At any point in an artist’s career, he, or she may begin to seek out representation from a commercial gallery. There are several benefits to being represented by the gallery including more exposure, a venue to show artwork, less self-marketing (the gallery will advertise the artwork), and more.
The first step is to do your research on the galleries to see which ones are the best fit for your artwork. If the gallery has a website, spend some time reviewing it. There may be lots of useful information about how to approach the gallery. For example:
- Find out what the gallery wants for an artist submission. If they spell out exactly what they want, and in what format, do not ask this question in your email! Come up with some other relevant questions or points of clarification.
- The gallery might require artists to submit work for review with the initial email. This generally means a professional portfolio (more about this below).
- Find out the name of the gallery director/curator or the owner.
- Learn about upcoming openings, exhibitions, or events, which you may attend or use as a future point of conversation.
- If the gallery has an email list, subscribe to it!
- If the gallery is on your “A” list, it is strongly recommended contacting them multiple times (monthly or quarterly).
Approach a gallery to see if they are accepting submissions with a respectful, polite email (with a link to your portfolio/website/artwork Instagram cleverly and clearly inserted).
Example of a good initial email:
For the attention of the curator/gallery owner,
I am a New York artist seeking representation locally. I am writing to inquire if you are currently accepting submission proposals. If so, could you please let me know which format or materials you prefer.
I am a realist artist seeking representation. I am writing to inquire if you are currently accepting submission proposals. If so, could you please let me know which format or materials you prefer.
Couple things to keep in mind:
- Since you do not know the entire staff of the gallery, it is ok to address the letter to no one in particular. Hopefully, someone with a name will write back to you, and from there you can address them personally.
- State clearly and simply what you are interested in. If you just wrote “click on the link to see my amazing artwork!”, you are not asking for anything and you are unlikely to get anything.
- Regardless of how busy the recipient is, there is a good chance they will click on a link to view your work out of curiosity.
- Including too much information about your artwork in the initial email. Regardless of whether you have quality goods or not, your pushiness is a turn-off.
- Sending your inquiry to more than one gallery as a bulk mail-out either Carbon Copy (CC) or Blind Copy (BCC) multiple recipients. You should never email more than one gallery at a time. If you cannot be bothered to spend the time to write to them individually, why should they spend the time responding?
- “Please find attached 20 images of my work.” Unless a gallery has told you that they accept email submissions, or it is posted on their website, do not send images as attachments. A link to your website or online portfolio is a much more subtle and non-invasive way to introduce your work.
- “My work would be suitable for your gallery because____.” It is very presumptuous to think that you know what is suitable for the gallery. A curator or director will know what is suitable and what is not suitable. Many artists make the mistake of thinking that they will fit in a gallery because their work is just like an artist who is already represented. It would probably make the artist much less desirable.
- “I would like to hear what you think of my work.” Unfortunately, the gallery does not owe you anything nor do they have any obligation to critique your work on their own time. If you are respectful of them as professionals, they will likely be respectful of you– you might receive a comment or two about your work or even suggestions of galleries to submit to.
The Portfolio Submission:
If the gallery requires to submit a portfolio with your initial email, there are few things to keep in mind:
- Make sure the link to your portfolio/website is clearly visible in your email.
- Still today, most artists simply send in a marketing package that includes a professional portfolio.
- The portfolio often gets stacked up in a pile and overlooked. Therefore, it is a good idea to follow up two weeks later with a phone call.
- Do not try and get too clever with the presentation.
- Keep your portfolio tailored, professional, and filled with your best work.
- Generally, expect to submit a professional portfolio of at least 10 peaces of artwork.
- Always send a self-addressed, stamped envelope or risk never seeing your material again.
Do not be a rebel – if the gallery has submission guidelines on its website follow them to a T!