Wednesday, May 21, 2008

galleries and the conundrum of space

Do you have your work in a gallery? And if you do, how is that working for you?

It seems to me that there are two types of artists...those people that have their art in galleries and those people who wished they did! :-)

Okay, I admit that this is a bit of an overgeneralization. It just seems that everytime you get a group of painters together, the conversation seems to find its way around to the topic of galleries...what ones are you in, how did you get in and so on.

Ah, but let's say you get all the angst and fuss over gallery representation worth it?

Artists seem to have a real love hate relationship with galleries. They love the prestige of being in a gallery and they love being able to leverage the fact that their work is in the such and such gallery. But, they hate the large percentage (40 to 60%) that galleries take from their sales.

I recently visited two galleries in the town of Perth Ontario (located in the Ottawa Valley, about a 45 min. drive from the city of Ottawa). I have included a picture of the Tay River Gallery's ad for an exhibit they currently have on. I visited this gallery and another called Gallery Perth. I came away from these two galleries with more questions than answers. What was I questioning? The main question I was left with was how can your work possibly stand out in a gallery setting?

First of all, all gallery owners want to exhibit paintings well, but what do you do when you have so many paintings to exhibit? While some galleries can afford showrooms with generous square footage the majority of galleries are often forced to make the most of their limited space. The reality is that most artists end up striving to get into the smaller galleries - galleries that represent quite a variety of artists. The owners do their best to get everyone's art on the wall. That means that work is displayed behind the reception or cash desk area, art is above doorways, art is displayed in stairwells, on landings and in hallways. The Gallery Perth even had paintings leaning against furniture and stacked up against walls. Squatting down on the floor to get a good look at a piece really doesn't serve the artist well!

I don't know why this sort of display really jarred me that day. It isn't like I haven't seen it before. On the drive home I kept thinking, how on earth can someone's art stand out enough for someone to want to buy a painting. I was overwhelmed by different sizes, different styles and different media. All the art was good so that wasn't the issue. It was just that I was so overwhelmed visually that I left feeling numb. Probably what bothered me the most was that I went in there as an artist eager to see the art. I wanted to linger and study style, composition etc. If I left overwhelmed, what does the average, casual looker experience?

I do wish to say that the Tay River Gallery wasn't the worst offender here. In fact the exhibit included many wonderful paintings and there were no paintings on the floor or stacked up against the wall. Also, as an aside, this gallery has a good website. Their website shows how a virtual gallery can be an asset to the physical gallery. The artists and the gallery are well served by such a website. The website has recent updates, photos of the gallery, images of art work, a newsletter and a virtual store. You can buy paintings on line which is a great feature. You can check it the website by clicking here: Tay River Gallery. You might want to compare it to the Gallery Perth website. Notice that this gallery also has a framing business. While this may be a business necessity, in this case it detracts from the gallery presence - on the website and in person.

Obviously art sells in galleries or the galleries wouldn't stay in business. Artists must sell work or they wouldn't want to get into galleries. I guess I was just left pondering how given the presentation, a visitor could possibly fall in love with one particular piece to the degree that they had to have it over all the other paintings presented.

What can an artist do with regards to the exhibiting of their work in a gallery? I will discuss this in tomorrow's blog entry. I will also be looking at another question later in the week: How can we display our art in our own shows so that it stands out?

P.S. In case you cannot read the smaller text in the ad, the painting featuring the two bears is entitled "Canadian Snow Angels" and the artist is Kelly McNeil.

No comments: