries a bit. This past year has teased out a lot of soul searching. I've found myself returning to the core reasons of why the hell I do what I do. I currently think that initial advice I received about never approaching a gallery is total bunk. Your first post in this thread matches my intuitions about how to pace selecting and approaching a gallery.

You really should consider moonlighting as "Aunt Edna"

8/24/2005 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

sex and mints ;-)

...not necessarily in that order (when in doubt, mints before and after)

keep the suggestions flowing...and thanks to all...


8/24/2005 04:32:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

like it like it :) sex and mints :)

that's really nice that everyone could share experience and advices

8/24/2005 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous preacher's daughter said...

I suggest anonymous take whatever kind of mint helps him to not reduce woman I need to say this?
My work is so much more important than that. Do you really think women become artists, with all this sacrifice and investment, are in NY to show you their nipples?

8/24/2005 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I suggest anonymous take whatever kind of mint helps him to not reduce woman I need to say this?

I think anon was joking PD...the rest of that advice was spot on and well considered.

But if you'll allow me to use this to stress that it's important to keep all these things in perspective and not let them get to you. Any opportunity that doesn't pan out must be looked at as not being meant to be. I get buckets full of disappointments in my role as dealer...I do what I can to look for the opportunity within the disappointment (after I stare at someones nipples* and steal their mints, that is).

*just kidding bambino...yours are the only nipples I've ever stared at...

8/24/2005 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

yours are the only nipples I've ever stared at...

that's sweet.

8/24/2005 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Don't forget - website and blog!

This is a biggie. When I post a piece at ionarts, my site gets 4 to 500 hits. If I take part in threads as this, I get several hundred. What does this mean? I don't know. But even if the visitor only spends a few seconds and goes, yuk, phew, gurgle**!! (I made the last one up) that's a visitor. One you did't have yesterday. Who knows who is looking. As far as sales, few to new clients so far. Most website sales are to previous collectors. It's difficult to judge the work from images, but it starts the process and a studio visit often follows.

8/24/2005 05:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is there such a thing as an agent for artists to help them find a gallery or exhibitions, the same way actors have agents to get them auditions? If not, there should be!

8/24/2005 06:53:00 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

Does anyone have a comment about RARE Gallery? Their mission statement is to help emerging artists get connected. I've been in The Drawing Center's registry for two years. Does it get used frequently?I've got submissions in to RARE and White Columns that are about a year old...for an out-of-town artist it is hard to visit the galleries that I think that I'd like to show in. I have done the Drawing Center's portfolio review and it is a really good program and the critique was very constructive. They did mention that it's like winning the lottery though-to be included in one of their Selections shows. I promise no more "ask Edna questions!!" Thanks for the wonderful thread.

8/24/2005 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon said...

Great advice. Especially #3 (I hadn't known such courses were available!) and #4, which is surely useful in many self-starting fields.

8/24/2005 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rare is a suspect gallery run by party boys. Do not trust.

8/24/2005 11:19:00 PM  
Anonymous h. lowe said...

Jeez, I am imagining all these braless women and knock-you-over man breaths marching into galleries all over the world now...

8/24/2005 11:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Raul said...

I am a active (independent) curator and have actually worked with some artists from the registries, so I would certainly suggest to use those institutions. I would alo start thinking about the rest of the world and fuck NY for now if you feel that you are banging your head against the wall. This is alomst a secret that I have entrusted to the few: work the ends of the center (s) first, you can get in there easier, and it will look better if you are already being represented by another gallery or have shown extensivly around the world. Who is going to do a background check to see if so-so gallery in Spain where you ewxhibted is the equivalency of a Williamsburg gallery rather than one on 24th st. in Chelsea? (Sorry, this was the only way I could make my point, no disrespect intended!) Sure there are bluechips around the world that everyone knows, but the point is that you are trying to build yourself up as an active artist first, that is getting as many shows as possible. Later you can see if you eek out a living. I have done this with getting shows off the ground in other countries and it is much easier, believe me. Raul

8/25/2005 01:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree to a certain extent Raul (especially about working the ends of the center), but the answer to this question:

Who is going to do a background check to see if so-so gallery in Spain where you ewxhibted is the equivalency of a Williamsburg gallery rather than one on 24th st. in Chelsea?

is most dealers I know. The shrinking globe, and especially the web presence of most galleries, lets you do such background check easily. Again, context is important. Of course, I'm far more likely to be interested in an artist who has shown in Madrid's equivalence of a Williamsburg gallery, so... ;-)

8/25/2005 07:07:00 AM  
Anonymous michael said...

