Episode 290 – New Markets for Artists / Effective Openings

Effective Openings

The reason this event was so successful was because it had something for everyone, from kids to adults, and the show was fairly easy to understand. Plus there was free food and music. Another reason this show was packed was because so many people were involved. In addition to the event organizers, there were poets, writers and musicians, and they all invited their friends to the show as well. That is why group shows usually draw large crowds. When you propose your work to a gallery, you might also think about including other artists as well.

Collaborative Exhibits and Proposals

Artist-curated shows are more popular now, and it is OK to include your own work if you are up front about the show being curated by an artist. Also, the show could have a theme that supports your work. For example, let’s say you paint flowers. It would be helpful to recruit other artists who paint flowers. You could also ask a local florist to donate flower arrangements and demonstrate for your guests how to arrange them. Try to be creative and come up with other flower-related events. If your paintings are abstract, bring in other abstract painters and sculptors and stay away from anything figurative. Again, you could also have activities like readings and music, but what about staging a reenactment of a Jackson Pollock painting? It is important to have fun with these things. Galleries will then find your ideas interesting. You are not saying, “Do you like my work?” You are creating a rich experience that will help draw crowds, press, and most importantly, sales.

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.


Episode 288 – New Markets for Artists / Museums, Galleries, and Purity

Chapter 12

Museums, Galleries, and Purity

Museums function very differently than galleries, and they have different goals and approaches to art. Museums look for projects that expand the definitions of art and they are looking everywhere for it from the Middle East to Brooklyn. A museum wants to bring in something that educates, and since almost all curators and museum directors are academics, they are looking for something they understand and that they feel is important.

Museum versus Gallery

It is important to understand the differences between museums and galleries so you know that preparing to approach one is very different from preparing for the other. Unless a gallery is a co-op run by artists or a nonprofit space (both of which make little or no sales), it has really only one goal—to make a good profit. This is because galleries cost money to run, and their shows usually sell very little, so the sales they do make need to be as high end or commercial as possible so they can pay for all their business expenses. By necessity, galleries are less interested in the art than its ability to sell. The upside is that you can make a gallery an offer they can’t refuse, and that is generally a no-no for museums.

Making a Deal the Gallerist Cannot Refuse

A deal you cannot refuse is a staple in any businessperson’s repertoire. It means that you present yourself and your proposal in such a way that is impossible or nearly impossible to refuse because it’s clear that everyone wins. If I ask you for $100 and guarantee that I will give you $200 in a week, would you refuse? That’s an example of a deal you cannot refuse.  If you trusted me, you would pay me $100 because the deal clearly works in your favor. This, in essence, is the basis of any proposal that is difficult to refuse. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to a gallery, an investor, or a business partner; the other side wants to know what is in it for them, and they want to take as little risk as possible.

It Isn’t about Your Art Alone

That is why just showing your work to a gallery is not nearly enough. Even if your art is stunning, the gallerist isn’t interested in liking you or your work as the priority. She has a very serious financial decision to make about whether your work will likely bring them a good financial return on their investment, which is giving you a show. Museums are different, and we will discuss them soon, but galleries must think about profits. If they didn’t, you would not want to be with them. The reason you seek galleries is to sell your work, so why would you sell to a place where selling your work wasn’t their main objective? Sometimes you may find very small, poorly run galleries similar to small, unambitious businesses, and they may not be motivated to sell your work and having good shows. Do you really want to be there?

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.


Episode 98 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Gallery Presentations

Gallery Presentations

Galleries are very different from museums in two ways. One, their motive is profit. If they don’t sell, they are out of business. Two, they are privately owned, so there are no strict rules or standards at all. You are approaching a business owner who has certain goals. One may be to show great art, but the most important thing to them is making money. For a short time I helped a friend who was a musician get booked at clubs in New York. I didn’t know anything about the music business, but I thought I could learn quickly, and this is what I learned. If you have a band and want to be booked at a club or bar or venue of some kind, you have to convince the owners of the venue that you can bring in a crowd; that is all, and you are booked. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is all about the money. When people come to see bands, they drink at the bar, and that is how money is made there. So if I can just guarantee one hundred people will come, I can have almost any night at any club. Amazing, isn’t it? It is all about the money and not necessarily the music at all! If you have a band, the key is obviously how to bring a crowd in. That comes from great self-promotion with stickers, Facebook, YouTube, giving away CDs on the street, and more. I know one band that packed the house by telling everyone of their friends they would supply free beer to everyone after the show!

I mention this because it is not dissimilar in the gallery world. You have gallery owners who want to turn a profit and are not afraid to talk about money. You may wonder, “Is the quality of your work important to them?” Yes and no. Like the story I told about booking bands, if they feel you can bring in a buying crowd, they are interested. A friend of mine, who is a private banker and works with some of the wealthiest individuals in the world, told me, “You have to think, what does the person want that you are trying to reach.” So in the case of a gallery owner, what they want is to make a profit and bring in more collectors. You see, they have a list of the collectors who have bought from them in the past, and they are always trying to increase that list. If they do not increase that list, they are asking the same people over and over again to buy art, and that is a limited situation financially.

