At any point in an artist’s career, they many begin to seek out representation from a commercial gallery. This has several benefits for the artist, including more exposure, a better venue to show work (presumably), less self-marketing, and hopefully more sales (if that is what the artist is after).
As many galleries are quite established and receive numerous submissions constantly, it can be tricky for artists to get a good “foot in the door.” The best first step is to do your research and approach a gallery to see if they are actually accepting submissions. This is best done with a respectful, polite email (with a link to your portfolio cleverly inserted).
Example of a good initial email:
For the attention of the curator,*
I am a Vancouver artist seeking representation** locally. I am writing to inquire if you are currently accepting submission proposals. If so, could you please let me know which format or materials you prefer.
The key points in this email are:
*Some people say you should address someone individually. I think this is fine, especially since it is your initial email and you shouldn’t be expected to know the entire staff and who does what. Hopefully, someone with a name will write back to you, and from there you can address them personally.
**Whether you are seeking representation from the gallery or an exhibition in their space, state clearly and simply what you’re interested in. If you just wrote “here is my amazing artwork!!”, you’re not asking for anything and you’re unlikely to get anything.
***Regardless of how busy the recipient is, there is a good chance they will click on a link to view your work, at least out of curiosity.
- Including too much information about your artwork or your practice in your initial email. Since you haven’t had the courtesy to ask whether they are interested in looking at submissions, you are like an unwanted salesperson at someone’s door. Regardless of whether you have quality goods or not, your pushiness is a turn off.
- Sending your inquiry to more than one gallery as a bulk mail-out either CCing or BCCing recipients. Although I don’t think it’s necessary to name your addressee on the first email, you should never email more than one gallery at a time. If you can’t be bothered to spend the time to write to them individually, why should they spend the time responding?
- “Please find attached 18 images of my work.” Unless a gallery has told you that they accept email submissions, or it is posted on their website, don’t send images as attachments. A link to your website or online portfolio is a much more subtle an non-invasive way to introduce your work.
- “My work would be suitable for your gallery because____.” It’s very presumptuous to think that you know what is suitable for the gallery. A curator or director will know what is suitable and what is not suitable. Many artists make the mistake of thinking that they will fit in a gallery because their work is just like an artist who is already represented. In actuality, it would probably make the artist much less desirable!
- “I would like to hear what you think of my work.” Unfortunately, the gallery does not owe you anything nor do they have any obligation to critique your work on their own time. If you are respectful of them as professionals, they will likely be respectful of you– you might receive a comment or two about your work or even suggestions of galleries to submit to.
Have you had any luck (or any disasters!?) when approaching galleries? Have you found any other helpful tips?