Getting a gallery.

The Frustrating Experience Of Getting A Gallery
The Truth About How To Land A Gallery
By Art Publisher B. Eric Rhoads

The first gallery that invited me in as a painter was on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, the big gallery row there. Because it was my first, I wanted to be there to deliver the paintings in person, and I can remember feeling really insecure. I told the gallery owner, “This is so unusual. I’m confident in everything I do. I’ve met CEOs of big companies, celebrities, and world leaders, and I wasn’t nervous then. But today I feel totally exposed and insecure.” Frankly, it was very unlike me, which made me even more uncomfortable.

My mind was playing tricks on me:

Why would they want my work?

Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing by putting me in their lineup?

Maybe they’re just sucking up because I own an art magazine?

Maybe they’re taking pity on me and will hang my stuff, knowing it won’t sell?

“Hello, Um, That’s Me. I’m The Artist!”

The gallery put my work up right away, and I decided to hang around for a while. Moments later, a couple came in, walked around the gallery, and landed on a waterfall painting I had done. They lingered, talking about how much they loved it and what it reminded them of. Though I was tempted to wave my hands and jump up and down and say, “I did it! Me, yeah, me, I’m the artist, wanna own it?” I stayed quietly out of the way until the gallery owner engaged the couple about the painting, then said, “The artist just happens to be here today.”

I got my strokes, the couple left saying they wanted to buy it but were not sure if they wanted to spend that much money on it, and said they would probably return, but they never did.

I wasn’t devastated that they didn’t buy. I had passed the test. Someone walked in and liked my painting. That was all I needed to increase my confidence. I felt like Sally Field when she received her Oscar: “They like me. They really, really like me.”

Sage Advice From An Artist

Since then I’ve sold many paintings, and the insecurity has pretty much disappeared, thanks in part to artist Michael Ringer. Michael visited our lake place in the Adirondacks one summer, and after I showed him my work, he said, “Eric, as a friend, let me tell you that you are your own worst enemy. All you did the whole time I looked at your paintings was apologize for them. You need to understand that they are good, but more importantly, you need to know that your attitude is impacting your performance. Stop apologizing. Every one of us went through the stages you’re going through. It’s part of developing as a painter. Quit apologizing and start believing in yourself.”

I took his advice.

The Reality You Don’t Want To Hear

If you’re not in a gallery, I know the dream you live, and I know how frustrating it is to be rejected. At the Oil Painters of America conference last weekend, a panel of three very well meaning gallery owners told the crowd respectfully that the odds of getting in their galleries was slim. One owner said he receives 250 submissions every single month. After the session, one of the artists in the room approached me and said, “What a downer. I guess I won’t be getting into a gallery anytime soon.”

Studying The Gallery Acquisition Process

For two years I’ve been studying the process of how to get into a gallery. It started because every artist I talked to was asking me if I could help them get into galleries, and because gallery owners were complaining about all the submissions they were getting that they ended up discarding because they didn’t have time to look at them.

Though you’d think galleries would want to see what is out there — and they do want to — the task is simply overwhelming. They have to be prudent, or all their time would be spent looking at artists instead of chasing down buyers.

The Danger Of Being Too Aggressive

Ever hear the expression “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”?  It’s true, but you not only have to be squeaky, you have to do it without being annoying, and without damaging your reputation by being overly aggressive.

The principles I laid out in a recent marketing letter about the importance of continual visibility also apply to gallery owners. If they keep seeing your work, keep hearing your name, and see buzz about you, it could elevate their interest in your artwork. But sending them multiple e-mails, making multiple calls, and sending multiple portfolios is annoying and could get you blacklisted in their minds. The trick is achieving visibility without being targeting galleries individually.

“It Sounds Impossible, Eric!”

So if this is the case, what can you do as an artist to build your brand in the eyes of art dealers? There is no easy answer, honestly, because there are many levels of dealers, many different kinds of art represented, seasonal businesses, and different times when different galleries may be looking for artists. Even if your strategy was to barrage every gallery in America with your portfolio, one time or multiple times, it would be cost-prohibitive, and in most cases your portfolio probably wouldn’t be opened or kept.

Therefore the solution is a strategy of continual visibility. Keep your name in front of art dealers by advertising in the places they’re advertising (though you could be perceived as a competitor), keep your name in the press constantly by winning competitions, and find ways to brand yourself continuously.

What If The Odds Are Against You?

Yes, you might get lucky and get discovered. But getting into a gallery is somewhat like landing a part in a major motion picture. There are a few thousand galleries (and fewer in your style, your quality, your subject matter) and tens of thousands of artists. (There are over 40,000 reading this e-mail as we speak.) The odds are against you.

The only way to beat the odds is to get lucky, be introduced by a friend, or stay visible continuously so when a dealer is in the market for someone new, they don’t say, “Who was that artist I saw?” but, “Let’s call YOUR NAME.” You need to brand yourself just like a product is branded, with continual repetition. And the benefit is not only gallery visibility, but visibility with collectors, which will increase demand.

Achieving The Impossible

When someone tells me something cannot be done, I’ll work hard to prove them wrong. I love a challenge. Though the challenge of landing a gallery is daunting, you can do it if you stay visible constantly. Make it your mantra. Frequent exposure sells products, and it can do the same for you.

Winston Churchill said it best:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.


Eric Rhoads
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