How to Approach a Gallery, Part II

Approaching a Gallery by artist coach, Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
2nd of a 3-part series of articles.

In Part I of this series I described how to find the galleries that might be right for you, and how to make yourself visible to them.   So what comes next? Think of your relationship with a gallery as a gradual courtship.  You both learn more at each stage and then decide whether you'll make a commitment.  Your first connection might be in person, or on the telephone, or in an email exchange.  Since you can't predict when or how this will happen, get ready now.  

Remember, you're preparing to have a conversation, not give a speech.  You'll want to be brief, positive, and honest as you describe your background.     


Here are five areas to think about:

1.  Your body of work

2.  Your intentions and process

3.  Your exhibition history

4.  Your pricing and sales history

5.  Your audience (includes social media presence)


Your body of work 

Galleries are looking for what they call "a coherent body of work;"  this usually means 12-20 pieces of completed work, ready to show, or enough to fill one of their gallery spaces.  You'll need fewer pieces if they start by including you in a small group show.  "Coherent" doesn't mean that your work is all the same, only that it is unified by theme, materials, technique, or point of view.  In a gallery setting, your art should look like it belongs together.


Your intentions and process

If you've spent the time to create a strong artist statement, you've got this covered.  When talking with a gallery, you might describe what inspires you, or how your work connects with issues you care about, or how you use materials.  Just tell them what your art is all about.       


Your exhibition history

Most galleries expect you to have some experience showing your work.  If you're an emerging artist, you might have shown in juried group exhibitions, or in local cafes or bookstores, or at Open Studios.   Don't apologize for anything you haven't done yet.  After all, you're looking for a gallery because you want to reach a wider audience.   


Pricing and sales history
This is a tricky area, especially if you haven't sold much work.  A gallery will help you set fair prices for your work, so if you think your prices are too low, say so.     They do want to know about previous sales, but it's OK  if you've mostly sold to friends and family.  


Your audience (includes social media presence)
Galleries are interested in the audience you attract.  Think about the kinds of people who respond to your art.  If you have enough information, site demographics such as age, income, geography, etc., to provide a profile of your potential audience.  If you are active on social media, talk about your not just the number of followers but how they respond to your work. 


Remember, you're preparing for a conversation and will get to ask questions of your own.   Here are five good ones:

1.  What does the gallery expect from you?

2.  Will the relationship be exclusive, or non-exclusive?

3.  How often do gallery artists get an exhibition?

4.  How does the gallery promote their artists?

5.  What are the next steps?


What does the gallery expect from you?

Start or end with this question.  Let them know you intend to be an active partner in the relationship.  Often they ask you to promote the gallery on your website and through your social media presence.  They might have other requirements, so be open to learning what's important to them. 


Will the relationship be exclusive or non-exclusive?
Galleries sometimes want you to show your work exclusively with them, usually within a geographic region, like the East Coast, the San Francisco Bay Area, greater Chicago.  Find out if they have a policy about whether you can sell on your website or other online sites.  
How often do gallery artists get an exhibition?
Since you're still in the courtship phase, ask about how they treat "gallery artists" instead of what they will do for you.  Find out how often their artists get a 2-person, 3-person, or solo exhibition.  You need to know what to expect, especially if the gallery represents a large group of artists.


How do they promote gallery artists?
Ask about what they do to bring collectors into the gallery or onto their website.  Do they advertise?  Go to art fairs?  Participate in local events like art walks and art talks? Showcase your work online? You will know about some of these activities from your research, but it is useful to hear them talk about what they do for artists.


What are the next steps?

Don't let your first conversation end with confusion.  You can ask about the gallery's timeline and decision process.  Find out what else they need from you.   Always send a follow-up note, expressing your interest and thanking them for their time. 
Everything you learn in early conversations will help you be effective when it is time to negotiate a contract with a gallery.  In the next part of this series, I'll explain how to do that, and show you what a good gallery contract looks like.


Mary Edwards, Ph.D.

Mary Edwards is a Career & Life Coach for Artists, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She works with artists across the United States and all over the world.

Mary has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and received her coach training from the College of Executive Coaching.  She brings a unique combination of business knowledge, art world experience, and professional coaching skill to her practice.

To receive Free Tips for Artists (twice a month), visit and click on “Mailing List Sign-Up.”  If you would like to schedule a time to talk, see “Contact Mary.”


Career & Life Coach for Artists


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