Below you’ll find advice and tips from interviews with various art experts, like art gallery owners, curators + event promoters.
Jump to a question:
- What’s your advice on working with galleries + art spaces?
- How do you select art + artists to work with?
- In general, how successful are people’s shows? Does it run the gamut or do they tend to sell out?
- What’s your view on the role galleries play?
- Do you help with promoting?
- Any other tips?
What’s your advice on working with galleries + art spaces?
Really know what you want to do. It’s okay— especially in an experimental space, to not have everything fully fleshed out, but definitely don’t be like, Here is my art, would you like to host it? It should be more like, I’m working on this thing now or I have this new art practice or I’m trying out this new medium. For a group like ours, it helps us understand where you’re going. We want to see where you’re going, not what you’ve done, because we’re more forward thinking. People who do things like digital art, our goal is to reach out to all of them right now.
Artists should also show up and check things out, talk to a curator or gallery owner in person. It’s way better than ever sending an email. I think that’s a big thing too. Because one, there’s that little bit of personal relationship and two, you can probably distill things better.
I worked with emerging artists and a lot of them had never shown in a gallery setting before. We had a few artists who didn’t deliver by the opening date of the show and that literally kills our business and makes us look like we have no idea what we’re doing as a business.
It’s all about being accountable. And communication. I think communication is the most important part of any relationship — business or personal. If you have a problem you tell somebody ahead of time so they can plan ahead. But if you blindside them I think the relationship’s not going to go very well.
At the end of the day, your art represents you and putting out bad work could ruin your entire career because nobody will ever trust you again.
Probably every year we have at least one show not happen for whatever reason. And that’s frustrating for two reasons. One is, I know that there are people who would have taken that place. We have four times as many submissions as we have shows, so somebody wanted that show, but you got that show and for some reason it didn’t come together and that’s a bummer.
And the other reason it’s a bummer is because we’re in some form of continual conversation with artists through email and always stating, If your show isn’t coming together, let us know. We can reschedule your show, find somebody else to take your place, whatever it is. We contact people at least three months before their show. They know when their show is. It feels like it’s a big missed opportunity for somebody else.
How do you select art + artists to work with?
On Instagram we follow a lot of street art blogs and try to look at it as much as we can throughout the year and pick artists that we’ve been in love with forever or think are doing incredible work. We seek out something interesting and also something that’ll fit Lexington. There are artists who do incredible work that I think Lexington is not ready for. So we’re very aware of our community and how things will fit. Then we contact people and some of them want to come, some don’t. Every once in a while we’ll get emails from people who seek us out and we’re like, Their work is amazing. That’s one of those things — you always think you’re sending an email out into the abyss and no one is ever going to read it. But it never hurts — I read all of the emails. We’ve brought artists in who have emailed us out of the blue and it’s worked out really well so far.
Our local artists, we do an annual call for art. We publicize it, market it, do the whole thing and send it out to pretty much all of Kentucky. It also seeps into the surrounding states — we’ve gotten some people from Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana who have come out. Everyone sends their submissions and this really nice guy named Logan Dennison over at the Art League sifts through them all and does this little presentation. Then we sit down and pick what we want to put in. But we pretty much take everything unless it’s either off topic or off-style. We don’t do a lot of landscape or horse photography. We don’t do standard art. No paintings of bourbon.
In general, how successful are people’s shows? Does it run the gamut or do they tend to sell out?
It runs the gamut. Some shows sell out, some shows sell very little. A lot of factors are in play: the artist, how they are promoting the show, how great their work is, what the price is like and, frankly, how the opening night went, because most of our traffic happens on opening night. Because we don’t have any real money for the business, we have terrible hours.
So we throw an opening night, which is from 6 to 9 p.m. on the third Friday of the month. After that it’s 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. So our hours are awful and if you don’t sell something on opening night it’s less likely to sell over the course of the next three weeks. If on opening night it’s raining, it’s snowing— there are factors that are both within and outside of the artist’s control that influence the success of the show.
