The Art of Exhibiting Art

THE LONG ROAD TO EXHIBITING YOUR ART

I visit a gallery at least a couple of times each month, rarely do I visit the same gallery twice in a year, there are just so many of them. Galleries are springing up everywhere as it seems the world is waking up to a new era of art collecting. Some of the galleries I have visited recently have surprised me, they’re not necessarily galleries in the stereotypical sense, not necessarily white wall boxes, and I have noticed a shift in the demographic visiting.

Art exhibition
Art needs careful lighting

Just two or three years ago a gallery could be defined by the white walls, plenty of space between each piece of art, and price tags that could make the unprepared weep. Now we are seeing galleries that have very different collections, focusing on new and emerging artists, and prices that are reasonable for a wide variety of collectors.

There are galleries that focus on works in particular areas, and from well established artists, but there are more and more galleries focusing on the young, daring to be different, and different they are. But the task of getting your work even in to these new galleries is no less arduous than it was before.

In the last decade and a half, we have seen a massive surge of interest in the visual arts, but the customer base in Britain is no longer necessarily domestic, more and more overseas visitors are attending gallery events.

Usually you will see artists proceed from exhibition to exhibition, gallery to gallery, during the course of their careers, generally it is all a little predicable, and there is no real randomness. There are reasons why certain artists turn out at certain galleries and art venues. Careers advance almost deliberately and incrementally over periods of time, occasionally we see a sudden star emerge from almost nowhere, but this is generally the exception rather than the rule, but even the timing of emerging artists becomes predictable over time. Getting on to a gallery wall is a mammoth task for any artist, and to get there, you need to travel a long winding road.

At the start of an art career, artists begin at the beginning, showing their work to anyone, anywhere, to ensure that someone will see it. Small independent coffee shops are a staple of the emerging artist, but increasingly we are seeing art being displayed in other outlets such as furniture showrooms, hair salons, and in the lobbies of commercial buildings. The more exposure you get means that someone may see your art and tell someone else, who might tell someone else, and that someone else might if you are lucky, own a gallery.

If you have graduated from an art school you may just have an edge over the competition. During the course of your studies you may have been introduced to a gallery owner, a critic, curator, or a collector, so you will know who is who, but it doesn’t mean that they are more likely to pick up your work. Even with a formal arts education you will still have to climb the ladder along with everyone else, it is just that you will know where the foot of the ladder is.

If you have not participated in a formal arts education, the only real way for gallery exposure is to immerse yourself in your local art community. Visiting galleries, museums especially when they are featuring local artists, and general art hangouts, and keep attending events constantly. Eventually people will remember who you are and will strike up a conversation.

Galleries never randomly select artists to work with. Your art can be really good but that’s not enough for a gallery to give you wall space, the quality of your art is only a stage in getting through the door, you also need a good standing in the art community, your resume plays a vital part, and how good you are to work with is always a consideration, as is your previous sales history and the quality of any reviews of your work. Galleries only enhance your reputation as an artist, they certainly do not build your reputation.

In the beginning you will need to grow a thick skin. Gallery owners are a vocal bunch, and if you think that they will be sensitive to your sensitivities as an artist, you really need to think again.

So even the new galleries are difficult, getting in to an established traditional gallery is a long road, and chances are you will still have a way to go before you can comfortably know that your work will hang on the wall. But the question is, how do you even get close?

Think about exhibiting, and even think about creating your own exhibition. This too is a difficult path, there is nothing worse than running an exhibition, spending all of your savings, and then no one turns up to view your work. I know a few artists who have tried and failed, and a few artists who made the bold step and have never once looked back. So this week I have been collecting tips, having numerous conversations, and mulling over just how painful it is to set up your own exhibition.

So here are the ups, downs, and trials of setting up your own exhibition. Firstly you need to plan. Without a plan you might as well not start. The first step on this road is to start formulating contacts, and getting to know the art community. This is a slow step, you don’t want to be seen as too pushy, and you need to save the hard selling for the exhibition.

