How do you feel when going into an art gallery? Awkward? Please don’t be, they WANT you to go in and you will be welcomed.
In the early 00’s I had my own gallery in South London. It was a gorgeous space opposite Clapham Common. We sold about 80 artists work including my own. My own gallery was welcoming, had lovely music on in the background and lots of notes dotted around the gallery telling visitors that they were welcome and thanking them for popping in.
Prior to having my own shop, I spent my formative years visiting other galleries, mainly in London, New York and a short stint in Sydney, Oz.
To make this post easy to read, I’m going to split it into thoughts and advice for potential buyers, and then for artists.
As a browser/potential customer.
You are golden. These gallery owners & staff work hard to attract you in - even if the work on show is super-minimal and uber contemporary - that ‘Crisp Packet On The Floor’ was made for you to see by the artist who made it.
Let’s step down from the high-brow and assume the gallery you want to visit is a commercial one that is still rather select. The work on show is beautiful, the gallery is sparse and there is plenty of space around the artworks. The space is quiet and you have tons of bags - you are STILL welcome to go in, they want you to.
The thing is, the person behind the desk has no idea who you are. For all they know you might be a major collector, or you may have a big birthday coming up and you like the work on show - they will be welcoming. Accept the fact that if they are a bit stiff or with another person they might simply give you a little smile, smile back and enjoy your browsing time.
Give absolutely no time to what they might think of you - simply enjoy the work on the walls.
A nice tip here is to ask to leave your details as you leave - join their mailing list. This will lead to Private View invitations (opening-night invitations). These make lovely parties and you will get to know the gallery over time, who knows - you may even end up purchasing from them.
Be brave, go in and smile.
If you are an artist.
It is IMPERATIVE that you go into the gallery. You need to see what’s on the walls in the name of research. My advice here is easier to deliver in suggested Don’ts first:
Please don’t go into the gallery unannouced with piles of your work under your arm (please, please, please)
Don’t go in talking loudly about how you are an artist and you would like to sell your work as an opening statement.
Don’t interrupt them if they are with other people.
I’m sorry if the above sounds patronising - I promise that isn’t what I meant. Having been a gallery owner myself, there are BRILLIANT ways to get yourself introduced to them which include non of the above.
So now the DO suggestions:
Get to know the gallery, pop in from time to time to enjoy the work on the walls (or pretend to if you don’t actually like the work!)
If the person behind the desk is looking approachable, quietly tell them that you are an artist/photographer/maker and would it be possible for you
to send them an email with some images of your work. They will LOVE you for asking.
Take the name of the person to send the email to - if it’s a generic info@ address, ask for a name to write your cover letter to.
Do thank them for their time and retreat. Nice and simple.
Art galleries NEED artists and they must find fresh work. Your introduction goes way beyond a hello - it states how professional you are and crucially would be if they were to work with you.
For anyone - visiting an art gallery doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. Enjoy your time there, but perhaps ask at the desk if there is anywhere they would like you to put your tons of bags - before you plonk them down by the prize piece of artwork - you wouldn’t want anyone asking to buy them!
Sam Barnes has been a practising artist for 25 years. Throughout her career she has had her own gallery, worked with hundreds of artists in making and marketing their own works and exhibited her own extensively. Her work has been successfully published & licensed many times. Sam is passionate about artists, makers and creatives earning a decent living from what they do. Our world needs new and beautiful things and artists deserve liveable incomes. Those two things are possible. Sam writes from her first hand experience and occasionally works 1:1 with others.