What’s your view on the role galleries play?
The gallery world and culture isn’t really the same anymore. It’s hard to be a commercial gallery, particularly in a city like Denver that doesn’t have a very vibrant collector base. It’s a relatively small pool. So you’re seeing galleries either fully shut down or close and focus on a digital presence only, which is the new hot thing: nomadic art galleries. People are thinking, Maybe we don’t need our own white walls and can go into someone else’s space. Maybe it will be very non-traditional.
Even more exciting are the places that can afford to have a physical space that becomes experiential. So instead of us being worried about how much wall space we have, it’s a transition to, Let’s make something people want to come into and experience. And I think it’s what people want. You’re starting to see the “Meow Wolf effect” where everyone’s paying for these immersive or experiential experiences, where there’s a cool selfie station. It’s taking this idea into the gallery realm in a way that can support artists. Plus, I think you’re seeing a lot of artists have fun thinking about how they can take their work and make it an installation, to take it in a different direction.
I think there’s a purpose to the existing gallery/artist relationship. I have a very good friend who is a very successful artist and he would not be a successful artist had he not found the right gallery representation, all the way across the country from him. They changed his entire situation. He went from, I sell a piece every three months to I sold 200 pieces this year, and have been getting six-figure checks. It wouldn’t have happened without a great gallery representative.
There’s the ability for galleries to take advantage of younger or emerging artists, but I think some of that onus has to be on the artist. You’ve got to use your head to think about what is going on.
A good gallery who has good contacts, who knows work, who looks at something and says, Holy shit, this is great, we need to change the price on this. So instead of charging $500, they’re charging $5,000 for it. And they get their rolodex out and call the people they know who would want this and all of a sudden, it works, right? I mean, that’s super magic.
But that’s the right gallery who has the right relationship with the right work, the right people and everything else. It’s certainly not a Salt Lake thing. I don’t think that happens here. I think the galleries here I’ve talked to definitely underrepresent emerging artists. A gallery I respect is like, We like the emerging artist’s work but they all want to charge so much for their stuff. And I’m like, If you’re taking 50% it’s easy for that price to get inflated pretty quickly. On a $1,000 piece the artist just wants to make $500.
Do you help with promoting?
We’ve tried flyering and I can tell you that I don’t think we’ve ever attracted one person from a flyer.
Now we do the exact same set of stuff for every show. We send a set of press releases out to a group that we curated who we know generally care. And we promote events on Facebook and Instagram pages, which I personally disdain. I just don’t care for social media, but it is what it is and that’s where people look for things and do stuff.
Any other tips?
I think that I always try to coach or guide new artists who haven’t shown before or haven’t shown a lot to temper their expectations at 6 p.m. I say, When the show opens, nobody is going to be here. It feels like an eternity and nobody comes is, but it’s just because maybe there’s nice weather, or they go get dinner or go home after work. If it’s a new artist and they’re tense I’ll say, Just to relax go get some dinner, go have a drink, don’t sit here and be tense.
You get a lot of people out there who just submit their art to anywhere they think hosts art. Don’t just randomly find every coffee shop and gallery and pitch your art. At least have gone to that gallery before and reference something in there. Understudy gets a lot of two-dimensional artists with “cold-call proposals,” and my first question to everyone who reaches out is, Have you seen the space? Because if they had come in, they would’ve seen that we don’t have a lot of blank, white walls. It’s unique. It’s more about installation and figuring out how you’re going to reach 100,000 people outside of the space, versus whoever comes inside the space.
So knowing what you’re walking into, regardless of what it is. It’s like, Have you ever done something like this before? An example is sometimes I’ll have to blow up art really big. Either it’s a billboard or for other reasons. And if we’re going to have to build something really big, I need to know, Do you understand it has to be of a higher quality? I can’t use a low-quality JPEG. It’s just not going to blow up well.
So I think for me, it’s really about, Is this thing going to work?