Getting the word out about your exhibition is much more difficult than firing up Microsoft Publisher and creating a leaflet. Social media can be useful but only if you have enough organic reach to get your exhibition details in front of many people, and if you are serious about using social media, the reality is that you cannot rely on organic (unpaid for) reach. You will need to invest. Set up a social media campaign, and remember to target your audience. If your exhibition is going to be held in the outer reaches of the world, you will need to convince people to come along, and the reality is that they probably won’t come at all. Location is the key, and you need to set your target audience in your social media campaign to reflect this. No point in targeting social media users in the U.S if your exhibition is taking place in Japan.

But there are other ways of getting the word out. Online art galleries and event calendars, even in Facebook groups, are a way to spread the word without breaking the bank. Make sure that where you advertise your event is relevant to your art. Blogs are another good way to publicize an event, but again you will want the blog to be relevant to your art, and it probably needs to be established with a good reader base to start with. Local newspapers are good, but even these have their downsides as many people are now reading news online. Free local newspapers are probably the better way to go, unless you can afford to place an advert in a national newspaper with a good readership.

Art Gallery
Advertise as much as possible and don't leave it until the last minute!

 

You can also attend physical locations where people who have an interest in art congregate. This is always a good tactic to use even if you are not exhibiting. It is a useful way of forming contacts and striking up conversations. Getting to know those in the art community who are most involved in your style of art is critical.

Now it’s time to go back to the planning. For any exhibition you will need to decide on a theme. If you don’t have a theme there is a risk that the exhibition will appear disjointed and thrown together at the last minute. It is rarely a good idea to just exhibit lots of random artwork, you need to somehow tie each piece together. This also serves the purpose of doubling as a marketing technique, and assures your visitors that they are more likely to see the type of art they are interested in. But don’t be vague, you need to carefully describe what your exhibition is about. Abstracts is a vague description, if your abstracts follow a theme, you will need to find something inspirational to describe what will be on display, relevant to the theme.

1. Gather a few other interested artists in the local area to exhibit with. Take a look around and visit local art clubs, or local art and craft fairs and markets. Even artists who create pieces that are contradictory to your main theme may be able to balance the overall focus. But whatever you do, never limit yourself to artists whose work is so similar to yours, consider artists who create using different mediums to make sure that the exhibition is as dynamic as possible.

2. Finding a location for your exhibition is critical. Choosing to exhibit in the middle of the countryside with too few good transport links is a disaster. Renting an area within an existing gallery is often a good idea, and the upside is that the gallery owner may like your work too. But if that’s not possible, then you need to consider all of the options and some of those options are a little out of the box.

Think about the size of area that you need, and how many visitors are likely to attend. You will want somewhere with sufficient parking, you will need to make sure the space is well presented, and you need to consider lighting. There’s nothing worse than turning up to a poorly lit exhibition. The use of track lighting which can also be hired is great for these spaces.

Art Gallery lighting
Of course it doesn't have to have white walls!

 

Ideally look for modern spaces, laminate flooring and white walls are the optimum here, but also consider warehouses if you are looking to give your exhibition an industrial overtone. I like a well-lit gallery with exposed brick, when you introduce some elements of steel too, it can start to resemble a very trendy space. If you are looking for a different look that ties in to your work, you might want to consider other venues such as schools, community centers, and even the foyer of a local museum. The look of the space needs to reflect the art that will be on display.

Cafés and restaurants are also good locations. They have the foot traffic, and if you are in a tourist area, landscapes of the local area usually sell well as long as the prices are competitive. If you can get additional foot-fall in to the café or restaurant as a result of advertising your exhibition, then you are also likely to be invited back to the café or restaurant to do more exhibitions, or you will be able to leave a few pieces behind.

3. Ok, you have decided on a venue, you have a few artists who also want to exhibit, but more importantly at this point is setting the date.

You will want to give yourself some time to pull everything together. Pulling it all together the week before is a recipe for failure. Utilise days over a weekend to ensure that you get the most visitors, and families will make the event an outing.

If there was a way to predict the weather when you run an exhibition in a tourist area, you would ideally want it to be raining. Otherwise you will be competing with candy floss and picnics. Neither are good when you are holding an exhibition in a café.

You won’t be able to predict the weather though in most instances, so you will need to ensure that you are not competing with other events that might be more attractive to customers.

Significant sports events are a no go, and timing during the month plays a part. For casual art buyers rather than collectors, exhibiting just after the traditional pay-day is always a good idea. If you are going for the casual art buying market, then a week prior to a monthly pay day is going to be slow. If you are going towards the market of serious art collectors, then any time is probably just as good as any other, although I would avoid mid-summer, the art market starts to pick up during the fall, and during winter and spring.

4. Pricing is going to be one of your early thoughts, but you will need to factor in the cost of not only the materials used and time to create the piece, at this point you will need to consider the overheads of the exhibition. The rent for the space, any hiring of lighting or a display stand, and anything you have spent on advertising. The whole point of the exhibition might be to just get your work out there, but if you keep turning a loss you will run out of money soon. Bear in mind that as stressful as it is to run an exhibition, the customer interaction and selling the odd piece can become addictive.

But also bear in mind that it is not all about selling on the day. Handing out artist cards is a way to increase future sales, so you might wish to take an initial hit on returns to increase future sales.

If your event can support a local charity, then so much the better. People who support the charity are more likely to be inclined to come along. If you then offer a piece as a prize in a draw, that is likely to also keep people hanging around for much longer.

5. If you are exhibiting in a rented space, you will need to check if the space is covered by insurance. Public liability insurance is critical. If your display stand falls down halfway through the event, not only will you damage your artwork, you could end up spending heavily on a defense lawyer.

If other artists are exhibiting, then you will need them to also have insurance or sign a waiver.

6. The devil is in the detail as they say. You are exhibiting, and you have drunk more coffee than you really should have, and you need a break to go to the restrooms. Have a think about who will provide a few minutes cover for you.

You also need to consider how your work should be displayed, how the work needs to be lit, and provide some artist resumes, perhaps in binders which may also serve as catalogues for your work that is not on display.

But you also need to consider how you are going to receive payments, do you need to set yourself up with a credit card reader? You will also most likely need someone to pick and pack orders. It takes a lot of work to exhibit, you need helpers to guide people through the doors, and you may want to distribute advertising leaflets whilst the exhibition is on during the day. You cannot be in two places at once, so you really need to give this some thought.

When displaying your work, always make sure there is clear pricing. Although many galleries will not necessarily display a price, for an exhibition the clients might be very different and will want to know how much a piece costs. While you are labelling prices, also consider using labelling or signs that say if a work can be touched or not.

A friend of mine set up an exhibition to sell his art last year, what he found during the exhibition was that he had at one point, twelve customers all wanting to purchase a piece of art. The art was priced between £200 - £3,000, but could not accept any payments as he had forgotten that people just don’t carry that amount of cash with them. The result was that he lost eight customers who only had the choice of paying by card. The result was a loss of over £6,000, purely because he had forgotten what the most important detail is.

7. Advertising. Now you could go to an advertising agency, and you could spend a lot of money. But there are other ways of advertising. Adverts at the venue itself are a good idea prior to the event, but you will also need to advertise to a broader market. The use of social media is a good choice, and for once I would say that paying to boost the post is a sensible idea, just so long as you target the right demographic in the right area.

Advertising in local newspapers, displaying posters in local art schools, cafés, restaurants, and even on supermarket bulletin boards are a few ideas. But what you really want to do is to create a press release. If you can get a local or even national newspaper to cover your event, this is probably the most powerful form of advertising that you will get for free.

You also need to consider leafleting the local area, leafleting on the day of the event to passersby, and you will want a nice, simple clear sign by the entrance to alert passersby that you are exhibiting inside the venue.

