To borrow from America’s Next Top Model, recently I went on gallery 'go-sees' in Kyoto. With my travel-size portfolio in hand and some long-overdue courage, I set out to find a gallery. The courage was needed as this experience was not one I ever really had to do before in Kingston. In Kingston, the art world is interconnected and every one knows or knows of somebody and their work. Gallery owners or curators are not too far away or out of your reach. This may sometimes be a benefit to the art scene or cause its own set of problems however the gallery portfolio visit was something I managed to avoid. Japan with its specific hierarchical systems and stress on good manner was an interesting start. An artist could be in the process of being rejected and never even know it or better yet, walk away feeling good about their rejection.
Once again this feeling was slightly unfamiliar as my image of portfolio-showing gallery visits was for a long time tied up with memories of the many miserable critiques of art school. Its as though once escaping that system I subconsciously decided never to experience anything similar to that again. I did seem to forget though that they were a necessary part of learning about artistic life. Just as the ‘gallery go-see’ is an important step in introducing yourself to the art community though I only fully realized, this way after school ended. The gallery go-see can be seen in the same way that aspiring models stomp concrete to find their next opportunity and to network. As the world becomes smaller it is equally important in smaller more connected art communities, as in larger metropolises in order to become an art world debutant.
The process of organizing one’s work into coherent story, writing a statement or at least being able to vocalize it clearly is as important as the studio work itself. Yet somehow I allowed myself to slink away from it. Thankfully I decided years ago to channel my energy into entering group shows and applying for grants and awards, and these certainly do their share of developing the administrative muscle. The part that is daunting however is having to constantly face the question of the value placed on your own very personal work. Once you are honest about it however and take a well-considered objective look at the kind of work in the top celebrity gallery’s of New York, London, Tokyo etc. and compare your work, it should prove less intimidating. You may possibly realize that there is some element which needs more work or you will realize that your work is no different or perhaps better on certain levels. The most that will happen is you will gain inspiration to ‘develop your craft’ or gain confidence to go forward.
I will add that before my face to face go-see, I mustered up the courage to send my portfolio out to a few carefully selected galleries in various parts of the world. Interestingly enough, I received kinder responses from New York and London galleries than some other contacts close to home. The perception of what it means to be a curator, dealer, artist may sometime be tied up in the spirit of elitism but that perhaps is an issue for another post. Nevertheless there is no better time to start than now.
Suggested Tools for a gallery go-see:
- Copies of your Artists Statement
- A portable portfolio with between 12-20 images of a coherent developed recent body of work
- A clear idea of what you want to achieve from the go-see (this will help in asking certain questions etc.)
- Copies of your artists cv
- Business cards (it could be a good idea to use the front of your business card as a space to show an example of your work)
Note: You may choose to go to galleries impromptu and leaving copies of your portfolio and business card or if you would like to speak specifically with the gallerist then an appointment may be appreciated.
Images are stills from Vernissage TV's coverage of Art Basel Miami Beach 2009. In your experience is this an accurate reflection of the artworld?. Watch the whole video here.