Teaching at Emily Carr University exposes me to many artists beginning their visual art careers and a great many of them are very interested in being shown in either a public or private gallery. Consequently it seemed wise to me to encourage my students to capitalize on their inexperience.
I encourage my students to seek partners with whom to work and not just any partners, but other artists whose work allowed them collectively to develop a really strong artists’ statement for their exhibition. And know this: a strong curatorial statement is very appealing to exhibition gatekeepers.
Should you decide on a group approach, be sure to choose partners apt for your thesis. The thesis is critical. The work of each of your exhibition proposal partners should enhance the thesis in a unique and insightful way; your partners should not be chosen by convenience (because they are friends or acquaintances).
I ran a public gallery for six years and administrated the development of several exhibitions and I vividly remember a young woman who presented herself at my door. She looked so young and naïve that I couldn’t imagine being interested in an exhibition proposal from her, plus I preferred to consider applications that were mailed to me. But when she presented her proposal, I was immediately enthralled.
She was a screen printer and she was proposing an exhibition of portraits. She and four other artists had each made four portraits of each member of their group (except themselves)—head on, left profile, right profile and one of the back of the head. Hers were screen prints and each of the other artists worked in a different medium (drawing, painting, collage, and pastel). Plus each group member did a self-portrait. The best part of the resulting show of twenty-five images was that we re-hung it several times, shuffling the way we presented the images, and each hang gave viewers new insights.
My favourite exhibition applications—the ones that provoked the greatest interest in me as an adjudicator—were about an idea. And when the proposal came from a group, the best ideas allowed each participant to reveal a unique aspect of the thesis.
If you are an emerging artist, getting your work exhibited as part of a group show is an appropriate was to begin. It takes much more than a great statement to make a successful exhibition proposal—many other factors are involved with the exhibition selection process—but a well-written and cogent thesis (artist statement) is a vital component of any exhibition.
Artists who are represented tend to value their work at wholesale prices. When they create a painting, they may know from their history with their gallery that the painting they are creating that will sell for $2,400, has a $1,200 value to them.
Unrepresented artists tend to think in retail. When an unrepresented artists is asked the value of their work, they thing of market or retail value because their experience tends to involve a lot of direct sales for which they pay no commission.
All artists should really think of the value of their work at wholesale levels (roughly 50% of retail or market value). Unrepresented artists who sell directly to their customers still pay a commission on their work, but it is far less visible. Their commissions are paid in the form of entry fees, self-promotional expenses and other marketing costs.
One approach to securing an exhibition and sale opportunity is to use the commission you would normally pay as form of leverage.
Using the example above of an artist creating work with a market value of $2,400, consider what a show by this artist would be worth if it were comprised of twelve canvases each worth that amount. Such a show’s gross retail value would be $28,800 and if it sold out, the gallery and the artist would each earn $14,400 if the commission were fifty percent.
Having inventory worth $28,800, I think of the $14,400 commission payable as a way to earn the interest of an exhibition partner and my favourite partner to pursue is a charity.
Commissions ($14,400 in this example) can be a powerful motivator so my approach is to arrange for an exhibition in the space and for the “donors/friends” of a charity with a large database. Ideally, the charity and the subject material of my work is a good match. They get the commission instead of a gallery, and I get access to their rich database of donors.
I am taking this approach with my first play that happens April 18 – 21 at the PAL Vancouver Studio Theatre. It is called Knock Knock and I hope that you will come to see it. Instead of paying the charity a 50% commission, though, in this case I am giving the charity 100% of the sales. I hope you might be interested in coming to see it. For further information, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Tyrell Loranger