What Artists Should Expect From Galleries At Openings

I've realized that some galleries treat their artists better than others at exhibition openings.

This post is for artists who are new to the gallery scene and wondering what they should expect.

It's also for gallerists who either aren't treating their artists with common courtesies or aren't taking advantage of their presence at events.

Jenni Higginbotham
Jenni Higginbotham captured the attention of everyone in the room when she talked about her art at our artist meet-and-greet in Albuquerque last week.

Common Courtesies

Gallery staff should inform the artists of all details surrounding the opening event and get an RSVP from each artist. Artists should know that they are invited and encouraged to attend.

Artists shouldn't have to go to a website to find out the time of an event because the gallery didn't tell them about it.

All gallery staff should know who the artists are. Look up their photos! Read their statements and bios. Know them.

The staff should greet the artists warmly and treat them generously. It is, after all, because of the artists that the galleries have anything on their walls or pedestals.

Artists should be introduced to other artists and top collectors.

I asked an artist at a recent opening if one of the other 5 artists was present and she said she had no idea. “The gallery isn't very good at communicating,” she said.

For The Good Of The Gallery

Galleries should take photos of the artists with the art and with gallery visitors.
Such photos can be used to promote the vitality of the gallery on the gallery's website, in the gallery's newsletter, and on social media.

Time Out To Acknowledge Your Duh Moment

I know what you're saying right now. You're saying, Duh! But what I'm describing here doesn't always happen.

I cannot make this stuff up. I have witnessed self-absorbed gallerists ignoring artists with my own two peepers.

Bonus Points

Gallerists get bonus points if the artists are wearing name tags.

Extra points are also scored if artists are invited to say a few words about their art. I mean . . . c'mon! . . . the artists are right there in the room. Why not take advantage of their presence?

And while you're at it, make arrangements to video the artist speaking and add footage to YouTube, your website, and other social media sites. Send a link to the video to any clients who couldn't make the opening.

Listen up, gallerists: The artists can help you sell the work! But you have to make them want to help you.

Artists Have Responsibilities, Too

I have followed up this article with another on what gallerists should expect from artists. It's a two-way street! You need one another.

Please leave comments here related to either topic. I'd love to hear about your experience.

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41 thoughts on “What Artists Should Expect From Galleries At Openings”

  1. At our most recent opening, a group of kids were allowed to congregate, sitting on the floor against two walls in the main room. They were waiting to perform as part of another event. Not only did that prevent viewers, many of whom had traveled from our home city, from seeing the art up close, but they devoured the refreshments, leaving many opening guests without food or drink. We were very embarrassed, to say the least.

  2. How about even HAVING an opening? That rant was short….
    How about allowing the artist to have an additional event in the gallery, such as an artist talk, etc., In addition to the opening?
    A wonderful gallery had my art on exhibit, but the hours were during my day job. I offered to have a “happy hour” pre-opening with everything done by me (set up, clean up, food, drinks, etc.), yet the answer was no. It was disappointing that those who live far from work would visit after work…but not on a weekend in spite of my best efforts to advertise the area and local businesses.
    Your post was spot on about that experience…LOL. They even wondered why I wanted the opening date three months ahead of time!!! Sigh…..

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      A-M: Absolutely! It’s in the best interest of all to do as many events as possible. Amazing that they wouldn’t see this.

  3. Great article, and SO glad that you mentioned my pet peeve: Not introducing artists to collectors and other artists. It’s like we’re incidental after we produce the work and the work is a more important guest than we are. Of all of the things you and your commenters listed, that’s the most common one. Galleries will usually get the other things right, but I always have to ask them if there’s anyone there I should meet. At my last opening, after I and the gallerist and his staff went out for dinner it occurred to him to mention that the chief curator of their important local museum was there, as was some of the board. This same curator is one who strongly supported a public art commission that I had won in the same town. I was best able to meet people by standing near my work and starting a (not pushy) conversation with anyone who spent more than 10 seconds looking at it. I got into some wonderful conversations that way but, sheesh! I could’ve used some support!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Lynn: Thanks for sharing that experience. Seems like artists should get uber specific: “Are there any curators, arts writers, or collectors that I should meet?”
      You’d think that’s overkill, but apparently it’s not.

  4. Several years ago I was fortunate enough to have a solo show at a commercial gallery. Out of nowhere almost half of my paintings got sold! I was extremely excited. I asked the gallery owner about it and she told me a designer came through and felt my landscape paintings were perfect for a client of hers (she was re-doing an office building). I thought: wow! What a great opportunity to make a connection with this designer. When I asked the gallery owner for the name of the designer who purchased the lot of paintings she refused to give me her name and told me it was against policy to do so. I guess she was protecting her own leads but man, what a terrible lost opportunity on my part. I tried but there was nothing I could do…or was there? Is this standard procedure?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      John: This is typical. Galleries, like artists, have privacy policies and protect the names on their lists. You might be able to finagle it out of the gallery with a heart-to-heart conversation: “I’d love to keep the designer updated about my work and promise to send any sales through your gallery.”

