The golden rule when introducing your work to galleries is simple: Don’t bombard them. “Please don’t inundate us with phone calls and visits, or visit the gallery weekly and say ‘I sent you a submission, I haven’t heard back from you,’” explains Christy Wood, who co-owns LeMieux Gallery in New Orleans. In the past, her gallery has played host to the BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Artisan Series opening reception showcasing emerging artists. “Remember that we have full schedules and artists already on our roster whose needs are our priority.”
But while marching into a gallery brandishing your portfolio-loaded iPad isn’t likely to pay off, there are more subtle ways to get your work into front of dealers’ eyes.
First, get to know the gallery landscape and find several whose programs you respect. Those are the spaces you want to become familiar with. If you have hopes that a gallery will eventually support your work, it makes sense to support theirs first.
“It’s less effective to just send your portfolio blindly everywhere,” says Wood. “Find a gallery or galleries that your work would fit well into, and cultivate those relationships over time.”
Both Wood and Lopez suggest attending openings as a means to get to know a gallery’s vision, artists, and staff. “Even if it’s just coming to the openings once a month, it shows that artists are interested,” says Wood.
Lopez has struck up relationships with several artists after they showed an interest in his program: “They come to my shows and that starts a conversation, which has a couple of times turned into a studio visit, and then showing in a group exhibition at the gallery.” Wood’s experience mirrors Lopez’s: “I can think of numerous artists who I met and have included in group shows because they frequented the gallery.”
Many dealers are also open to receiving portfolios or links to artist websites via email. (Though a word of caution: if a gallery website explicitly states that they “don’t accept submissions,” don’t send them.)
Tabacaru makes a point of opening any and all submissions, usually sent via email, from artists. “Sometimes I look for a few seconds and am not interested. Other times I become obsessed and explore their website for half an hour,” she says. “But no matter what, I look. I want to trust the universe that if somebody thinks I’m valuable enough to take their time to write, then I should also give them my time.”
She most recently added the young French artist Mehryl Levisse to her gallery’s roster. And she learned about his work in “what might be the most uncomfortable way for an artist to find a gallery,” she explains. “Meryl found me.”
After learning about Tabacaru’s program during his time at the Residency Unlimited residency in Brooklyn, Levisse sent Tabacaru an email, with a link to his website. She was intrigued. They set up a short meeting, and Tabacaru encouraged Levisse to update her on developments in his work. “He’d be in touch about every other month with news about what he was working on,” she remembers. “And I became more and more interested and impressed.”
About a year into their back and forth, Tabacaru asked Levisse for an exhibition proposal. Three proposals later, they set a date for Levisse’s first show, and he was added to the gallery roster.
In general, have patience: Relationships with dealers often unfold over time. The partnership “is symbiotic and usually a slow growth process,” says Lopez. “It’s important for artists to understand that and not freak out about it.”