Friday Tips: Where To Show If You’re Not Yet In A Gallery


When I first started my art business in the basement of my house, in 1991, I had no public space for my artists. Did this mean that the work wasn’t any good? No. I was happy with much of it, and grateful that these artists had entrusted me with their careers. The challenge was to get them public exposure until I could afford to open the gallery–which came two years later.

Consequently, I set up exhibits in corporate lobbies, upscale restaurants, and in the homes of wealthy socialites (which inspired the sculptor Matt Kirby to remark: “Oh sure, we’ll get a bunch of rich folks and throw them through the door.”)

I also entered the artists in select juried shows all over the country. The initial sales we made in the restaurants weren’t numerous, since no sales staff was on hand. To deal with that, I offered the wait staff a 10 percent commission on every prospect they brought me, which increased sales–not a bad beginning.

Please understand, displaying in venues such as these doesn’t make you look less credible. You’re in the process of establishing a following and collectors. Any appropriate venue is fine. After all, a gallery will look on you more favorably if you’ve sold several works than if you haven’t.

Restaurants: These can work well for selling your art over time, but only if the lighting is good and the setting upscale. It also helps if the managers and wait staff feel passion for what you do. Just make sure that you provide plenty of professionally laid-out postcards printed with your contact information and, if possible, try to have an opening that’s listed in the paper. Beyond that, simply enjoy the gig. When done well, it can be a major step toward gallery representation. In fact, I discovered one of my best young painters–Allan Chow–in The Blue Koi a couple of years ago. This turned out to be a very good thing for both of us.

Sure, you don’t want to stay in the restaurant-display gig too long, since this is only a step toward bigger things. But it can be a worthwhile step, which you shouldn’t shy away from just because the snobs look down on it. Snobs look down on everything, including each other. What do they know about making it as an artist? Very little. I advise you ignore them and do what you have to in developing your career. Please just make sure you have some fun along the way. The snobs will applaud you after you’ve succeeded; that’s how they work anyway.

5 thoughts on “Friday Tips: Where To Show If You’re Not Yet In A Gallery

  1. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for expounding about this. This is exactly where I am at in my career — displaying in restaurants, etc. My next step is to ramp it up with higher end venues. I’m always surprised how some folks poo-poo this. Although they may not be flying off the walls, I have made sales and it sure beats having the art sit packed in my basement.

    On a side note, it seems funny to me that people I don’t even know, and not just artists, ask me, “do you sell anything?” I’m astounded how complete strangers feel comfortable asking an artist this. Would you ask a dentist if they are being successful?

    Thanks for all you do for us artists!

  2. Tracy:

    Glad you’re undertaking. Please remember what I said about offering the wait staff 10% of any piece they help sell. Sales will likely double.

    People who criticize this practice may not wish to sell, and that’s fine. Or they may feel you have to be in a gallery, or nothing. Unfortunately, most galleries won’t even consider you until you have begun to sell.

    If people ask how you’re doing, just smile and say “Great.” You can be honest with friends and family when thing are tough, but that’s your business. Bottom line: people buy from artists who they believe are selling well, not from artists who they believe are failing. This has nothing to do with the caliber of the work, but is just a reflection of human nature.

  3. Great post Paul! I agree with you about entering juried shows and thinking outside the box when it comes to publicly displaying one’s art. I’d also add that “networking” is essential. Be yourself, yet be professional and confident and doors eventually open.

  4. Good ideas. I gave up the art gallery venues somtime ago. I am good guerrilla marketer of my own work. I show my work in my home studio, in fact I had a special sale in 1998 in my home studio to retire my mortgage, I got a story in the Denver Post and in three days , I paid my house off.I was forced into being my own best agent, the art galleries often sit and wait for the art to fly out of the gallery. Most of the successful artists that I know take care of their own business, financial and other wise. I am a Non-starving artist on pupose and the first person iwant to thank is myself.

  5. Thank you, I just wanted to give a greeting and tell you I like your website very much.

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