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How emerging artists find gallery representation

Portrait of Symposia author Ian Duffy
Ian Duffy

Mar 24, 2022

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 min read

how visual artists find gallery representation
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Finding gallery representation is one of the biggest challenges confronting emerging artists. It is not easy to get your work seen by the right people, and even if you are successful, it can be a long and challenging process to secure a gallery contract.

The good news is that there are things you can do to improve your chances of being represented by a gallery. This guide will introduce you to the world of galleries and provide some tips on finding representation.

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What does an art gallery do?

Galleries are the gatekeepers of the art world. They have the power to choose who will and will not be exhibited. Their most apparent responsibility as commercial middlemen in the contemporary art market is straightforward: promote and sell art for an artist so that they may create more work.

But there's much more to the gallerist position than meets the eye. They must be talent spotters, agony aunts, advocates, publicists, and art experts. They discover, support, and nurture their talent and market them to collectors, writers, and curators.

Gallerists are the intermediaries between the artist and collectors, but they are crucial players in the art market. Unsurprisingly, most gallery owners have no prior business education; running a gallery entails no more schooling than any other form of retail.

This may explain why gallery owners are unwilling to sign contracts or written agreements. However, this is a poor practice. To protect the connection, have as much documentation as possible on hand.

The Difference between a Dealer and a Gallerist

An art gallery is an institution that sells artwork. Previously, any individual who ran an art gallery was considered an "art dealer." Then the art market grew and expanded, and galleries of all sorts and levels appeared, allowing for a better definition of a person's reasons for and mode of operation of an art gallery.

Many galleries have chosen to identify themselves as "gallerists" to distinguish themselves from others believed to be more sales-oriented.

Gallerists are individuals who prioritize the artist's career above turning a profit at an art gallery. They care about quality and connections with their collectors.

Dealers are individuals who are motivated by the transaction the speed with which they can complete it; they're more interested in volume.

Keep an eye out for the distinctions and be cautious about who you connect with.

Woman painting fine art glass vessels thinking about how to find a gallery

Do you even need a gallery?

An artist may not need a gallery to sell their work, mainly if they already sell consistently in other non-gallery venues. Galleries can be an excellent resource, but they are not the only option for selling art. There are many ways to get your work seen by the right people, but galleries help make it more manageable. Here are a few examples:

If your business skills are lacking

This is often overlooked but is one of the main reasons you should even consider being represented by a gallery. Unless your work is flying off the walls, gallery representation gives you the time to produce great work while they focus on the boring part of selling.

For sales, publicity, and event opportunities

Once you have a gallery, you are part of a team. You should still keep growing and looking for opportunities for your career, and your gallery should assist you in obtaining new opportunities. They should do more for you than sit around with your art hanging on their walls.

It is in their best interest that your career grows and to see that your work increases in value and recognition.

For their connections in the art world

Art galleries are generally categorized as a service industry rather than a retail market. Their connections to collectors, publicists of art magazines, and other professional artists are valuable. They are also well-connected to other galleries and can help an artist get their foot in the door of other prestigious establishments.

To broader market expansion

Expansion is one of the most critical aspects of your gallery's job. Especially if you live and work in a place with few opportunities, your dealer must be willing to help you get your work out into the national and even international conversation.

Woman looking at abstract art at art fairs

Where should you begin?

Based on the evidence, there is only one way to seek representation: networking. While the word "networking" may seem too vague (and business-like) to some people, it simply implies that you need to know someone who can introduce you to the gallerist. Before you go straight to networking, you need to do your research.

Do your homework

Do your research before selecting a few target galleries. If you're considering a specific one, make sure your work is appropriate for their program. You should target galleries that would be a good fit, start by contacting other artists they represent and ensure that they are financially secure enough to handle another professional artist.

There are approximately 20,000 galleries globally, but only 10 to 20 of them will be a suitable match for you. Looking for a commercial gallery is similar to meeting someone new: millions of potential partners are out there, but only a few are viable prospects. To discover the ideal gallery, you must do your research.

Find the right fit

Every gallery may not be appropriate for you, and your work may not be suitable for everyone. Although many artists do their homework, some keep sending portfolios, emails, and phone calls to every dealer in their region. Avoid this technique, it doesn't often work, and you can build a reputation of being too persistent.

