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Artist tips for a successful gallery opening

Portrait of Symposia author Ian Duffy
Ian Duffy

Mar 30, 2022

 | Max 


 min read

Black artist working on her art business for a art gallery
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Gallery openings offer a unique opportunity for artists to show their work to the public. They provide a space for artists to come together, share ideas, and network. Gallery openings can also be a great way to promote your work and get your name. If you're planning on having a gallery opening soon, here are some tips to help make sure it goes smoothly.

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What Gallery Openings are all about

A fine art exhibit at an art gallery is always a significant event. In some ways, the work will never look as great during the opening as it does now, so this unique occasion always represents a chance for any artist to make a significant impact and advance their career. The mood is light and fun; the artwork is exciting and new. Everyone has high hopes for successful sales and favorable evaluations from the artist to people in the gallery world.

A successful art gallery opening is all about creating a buzz. You want people to be talking about your show, and you want them to be excited to see it. The best way to do this is to ensure that your venue is well-chosen and that your artwork is truly exceptional.

But even if you have the perfect location and the most beautiful paintings in the world, it won't matter if no one knows about your opening. So make sure to promote your event heavily in the weeks leading up to it. Get the word out through your social media accounts, promotional materials, and word of mouth. And when the big day finally arrives, make sure to put on a great show! Greet your guests with a smile, mingle with them, and let them experience your artwork firsthand.

What should you expect from an art opening?

Gallery openings are one of the most essential and characteristic elements of the art world. An art gallery opening is like a party. It is a chance to see and be seen. People watch, make deals, catch up with old friends, and make new ones talk about art. It is also a time to network and connect with people who might show interest in your work or furthering your career. In short, art gallery openings are about socializing and networking as much as they are about art.

Think networking opportunities

You want people to show up. But who? Your gallery director and the curator should be there, of course. That's their job—ditto for close friends, your mother, father, aunt, and everyone who supports you. You'll be nervous enough without them hanging around anyway. Here are some other folks you might want to invite:

  1. Local artists: especially those who show in other galleries. They'll be interested in what you're up to, and you can learn a lot from them.
  2. Your professors or mentors: they've helped you get to this point, so give them the VIP treatment.
  3. Art critics, bloggers, and press: Reaching out to the media and getting a review in an established publication is a crucial milestone for an artist to achieve.
  4. Art gallery owners from other cities may not be able to attend. Still, they'll undoubtedly be interested in what you're doing and might even want to feature your work on their website or newsletter.
  5. People who work in the show's building: The gallery assistant should list all the businesses in the building and their employees and send invitations to them. Why? Because they already have one foot in the door—they have to take a few steps to see your show.
Artist working in studio spaces for an art gallery

What you'll need to do the week before the event

A successful art gallery opening night requires excellent art and a well-executed plan. The first step is to create a body of work that is both innovative and marketable. This can be a challenge, but it's essential to the event's success. Once you have a selection of finished pieces, it's time to start planning the opening itself.

Have a clear idea of what you want the event to achieve

If your goal is to sell work, invite people you know who are likely to buy. Invite writers and editors from local publications if your goal is to get press coverage.

If your goal is to celebrate your hard work with friends and family, invite as many people as you can fit into the space! No matter what your goals are, remember that a successful art gallery opening is all about planning and preparation.

Send invitations well in advance

This will give people time to plan and make sure they can be there on opening night. You should also include a list of artworks on display and any special guests or speakers who will be appearing. Of course, you'll also want to promote the event through social media and other channels. But sending out invitations early is a critical first step to ensuring your gallery opening is successful.

Build hype for the art gallery event

Building hype for your art gallery opening night on social media is key to success. You want people to be excited about coming to see your work, and if they're already talking about it online, that's half the battle.

Post sneak peeks of the work you'll be showing, tease a giveaway of prints for the first guests, or do anything to get people engaged. The more people talk about your opening night, the more likely it will be a success. So get started early and build up the anticipation for your big night. It'll be worth it when the place is packed, and your art is on display for all to see.

artists creating work for an art gallery or art fair

Hire a photographer for the peak hour

Professional photos of your art show are a must. You'll want to capture the event from start to finish, but schedule a photographer for the busiest hour. This is when most of your guests will be in attendance, and you'll want to have professional photos to commemorate the event. Ask around; hiring someone is more affordable than you think and is well worth the cost.