  5. As a gallerist I can tell you that most artists don’t come to an opening. Out of a 24 person group show, only about 6-10 will show up. We provide both printed post cards and e-cards that only a handful send out. We have introduced artists to the curator of the show and to each other, only to have them say a quick “Hi,” and then they escape to some other part of the room. This is especially true if there is a perceived generational difference.
    Our gallery tries hard to make our openings an opportunity for our artists, but we keep coming up against resistance from the very people they are for.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      CM: I’m so glad you shared your experience. Seems like a “These are your responsibilities” info sheet might be called for.
      Many artists mistakenly think that galleries are the easy way out because “they do all the work.” I’m trying to educate them differently. Galleries will be much more interested in them if they help sell the work.
      Also, do you think that with 24 artists that many of them think that the other 23 will take up the slack? Or that it’s not such a big deal with so many artists there?
      What about solo shows at your gallery? What happens then?

  6. At my first solo show the gallery changed the dates of the exhibition without telling me! I’d already had publicity leaflets printed so I was not best pleased, as you can imagine. So much was promised but not done, I began to wonder if they were deliberately sabotaging me. At another solo show, the professional PR people (employed by the gallery) didn’t talk to me at all about any aspect of the exhibition. I ended up doing most of the publicity myself.
    Thankfully both shows were successful, but I did have to work hard at making sure things were done as promised or even doing them myself. My best advice to artists is never to assume the other party is doing what they promised. Have an agreed timescale of when things should be done, so you can step in if necessary. Don’t wait until it’s too late for things to be rectified.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Jackie: Egad! That’s awful. But I’m not surprised by anything anymore.
      Your advice is excellent: never assume.

  7. Alyson, that is why I try to do EVERYTHING by myself as I have not found a single Art Gallery that would promote my Art the way I can do on my own. (A couple of weeks back I mentioned this to you on your wall post). I have showed my work so far in three separate Art Galleries and had a terrible experience from ALL three of them. Two of them have shut down since. It does not take a Rocket Scientist to figure out why that would happen.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Roopa: Not all galleries are equal, but you should definitely do what is best for you.

  8. Great post, Alyson — and, unfortunately true for most shows I’ve been in. Artist talks are such a natural idea I’m surprised more galleries don’t do them. I’ve really enjoyed the ones I’ve been part of. But I’ve invariably had to ask the gallerists who the other artists are.
    What I would really like to see is name cards with an image of the artist’s work on it — that would help everyone. Artists could even be asked to provide their own, in a maximum 3×5 size, say.
    I agree that hanging out next to your work and starting a conversation with people who actually look at it is a good idea, and I’m always glad I’ve done it, but I’d appreciate hearing what people have had success with as conversation starters. It always feels so pushy. But I do it.

  9. Thanks for opening this up for discussion. I’ve worked with several galleries showing my work at various levels, and I’ve worked as a coordinator for other artists showing at galleries, too. I’ve learned that there are all kinds out there!
    Some gallerists are super on top of everything and others not so much. Some artists are dependable and easy to work with and many are not… The best relationships are just that – relationships – I find that if I make myself available and make sure I’m in touch and communicating well with whoever is coordinating a show, things work out better.
    As an artist, I do my homework and find out all I can about a gallery before working with them. And I try to stay in as close communication as possible, not just waiting for them to contact me, but not making a pest of myself, either.
    Can’t wait to see what your artist list looks like…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Judith: Yep, a 2-way street. But what do you do when the gallery absolutely doesn’t communicate? Doesn’t return calls or send email updates or let you know when your work has sold?

  10. I went to an artist talk a couple of years ago and as we were looking around the gallery before the talk started, the director made a point of speaking to every single person in the space ( about 20 people) encouraging them to feel comfortable in asking questions or participating in the conversation. He was very attentive to both his guests and to his artist. It was an amazing talk about a personal body of work by a talented artist. To this day I am still touched by how very kind and generous the director was.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Rebecca: What a difference that makes! And you will compare that experience to every other similar situation.

  11. This article is wonderful and informative. Thanks so much for delving into this topic. I am currently exhibited in a gallery in Maine and it is also this gallery’s grand opening. I was a bit nervous as it has now been a month since opening and I’ve no clue as to how quickly/slowly work usually moves in a brand new gallery. I wish I could be closer so that I could attend the shows and see how it’s going so far, but I’m in the DC area so it’s a bit of a hike. I have also been wondering how often should one expect a gallery to have a showcase. Thanks again for the tips included!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Rachel: What do you mean by “a showcase”? A solo exhibition?
      New galleries are always a risk. And I’m sure they’re busy with “new” stuff. If you don’t hear anything, pick up the phone and call.

  12. Another pet peeve of mine is when a big event takes place in the gallery’s City (Annual Paul Bunyon day, Super bowl, International Apple day, whatever) and they don’t tell the artists or they tell them too late. Most of my galleries are out of state and I can’t tell you how many time’s I’ve heard “Oh, by the way, there will be 150,000 people coming to the event this weekend. Can you get us some new work by tomorrow?” I’ve had it happen more than once.
    And yep, having to look up the show dates and time on the internet is just plain stupid. You can’t always make that phone call to the gallery when you are trying to update your website at midnight.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Oooo. That’s a good one, K. And I know of someone else that happened to. She actually found out about her show via a 3rd party – wasn’t even asked. And she had 2 other big shows before the scheduled one. Not cool.

