This column is a continuation of my post fromï¿½June 9thï¿½regarding art fairs and exhibits, their occasional absurdity, their occasional usefulness.ï¿½ I hope you find it of use…How do You Learn About the Shows?
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ All states and major cities have arts commissions; many smaller cities have arts commissions.ï¿½ Most of these have listings of shows that are held in their region.ï¿½ Call or email the arts commission of the cities you’re interested in, and ask for a listing.ï¿½ Also ask to be put on their mailing list.ï¿½ Their mailings will keep you informed of upcoming shows, as well as of various commissions that may arise.ï¿½ Their websites often post similar information.ï¿½ You can also go to websites such as ArtShow.com, and see what tickles your fancyï¿½or not.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The College Art Association, which is represented on most campuses, can provide you with lists of sophisticated exhibits that occur nationwide.ï¿½ Many of these can be worth participating in, if only in the sense of adding to your resume and credibility.ï¿½ Investigate them, and decide which are appropriate for you.ï¿½ I’ve known of many artists who have launched viable careers by consistently having their works in juried exhibits, several times each year.ï¿½ Of course they researched the subject thoroughly, chose the venues carefully, and were persistent.ï¿½ This is sometimes difficult in the face of repeated rejections, but determination often carries the day.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ In the same vein, most cities have an artists’ coalition or association.ï¿½ These too will have listings of various shows, especially those held in nonprofit or cooperative galleries.ï¿½ These shows can be quite worthwhile in terms of meeting folks who can be of help to your career, such as established artists or gallery owners.ï¿½ Like anything else, these can also be a waste of time, depending on the show, its attendance, and how well you handle any opportunities that may arise.
Shows I’ve Doneï¿½
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ For the first two years that I was in the art businessï¿½in the early ’90sï¿½I worked at it part-time out of an office in my house.ï¿½ Because my artists were mostly unknown, and due to the limitations of my location, I made it a priority to place my artists in select out-of-state shows.ï¿½ I did this because I realized that local clients would take my artists more seriously if they knew those artists had shown in other regions.ï¿½ The adage that “the genius is always in the next town” bears true weight in the art business.ï¿½ Local collectors will almost never take you seriously unless you’ve had proven success elsewhere.ï¿½ And when the time comes to approach galleries, the same will hold true.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ So I sent out all those sheafs of slides (now discs) to various juries, and got my painters and sculptors accepted in shows in Chicago, Sedona, Denver, St. Louis, etc.ï¿½ As it turned out, getting them into the shows was the easy part.ï¿½ Making profitable use of the shows was another matter.
A Typical Show
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ One of the shows we did in Colorado was Sculpture in the Park, in Loveland.ï¿½ Loveland is just north of Denver, in a broad valley facing the Rockies, and has become a center for bronze sculpting and casting in the rebirth of the figurative movement.ï¿½ Believe me, you can find it all in that town, from the shallowest sort of kitsch to figurative pieces of true power and grace.ï¿½ And it’s all pretty much exhibited at Sculpture in the Park, from one end of the spectrum to the other.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ So I entered bronzes by Jim Brothers.ï¿½ His work was accepted, we loaded the van, and off we went across the plains, with visions of sales dancing like mirages before us.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The exhibit, as you can likely guess, is held in a park, with the sculptures displayed under a group of massive tents.ï¿½ We were shown where our corner was, set up, and I manned the booth while Jim did what he does best when not sculpting: he went off and drank beer with other sculptors.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The crowd began filing by.ï¿½ They filed by Friday night, all day Saturday, all day Sunday.ï¿½ I talked to several hundred people over the course of three days.ï¿½ Many of them took home photographs, resumes, business cards, etc.ï¿½ I later wrote each prospective lead, made the follow-up calls, and in general did everything I was supposed to do.ï¿½ Not a single piece sold.ï¿½
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ For the most part, the only artists who were selling were the established ones.ï¿½ While Jim’s work was every bit as good as theirs, and in some cases better, we were as yet unestablished, and because of this, his bronzes sat idle.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Ditto the shows in Sedona, Denver, and Chicago.ï¿½ Some of these shows were dismal affairs where almost no one sold anything, where the crowd filed by and the artists sat in their booths, staring out at the people while they stared back, a gulf of miscommunication separating us.ï¿½ After a day of that I would retire to my van, and try to sleep off the depression that these failures invariably brought on.ï¿½ Then in the morning I would adjust my attitude, say this is the day, and go back and do it again.ï¿½ And again.ï¿½ And again.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The fact is, I experienced no significant sales in any of these shows.ï¿½ Not until our last one, an impressive affair in Chicago, did we sell anythingï¿½a small bronze that barely covered our expenses.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ What did we get out of all that?ï¿½ Expanding resumes, for one thing.ï¿½ Experience, for another.ï¿½ And lots of fine nights with other artists, drinking beer and cursing our fate and having a great time doing it.ï¿½ All those shows, in light of this, were hardly a wasted effort.ï¿½ But by the time I did that last show, I realized I’d had it withï¿½ arranging exhibits in far-off venues, and dealing with prosperous “collectors” who underwent sticker shock at anything over $500.ï¿½ I decided that from then on I would run my own blasted shows, and that the only time I would move a bronze or hang a painting again would be in my own space.ï¿½ In 1994 I decided to open my own gallery.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ God help me.