Think about how virtual access

If you have the option, it's always great to have a means for visitors to come virtually. This might imply arranging a zoom call so that guests may participate and interact with you. An Instagram live stream is another option that makes it easy for guests to attend and for you to connect with them.

Don't charge for entry or ask for anything from guests

Don't ask people to do anything to get into the event. This includes requesting that they RSVP ahead of time, provide their email addresses or other contact information at the entrance, and especially pay admission or make donations at the site; this is poor practice and will turn away guests and collectors. Art openings should be free; focus on making money from the sale of your work.

Art dealers association working on the local market art gallery

What to do to prepare for a successful art gallery opening

Any artist putting up a show knows how stressful it can be to prepare. The week before your opening, delegate tasks to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Go beyond just your work; think of the environment

Gallery openings are not just about the art on the walls; they're also about creating an engaging experience for guests. This means that you need to be prepared to talk about your art in-depth, and you should have multiple ways for guests to interact with you and your work.

Organize someone who can greet guests, take their coats, put out refreshments and snacks, and hang or place artwork around the room. If you have a designated space for people to sit and talk, make sure it's clean and comfortable.

Show your prices clearly

Make sure all of your art is priced and that a price list and resume are accessible to anybody who wants to learn more about you and your work. Interested buyers who may be seeing your work for the first time and like it tend to prefer reading about you before beginning a conversation.

What to serve

Food is an essential part of any party, and Gallery openings are no exception! You'll want to serve light snacks and drinks to keep your guests fed and hydrated. Buy the refreshments, don't think you'll have time to make them yourself - but be sure not to go crazy with it. Some ideas include:

  1. Fruit & Vegetable platters
  2. Cheese & Crackers platters
  3. Dips and spreads
  4. Wine, beer, or soft drinks

How to decorate

The best way to decorate for a Gallery Opening night is to keep it simple. You don't want your decorations to overshadow your artwork, so choose a few elegant items that will enhance the space without drawing too much attention to themselves.

  1. A simple vase with fresh flowers near the door
  2. A guestbook for attendees to write in to leave notes for you
  3. A stack of print materials that talk about the work in the show with their prices
Artist working in the art market for a new york art gallery

How do I promote my gallery opening?

The best approach to making an art exhibit successful is to build up interest so that as many people come to see your work. Put together an exciting announcement or press release in collaboration with the gallery; get the word out as widely as possible within the artistic community, typically on social networking sites and local art and event websites; and make sure everyone sees it in plenty of time to plan ahead of time.

Design an excellent poster for the show

A great poster is the first thing that will get people buying art into your gallery for your opening night. Make it big, beautiful, and eye-catching. Put the date, time, and location of the opening in transparent letters on the poster, so people take notice. The title of the show should be easy to read as well. You want art buyers to be excited about your show even before they walk in the door!

Invite as many artists and art world patrons as possible

Beyond curators and experienced art collectors, artists themselves make for energetic environments. Reach out to them personally and say how much you admire their work, and ask if they would like to come to the opening. Start by inviting well-known or respected artists in your network to attend the opening. This will add credibility to the show, and it may also encourage more artists to attend.

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When planning your gallery opening, be sure to consider how people will move through the space. You don't want guests to feel cramped or overwhelmed by the number of people in the room. Place more prominent art pieces towards the back of the room or in corners, and reserve the center of the space for guests to gather and talk.

What to do the day before the event

First, take some time to relax and collect your thoughts. The day before the opening is not the time to be running around trying to get everything done. Confirm that everything is in place and ready to go. This includes making sure that your work is hung correctly and that the space is clean and presentable. Try to relax a bit and get some rest that evening.

Pick A Good Opening Reception Outfit

Dressing the part is a way of expressing yourself as a serious artist. And dressing too formally or too informally is very common among artists. Don't wear paint-splattered clothing, and you don't need a ball gown or tuxedo. Here are three rules for a guild your outfit: Look professional, comfortable, and confident.

Prepare talking points

You don't have to give a speech to everyone; it's not always the easiest. But it would help if you were prepared to talk about your work with anyone who asks. Have a one-minute or so spiel that you can use to describe your job, what it means to you, and why you think it's essential. Here's a simple format to keep you going through the event:

  1. Introduce yourself and your work
  2. Describe your work in a few simple sentences (avoid technical art jargon)
  3. Talk about why you think it's important and what it means to you at this point in your career
  4. Share any interesting stories or anecdotes about the piece or how you made it
  5. Answer any questions guests may have

Share directions on how to get there

The day before is an excellent time to remind guests you've invited about the show and how to get there and alternative travel routes. Sharing an update on the weather in the area's chance of rain or how cold it might get is always welcome.