8. Setting up the space. This is another important part of planning the exhibition, and one that has the potential to increase/decrease sales significantly. Supermarkets have customer flow designed by specialists and the amount of thought that is involved in working out the process is not for the weak of heart. That’s not to say that you need to go down to this detail for your planned exhibition, but it will make a difference if it is carefully planned.

You will want your exhibition to have a visual flow and you need to imagine how a visitor will interact as they move around the space. You need to consider which art you will want them to see first, and which direction are they likely to move in when they enter the exhibition. There is a saying in the construction world that you leave the footpaths until last. People will follow the shortest route, and you build the paths after the main building work is complete by following the trails that people have already left behind.

To do this in practical terms will be difficult. You need to be familiar with the space you will be holding the event in, and it is always worth visiting as many exhibitions as possible to pick up tips.

You also need to consider dead areas and pinch points. Dead areas tend to be corners, and pinch points for foot traffic tend to be narrow passages to other areas. You will want to make sure that there is adequate space for foot traffic, and also consider wheelchair users. If there are steps, try and make sure that there are also accessible ramps as well.

9. The next thing to consider is what I like to term as the draw. What will draw people in to the exhibition? Will it be the release of your latest work to a fan fare, or will it be that you are offering a finger buffet and a champagne reception?

If you go down the champagne reception route you might want to consider if this is acceptable under local licensing laws, and if you are going down the buffet route, then you need to consider how much it will cost for an external company to provide a buffet for the expected number of guests, and there is nothing that will get you a poor review more than bad food or not enough of it. It looks like you were ill prepared for the event. You’ll also need to consider vegetarian options and non-alcoholic drinks if you decide to go down this route. Honestly, you might want to consider that café exhibition at this point!

There are some other factors that you need to consider when hosting an event. You will want to take a long view rather than focusing on a short sell. An event that provides you with future collectors is a real success.

You will want to be working with other artists that share your vision for the event, and remember that good collectors (the audience you really should be focusing on) will look for work that endures past first impressions.

Build the exhibition base locally but if it is a success, then start thinking about scaling up to national events. They are much more work but the prizes can be much greater. Initially, small, concentrated and dedicated events can pay off. Always remember that holding the event in some grand venue doesn’t always pay off, and the costs are likely to be much higher. But, wherever you run your exhibition there is one golden rule, never not acknowledge a visitors presence. They are after all the reason you are holding the exhibition in the first place.

WHAT’S HOT IN 2016?

If running your own exhibition seems like a little too much effort in 2016, there are plenty of exhibitions that you can attend to see some great art, and maybe get some inspiration for when you are ready to take the next step.

Museums and galleries around the world are exhibiting some great works during 2016, and their wares are attuned to every conceivable taste. The Tate Modern has a particularly interesting range of events lined up, and we await the opening of its new landmark building in June.

Sales of the old Masters do seem to be on the decline of late, but that doesn’t mean to say they are less popular with gallery visitors. Hieronymus Bosch is an early Netherland master of the strangely bizarre and his works are some of art history’s most recognizable.

Celebrating the 500th anniversary of his death this year, Het Noordbrabants Museum in the artists home town of Den Bosch will be displaying a remarkable exhibition that has managed to bring together the majority of the artists surviving works. Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of Genius is at Het Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch from 13 February to 8 May 2016.

Meanwhile from the 17th February running through to the 22nd May at the National Gallery in London, Delacroix’s works will be on display in an exhibition entitled Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art. Delacroix’s high-octane major works and including some from Renoir, Gauguin Matisse, and Kandinsky will also be on display.

The New York arts scene is wonderful and vibrant at the best of times, but especially as Vigee Lebrun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France will be on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art between February 15th and running through until the 15th May.

