How to approach and get into art galleries – Episode 122

In this mini-episode, artist and gallery owner Dan Addington answers the all-time question of how to get into art galleries. This is an excerpt from my previous interview with Dan. If you want to listen to the whole conversation, just go back to the archives and look for podcast episode number 007.

Dan: What’s intriguing about this topic is that you have to learn the fundamentals of the gallery approach. How to show your work and submit your work, and those kinds of things. The same way you have to learn the fundamentals to everything, but then life is out there throwing curve balls all the time. I’ve often found that even– I’m an artist and so I’ve exhibited at galleries and I’ve found that sometimes the best gallery relationships that I’ve become involved in didn’t happen because I had a beautiful portfolio. They happened because by some chance they saw a postcard and stuck it on to their bulletin board and then a year later, got around to flipping it over and then they saw a phone number and they called me.

You never know where these opportunities are going to come from. The idea is to be prepared in the micro-sense of having that portfolio, looking good, having a website that’s sharp and easy to navigate and gives you nice beautiful representation, beautiful photos. I would riddle it down to just have some really beautiful photos of work. There are so many people with nice looking websites and bad looking photos on them and it’s just like, “What?”

We’ve got such an opportunity to be out from under the slides. You asked what’s changed in the gallery world? That’s the big change. That and how different the critical world is now in terms of reviewers and where they wrote before versus the blogosphere now. That would be a whole another 20-minute conversation. But having great photography, the opportunity now to distribute that photography is huge and it’s very different than it used to be.

At the same time, because we live in a DIY world, more artists than ever before are out there taking pictures themselves. That’s totally cool if you are getting great photos and you’ve got Photoshop to clean it up. We can control it a lot better now but it still is important to get really good photos, if that means hiring a professional man, you got to do it. You got to get the best up front.

The big lesson is that it doesn’t always work that way. You can have the best photos in the world and then somebody sees some crappy little Polaroid– I have had people come in and give me wonderful portfolios, the work was great but it just didn’t fit the gallery. Then I’ve had other people walk in to the gallery that are artists and they were not out promoting their own work. You can just tell. They were just out looking at art but they had a way of talking about art and they were looking at it in a way that caught my attention and we started talking about it.

When we talked, I could tell they were artists, because they were thoughtful and they weren’t talking about themselves. I would start asking them questions like, “Are you an artist?” And then they go, “Yes.” Then I’m like, “Well, what kind of work do you do?” They are saying– “It’s hard to describe. It would be blah-blah-blah.” Then I’m thinking now– I’m trying to develop a picture in my head but it’s not there yet and so what’s my next question is like, “Do you have any photos?” Or now with the questions, “Do you have a website?” I’m thinking right now of three or four artists that we show on the gallery that I had this very conversation with.

They said, “Yes, it’s www. whatever.” and I go– on a couple of occasions– a majority of occasions, I’m just like, “Wow, this is really cool work.” and we have a nice parting of the ways then and everything is cool because that show everything that is good. I can think of two or three times where I saw the work there and I literally turned to one person in particular and said, “Do you have any shows lined up for the spring? Because I’ve got an opening.” Right then, I wanted to just–

Sergio: Sign them up.

Dan: The best example is this guy that came in and he had a backpack. He was there for a wedding or something, and we got into this conversation. I said, “What kind of work do you do?” He fumbles around in his backpack and pulls out two crumpled photographs, drops them on my desk. This is everything you tell artists not to do. They were fantastic. I said, “When can you show that to me?” He became one of our top selling artists in the gallery. He’s got a great reputation but he had this one blind spot. He just was not interested in technology and not interested in photography.

Sergio: Approachability I think seems to be very important.

Dan: It sounds like luck has a lot to do with it and that’s very deflating for a lot of us, because it takes it out of our control and is like, “It’s always luck. What if I don’t get the good luck and the good breaks?” The point is that your artwork always has to be there. You’ve got to be ready for when– Because you will get a lot of– We don’t always identify it but everybody gets lucky breaks all the time. We just don’t always think we do but everything that’s happened that has moved your life in a positive direction has been an opportunity that you are either ready for if it worked out.

When that one gallerist grabbed one of my postcards, it was in a stack of postcards on his desk for months, but when he turned that– I could not predict that that was going to happen, but when he called me up, I had to be ready to go.

Sergio: Ready to act.

Dan: I had five good paintings to send to him right then and that ended up being a relationship that lasted for a decade. He sold just about everything I sent him. So–

Sergio: That’s wonderful.

Dan: You never know.


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