My experience so far in getting into the NYC art world has centered on persistence. Cold mailings to galleries and museums has landed me a show at a gallery in DUMBO and a request for follow up from two museums (ok, one is not in the city). Before any responses, I did get a lot of rejections and simple crushing silence. Teaching, working for another artist and getting involved with (several) artists' groups has been helpful in keeping me going, just as Edward so helpfully pointed out. I am sure that persistence isn't going to become any less important any time soon, though.

This may be too specific, but Emerging Artists International is doing a series of open studio events throughout New York City over the month of October and shows surrounding the open studios. Info can be found at I guess I'm half promoting here and half asking what to expect from such an event (I'm participating).

8/25/2005 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"work the ends of the center (s) first"

Yes. The world is big, and if you're out in the "ends", like many of us, fid the opportunities there. Nothing breeds success like success.

Also, just pretend - I don't mean about making work, I mean, hold your head up, don't be dissmissive of yourself or shy about your work. But don't be a jerk either.

8/25/2005 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with that. Don't be self-effacing to a fault. Just be confident and proud of what you are doing, don't worry that you haven't been in as many shows as so and so. Everyone has had to start out with nothing and no one judges you for being at the beginning. A positive attitude (not to sound hokey) is totally contagious and this can help you.

8/25/2005 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger fluidthought said...

I happened upon this site tonight through the art.blogging LA site and I'm really pleased with what I've read in this thread. It's great to see artists and curators actively communicating and sharing worthwile information.

I'm an artist in London and have also recently begun part time curitorial work in a small, commercial gallery. Being on the other side of things has been quite enlightening for me and I certainly agree with much of what's been said here.

As was previously mentioned, the world is a small place and galleries do check information, so my advice would be, 'don't lie'. Also, the bit about being confident and proud of your work - I think this is good advice. If you know what you are about - or rather, what your work is about - that becomes evident quite quickly. It gives you and it an integrety that no slick media pack will ever be able to provide. Enthusiasm is contagious and if you are knowledgable and fired up about what you are doing, that comes across.

Slides vs digitial prints or CD's - I vote for CDs and digitals every time. Good for the artist in that it's more cost-effective, and good for the gallerist in that the work is more easily accessible. Slides make me groan. That said, every artist should carefully research what criteria a gallery requires. Might I add here, that if you want your stuff back, enclose a SSAE!!

Lastly, I completely agree that it is absolutely essential to do your homework and know where your work fits. Are you interested in the commercial path or the public art path? These things are important to consider, as they are two quite different ways of thinking. Go to galleries and see their shows. Consider what the ethos of the gallery is and how it fits in with your view of how you want your career to progress.

8/26/2005 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous paintwallah said...

Hi Ed,
I'm amazed by you. How you find the time, with all else you have to do, to also comb through other references (NYTimes, other peoples blogs, etc.), thoroughly review them and post comments about them here - all to keep us up to date and informed - is amazing. And very generous. Including THIS post about getting a foot in the door. All your suggestions are right on, and very useful.

I just wanted to respond to Raul's comment about the world outside of New York as a viable option:

As an artist living and working in New York, I, like everyone, am waiting for that magic moment when a big Chelsea Gallery says "we'd like to give you a solo show". But a recent project I curated for the Venice Biennale made me realize just how completely New York-centric we are here when it comes to the art world. We so arrogantly and ignorantly believe that we are the center of the art world - but we are not. Working on the Venice project really taught me a valuable lesson about the bigger picture - the global artworld. The artists in my exhibition are all the most well known artists from their country - but are unknown here in New York. However, they all have seriously strong carreers, have had major museum exhibitions throughout Europe and elsewhere, (including the US - just not NY), know who all the major international museum players are (and are well known by them), and have represented their country in many other international exhibitions and biennales - all without having ever shown in NY. I thought I was pretty art-savvy, but I couldn't rattle off the names of the directors of all the important art institutions in Switzerland, Japan, Germany, France, etc. (as these artists could). I'm sure I should be able to - but the point is - these artists are all known by these museum people and have worked with them - without having come through New York. It feels like in NY, we think the artworld begins and ends with us - but one could have a very high profile in the international artworld (the REAL world), without having first getting that oh so coveted Chelsea exhibition.

