Episode 99 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / An Offer They Can’t Refuse

An Offer They Can’t Refuse

This leads us to the current trend in art marketing, which is making the dealer an offer they cannot refuse. That means making a proposal to a dealer that makes financial and aesthetic sense. This approach was created as much by the rising costs of running a gallery as the competition among artists to get into a gallery. This means that the traditional approach of dropping off a CD or sending one in is not the best way to make a deal with a gallerist. To begin with, go back to your list of galleries in your area, and you research them online and go to all of them. Try to attend at least one opening from each of the galleries you wrote down. Take a look around at the opening; do you like what you see? Ask questions about the work at the opening, and someone from the gallery will tell you more about it. Do you like the way they talk about art and sell it? If so, this is a reason to want to work with this gallery. If not, then move on or try another opening there to give the gallery another chance.

In the smallest galleries, your approach could be simple. Walk into the gallery and ask the person behind the desk if they look at the work of new artists. They will give you their answer, which if yes, usually means either giving them a CD with images or sending them by email. If the gallery is more established, then the example of making a deal they can’t refuse will have a chance of working. But how do you make such a deal? In this area, you can be as creative as you like, but it is a business proposal. Some form of “I have a great opportunity for you that is a win-win situation for both of us,” and then of course explain your idea, which involves sales, the press, and new collectors.

Is it easy to be an artist?

Here is an unusual example that worked well. An artist named Andrea Fraser does what she calls institutional critique, which means that much of her artwork, which is sculpture, prints, and performances, are critiquing the institutions of the art world, such as galleries and museums. Her proposal to a major gallery went something like this: She proposed a show in the summer (typically a downtime for galleries) for a month. The show was simple to put up; it was just a monitor in one corner, playing a video over and over. The video was of the artist having sex with a collector. It was shot from a security-type camera attached to the ceiling of a hotel bedroom. It took place in real time without any close-ups. The video will be in an edition of ten. However, the first collector who bought the video also gets to be in it. Thus, she is having sex with a collector. So for the show to work, one video has to be sold at $10,000 before the show opens. For the gallery, they have already broken even before the show opens! From the artist’s point of view, she is creating a situation that, to her, exposes elements of the art world, that is, artist as prostitute, gallerist as pimp, and collector as john. But for the rest of the world, the public gallery audience, and the press, it had a different effect. They were shocked, aghast, and fascinated. That is one model of making the dealer an offer he cannot refuse. That particular show did very well and got her tons of local and national press.

Now you might be thinking you do not want to do that! However, your approach can be more subtle. Imagine telling a dealer you will have a show of your paintings, and there will be a band there, a comedian, and a magician. The performances will be on one night, and there will be different parties on other nights for select groups of people from museums, such as the young collectors’ club or other associations that are interested in the arts. That is just a sketch of an idea, but you get the basic concept. Come up with a deal that is exciting and impossible to refuse. Even if your idea doesn’t work the first time, you will get a gallery owner’s attention with this kind of approach.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


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