The old adage “you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression” could not be more fitting. Your goal should be to make the gallery “want you” and if you do not go about it the right way your work may not even be reviewed.
When it comes to making contact, there really is no simple or straightforward answer as to what is best. That is, this step of the process changes on a case by case basis, mainly because there is no clear industry standard. When applying for most jobs, you need a CV (resume), Cover Letter, perhaps a few references; fairly standard stuff. In the art world, you need to present your work and that can be done in a variety of ways. I’ve had artists mail in CD’s, photographs and USB drives; send e-mails with images, PDF presentations, or a link to their website; show up in person with their artwork and in one case, do some insane magic tricks… so what should you do?
First and probably a bit obviously, I’d advise checking the gallery’s website. Some have a formal submission process and if they do, it might be posted on their website. In fact, many galleries will have some notation on their website as to how they prefer submissions be sent – look for a “Contact Us” section. Checking into this beforehand is imperative, some galleries will ONLY review submissions that were done in accordance with their requirements, even if it just means writing “Submission” in the subject line of your email. Your work may be a perfect fit, but if no one at the gallery ever sees it, who cares?
On the other hand, some galleries will make no mention of a submission process… that likely means they do not have a formal submission process and you can make contact at your discretion; that is, you have a bit more freedom in how you go about this. As I discussed in my last post, one of the best things you can do to give yourself the upper hand is getting in touch with another artist who is or has worked with the gallery you are looking to approach. They will probably have some great insight, after all, they already went through the submission process and they got the exact result you are looking for… Representation! What better resource could there be? If that doesn’t work, you can try a more direct approach and simply give the gallery a call and ask “how can I submit my work to be considered for representation?” I know, I know, common sense stuff but you’d be surprised.
WARNING: What I DO NOT recommend doing is coming up with a cookie cutter application/portfolio package and mailing it off to a bunch of galleries – you may have some luck but it is an inherently risky approach given the fact that each gallery may have different requirements.
That said, you should start considering how you plan to approach each gallery on your list. Remember, this is basically an interview and there are thousands of other artists vying for the position. You want to set yourself apart from the others and make the gallery want you, but first you should do everything you can to ensure your submission gets reviewed.
**DEALER TIP: While art fairs are a great place to research which galleries may be a good fit, this is not an ideal place to approach a gallery and make your pitch for representation. Further, just for clarity, that does not mean it would be appropriate to just drop off your portfolio and ask them to review it after the fair… your materials may very well end up in the garbage. Galleries participate in fairs to increase their brand awareness; focusing on marketing the works by artists they already represent and hopefully making some sales in the process. You want the gallery’s undivided attention and consideration; art fairs are loud, dealers are busy, and you just may not get an adequate amount of time to make your presentation… long story short, save your pitch until the fair is over. I am sure you’d want that same consideration if your works were the ones hanging in that gallery’s booth.
Lance J. Rehs