At some point or another, as a creative professional, you will have the option to exhibit work to the public. Exhibitions are a great tool to market yourself, and your work to potential clients and art buyers.
Exhibitions are neither scary nor intimidating if you know what is happening. The worst that you can do is bury your head in the sand and assume that any small problem will correct itself. They don’t, and if you leave one small problem to linger it’ll inevitably lead on to other issues that can become like wildfire, the moment you have dealt with one in a panic, it has already spread.
Gallery owners are like any other business owner; they rely upon the custom of exhibitors to ensure their space is always looking top-notch and full of cool and interesting stuff. They are real people that usually are a bit more business minded than artists, but again this shouldn’t put anyone off. At the end of they day, like everyone else they are there to do what they specialise in. In this case it is running a venue to display art.
I have compiled a few tips that have made my exhibition experiences rewarding and hassle free.
1. Doing it solo, or as part of a group?
One of the biggest things to ask is if you want to exhibit as a solo artist, or as part of a group. There are pros and cons to both sides of it. Solo – PROS: It’s all about you. CONS: It’s all on you. Group – PROS: It becomes a shared responsibility giving you free time to brush up on any pieces that will work in your set. CONS: You may have to compromise for space. Ultimately an exhibition will incur costs:
- Prints/media being displayed
- Transport (getting it there, and back… safely)
- Booze (the lubricant that entices people into a private view and may possibly swing a sale or commission)
2. Check out the venue
So you know that you are coming to the point where you are confident in your work to the point where you can exhibit your work to the general public. Great stuff! You want to show it off to as many people in the best quality surroundings imaginable.
Don’t solely rely upon a website review to know what it is going to look like. Go to the venue, check it out, walk up and down the street a few times, speak to the gallery management.
By checking out the venue, both online and in person. You gain a better understanding of what it’ll be like to exhibit your work there. It may or may not be for you, or, you may find a gallery space 100 meters down the road that’ll suit better to what you have going on.
3. Book the venue
You’ve seen the space you like, you know what you want displayed in certain areas of the space. Contact the gallery and make the booking.
By making a booking you give yourself a deadline to get the logistics of it all sorted out. At the end of the day, an exhibition experience is all about management of people and making sure everyone knows exactly what is happening at any given point. It isn’t about re-working a project to fit a space. The space is meant to fit around your work.
Once the booking is confirmed ask for a receipt, and terms and conditions of gallery hire. Making the booking establishes a relationship between you (the employer) and the gallery (the employee). The terms and conditions are there to allow you to understand exactly what can and can’t be done in a venue. You may have an idea for fire-juggling clowns; the gallery may be against it… I would probably guess that fire-juggling clowns will not be specifically addressed in the document, but use a bit of common sense. If in doubt, ask!
The gallery is there to accommodate your show, the staff are there to facilitate
4. Before the exhibition
Spread the word, email/tweet/text and Facebook… all possible avenues in which you can promote your exhibition will help draw people and in turn spread the word further.
Don’t forget, snail mail also works. If you have a few special people that you want to attend, give them an invite to the private viewing. It is still nice to have a tangible object in hand that solidifies a presence of your exhibition. Plus if there is a physical flyer, poster or something that can be physically put somewhere it further strengthens the presence of the show.
If you are holding a private view (strongly suggested), invite a lot more people than what the venue can take. The invites you send will have about 1/3 of the people turn up that you had in mind. The gallery may also have a marketing list, it may also have a few names that are influential in the arts circles.
The most important part of the show is what you do before it. If you plan badly, you exhibit badly. If you exhibit badly, you come across as an amateur. An exhibition is a professional step forward that takes your creativity to the next level. After all, the main reasons for exhibiting are to further your contacts, sell work or gain commissions.
Get a floor plan
Get an idea of where you want your work showcased in the venue. Most venues will have this to hand, it’ll simplify your job of knowing what can fit where, and if you need to cut back on something, or fill in somewhere else.
Plan for logistics
It’s all well and good having your work at one end of the country, you will need to find a method in which to take the work up there securely. For those that have a car, great. Bubblewrap will be your best friend. If you don’t have a car, consider renting a budget commercial vehicle.
Recently I managed to fit 40+ framed photos, plus half an off-license’s worth of booze in the back of a economy sized van for a modest £50 (don’t forget security deposits, these are refundable).
You may wish to speak to a courier, or a specialist art handling logistics team. Nothing would suck more than having everything ready to go, and at the moment of unpacking see shattered glass hours before the exhibition is due to launch.
Don’t forget, you will need to take it back when it all wraps up.
(FWIW, don’t use Aramex. Several packages I have dispatched have all reached an end destination in pieces and they haven’t refunded me.)
Plan for you
Business cards, and marketing material that sells yourself.
Don’t think that because you are an artist you wont need cards, or at least something that informs potential clients who you are, and what you are about.
If you are doing a group show, you are competing for the attention of someone amongst a show of other exhibitors. Have something that you can hand over while having a friendly chat. It’ll stick with them; you may get an email or phone call inquiring about a new opportunity.
At some point during the show, someone will probably ask what your work is about. Have a solid 30 second answer packed up your sleeve. Don’t change the answer depending upon the person that approaches you.
There is nothing wrong with refining your answer. The first 8-10 times I found myself making tiny adjustments that allowed me to clearly articulate what I was aiming to put across.
You may end up being fed up about talking about your project by the end of the evening. But that is a good sign, if you have to repeat thirty, fifty… one hundred times the outline of your work, then you have reached directly to a lot more people.
5. Enjoy yourself
It is a huge step launching an exhibition. If you get stressed then you may end up getting things horribly wrong.
During the private view, the free alcohol is primarily for the guests you invite. Getting wasted at your own launch may not do you any favours.
That being said, it is a great experience that gives you the opportunity to meet new people. Make new contacts. Possibly sell some work, or even gain a great job out of it.
Enjoy it. It goes fast, it ends quickly. Make it count.
Image credit: Exhibition of Photos by Tom Till at the United Nations in Geneva by US Mission Geneva, Gallery Space 01 by ChrisM70, Playing with fire by Boleigh, Recent Purchase: Megaphone by LarimdaME, [Floor plan for the Masonite House exhibit] by UIC Digital Collections, If I could imagine heaven…. by caddymob