Your Exhibit Begins with the Invitation

I recently finished Patti Smith's wonderful book, Just Kids, about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
One of the sections I highlighted talks about Mapplethorpe's first solo exhibit of his Polaroids and the invitation he created with such tenderness. She says:

Robert believed the show began with the invitation and each one was meant to be a seductive gift.

I love this! Thanks to the ease and low cost of sending emails, we've grown dependent on fast, sometimes careless, email invitations.
What if you approached your next invitation as an extension of your artwork – especially the invites that go out to your top patrons?
What could you send to set the tone for your exhibit? What could you send to seduce the recipients?

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20 thoughts on “Your Exhibit Begins with the Invitation”

  1. This is a great idea and I did it for a special art show and party I had to christen my new studio. I used panel cards (and envelopes of course) that I got at a paper goods store for the ‘business’ at a good price. 500 count which I used for other things as well. Then I had them printed with a heartfelt message. After that I painted a bright swash of color across each one. I used the most beautiful stamps I could get at the time and I had 60 people come out of the 85 I’d invited. How’s that!

  2. So far the only exhibit I’ve had was a small artisan fair I organized with the help of the venue (a now defunct tea shop). I sent postcards that included not only images but also a poem by my brother who writes poems on demand ( Lots of people came though honestly I did not keep count. Next time I have any kind of exhibition where I want to send out cards, I would like to make them more personal besides just the handwritten note and address. Of course, I don’t foresee any exhibiting for quite some time, to be honest.
    By the way, what’s a “panel card?”

  3. Lynne that’s an amazing turnout and obviously your plan was very effective! Nicely done! Did you find it difficult to deliver them,or were you able to mail them in the post?
    I have a general question to add to Alyson’s post above, what about when artists are entering work into gallery exhibitions. i.e. A gallery’s summer show in which you only have 2-3 pieces. Obviously you still want the turnout so I was wondering if people tend to do these things for all shows or only solo shows?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Vanessa: Usually you go all out for a solo show, but sometimes a group show is a HUGE deal for you.
      If you foresee a big show on the horizon, maybe save your best for that moment.

    2. In several group shows at our fabulous local Culture Centre that I’ve organized and taken part in, we printed up sets of invitations with the same layout and info but featuring a different artist’s work on each one. We gave each artist a 100 with their own work on to distribute themselves and then mixed up the rest and left them in venues around the town. We also made an email version of each invitation for distribution further afield. Worked like a charm, we had record attendances for any exhibition ever organized in the town!

  4. …a seductive gift. Oh, I couldn’t agree more! Great stationery not only sets the tone for a great event, it creates buzz. I believe in making an impression before anyone walks in the door. Thank you for linking to my invitations. What a treat!

  5. Times have changed… The reason we went digital is to try to save trees… There is no reason why an email has to be impersonal if you just direct the same amount of energy that you might have directed to paper…
    Paper is a luxury, but to some, it may appear wasteful if you might have chosen a more eco-friendly option… (I am not saying digital is the be all ecologically, but it is worth considering)…
    Using a handwriting font may be a thought…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Sari: I’m all for saving trees, but sometimes I think we switched to save on time and money more than to save trees. And now I think so many email invites are not thought out well.
      If we would give as much care to the email as we did to the paper, I might be convinced. Would love to be surprised by a “special” email.

  6. I’m worried about the environment in a big way. But relative to the super excessive way corporate American uses printing on paper and excessive plastic packaging, the impact of printed art show announcements is pretty small. But it makes a big impact in an artist’s future.
    A handsome show announcement often hangs around long after a show opens- sometimes it gets pinned up on someone’s refrigerator or bulletin board. It’s got legs. Email dies a quick death with the stroke on the delete key. Artists need to use both kinds of media.

  7. Philip- corporate America takes its cues from us… We are the creators of the future… & I think the artist’s future is going to be impacted more by ecology than by money… Maybe we will make more money one way… But that may not be the correct answer in this particular case…

  8. Panel cards are those that are used for wedding invitations. They have an indented center where the text goes and the ‘raised’ borders act like a mat on a picture. I used ivory instead of white for mine. They are not a folded card, but just one panel. I got them in my area at a place called Paper Plus which is cheap and bulk quantities.

    1. Aha! Thank you for that information. Now I can picture what’s being described.
      It’s a little bit similar to what I have planned (in the medium future) for my one of a kind bead woven jewelry for Certificates of Authenticity. That is, using wedding invitation formats for something else.

  9. Oh, I hope it never goes just electronic. I do enjoy lovely cards and invites to put on my window ledge and bulletin board. They are enjoyed for many months and years after the event has passed.

  10. I always tell artists that your announcement should entice someone to drive across town (20-30 min) in the rain. Then you have really done something. With over 200 emails a day, email can get really lost.
    When I was showing work, I used to make the announcement a part of the artwork. Once it was a “ticket” to get into the gallery, and another time it was a reworking of the value finder cards they used to sell in art stores. If you make the announcment a part of the artwork, then you can link it to content in your show.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Karen: Great ideas! I love your first sentence. That pretty much says it all, huh?

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