An artist’s guide to making strong first contact with galleries

An artist’s guide to making strong first contact with galleries

Ready for gallery representation but unsure where to start? From building a portfolio to formulating an exhibition proposal, this guide shows you how to create a lasting impression.

By Lienne Loy

So you’ve given it some thought and have decided to take the plunge into the elusive gallery world. If you’ve yet to determine what type of gallery would fit your work best, read this article first. Once you’re sure of what you want, the next step is to get through the gallery doors to the people producing exhibitions.

How and where do you start?

The process is not unlike filling a job application, the main difference is that there isn’t a particular presentation format that will determine your success. However, there are better methods of showing your works and delivering your concept that will encourage a gallery team to consider you.

1. Build a strong portfolio

Photo by Nicole Geri on Unsplash

One way to appeal to a gallery is through a clear and well-thought-out portfolio, one that succinctly displays your works for quick assessment as to whether you fit the gallery’s aesthetics. Portfolios are integral in giving people a glimpse of your best works and snapshot of your practice. The degree to which you fine-tune your portfolio will determine how deep of an impression you make, as a thoughtful collection of works alludes to an artist with a more focused practice.

Your portfolio should reflect your practice and your preferred media. For example, if your works are interactive in the virtual realm or if you produce videos, the best viewing experience would probably be on a monitor and should then be shown through virtual means, like a website or as a video reel.

Galleries frequently receive proposals, and so your aim should be to push your unique qualities to the forefront. With that being said, the devil is in the detail! As straightforward as portfolios can be, a few things to consider when you create one is to ensure that you:

    • Include an artist statement that describes yourself, your exposure and thoughts, and issues that you’re tackling within your work and your practice. Your portfolio is an opportunity to express your working concepts and so, do so in a language you’re most comfortable with!
    • Use high-resolution images. As the bulk of your portfolio will be of photographs of your works, ensuring they are of high quality will provide more information about each piece, including its textures and finer details.
    • Have consistency throughout your portfolio. Having a flow throughout your portfolio can demonstrate cohesiveness, a quality that inevitably emphasises clarity of your thought process. An example of this is to organise your artwork in chronological order, to convey the trajectory of your practice, or perhaps segment selected works within themes that best describe your artistic exposure.
    • Edit the work you include into your portfolio. Only put in your most significant works to best showcase your most current series.
    • Provide your CV, with only the most relevant information.
2. Make your first connection

Photo by Jorge Mallo on Unsplash

Galleries tend to have small teams and as a result, many of its employees play multi-hyphenated roles, and so correspondence via email is the most efficient form of communication. While it may not be the most conducive way of having a conversation, e-introductions are gateways to starting relationships.

If you’re not a fluent writer, a less COVID-19-friendly alternative could be to make frequent visits to the gallery space. Doing so would give you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with gallery staff as well as the physical space. However, setting up an appointment beforehand is always recommended to set expectations of your arrival, and to receive the full attention of a representative at the gallery.

3. Go the extra mile: make an exhibition proposal

Photo by luka lojk on Unsplash

If portfolios give insight into your practice, exhibitions translate your thought process and intentions into more easily digestible forms for a wide audience.

While proposals are not necessary if you’re appealing to a gallery as an artist, they may be if you have a supporting exhibition in mind, or if you’re a curator. An easy way to get started with one, is to treat it as the first of many iterations. The goal is to provide an overall concept and framework that depicts the concept of the show and include supporting research., This may develop or change over time.

The structure of proposals mimic that of portfolios, with a heavy emphasis on the exhibition’s curatorial text. An exhibition brief should also include artist or work statements that relate to the curator’s intentions. Galleries tend to put forth exhibitions by independent curators, which presents opportunities to work with someone who is able to contextualise your work within a more extensive, more academic scope. So, keep in mind that collaborating with one might be the most effective option.

Portfolio and proposal preparations take time, so develop them with thought, but also, have fun with it!                                    

Cover photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Lienne Loy is a curator currently facilitating exhibitions within Kuala Lumpur, focusing on young and emerging artists from the Southeast Asian region.