Gallery representation: What it means and how to find the right fit

Gallery representation: What it means and how to find the right fit

Conversations about artist-gallery relationships are not brought up very often. Read on to clear the air about what to look out for when seeking gallery representation.

By Lienne Loy

As many galleries prepare their exhibitions in advance, their schedules have had to change with the limitations that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about. Online platforms, viewing rooms and the like have begun to take priority, with exhibitions flocking online to ensure their content is accessible.

However, the fact remains that in their brick and mortar forms, gallery spaces are still essential to the experience of viewing art. Which brings about an issue that many artists face: how do I find a gallery representation in this COVID-19 time and is it really necessary?

So, what does a gallery really do?

Galleries do their part as intermediaries within the arts ecosystem, they provide those within the system and its peripheries an opportunity to experience, discuss, appreciate and even own pieces of culture and history.

1. A mediator

Galleries have both roles as disseminators of art, as well as major support systems for artists. They can be considered the mediators that proactively communicate between creators and consumers, attending to the needs of both the artist, as well as the buyer or spectator.

On the commercial end, their aims may be to ensure that great artworks get into the hands of eager collectors. This transactional role is driven by the motivation to give people access to artworks, as well as to ensure that the works are going to places that would both benefit the buyer and the artist.

Imagine your works joining a prominent collection, having that kind of relationship would then establish you amongst other noteworthy artists. As galleries develop relationships with collectors, collectors too develop confidence in pursuing works and their own interests in growing their collection.

Long-time collector Bingley Sim often brings visitors through his private collection at home. He’s amassed a diverse collection of Southeast Asian art by emerging to mid-career artists. Beyond collecting, Sim constantly engages in conversation with other Malaysian collectors, referring to them as his art friends.

2. A space of interaction

Galleries provide a space for the public to interact with artwork before they move to more private locations. They keep their doors open and free to the public just for this reason, and so the idea that they are intimidating should not stop you from entering them! In fact, visiting these spaces earlier will expose you to more contemporary artworks penetrating and circulating within the market.

3. An artist’s agent

As for their less transparent responsibilities, when galleries show an artist’s work, they essentially assume the role of an agent. In addition to sales, galleries keep artists accountable for the progress of their practice by doing frequent check-ins and studio visits.

Depending on what gallery you approach, you should expect them to take on the responsibility of developing your artistic career and expose you to opportunities that would benefit your practice. This might include workshops, residencies, international exhibitions, art fairs and biennales.

Galleries should have the incentive in investing in your growth as it inevitably links to their own, and so there should be an emphasis on a mutually beneficial relationship.

Do you even need gallery representation?

If you’re thinking of signing with a gallery, it’s important to decide on whether you’re willing to make the long-term commitment. If you do take the step toward solidifying the relationship, just know that it is going to be one of high expectations and dedication, with either party taking the initiative to progress the career of the artist.

The responsibility of that progress will heavily depend on how determined you are to pursue the profession as an artist. So, be prepared for frequent visitations and communications with the gallery team.

If a gallery is willing to take you on board and represent you, their priorities will inevitably be shifted toward your professional growth. There has to be a level of seriousness when embarking on this long-term venture.

Becoming a well-known and respected artist doesn’t happen over-night and definitely doesn’t happen without the help of the community. So, aligning your goals with the gallery’s and being transparent will help you in the long run!

If you are looking to sell your works for a side income and are not looking to throw yourself into being an artist, there are many platforms available to help you with that, including Artling, Ocula, Instagram and many more. Galleries in this instance may not align with your goals, so take a second to tick off the pros and cons of signing with one.

Artling allows artists and galleries to list for free. Commission is only charged on sold works.

Finding one that suits you

Every gallery has their own aesthetic and it’s usually obvious through their branding and online presence (i.e. the artworks posted on their social media channels). As private entities, art galleries will choose who and what to show based on their preferences.

A good practice is to keep a list of your favourite galleries and note down the artists that you admire within their roster. Inadvertently, list characteristics of your works and deduce whether they are reflected in the works shown at a particular gallery. This might give you a good gauge on whether your works would suit the gallery or not.

For example, if a gallery predominantly features minimal abstract artworks, their purpose may differ from a gallery selling post-modern Southeast Asian sculptures. Finding distinctions between each gallery will make navigating through the art world a lot more focused and less overwhelming.

You have to snake through a cafe to get to the Back Room in the Zhongshan building, but their space exhibits work by young, mostly Malaysian artists, with each one having distinct practices that push the traditional boundaries of what you would expect of art in Kuala Lumpur.

Scouring for a gallery that you believe will push your practice further may seem arduous, but don’t be discouraged because the Malaysian art scene is in need of fresh and keen talent, so stay passionate and persevere in your journey for artistic success!

Cover image by Holger Link on Unsplash

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