Ask the Art Prof: As a Visual Artist, How do I Approach an Art Gallery?

Drawings that Work: 21st BCA Drawing Show

“After doing much intensive research of which art galleries would work best for my body of artwork and feeling confident about that body of work, how does one approach a gallery to lead to representation? I feel as if most galleries don’t accept artist submissions and only take on artists by word of mouth or if a collector or represented artist recommends them. If you don’t have these initial contacts, what’s the best approach? “

Yes, it’s true that the majority of art galleries, especially the ones that are high up on the food chain, won’t even look at an artist unless they have been recommended by another artist, curator, or dealer that they know personally. Before I worked as a gallery director, I never understood why this was the case and as an artist,  felt that it was unfair.  Once I became a gallery director though, it made sense: as a gallery director, you get such an overwhelming amount of artist submissions, the majority of which aren’t even remotely appropriate for your venue. No one wants to waste their time working with an artist who is unpredictable.   Most people prefer to work with an artist they personally know or who comes with a strong recommendation.  During the four years that I worked as a gallery director, I never once exhibited an artist who sent their materials to me unsolicited.

Check the gallery’s website to see if they accept artist submissions.  If they do, send your materials exactly as specified on the website. If the website states that they do not accept artist submissions, I wouldn’t bother to send in your materials, as they will not be looked at. Unfortunately, the vast majority of galleries do not review artist submissions.

Since this is the case, one can often feel paralyzed in terms of trying to break into the gallery scene. Instead, work on raising your overall visibility in the local arts scene by showing in as many venues as possible; you never know who might be looking. Try to have a show at an artist’s co-op or a gallery at an academic institution and get your work out that way. Get to know other local artists, dealers, and curators. Attend local openings and lectures where you can meet other people in the art field in person. Many dealers/curators will jury local competitions from time to time, so keep your eyes peeled for that and submit your work so the dealer/curator is sure to see it. Eventually, your increased profile in the local arts community will earn you the contacts you need to get into a gallery.

Keep in mind that you won’t get results right away, and that it could be years before you gain the kind of exposure and contacts necessary to break into a gallery-I know that I’m still working on this myself. Even if you do manage to break through and make personal contact with a gallery, remember that there’s no guarantee that your work will be accepted.  I once had a high profile Boston gallery dealer do a studio visit with me, only to be rejected by them a few weeks later. Be prepared to be in this for the long haul.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


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Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related articles
“How do I leave my gallery?”
“How do you sell your art?”
“How do museums select artists to exhibit? What is museum quality work?”
“How do I know I’m ready to start selling and approaching galleries?”

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