  13. I can’t say that my fist experience has been what I expected. Probably everything but. I can’t even tell people how hard I worked to try to make it the best experience I could with announcements, mailings, ads, news release, anything I could do. I am exasperated at the moment and having to regroup. Since I am new to this I’m not sure what I should have expected vs. what happened.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      AA: I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Can we ask how, specifically, it didn’t meet your expectations?

  14. Thank you also for opening up this topic for discussion. I also think Galleries should know how to improve their Gallery Openings. This is another needed conversation. I just recently traveled 3 hours and stayed overnight, for an art opening. I came home feeling there was much improvement needed, and then found your post! I hope this can help.
    Here is a list of suggestions I came up with, for Gallery Owners and/or Managers/Directors of galleries:
    1.Be sure and list the names of all your artists prominently at the exhibit and online, along with the title of the exhibit.
    2.Be sure and give the artist credit if you use their art in your promotions (photo of my art was used with no credit).
    3. Of course Name tags.
    4. Have the Curator/ Juror or Host gather everyone and thank them for coming. Introduce each artist (if group) who has come to the opening, to the visitors. This can help them connect with interested buyers and other artists. We are not all social butterflies. Some may have traveled a distance to be there; their presence should be appreciated. Perhaps point out who did what.
    5. The Curator/Juror/Host should give a short talk on his/her selection process, the theme if any of the exhibit – all for educating the potential buyers and visitors. This makes for an informative evening.
    6. Music if possible. Live music even better. Check for volunteers or local musicians.
    7. The Host should talk to the artist and learn more about the work that will be theirs to sell. Showing interest in the artist’s work, will start the conversation and less chance of them running away.
    8. Hanging art is difficult, but do not hang a piece of art that needs to be seen up close, totally out of reach of viewing. Be sensitive to the artist’s hard work and his need for his art to be appreciated.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Great list, Susan. Love #4.
      I would add: Take the artists to dinner! Especially if they traveled to get there at their own expense.

  15. Alyson, I look forward to your next blog post as I am very new to the whole Artist/Gallery relationship…this is great information and very helpful. Thanks.
    Sue O.

  16. Pingback: What Galleries Should Expect From Artists At Openings « Art Biz Blog

  17. I had a solo museum exhibit and was there during the installation. A staff member was about to hang one of my pieces when she dropped it and the 3 pieces of glass used to support various elements shattered. Of course, the frame was badly damaged. I am sure I look horrified as it hit the marble floor.
    The museum staff member turned to me and said “If you were dead, like most of the other artists who get solo exhibits here, it wouldn’t matter!” She acted angry at ME!
    My shocked response was: Well, I am NOT DEAD, and it does matter!
    OMGoodness…who trains these people???
    A little thoughtfulness about artists having feelings would be much appreciated.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Catherine: I have never heard of such nonsense from a museum staff member. Every museum professional I have ever worked with would have been horrified at dropping a piece of art – regardless of whether the artist was dead or alive.

  18. My husband was invited to exhibit his works at a gallery together with other artists. He is friends with the curator (also another artist) who invited him. Prior to the opening, he hasn’t had the opportunity to meet the owners. When we arrived the gallery owner, waving a glass of wine, just said “Hi” and we were left to our own devices. The curator, since he also had works on exhibit was kept busy talking to his friends and explaining his works. I saw people from the media interviewing the other artists so I asked my husband if he has been interviewed already. He was never introduced to the media or to other guests. I really felt bad for my husband. I wanted to approach the writers but didn’t want to appear publicity-hungry. The worst part was when they returned our artworks. They were heavily damaged during the pull-out.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Oh, Jackie, that sounds terrible. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. But I do hope you’ll approach the writers next time. Never hurts to ask.

  19. I would love to write a thank-you note to patrons who purchase my paintings, but my gallery owner is very paranoid about sharing the patron’s information. She feels it would it be overstepping my bounds if I added that patron to my Artist’s Mailing List.
    With all your advice about the artist knowing the provenance of her artwork, what is the best way to handle this?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nancy: It’s not just paranoia, but galleries have privacy policies. Their clients expect discretion and privacy. If you really want to get a TY note to them, write it, seal the envelope, and stamp it and have the gallery address it. Reassure the gallery that you are only saying Thank You and not encouraging any other kind of contact.

  20. Adriana J.Garces

    Hello Alyson…I’ve enjoyed reading a few of your posts here today. I also wanted to thank you for being a generous contributor to the questions many Artists face throughout our careers. In my own experience, the situation does vary. Thankfully, the best lesson has been to remain in contact with updates and reciprocal acts of gratitude in helping to promote a Gallery or other exhibition venue. The looming question is how to spark interesting conversation with prospective clients & others. Wishing you continued success in business -and life! ~ Adriana

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

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You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

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