Also in New York, although you still have plenty of time to plan a visit, from July 12th through to 27th November, an exhibition of Diane Arbus will be on display at the Met Breuer. Initially radical works of photographs whose subjects were considered be outside of the mainstream of society, including circus performers, nudists, transgender people, and the disabled, the show will present approximately 105 photographs that Arbus took during the first few years of her career between 1956 and 1962. Two thirds of the photographs have never been exhibited before, so this is a rare opportunity to see some great and interesting works.

The National Portrait Gallery will be running a landmark show that has already started, through to the 22nd May 2016. The show celebrates 100-years of British Vogue which originally launched in 1916, during the first World-War, at a time when American Vogue could not be shipped to the UK. This exhibition promises to be stylish and features all of the key names from both sides of the lens. Vogue 100: A Century of Style is on now.

As I mentioned earlier, the New Tate Modern, all ten-floors high, is Tate Moderns new behemoth. Designed by Herzog and de Meuron, the Swiss architects behind the original transformation of the Bankside Power Station have ensured that this new building will provide 60% more exhibition space. The new space will also include a whole new gallery promising new spaces for new types of art. The New Tate Modern is set to open on the 17th June 2016, and will be unmissable if you are visiting London.

Over in France, following the footsteps of the likes of Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor and Christian Boltanski, the latest artist to be commissioned to fill the vast glazed nave and dome of the Grand Palais is radical Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, who has been based in France since 1989. Huang Yong Ping: Monumenta will be exhibited at the Grand Palais, Paris, from the 8th May through to the 18th June 2016 and is undoubtedly one of the events I am most looking forward to this year.

2016 – THE YEAR OF THE TECHNOLOGY COMEBACK

New technologies either fail dramatically after a huge fan-fare, or they go on to be the ultimate must have for gadget lovers. Honestly, there is no real chance of predicting what will become the most wanted technology, last year we all thought that the Apple Watch would change the game for wearables, but the reality is that sales were disappointing and we are unlikely to see any real change until the Apple Watch 2 is released, and my money is still firmly on it being called the Apple Watch S when it eventually see’s the light of day.

I remember back at CES in 2006 when we saw the original “Internet of Things” (IoT), and the introduction of smart fridges that could tell you when your food was about to expire. I admit to being sucked in, and I admit that I rarely used the smart features. It kept food cold, and that too me is all that I still really want a fridge to be able to do. It is going to take a lot of convincing me that “smart” really is “smart”. But here we are ten-years later and the technology is only now appearing that would actually make “smart” useful. So my prediction for technology comebacks in 2016 are as follows:

SMART – (IoT) will become popular once again in products beyond the TV. User interfaces will be key, for me, using the smart TV is less convenient than firing up the PS4 or Apple TV, where I can actually access pre-purchased content, and purchase entirely new content. Some of the smart TV’s from just 18-months ago appear to be outdated with clunky UI’s, and limited connectivity. Smart sounded smart when it was introduced, but the focus has been on functionality rather than giving the user a great experience.

The next new technology is one I am almost loathed to predict but I think it will happen. Bit Coin seems all but dead according to some news sources, but there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. There have been so many ups and downs that the currency may think it has been sitting on a roller coaster for the last couple of years, apart from the times when it has been a useful way for criminals to buy illicit items.

But advocates of Bit-Coin type technologies are increasing, and the number of online retailers accepting the currency as a valid form of payment are steadily increasing. There is a “but”, to all of this, big banks need to get onboard, and that’s were things may fall down. Apple Pay, Google Pay and other variants are also likely to see an increase in popularity during 2016.

For those who were in to video games in the 1990’s you will remember Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. Looking through it either sent you in to a fit, or you would if lucky, only walk away with a headache. Back in the 90’s there was nothing technically advanced enough that would provide the user with a great experience, now we seem to be focusing once again on Virtual Reality, and it seems to be pretty good.

I had the good fortune to test out an Oculus Rift when it was just outside of the early development phase. I sat in the cab of an 18-wheeler truck and drove around some roads using a real steering wheel and gears, although I crashed a number of times, the graphics even at that point in time were believable. My second experience was sitting on a roller coaster, and I admit to holding on to the chair as I descended in to the abyss.