Gallery owners looking at art in a new york art gallery

What to do on the day of the show

On the day of your art gallery opening, the most important thing is to be there. Openings are like first dates: you want to be charming, glowing, drunk on your energy. You want to convey that this will be a great night, one for the history books. So before the opening, take a power nap, do some deep breathing exercises, and put on your game face.

Meet the staff of the art gallery business beforehand

Receptions for exhibitions are often surprisingly brief events, and the team will be very pressed to ensure that everything goes as planned. Especially during a group showcase, gaining one-on-one time with the staff might be difficult. However, it would be best to arrive early to establish a relationship with those assigned to work that night.

Designate people to speak about you and your work

Make sure that everyone who may be talking about or selling your art has had a chance to meet and speak with you first, ask whatever questions they might have, that they have access to your resume and information, can talk knowledgeably about your prices, and if requested, can refer to your sales history, successful past shows or awards or distinctions.

artists at an opening reception of a new york art gallery

How to interact with guests at an art opening

Art openings are the parties of the art world. It's a chance for artists to mingle and network with other art community members and show potential buyers or art collectors their latest work. If you're an artist who is having their first art opening or even their tenth, here are a few tips on how to interact with guests at an art opening and ensure that they feel welcome:

  1. Greet guests as they arrive and offer them a drink or some food.
  2. Introduce them to the other artists in attendance.
  3. Give a brief tour of the show.
  4. Answer any questions guests may have about your work or the gallery space.
  5. Thank guests for their time and support.

Make yourself available to anyone interested

Be ready to talk with anybody who shows any interest in your work, be it first-time art buyers or prolific art collector. Don't make it difficult for yourself to get access by surrounding yourself with friends and acquaintances; you may see them at any time. The new folks—the first-timers—are the ones you should pay particular attention to and be ready to speak with if they want to talk with you.

The easier you let them understand and appreciate your work, the stronger the bond between you and them, the more inclined they'll be to buy. So go out there and socialize.

Be especially mindful of critics

Always pay attention to media figures like critics or art writers, no matter how small or insignificant their publications or websites are or how much you disagree with their assessments. You want your works to be reviewed, so make sure you know your local critics and introduce yourself at your opening. Beyond that, allow them to ask questions or start the discussion.

Talk with someone you don't know

Some people enjoy the attention; others like being left alone. It is okay to approach and introduce yourself to someone who is seriously researching your rates or looking at your art. However, be sensitive to how they respond and cautious not to overstay your welcome.

You don't need to talk to everyone who stops in

Some people won't want to speak with you, and that's fine. Never push anyone; they're perfectly able to determine the problem independently. When someone publishes an article about you, you're newsworthy. Regardless of where it appears or what it says, publicity is always beneficial.

What to do after the opening

After your art gallery opening, it's essential to stay connected with the art community members who came to support you. You never know what opportunities might come your way due to the exhibition. Whether it's a future show or sale or simply a chance to develop new relationships, stay in touch with your guests and let them know what you're working on next.

  1. Thank everyone for coming
  2. Seek honest feedback from your friends about how the exhibit went
  3. Make a list of what went well and what could be improved.
  4. Follow up with anyone who buys artwork from you at the opening or expressed interest.
  5. Post pictures of the show on social media and your website.
  6. Send thank-you notes to all attendees, and offer a discount on works you didn't sell.
Opening reception for business world transactions at a new york art gallery

Final tips on making the most of your gallery opening

Gallery openings are a great opportunity to network with other artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts. Gallery receptions should be treated as an extension of your gallery exhibition; they're opportunities for you to develop further the relationships that can lead to future sales or exhibitions.

But don't overstress it, an exhibition in a gallery is a triumph, and the reception is like a big, art-themed bash in your honor. Remember to keep that in mind, and have some fun!

  1. Prepare for a successful Gallery Opening by having a plan beforehand.
  2. Dress appropriately and the part that you are playing.
  3. Mingle and network with guests to promote your work, make them feel at ease, answer any questions they may have about you, your work, or the space.
  4. Be personable! Be sure to mingle around and get acquainted with each guest if they seem interested in what you're presenting.
  5. Follow up with those who attended, thank them for coming out to show their support.
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