So in your approach, which I will outline here, it is much more than just sending or showing them images. You can certainly do that, but you must understand how the mind and the eyes of the gallery director work. He or she is not only trying to decide if they like your work, but more important to them, they are deciding if they can easily sell this work and bring in more collectors. Of course, if you are well known and trying to switch galleries, they are interested because you have made money for gallerists in the past. If you are not well known, then you are like hundreds of others who write to them, and if you try to look at it from their perspective, why should they show your work?

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.


Episode 90 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Background

The Background

I attended undergraduate school at SUNY Purchase in New York, and I used to spend summers on Block Island, working in restaurants. After I graduated, I went to Block Island for the summer and decided to stay for the winter and open a gallery the next summer. My girlfriend and I did it together. The first step I took was to find a retail space and determine the costs of running a gallery. I didn’t have the money, so I went to the bank for a loan. Then I sent out a letter to a mailing list I got from the local news- paper. In the letter, I told everyone what I wanted to do: open a gallery and show contemporary art in the summer and have openings every two weeks. I asked for donations in different categories from $10 to $100. I spent almost ten years running that gallery and also started a small magazine that was funded by local ads, which I secured myself.

Neither of those businesses made a lot of money, but it was enough to survive on, travel a bit, and I learned a lot about what it looks like from the gallery end. I saw many artists submitting their work along with their art statement. What I found was that I tended to only show people I knew and rarely anything from images I was receiving from artists. It was not that I didn’t want to show the work of artists I didn’t know, but it was easier to work with people I knew. That taught me a lot!

The images I was getting from artists looked very good at times, but usually the artist’s statement that came with it was awful. I would look at work I liked and, when I read the statement, often felt the opposite. The artist statement had a way of undermining some of the best work I saw. However, with friends and people that came by, it became personal right away. They would tell me about who they were and showed me their work, and if I liked them and their work, I would give them a show! What that experience taught me was that it is all very personal. As people, we respond to others who make us feel comfortable or happy or angry and uncomfortable. If I want to work with someone, it is not only because I think their work is good, it is because I like the person and feel that I can trust them and work with them easily. That was the key I never understood. It wasn’t about the art entirely, it was about a good working relationship.

Eventually, I left Block Island and closed the businesses, not because I didn’t enjoy it there, but because I wanted to go to New York and pursue the art world. You see, on a small island or probably any small community, there is a wonderful feeling that you know everyone in the town. However, I found that it was creatively constricting and claustrophobic. I was making art all the time and having a show a year in my own gallery, and I felt I wanted much more. I imagined that I would do some kind of performance in my gallery, but I quickly nixed that idea when I realized it would not be received well by this conservative New England community.

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.


Episode 74 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling Out a High-Profile Gallery Show

Selling Out a High-Profile Gallery Show

One traditional model is a gallery show that sells out. A friend, Ellen Gallagher, is an example of this tactic. After being in the Whitney Biennial, Mary Boone asked her to have an exhibit. At that exhibit, huge paintings that were often eight by ten feet in size were all sold for about $10,000 each. That began her career and created value. But there were other factors. Ellen Gallagher had a story and a way of describing her work that appealed to art buyers and gallerists. Ellen Gallagher is biracial and has very dark skin. Her work looks minimal, and in the beginning, it looked a bit like Agnes Martin’s work from a distance, with fine lines often making a delicate grid that looked like lined paper.

How did she talk about her work, and how was it sold? In her work, there is a language of her own that she has embedded into the lines. If you look closely, you see eyes, lips, and other forms that look like doodles, and together, they make up the lines in her work. All those tiny images have meaning that is social and political in content. They are about the history of the African American experience, from minstrels to riffing on the clichés that are often derogatory. Her work has a wonderful aesthetic to it because from a distance you see this beautiful canvas of lines, and up close, you see a personal history about the black struggle in America. As an artist and human being, Ellen is very easy to talk to and is approachable. She speaks well, refers to historical examples easily and, as a black woman, is a representative of the achievements that African Americans have made in the United States in the visual arts.

In summary, what gave her work real value was a show with Mary Boone with low-priced paintings that sold and, more importantly, a way to discuss her work that revealed its inner workings. She was able to tell an engaging story with her work that taught all the viewers something about her experience as a biracial woman in America. That was a story that writers could easily write about and that gallerists could use to sell her work. While this is all marketing techniques, it should be mentioned that, at a distance, her work was very minimal and often calming in contrast to its close-up content. Her work is and was beautiful and delicate and yet had a more intellectually confronting aspect upon closer inspection. To many, this story may seem like winning the lottery, and it is true that luck played a role here, but also her story and images worked very well together, so that the system could easily consume and digest her work.

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.