It's similar to dating; galleries like to be courted, it requires time to see a gallery that suits you, and then it takes effort to develop a connection with the person you want to work with. You can't just walk in, lay your portfolio down, and say, "Show me the money" expecting them to represent you.

Consider the "program" or type of work they are committed to while looking for representation. You'll need to determine whether the gallery specializes in the same sort of art as yours, whether it's conceptually, quantitatively, and aesthetically compatible, and if you can get your art sold there at reasonable pricing.

The bottom line for selecting galleries is to choose galleries that represent artists whose work you respect.

Man researching between art agents or his own gallery

Study the gallery's website

If you believe you're a good match for them, study their website thoroughly. Who is the gallerist? What are their prior experiences? Where did they grow up?

Don't neglect the other staff on the website, either. The front desk employees may not choose who is exhibited, but they might be the first point of contact in the gallery and have the ear of the director.

Gallery websites, on their own, won't provide you with a complete picture of the gallery, especially if their website—as is often the case—is pretty generic.

You can also look for open calls for artists' submissions on gallery ads or their websites and social channels. These are opportunities to submit your work directly to the gallery for review. You will likely be invited to exhibit in a group show for the gallery if your work is accepted (you'll have your foot in the door at this point).

Beware of vanity galleries

These galleries charge the artist for all expenses associated with mounting an exhibition. The fees are frequently determined by the linear feet of wall or floor space dedicated to your creation. These galleries do little to no work to promote the art or help the artists develop their careers. They have already made their money back before the exhibit has even opened. Because of this, the quality of art on display is uneven, focusing on whether or not the artist can pay.

Some things to avoid

Some seek gallery representation by sending direct messages to the gallery or tagging them on Instagram with their work; others walk into the gallery and present their work directly to the front desk staff. Unfortunately, none of these approaches works. Unless you have a personal contact at a gallery or a meeting, you'll be turned away swiftly.

women talking about a gallery's reputation

Ask for references

It's also a good idea to network with artists they represent to get a sense of the gallery owner, their experience, and their reputation. Find out if the gallery pays on time and do they keep their promises for solo exhibitions? How well connected is the gallerist? In which show did they sell how many pieces?

It's no different than joining a new firm as an employee. You ask questions if you know someone who is already employed there. Artists may also suggest galleries that might be a better fit.

It may appear not easy to obtain the recommendations outlined above if you don't have these connections in the art world. Don't forget that galleries also need artists as much as you believe you may need to be represented. Establishing relationships will take some time, but it isn't impossible. It's a long-term endeavor, not a short-term goal.

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Artists need to do their research before selecting a gallery to represent them to ensure that their work will be shown in an appropriate venue.

Consider your approach

Once you have a good list of candidates, you're still in the research phase, but more in person this time. Don't be tempted to cut corners by skipping the actual gallery visits.

Visit exhibition openings regularly

Attend openings whenever you can, in both your city and elsewhere. You get a sense of their schedule, clients, and audience by visiting exhibitions. A physical tour of a gallery is also an excellent way to get a feel for its scope of interest.

I spent most of my Thursday nights in Chelsea going to openings when I moved to New York. I always went alone, which forced me to meet new people and helped me build a network from one gallery to the next.

The secret strategy? Visit a gallery midweek

Check out the gallery on weekends, too. Midweek is an excellent time to visit. The staff will be less busy than they were during the opening, and they'll have more time to discuss the exhibition and you as an artist in particular.

Identify, study, and connect with your target gallery's artists

The most frequent technique employed by art graduates or those breaking into the art world is to submit an email to their staff, their general email, or even the gallery's founder.

While the founder may be the ultimate authority, anyone associated with the gallery, especially its artists, is an important contact. The majority of galleries learn about new talent through introductions by prior artists.

Artists are generally receptive to other artists and recall how it felt to be in their shoes. You can usually count on their backing since they have nothing to lose if they like your work. To contact an artist represented by a gallery, pay close attention to their profiles. Examine their resumes, residencies, and awards and which museums own their works.

The second advantage of this exercise is that it may reveal a gallery's recruiting patterns, allowing you to identify a similar common origin between artists in the venue you like.

