Marketing Conversations for Photographers

Issue #4: How to Find and Work with a Gallery

By Cindy A Stephens

Do you want to be represented by a gallery?  Many of the graduating students from the Montserrat College of Art that I met during their portfolio review had answered that question for themselves with a resounding YES.

There are many advantages to working with a gallery.  Galleries have established relationships with individual collectors, museums, and other buyers so when a gallery agrees to take on an artist they also agree to promote that artist to these important audiences. Fine art photographer, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew tells me ““Some artists are looking for a brand name gallery which can definitely help with their career but I would be cautious if that is always the best match.”

So the real question becomes: how do you find the right gallery for your career?  The gallery landscape is more diverse than a decade ago:  there are artist-run cooperative galleries (e.g., Galatea), online galleries (e.g., Saatchi Online) and traditional brick-and-mortar galleries (e.g., Howard Yezerski Gallery), making it a challenge to find the best match between artist and gallerist.

And, common misconceptions about galleries add to the challenge among artists seeking representation.  Annu shared a story with me from her personal experience that illustrates this point.

A former curator at the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass., Rachel Lafo, had setup a meeting for Annu with Bonni Benrubi, the late owner and director of the well-known NYC photography gallery of the same name.  Annu told me she had the misconception that “as soon as she saw my work we would be talking about representation!”  While Bonni was generous with her time and advice, and loved the work, she made it very clear that her collectors would never buy it.

The moral of this story for artists seeking representation is while you may love the work that a given gallery shows, Annu says you should look critically about whether your own work will fit into the work the gallery sells.

For artists that are seeking representation the best advice to getting started boils down to:

  • Finding a gallery: Do your homework.  Research a gallery before reaching out.
  • Approaching a gallery: Ask for a personal introduction or referral and build relationships over time
  • Working with a gallery: Be in it for the long haul

Finding a Gallery

Jason Landry, owner of the Panopticon Gallery, says he is looking for energy or excitement in new artists.  “I want to work with artists who can see past their current body of work toward the future.”

Jason recommends that artists visit their local galleries to get a “lay of the land”.  He says that “not all galleries will be a perfect fit for your art.”  You want to see if the artists that the gallery represents work in a similar vein to your own.  “Most gallery owners and directors have certain tastes,” says Jason.  “Try and figure out what their taste is.”

Jason attends a lot of portfolio reviews to find new artists for representation.  Annu agrees.  “Portfolio reviews are a way that professionals in the field can advise artists which galleries to look at and sometimes put artists in touch with them,” she says.  Consider this case in point: Annu met Rachel Lafo at FotoFest.

Tip: The New England Portfolio Reviews will take place on June 7-8th in Boston.  Online registration is open until May 22 (late registration is May 22 – 24) for artists who want the opportunity to present their work to leading curators, gallerists, and established photographers.

Annu also recommends attending art fairs like AIPAD to research galleries and determine the kind of work each gallery represents, and then add the galleries to a mailing list “as the first step in a long process of cultivating a relationship.”

Resources for researching galleries

Approaching a Gallery

Jason says that some galleries are looking for new talent, while others have their stable of artists and are not seeking new representation.  “It usually states that clearly on their website,” he says.  Jason recommends visiting their website first before reaching out.

Often when emerging artists identify a gallery they want to work with they mail a CD of their work or reach out directly.  Imagine how many times a gallerist receives these types of pitches from artists they don’t know?

Before approaching a gallery directly, consider these tips from Annu and Jason:

  • Introductions: If you have a friend who is represented by a gallery that you’d like to be associated with, Jason suggests you ask for an introduction.
  • Competitions: Apply to competitions where the gallerist is a juror to get your work in from of him/her/
  • Reviews: Go to portfolio reviews where the gallerist is a reviewer and slowly build relationships.
  • Grants: Apply for grants.  Annu says “even if you don’t win the grant, the jury panel will see your work and sometimes that leads to other opportunities.”

One word of caution, Annu says “Do not approach a gallery at an Art Fair.  They are there to sell work and not find artists.”

Working with a Gallery

According to Jason, the primary responsibility of a gallery is to market and sell the artist’s work.  “It’s easier for a gallery to get the attention of collectors, magazine editors, curators and museum professionals because as peers, they respect the fact that we are knowledgeable and know that that we wouldn’t be contacting them unless we thought the work was top notch.”

So, when you are finally in discussions with a gallery make sure that it offers you the type of resources you are looking for and will be a good fit.

“I would rather spend my time doing my work and pass on all inquiries to my gallery for them to follow up on”, says Annu.  “Personally, it gives me time to do my work and creates more trust between me and my galleries.”

When discussions evolve into the specifics of a contract, both Jason and Annu agree that a contract should include information on whether or not the gallery insists on exclusive sales in the geographic area the gallery covers.  Check to see if the contract or arrangement also covers:

  • How long the agreement is for
  • Who pays for what pertaining to framing, shipping and insurance
  • How print sales (commissions) are split
  • What is covered by the gallery’s insurance
  • Who does what in terms of exhibitions, publicity, PR, openings

You might also explore a gallery’s expertise in social media.  Annu says the Yellow Peril gallery in Providence, Rhode Island does an excellent job of promoting their shows.

Having gallery representation is not right for every artist.  Go into the relationship without misconceptions and with realistic expectations for what you expect it to deliver.

I think that Annu sums up working with a gallery best by saying “I would look at the relationship like a marriage or a long term commitment.  You have to respect, trust and like dealing with the gallery since the relationships can and often will last many years.”


Annu Palakunnathu Matthew is Professor of Art (Photography) at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island and is represented by Sepia Eye, New York City & Tasveer Gallery, India

Jason Landry is the owner and gallery director of the Panopticon Gallery.  Panopticon Gallery is one of the oldest fine art photography galleries in the United States specializing in contemporary, modern and vintage photography.

Cindy A Stephens is a Vice President of Marketing and a fine art photographer. She specializes in developing high-impact marketing strategies using digital and content marketing to build brands and expand market share. As a photographer Cynthia specializes in photography of main streets and back roads using unusual framing and multiple planes of perspective.

 

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