Getting an exhibition

Exhibitions are public shows of your art. They can take place in art galleries, museums, or another space if you organise an exhibition yourself.

A lot of work goes into making an exhibition. It takes money to make an exhibition to pay for things like:

  • Paying artists fees for exhibiting their work
  • Shipping the work from an artists studio to the gallery
  • Insurance in case of damage to the art work
  • Public liability insurance in case of public injury during the exhibition
  • Promotion, advertising and marketing
  • Paying technical staff to move and install the art work in a gallery
  • Staff to look after the security of the work
  • Costs associated with having a property for the gallery, like utility bills
  • Administration staff who organise the work mentioned above

To think about getting an exhibition it is helpful to know:

  • When is a good time for an artist to have an exhibition
  • Who makes exhibitions and how
  • How to make an exhibition yourself, or with friends

When to have an exhibition

It is not always a good time for an artist to exhibit their work. The best time is when you have a lot of work to choose from and a good network of curators.

Most artists do not choose when to have an exhibition. Curators and galleries can only offer an exhibition to an artist they have heard of. Building your network and telling people when you are interested in exhibiting is more likely to lead to a show. Some galleries are open to approaches from artists. Having an exhibtion is generally decided by a gallery, not an artist.

A solo exhibition shows only art work made by you. A solo exhibition is a lot of work for an artist. Some artists take many months or even years to make enough work. No exhibition will simply show all the work you have made. It takes time to make enough work in order to make a choice of what to show.

A group exhibition is when a lot of artists’ work is shown at the same time. Depending on the piece, showing one art work in a group show will take less time to arrange. But the exhibition can still take a long time to organise and pay for.

Some exhibitions go to more than one venue. This is a touring exhibition. Art work that is in a touring exhibition will be seen by more people. But it will not be available for other exhibitions while it is on tour.

Many artists will have a period of time between exhibitions to rest and make new work.

Given that it takes a lot of time and effort to have an exhibition, think about what you want to get out of it. You might want to:

  • Sell your work. Make sure you have thought about prices for your work. Talk with the curator and gallery about selling your work during the exhibition.
  • Make new work. Do you want to show an art work you’ve already exhibited, or make something new? Working towards an exhibition can motivate your practice. Getting feedback from your network helps come up with new ideas and direction for your art.
  • Tell people about the exhibition yourself to raise the profile. There might be events or talks about the exhibition that you can take part in. You can also use your social networks to promote the show.
  • Building your network. Everyone you work with on an exhibition is part of your network. You will meet people at the exhibition opening too. Ask everyone to join your email mailing list or connect on social networks.
  • Get feedback on your work. Organise an event or a talk about your work to get feedback from people. Or bring other curators to the show to talk about your work.
  • Get articles about your work. Press coverage can bring new people to see your show. Local, national, or arts news are all useful. Write a press release and send to newspapers and magazines that might be interested in your work.

Having an exhibition shows people in the art world that your practice is of wider interest. Being in a group exhibition with respected artists also help with this. Exhibitions are one of the things that validate an artists career in the arts. Include exhibitions in your artists CV.

Exhibition curators

Exhibitions are often organised by curators. It also takes time for a curator to find artists with art work they want to show. Curators, like artists, have particular interests. They will only show work that it in their area of research.

Although some curators work for galleries, many do not. They will come up with ideas for an exhibition and try to get a gallery interested in it. Curators are always looking for artists with work that interests them. Sometimes a curator might invite an artist to exhibit many years after they have first met. Make sure you meet curators and that they know about your work.

Because of the time it takes to raise money and find artists, it takes time to get an exhibition. Some exhibitions take many months to organise. The largest exhibitions might take even longer.

It’s important to know that many curators are also artists. Curators might also be writers or academics. They are often self employed and face the same problems artists face. Not all curators have regular jobs or incomes.

Your network

As well as meeting curators, your network can help you get exhibitions by:

  • Suggesting open call exhibition opportunities you can apply for
  • Giving you feedback on your work
  • Introducing you to curators and galleries
  • Working with you on group exhibitions organised by artists

Organising your own exhibition

You can organise your own exhibition. This is a popular choice for artists who are early in their career. But artists at all stages in their career might organise their own exhibition too.

Different types of gallery

Artquest has commissioned five film interviews with gallery directors. These galleries represent the main types of galleries operating in the UK. The films were made for our Gallery Films project from 2014. Some of the gallery directors interviewed will not work for these galleries any more.

Where a gallery gets income will influence its programme. Research where a gallery gets its money and what it shows. You can then decide the best way to approach them.

You can hire some galleries for an exhibtion. They will give you room and might help promote your work. The main value of an exhibition is being chosen for a show. These galleries are useful if you want to see your work outside of the studio. People in the arts know which galleries are for hire. Many curators will not come to exhibitions in hire galleries.

Don’t pay a gallery to represent you. Commercial galleries will take payment from your sales. They should not charge artists to promote them. These opportunities are likely to be a scam.

Commercial galleries

Commercial galleries organise exhibitions for artists that they represent. These galleries are often private businesses that make money by selling artists work. The money they make from a sale is shared with the artist. Commercial galleries also organise exhibitions with public funded galleries and museums too. They are likely to represent only a few artists becuase it takes work to organise their exhibitions and sales. They can’t represent lots of artists.

In the video below Chris Hammond talks about MOTInternational. The gallery was an artist-led gallery that turned into a commercial gallery. He describes how they worked with artists. MOTInternational no longer exists as a gallery.

Artist-led galleries

Artist-led galleries are run by artists. Some artist-led galleries get public funding while others are run without any full-time staff. Often they show artists’ work when they are near the start of their career. Other artist-led galleries show only very established artists work.

Castlefield Gallery started as an artist-led space. It is now an artist-focused gallery and agency. In this film Kwong Lee talks about the gallery programme and how they find artists to exhibit.

University galleries

University galleries are attached to universities. Galleries in universities are often interested in research-based practices. Often they show artists who have an academic background or career as well as being an artist. They will support the university’s research.

In this video Ros Carter and Stephen Foster talk about John Hansard Gallery. They talk about how artists can make the gallery aware of their work.

Public funded galleries

Public funded galleries get money from a public funder to show artists work. Public funders get money from:

Many public funded galleries have public programmes to attract people to exhibitions. This might be events for families or schools. They show artists at all stages in their careers, but most will specialise in a particular kind of artist. Many also have commercial parts of their programmes like shops or cafes. Some also sell editions of artists work.

Gasworks is a gallery and studios organisation in Oval, London. It is also the base of The Triangle Network, an international arts network. In this film Alessio Antoniolli talks about the gallery programme. He explains how funding influences the programme and more about their international network. The film also features interviews with artists who work within the studios there.

New media gallereies

Galleries that show new media work are focussed on digital and internet art. They might exist only online or have a physcial gallery as well.

Furtherfield has an online and physical gallery. The programme includes digital networks and how new technology and the internet impacts on art and community. In this film Ruth Catlow talks about the gallery and its programme. She also talks about how they work with artists.

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