Art Gallery Relationships

I went to a newish art gallery the other day to see if they wanted to have my clocks there. It is a newish place and more of a tourist shoppe gallery than what I would consider a real gallery. I.E. no art openings take place here and there are counters and nick knacks, albeit nicely done and not too kitschy. I told the lady I was an artist and wanted to check the place out, see if I thought my work was appropriate and she said yes, do have a look around.

It is a faux pas for sure to go into a gallery and do that, at least that is what gets pounded into your head, but some places feel easy and you know it is okay to just put it on the table. I liked some of the art but the woman seemed removed. I dunno, maybe I'm just paranoid, I wasn't looking my best that day and as is my want when I'm making a dash to the printer and hardware store I don't dress nicely. I told her about my website so she could check the work out, she asked me to write that info down and wanted to know a bit more about them. It wasn't until I stuck my hand out to properly introduce myself that she visibly quaked and reluctantly extended her hand. I grabbed it for a hearty shake and got a limp dead appendage. It was shocking. From that handshake I questioned did I want to be in this shoppe if she called me? From that handshake I already had a feeling she wasn't interested. From that handshake I was disturbed and repelled.

I got to wondering how important is it to like/know the person who has the establishment that you want to have work in. So far I have tried to stick with people I at least feel some modicum of like for. Others intimidate me but I'm learning that ego's keep many people on some bizarre angry alert while deep down inside they are trustworthy and competent. Still some are genuinely nice and friendly, which can also lead to problems if you can't handle a friendship and do business at the same time. Tricky stuff. If you don't bother getting to the know the gallery/store owner at all I think you miss out too. Keep in mind this is small town U.S.A. Big city gallery dealings are probably a bit more business like and sterile? I always struggle with professionalism, it feels like I'm just playing a game. I only really know how to just be me. Make me wear uncomfortable clothes and shoes, cart around odd attache cases filled with portfolios and pretend that I'm the next up and coming is really not my style. But I probably don't have to worry about any of that happening, and I would like to think the day I am in that arena I will still be me and let pretense evaporate.


San said...

I would wonder about the woman's salesmanship if she can't muster a decent handshake. On the other hand (no pun intended) perhaps she was put off by your dropping in. The place sounds casual though and an appropriate setting for dropping in. As a gallery owner, I have seen every kind of behavior imaginable from prospective artists and from my view, what I'm looking for: 1. something that I can sell. 2. integrity and a work ethic in the artist. I don't care how the artist dresses and I don't mind a prospective artist dropping in unless they expect me to drop everything and attend to them. You didn't do this.

It's not necessarily important that the artist and the dealer be fast friends. A certain professional distance can be a good thing. But if your initial response to this woman is quite negative, it may be your gut-level instincts kicking in, saying not a good idea.

Damn, I sound so wise. Wish I always took my own advice.

self taught artist said...

great to hear this from a gallery owner. and yes, I know you dont just pop in and expect to have their full attention.
interested in how you personally deal with people who live out of state, so far when I email a few places I first check their gallery online to see if I think the work stands up to their place and if it does I email asking (if they dont have that info on the website) how they take submissions.
Thus far I have stuck to New York and am obviously picking the wrong places because they dont respond.
care to share? write a blog post about this?
thanks san!

Daphne said...

I like the fact that you have no pretension. I would hope that the way you dress is irrelevant to your ability as an artist.

I wear my ill-fitting, old clothes to paint and I simply don't change every time I step out of the house. Who has the time or inclination?

Daniel Sroka said...

Did you find how who this woman was? Was she just hired to run the front desk, or was she an owner/manager?

As for liking stores/galleries: I don't care so much if they are the kind of people I'd be friends with, but the *have* to be competent and professional.

Shelby said...

I don't like wimpy dead handshakes EITHER.

self taught artist said...

dan, she ran the place. and i agree, I am not looking for friends in this process. I do want to feel like I am able to have communication with them and jive though.
professional and confident, yes, that is the most important! It makes me nervous when friendly happy people don't keep good records or pay on time, drop things etc. This is our livlihood and inventory afterall.

Minerva Jane said...

san's comment was dead on. This is a business relationship you're establishing but not one between two accountants. People expect artists to be a little rough around the edges. Still, trust your instincts--you're looking for someone who will sell your work and interact with you in a straightforward, honest manner. Gallery owners are looking for the same thing, I'd think. Stopping by shows initiative, as long as you don't expect the owner to drop everything to help you.

San said...


I don't know what's up with people not responding to polite emails, unless they are just inundated with inquiries and don't feel they have the time to respond.

We are a mom-and-pop gallery with one part-time employee. We do get a lot of submissions and inquiries, but not so many that we don't try to respond to everyone.

Can't speak for other galleries of course but what we like to get:
1. a disk of images snail-mailed, indicating which pieces would be available to us
2. a list of wholesale prices
3. an artist's statement
4. a bio or resume or list of exhibitions.

It's good that you already know to look at the gallery's site to be sure your work might be compatible. Sounds like you're using good judgment and courtesy. Keep pluggin' and you'll make the right connection...