Approaching galleries and getting noticed
Galleries and curators look for artists themselves. They usually do not accept submissions from artists. Check the gallery website before you send anything. Find ways to get noticed by galleries and curators instead.
Before you approach any gallery, check on their website to see if they accept submissions from artists. Sending submissions when galleries do not accept them will only waste your time. Try to meet the curator instead and invite them on to your mailing list. Remember that it can take a long time to get an exhibition.
Not all galleries will be right for your work. Some will show only certain types of work or work by specific kinds of artists. Do some research by:
- Looking at artists they have exhibited in the past
- Check if they only show a particular kind of work
- Search for the curators and director to understand what kind of work they include in exhibitions
Check if the gallery has deadlines for applying for an exhibition. Make sure you send everything they ask for. If you apply, look up who will select the artist. You can see if they are interested in the kind of work you make.
Avoid trying to meet galleries at art fairs. Galleries go to art fairs to sell art, not to meet artists.
Galleries that accept submission from artists might have information on their website about how to do this. Read the guidelines and follow them. Make sure you:
- Only send the kind of file they ask for. You can send images or a PDF depending on what they want. An artist CV will give them a good overview of your work.
- Name the image files with your name and the name of the work. This makes it easy to track down your files. Send a separate document with a list of the files and information about the art work.
- Don’t send lots of emails to a gallery asking for updates. Most galleries have few staff and it might take a while for them to get back to you.
A lot of curators and people who work in galleries studied art. Some may have decided not to be artists, and some will still make some art work. They are engaged and interested in art and want to meet artists.
There are many more artists than galleries. You can get noticed by curators and galleries by building your network.
My advice is to take time researching organisations, their programmes and reputations. Major regional venues like Hayward and Ikon won’t show the work of unknown artists who are at the start of their careers. Nor will they realise a project from an unsolicited proposal.
Galleries programme exhibitions depending on their past reputation and the kinds of artists they show. They might only show art, for example, from:
- an artist who has not had a solo show before
- artists who are based outside the UK
- artists who make work in a particular media, like photography or drawing
Check the artists they have shown before and ask yourself if you fit with that profile. Galleries outside of London might be easier to approach. Public funders like Arts Council England are trying to encourage more arts activity outside of London.
Galleries are selective. They cannot show all the artists they would like to. Exhibitions are expensive to organise and their funders might want them to focus on a particular kind of artist.
Check on Companies House and the Charities Commission websites to see their annual reports. This will tell you information like:
- Who is on the board of directors
- How much money they spend on exhibitions
- Where they get income
All of this will help you build a picture of the galleries you are interested in.
There is an ecology that makes the whole thing work: a great venue will want to show the work of artists that will further their reputations. This enables them to become or remain attractive to the artists they aspire to show. And artists want to show at great venues because it will further their careers. A great programme unlocks funding that makes the whole thing possible and develops an audience that helps attract more funding. I’ve spoken to a lot of young artists that don’t understand this. They expect to walk into a place and get a show.