A few success story-lines
I run after him screaming.“I am not a cop! I am not a cop! It took me a while to convince him to come in the gallery. A few weeks later I got him in a group show. People loved it!…First Time he ever sold art… He is covering his face. No, he uses an alias. He does not want to. Yeah… He’s too busy doing street art…
This story, overheard in a designer district gallery in Miami, might be as fake as a quatre-D bosom, but it does teach us one vital lesson. Gallerists are looking for artists, whether it is in art schools or in the dumpsters. Gallerists are out there, each in their own time and using their own system, scanning the field, taking notes, looking for their very own new Neo Rauch. It is a matter of opportunity, good timing and a savvy placement of your art to make that happy ending possible. A happy ending, depends, of course, on where you stop your story- but let us take it one step at a time.
Life is too arbitrary to say there is one or ten right ways to “do it”, but I do believe, that, as in the movies, there are a few story lines, which repeat themselves with slight variations. We went over what does NOT work a few weeks back, but what does? Here is a list. If you can think of more, please add them below. As always, do try this at home- but at your own risk.
Gallerist discovers young artist during degree show
Most of us have slept, drunk or looked-at-our-belly-button through art school. There is, however, this rare exception of the early-bloomer, usually the teacher’s pet-assistant-paint-look-alike who shows some exceptional potential at the degree show (or not, the teacher’s nod is usually enough). Young, ambitious gallerist comes by and – boom! A match made in turpentine.
Gallerist discovers artist after a recommendation
I would go as far as to say as 80% of this business is moving forward on (misguided) word of mouth. “I am not interested in artists who initiate contact with me” said the very young associated director at my gallery. Odd if you think about how many artists get unsolicited proposals from curators and galleries. In any case, you have better chances of staking it out outside your favorite gallery, spot a good looking stranger, hand him your portfolio and a tenner and push him through the door to recommend you, than go in yourself. Gallerists want to save themselves the awkwardness of saying no or of having to look at work they don’t like, or having to look in your pleading eyes afterwards. Recommendation can come really from anyone, the UPS guy or the cleaning lady if you want to spice your story up into a porno film, I don’t think it really matters, but these three are, of course, the most frequent.
- Artists of the gallery recommends other artist:
It is a very common phenomenon that love pairs also share the same gallery and this is not a coincidence. As we said love conquers all (women being a bit more giving than men). I am not sure what the exact phrasing would be there. “Dude, wont you have a look at this girl’s work I am banging, she is all over me about this” or “I met this guy, he is fantastic, so romantic, so sweet, you should really look at his work, he looks amazing”. Other than somebody you sleep with though, you will have a pretty hard time to get a peer to recommend you. IF you do try it, try to choose someone whose gallery would make sense for you, but your work is NOT directly or even remotely concurrent. And ask only once, while drinking - half jokingly and weigh out the reaction. The artist you work for could recommend you too, but there are simple logistical (and egoistical) reasons he would do it only if he was 100% sure it is not a match.
- Another Gallerist/an Art Dealer/ a Curator recommends an artist
A gallerist would rarely recommend an artist he is serious about, so I am not sure how much that is worth. But an art dealer’s recommendation is something I would trust to work, this is after all their job. You can’t really approach an art dealer though either and I would not really wanna be in a gallery that doesn’t do its own hunting, so this is kind of stale mate. A curator on the other hand is, or can be, your passepartout to many a shows and galleries. Get them while they are young, feed, water them and keep them close.
- A collector recommends an artist
Jay Jopling told me recently this is the best recommendation an artist can have. While it is good to hear, we were on a collectors boat, so I don’t buy it. Collectors after all have their own assets to protect and I think they only words gallerists hear from a collector’s mouth are nummerals. But, still, better than your mum.
Gallerists discovers artists at a group show/pop up show/project space
Gallerist walks into a filthy souterain, grabs a beer and looks around. Bang! Love at first Becks. Even before you graduate. Show! Show! Show! Organize it yourself, with your friends, with people you see your work in a gallery with, or –why not- with people you think will make your work look good. Try to attach your little pop up to a bigger thing, try to rotate the participants to get new people in and if you find yourself at the 100th one night show with the same people- Stop. This is not working. But other than that… At level entry your peers are your best allies.
Gallerist discovers artist at Institution Prize, Residency, Award application process
Gallerist open a folder, leaves through a few pages, runs his fingers down the artist cv and PANG! Love letter of intent. It might be awkward, boring and moral wrecking but apply apply apply away. There is a type of practise that can only thrive through institutions, museums and commissions but even if you work is more commercial, you never know who sits in the Jury. Actually you should know and it makes more sense to direct your application to the gallerist of interest in the jury than the award.
Work a lot and go out even more. Prepare a body of work enough for a solo show. A couple of works are not enough and random one offs can’t be trusted. Make a small brochure. Ask a friend to write a text about you. Or f**ck the text. Carry postcards with an image of your work and your website (you should have a working website!) with you at all times. These should not be fit to roll joints with, but good quality. Avoid weird typo. No handwriting. Your presentation should be professional (boring) in form and original in content- NOT the other way around. Be active, have your own opinion and phrase it. Organize stuff. Be present. Don't just ask for help, offer it.
Hier noch zusammengefasst auf Deutsch vom Künstler und ab July Betreiber der legendären Kantine in Kreuzberg, Hannes Gruber:
-Multiplikator sein, aus der Hilfsbedürftigkeit rauskommen. Jemand werden der nicht nur was braucht aber auch gebraucht werden kann.
- Den "Wanted Stempel" einer Institution, Preis, Residency bekommen. "approved by..."
-Nicht die betrunkene Witz Figur sein aber trotzdem immer mit trinken.
- Jung und hübsch sein hilft auch.
While talking about this, a friend asked me. "Why do you do this? Do you want power? Do you want love? Do you want to show yourself or are you just a business woman doing business?" I think the answer in this case it is both the proverbial finger and the moon.
While I do believe what is written here to be helpful, I also believe that the fact, that it is talked about is helpful and maybe even necessary to scale the whole thing down, out of the frightening proportions it has, especially for somebody starting out. Artists are looking for gallerists and gallerists are looking for artists. It is normal business and it happens all the time, nothing secret, magical or mystical about it. A gallery is not a wholy grale. It is also not the happy end, but more often than not, the awkward, sometimes exciting, sometimes very diminishing beginning of your career.
If you think your story of getting your first gallerist is worth saying, please email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because I think the more important question is not why I do this blog, why I write all this, but WHY DON'T YOU?