Ask fellow artists for a referral

It's challenging to get a recommendation from an artist represented by a gallery. If the artist is a friend who is highly encouraging of your work and believes you might be a good fit, there's a chance a referral may happen.

If the artist isn't familiar with your work, suggest that they visit your website and look for more information. Mention that you've done some research and believe they might be a good match. Inquire about whether the artist is satisfied with the gallery and if they could offer advice on how to continue.

Given that you're looking for someone who can recommend one to submit your work to, this open-ended inquiry will allow the artist to volunteer to suggest one—or tell you to utilize their name, or decline to give a referral but give you ideas for submitting your work to the gallery.

In front of a wildlife paintings where art technically good

Get out and network

You'll need to begin the outreach process after completing your research. Potential targets for initial outreach include:

  • Founder of the gallery
  • Staff
  • Artists
  • Collectors
  • Friends of the gallery

The first step in establishing a gallery relationship is networking and getting a solid introduction. It's also why an art professional needs communication abilities.

It will take time to develop relationships and trust. The essential thing is to get out there by interacting with the community and being seen.

When you believe you've found someone who can genuinely advocate for you, make sure you explain why you're a good fit for them.

Be prepared and know your artist statement

It's critical to be verbal when interacting with people. People have limited attention spans, and you must communicate plainly who you are and what your work is about. Learn how to talk about your art and its meaning, mission and vision, objectives, and why you'd be a good match for the gallery.

Most importantly, have your artist website up to date. Today, a website is even more critical than Instagram (which, in our opinion, has been slowly dying for the last two years). Your website may be the first point of contact for people looking you up. As a result, make it your window to your job and ensure that your résumé, artist statement, and portfolio are prepared.

Have realistic goals and expectations

You have a better chance with a gallery owner who is more or less in your age group. The better your hand of cards is, the more likely they are to sit up and take notice. But set realistic goals. Usually, the larger and more established the venue, the less likely you will succeed unless you have influential direct contact.

discussing future projects where the artwork belongs in a solo show

Ask for an in-person meeting or a studio visit

If you have done your research and feel confident that the gallery is a good fit for you, it is appropriate to ask for an in-person meeting. This is also an opportunity for you to get to know the gallerist and for them to get to know you.

If the gallerist is interested in your work, they may ask you to send them a proposal. This formal document outlines your exhibition concept, what you would like to show, and the budget. A proposal is also an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and how well you have researched the gallery.

It is important to remember that a proposal is not a guarantee of anything. It is simply an opportunity for the gallerist to learn more about you and your work. If you are not selected, don't be discouraged. There are many galleries, and it is important to keep networking.

Meet them halfway

If you have consistent sales from your studio and perhaps a fantastic show right now, and many requests for sales, you may approach a suitable gallery and ask if they would be interested in taking on these and future deals. You'll lose half of your earnings, but it's a smart way to get represented.

Consider the long-term relationship

It's crucial to note that several galleries are generally not searching for one-time partnerships with artists. They seek to establish long-term relationships with who they represent. A successful gallery doesn't want to start financially and emotionally investing in an artist who says they want to quit after a year or two or an artist whose personal circumstances will jeopardize the connection.

You should ensure that the gallery they join can meet their long-term requirements. Are they capable of assisting you in growing your art career? How will they open new doors for you, your work, and your sales? Do you feel they will be there for you when you're further along in your career?

friends discussing an artist's work and how to find a gallery


The quality of your contacts and how well you fulfill the above criteria will determine how picky you can be in your gallery search. It would be best if you didn't spend too much time looking because many talented and ambitious artists graduate from art schools every year.

Remember that your first gallery isn't always the best option for you. Most artists maintain their first representation throughout their career, so find the right one for you. Remember that your first gallery is often a stepping stone to a prestigious venue with a more substantial market hold. Don't burn any bridges; build your reputation slowly for the long-term benefits to your career.

  1. Galleries aren't for everyone; consider your needs first and what services they would provide?
  2. Start your research with local "incubator" galleries - those with a particular interest in emerging artists whose work you respect.
  3. Galleries are not interested in one-time partnerships; it's a growing, long-term relationship.
  4. Network at openings, build connections with represented artists, sell on your own first, and keep your sales records.
  5. If you aren't hearing back, remember there are many galleries, don't get discouraged. You'll hear back when it's a good fit for you.
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