With Sony, Oculus, Microsoft and others jumping on to the VR train, it seems we are all but set to adopt and embrace the technology. The only downside will be the cost, in particular if the costs that were displayed in error on Amazon a few weeks back for Sony’s version of VR are anything to go by, it could take a long time to see any mainstream VR activity. But how much would you spend to walk around art galleries in the comfort of your own home?

Virtual Reality
Will 2016 be the defining year of Virtual Reality?

 

Google Glass is another technology I was in the fortunate position to try. In 2012 Google introduced the world to Glass, a smart pair of glasses that promised the world, and in the most part failed to impress anyone other than the real geeks amongst us. I consider myself true geek, but I have to say that I was a little worried about privacy, and to be honest, as geek as I am, I looked like a tool wearing them.

By the end of 2012, the $1,500 wearable PC was all but dead, except it wasn’t. Google keep resurrecting the concept, Google’s founder Sergey Brin had stopped wearing the device long ago, but in 2016 there is a chance that we will see at least two versions of Google Glass. Maybe in 2012 the world wasn’t quite prepared enough, but I sit here and think back to the couple of hours I spent wearing a Glass device and cannot for the life of me think that I would look less of a tool today than I did back then.

THE TECH WE LOST FOR A WHILE

Technology has a habit of going away and returning down the line, either in a similar form or with the addition of the bits that had been omitted on its first run. Let us take the stylus. Steve Jobs once said that if the user had to rely on a stylus then the technology had failed. In 2015, Apple introduced the Apple Pencil and what an amazing piece of kit it is. I have been using a stylus through every generation of the iPad, and I become more and more impressed with them every time I create a piece of art. Although I haven’t as yet managed to convince the wife that I need an Apple Pencil above my Bamboo Fine Line, it is certainly on my list for this year.

3D has bounced back more often than a rubber ball. We first saw it in the early 20th Century, it boomed with comic books in the 50’s and it came back on our TV’s just a few short years ago. Now it seems to be taking a back seat from the 4k offerings, but I admit I prefer a good 3D film over a 4k offering at the moment. Probably because 4k content is currently limited, but I have seen the next iteration of 8k, and I would imagine that by 2020, we will be seeing the first affordable 8k screens entering the market. 3D might be slowing down at the moment, but there is no doubt it will make a return.

So just as with fashion, technology it seems is on an ever revolving cycle. The tech just gets a little better each time it goes around.

WHATS APP

That annoying for parents chat app, WhatsApp is about to drop its micro-charge for access to services beyond the first year. Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp, said at the DLD conference in Munich recently that the yearly charge of 99c/69p will be dropped within the next few weeks.

The app is as popular with kids as it is with adults, and if you have a child who is active on the platform, you will know just how much data it can use over the course of a month from your data allowance. I was staggered to find that my daughter had managed to use over a gigabyte of data in less than a month using the app over the festive break! Now she has been restricted to using it within specific times!

THE ARTISTS EXCHANGE

So that’s all for today, this weekend I will be busier than ever attempting to finish off a couple of pieces of art, I said that last week too, but it is a busy period at the moment. I will be popping in to my Facebook group The Artists Exchange to comment on the wonderful art that is being shared by now over 600 members! If you wish to join, then log in to Facebook and head over to https://www.facebook.com/groups/940723089340284/

Coming up very soon is a pop-up art project that everyone can be involved with. One World, Many Views, Same Time. Details will be posted on the group page. The group is a great place to share the artwork of others, and they in turn sharing your artwork. The group is also a great place to ask for advice or critique.

There will be some exciting community based art projects happening in 2016, and I am hoping that the membership will increase even more. Joining the group is free of charge and is one of the few groups that eliminates spam posts! There’s nothing worse than joining a group only to see that it is dominated by the sales pitch of that one person in the group. So head over to Facebook and join, and I will see you there. For other news and views during the week, please like my Facebook page at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia

 

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