When I recently spoke to Sathya Harshan who works at Gallerie Sara Arakkal, one of the most sought after galleries in Bangalore, he admitted that he is continually deluged with requests from artists to get involved with their art in one way or another either by showing it, selling it, representing it, critiquing it or otherwise helping them advance in their careers. He said artists make contact by email, phone, in person, by mail, through friends, and so on. Many artists also travel long distances from other towns and cities just to show their work to every Bangalore gallerist. He feels that it’s unfortunate that a substantial percentage of these attempts fall far short of what their gallery requires from any artist who is approaching them about their art.
About the worst thing you can do is show your art to a gallery without having any idea who they are, what their history is, what they stand for, what type of art or artists they represent. If it’s a contemporary art gallery and someone brings in work that doesn’t match their space, the gallery has no choice but to politely turn the artist down. And sometimes, they soften the blow by saying the show is full up or else they would have considered it.
I know a lot of people are intimidated by white cube gallery spaces, I’m one of them. And I’m no authority on the topic of how to get a gallery’s attention, this is only my first show at Galerie Sara Arakkal and I have miles to go before I sleep. This all seems like a dream to me. But, I find that there is a lack of information about art, the life of artists and how to maneuver the art world in general in Bangalore/India. It’s all hush hush. Well, not anymore. I can share my experience – about the time my work was selected for Whitefield Art Collective, a prestigious annual public arts festival with 100 eminent contemporary artists and of course the story of how my work was chosen for Galerie Sara Arakkal’s much sought after annual show.
I know many artists who feel they are just not ready to approach a gallery yet, or some who feel they don’t have a substantial body of work yet, or some others who feel they need to do a three-year art course after decades of painting to feel confident, or someone like me, who just keeps making art, is not very social but is delighted when some doors open after a tiny bit of effort. So here are tips that have worked for me:
9 WAYS TO MAKE SURE YOUR ART IS NOTICED BY A GALLERY
1. Make art, make lots of it and share it, share all of it.
It’s important to put it out there. It doesn’t matter whether you feel it’s good because most great artists only painted a handful of masterpieces, the rest was crappy anyway. Be brave. And for this reason, you need to have a website and/or be active on social media. I personally feel social media is a bit too much for me to handle so I stick with my site. I love updating it, I love writing about my life and art, so it doesn’t seem like too much work for me. Choose what you can consistently do. A blog may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
2. Go to gallery openings
This is where you get to see art, get inspired, meet other local artists and gallerists. Often you can tell simply from a visit whether a gallery is right for you. It will help you see the kind of work a particular gallery represents thereby helping you make your next move. I also love looking at artist profiles, learning about their art career etc – it helps put things in perspective because ‘success’ in the art world has come to most people after years/decades of struggle. One thing they all have in common though is that they persisted. I’m an introvert and don’t go to openings much but that’s something I’m working on and you should too.
3. Present Your Work In A Series
Galleries love it when you have a series of something, anything. They look for a signature style. If you paint landscapes, paint a bunch of them, if you paint portraits, make a whole lot of those. In terms of organization, present your work in easily understandable groups, series or categories, each having a particular theme, subject matter, point, purpose or other unifying characteristic. Best procedure is to do this organizing ahead of time on your website or image pages. Whenever a gallery is not familiar with you– especially if you’re early in your career– you pretty much have to arrange your work according to specific guidelines, almost like you’re curating your own exhibitions. So, take a look at Saatchi.com or similar site to see how the labeling is done, how titles and descriptions are written, how to choose a medium, the right format for dimensions etc. The closer your art can come to presenting your art in terms of shows that are basically ready to go, the better. And make sure your current work as well as work that’s most relevant to the gallery is clearly labelled and easy to navigate to.
4. Build Your Brand
Offering little or no information about either yourself or your art other than maybe including a few images of your work or providing links to your website or image pages is a big no no. Gallerists need to see your bio, information about earlier exhibitions, press reviews, your artist statement, what inspires you etc.
5. Be genuine and Personalize
A common mistake is to copy paste an email and send it en masse to every gallery. Let the gallery know why you are contacting them and why they should check your work out. I emailed Galerie Sara Arakkal only after having met Mrs.Arakkal in person at the opening of a show. This way she could put a face to a name and thought of including me six months later when she was putting together their annual show.
6. Be Specific
You can’t simply expect someone who has never heard of you or who is unfamiliar with your art to go to your website or wherever you keep your images and instantly understand your organization, layout or purpose anywhere near as well as you do. So, please send specific links to your recent series of work, your profile etc. Don’t expect them to do the heavy lifting, they just dont have the time to.
7. Differentiate Yourself
If the conversation progresses beyond initial contact, be ready to go into greater detail about what makes your art unique, special or significant. Perhaps you’re extremely knowledgeable about a particular theme or subject matter or aspect that’s prominent in your art. Perhaps you’ve been working on a certain type of art or perfecting a proprietary technique for a long period of time. Maybe certain fascinating aspects of how you live or conduct your life are instrumental in the creation of your art. Focus on whatever separates your art out from all other similar looking art.
8. Provide a Backstory
Whatever your qualifications are, be able to explain them to a gallery in such a way that you deepen their appreciation and understanding of the significance of your work. You can’t convince anyone your art is worth paying attention to without providing adequate reasons why. A gallery needs the back story; they need to understand your work in depth, your influences, your interests, your life experiences, the way that you understand it, to essentially see it through your eyes and then evaluate it on their terms rather than having to try and guess.
9. Make it Worthwhile
So what you as an artist have to do whenever you contact any gallery about your art is to make sure you’re prepared to get them up to speed on what it’s all about in case they like what they see and want to know more. You have to put this kind of time into your presentation in order for whomever you’re contacting to put the equivalent amount of time into continuing the conversation. You cannot simply ask galleries to look at your art without giving them good reasons why.
To sum it up, If you make a compelling, relevant, personalized presentation, you can be certain that sooner or later someone will give you the opportunity you deserve. I’m not saying I’ve done all of these things perfectly, but hey I like to look at my life as a work in progress.
If you are free this Saturday, September 16, 2017, please do come to the opening of my first show at Galerie Sara Arakkal. Artist, art lover or not, you’ll love meeting this group – I mean 49 of the coolest artists under one roof – unmissable.