So, you’ve built up a solid body of work and you feel ready to take the plunge into finding gallery representation. But how do you go about getting your work into a ceramic gallery? We get these types of questions a lot here at CAN, so we decided to gather up some information and advice from established artists and ceramic gallery owners and make a post about it!
In this post, Annie Chrietzberg will give you some tips for figuring out what galleries want. Enjoy, and good luck on getting your work into a ceramic gallery! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
PS. Check out Ceramics Monthly’s annual Gallery Guide to find a ceramic art gallery near you!
Once your skills are developed, your work is conveying the intended ideas, and you’ve got a good body of work, how do you find a ceramic gallery to sell what you’ve made? The place where art and money meet is a strange one indeed, and of the many places and ways to sell pots and sculpture, the gallery relationship can seem the most mysterious. Approaching a ceramic gallery can be tricky for both new and established ceramic artists, and since gallery owners are people too, their preferences for interaction can be as diverse as their tastes. Not knowing all the answers, I asked some respected ceramic gallery owners to pass on a little guidance for the uninitiated about the artist/gallery relationship.
Scoping out a Ceramic Gallery
Get out and attend galleries and receptions to see what is being shown. That doesn’t mean emulate someone else’s work, but what you should notice is how work in a show relates to and presents itself, then imagine your work in a similar setting. Are your pieces ready to expose themselves on pedestals? Can they hold their own?
If you think so, and you’ve identified a ceramic gallery you would like to have display your work, do some basic research. Some galleries include preferred submission information on their websites. Follow the instructions, and try to go that extra step to make your submission interesting.
Making the Best Pitch
If the gallery asks for a hard copy submission, make it nice. Throw in some eye candy, such as colorful show announcements, and consider the details, such as the paper you use, the print quality, and how your presentation is put together—perhaps even how it emerges from the envelope. All the gallery owners I spoke with are happy to get a packet from an artist in the mail. If a gallery’s website doesn’t cover application specifics, put together a nice package containing printed images with title, dimensions, materials, and price, an artist statement, bio and a cover letter to introduce yourself and state your intentions. If you’re having trouble with writing an artist statement, bio, or resume, look at other artists’ websites for inspiration and to see how they have handled each of these tasks.
You can include a CD or DVD with digital images of your work, but to grab a gallery owner or director’s attention and encourage them to actually stick the disk into their computer and open the files, include some high-quality printed images of your best pieces.
Good First Impressions
Never approach a gallery owner during business hours looking for representation. Terry McGrath Craig from the Hibberd McGrath gallery in Breckenridge, Colorado, said, “We really don’t like it when artists approach us in the gallery. It’s not fair to the artist because we can’t give their work the consideration it deserves and it’s not fair to us because it puts us in an awkward spot.”
But the worst way to approach a gallery is to come through the door with a box full of pots. Terry told me, “Some people have even come in after having had another show in town, with the pieces that didn’t sell, wanting us to buy the leftovers sight unseen. Even if someone has phoned ahead and made an appointment, they really need to send some visuals to us ahead of time. We don’t like aggressive presentations.”
Charlie Cummings of Charlie Cummings Gallery calls bringing work into a gallery unannounced “the ambush.” He says, “If someone comes in unannounced with a box of pots, the only thing they really want to hear is ‘yes.’ I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but they are putting me in a position where I have to say ‘no’.” And he adds, “As artists, we really don’t want people to make split second decisions about our work.”
The Worst Time
The worst time to approach a gallery owner is during an opening reception. Gallery owners are extremely busy both before and during events. The reception is for the artist and the work currently installed, so it’s not the right time to address your own agenda. It might be okay to introduce yourself to the gallery owner and leave a card, but you may make a better impression by expressing appreciation of the work at hand.
Anthony Schaller, gallery director of Schaller Gallery, says of approaching a gallery director, “It’s all about developing relationships.” He likens it to dating, stating “You don’t just jump into bed, you’ve got to create that bit of mystery that makes the gallery director want to see more.” He thinks a business card or postcard is a great way to introduce yourself. “A beautiful business card is a good teaser, it makes me want to see the rest of the work. A black and white plain old business card does not.” A pocket full of slides or images on an iPad is not the way to go either, according to Schaller. “Showing someone images on an iPad reeks of desperation, and no one wants to work with desperate people.”
The Envelope Please
Cummings can tell a lot about what it will be like to work with an artist from his or her packet. “If the packet is thrown together, then that’s how they work. If they don’t have their act together to do something simple, imagine them trying to send forty or fifty pots on a deadline.” He also emphasized that if you make first contact with a gallery by e-mail, it better be professional. “Consider that e-mail carefully, as you would a cover letter, and use the same professional standards. This is a first contact and the impression you make with that e-mail is going to make or break whether that person will get back to you.” Schaller mentioned that “Including a link to a personal website is fine. Including a link to another gallery’s website is not. To me that seems like taking the easy way out or looking for a short cut,” he said.
Packing As Presentation
Packing is also part of your presentation. Recycled packing materials are acceptable, as long as they are clean (but never use newspaper). Don’t allow your stored packing materials to get dusty in your studio, and don’t use anything that smells bad. Think about pleasing the person who is going to unpack your work, and pack it neatly as well as safely to the industry standard.
While talking about what makes an artist nice to work with, Schaller told me something lovely about Mary Briggs. When she sends a box of work to the Red Lodge Clay Center, she includes a little surprise like a sprig of lavender or a couple of bags of tea. “Those are the types of gestures that create ongoing relationships between gallery owners and artists,” he said. There is something so fun, kind and wonderful about that simple gesture.
Cummings has also received pieces so inadequately wrapped from a ceramist that he stopped working with them altogether. Broken things cause a lot of extra work for the gallery owner. There are phone calls to make and forms to fill out, and if something isn’t packed correctly and it breaks, the shipper is not liable.
The Artist/Gallery Owner Relationship
Everyone I interviewed talked about the interactions between the artist and gallery owner in terms of relationship. McGrath Craig told me, “There’s a partnership between the gallery and the artist. Everyone has to feel comfortable in that relationship. It’s a one-on-one kind of business and what makes it fun and has kept us going for twenty-five years are the relationships we have with our artists.” But once you get accepted into a gallery you are not home-free. Every single time you make contact you are presenting yourself, through emails, letters, visits, and deliveries or shipments of work.
Getting Ceramic Gallery Representation – Keys to Success
Basically, you have to both make good work and be a great person to work with. Every contact with the gallery needs to be delightful and formal, from an initial email or hard copy inquiry to the delivery of the work. Check the gallery’s website for preferred submission information, otherwise send a standard packet, printed nicely and put together well, including nice printed materials. Introduce yourself to the gallery owner, but do not ambush him or her in their gallery. A creative, respectful and pleasing submission will be more likely to get you in the door than a casual and sloppy one.
Annie Chrietzberg lives and works in Denver, CO. For questions or comments, you can contact her on her website at www.earthtoannie.com.
Do you have any advice from personal experience for artists looking for gallery representation? If so, post it below in the comments!
Like this article? Check out Lauren Karle and Simon Levin’s Ceramics Monthly article on selling pottery through galleries!