So yeah, I agree that it's important to look outside New York and into the real World when trying to put your work out there.

Disclaimer: just re-read this and it does sound a bit preachy and assumes others are as ignorant as I was - so I apologize if it seems like I'm taking on that tone. Don't mean to imply that we "ALL" in NY ignore the rest of the world - it's just that I have, sadly, and so do most of the other artists I know.

Thanks again Ed for all your generous info. What a valuable place this is for a lot of interesting discussion.

p.s. is this the longest message anyone's ever posted here?

8/27/2005 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Hey paintwallah!

thanks for the comment. I agree with you. I don't keep tabs on the players in Europe or elsewhere as well as I should either. It's easy to thrive, let alone survive, by being NY-centric, so it's not that important to many folks to spread out. The question becomes whether thriving is as valuable as being "important"...I think you really have to spread your wings to make that leap.

8/27/2005 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous jc said...

Ed, I love reading your blog; the writing is great and the topics timely and relevant. Threads like this are helpful to emerging artists--not the kind of discussion one usually sees online. My comment is lenghty, and a bit late since I just returned from vacation. Here goes:

I've had some success sending unsolicited slides, but have definitely carefully and painstakingly researched these galleries before sending anything. I know it's hard to this kind of research from a distance, though websites can help. I can do it much more easily in my hometown of NY than I can in Europe or the West Coast. And regarding slides that galleries or museums hold on to, well, that could mean just about anything. I've been contacted for a studio visit or inclusion in a show a year or so after sending slides. In other cases, slides I sent many years ago have disappeared into the either.

The advice about workshops, organizations, registries, studio programs, open studios, etc. are all good. Each of these can result in great connections and help build a bigger base of artist/artworld friends and acquaintances. Needless to say, most of these approaches can ultimately help your work as well as your career.

Other things to consider include voluteering to help at an arts non-profit (if you can swing a little time). Just set your time limits at a level that really work for you. Another idea is to get your own mini-community going by starting an artists' or artists'-and-curators' crit group. This can serve so many purposes: exanding your network; giving more people an intimate connection with your work; receiving regular feedback on your work, sharing information on opportunities, galleries, etc.

My last suggestion (though I'm sure I could come up with others) is to build good mailing lists (email and snailmail), maintain them, and make sure to keep galleries, museums, curators, critics and other artists aware of what you're doing. A lot of artists (myself included) are not toot-your-own-horn, types, but this is something you have to get over. Name recognition is incredibly important in the art world, and if you can get people to connect your name and your work, you're definitely getting somewhere.

8/28/2005 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous susan sorrell said...

Thanks for the advice that I have gotten from this thread. :) It is hard to break into any big city gallery from where I sit in Greenville SC. Plus, I am a fiber artist and art snobs seem to poo-poo what I create. I just got turned down by White Columns and have submitted my images to some other slide registaries. But I will keeping on plugging. :) Any suggestions for fine art craft galleries in NYC or anywhere else??

And keeping a blog has been well worth getting my work seen by the public. I tell all my artist friends that is the wave of the future. :)

9/24/2005 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on a response to the standard question gallerists asks when you come in: CAN I HELP YOU? or LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS? I've had a few bad experiences talking to gallerists. They become these name-dropping sessions. It feels like a competition and I always lose. (I'm so much better at remembering what the art looks like than remember names of artists.) I am interested in hearing what they like about the work they're showing, but it seems to hard to begin a conversation without somehow establishing my credentials to be able to talk with them.

1/07/2006 07:20:00 AM  

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