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7 Tips to Make the Most of Art Gallery Openings

September 26, 2010

You’ve landed an exhibition and the opening date is fast approaching. You begin to wonder what it’s going to be like, how you should prepare and what you should expect. Here are a few things to keep in mind for gallery openings, whether for a solo or group exhibition.

1. When to Arrive

It’s always a good idea, in my opinion, to arrive at the gallery a little bit early if you can. This lets you get acquainted with the gallery director or curator, get a feel for the space and help set up, if you’re so inclined. Some people like to arrive fashionably late, but that’s not my style. I like to know the lay of the land and have a few minutes to relax before jumping into networking.

3. Speaking of Networking…

Be prepared to “work the room.” You’re there to meet and greet, not only for your benefit but for the galleries. It’s a draw for visitors to know that the artist will be in attendance. Some tips for successful networking are:

  • have a statement prepared to talk about your art when asked for more information
  • keep business cards on hand throughout the evening, and give them out!
  • have a website to direct people to if they want to see more of your work
  • show genuine interest in your potential clients; ask questions (it’s not all about you!)
  • mingle, but stay close to your work when in a group show
  • be willing to approach viewers and introduce yourself; don’t wait for people to come to you
  • don’t stick with friends or family during the opening, this makes you unapproachable

Basically, try to adopt an open and friendly attitude.  Be there to answer questions and share information about your work, but also socialize and meet new people. You want to make your visitors feel welcome and valued for showing up. Remember that each person you talk to is a potential client.

4. Dress Appropriately

Don’t roll in looking like you’ve just left the studio. Yes, you’re an artist, but you also want to make a good first impression. The people you meet could be your future clients and collectors. It’s important to present yourself in a clean, professional way.

5. Saying a Few Words

Be aware that you may be asked to “say a few words” at the opening, sometimes with very little notice. At my exhibition opening last week, I knew I was going to be asked to speak. In fact, it was a mini artist talk and I was expected to talk for five to ten minutes. I made sure I had a small speech prepared so that I wouldn’t forget any important information. I’ve also been at openings where the curator has pulled me aside and said that he would introduce me in five minutes, when I’d be asked to “say a few words.” If you don’t have anything prepared, you run the risk of rambling on and on without direction or getting stuck and not knowing what to say.

6. Drinking

Wine may or may not be offered at gallery openings. If it is, I see nothing wrong with having a glass to relax and be sociable. Sometimes it’s good to just have something in your hand! Just be careful that you don’t over-indulge. Nothing screams unprofessional like a stumbling, slurring artist. This should go without saying, but it’s easy to do, especially if you’re nervous.

7. Most Importantly?

Have fun! This is the moment when you get to be in the spotlight and people can appreciate your all the hard work that often goes on behind the scenes. A gallery opening is an event, for artists and viewers alike. It’s a chance to get out, dress up and enjoy good art and good conversation. Enjoy every minute of it!

  1. Regarding #3 and handing out business cards and directing people to one’s website. That is a no-no at an Art Gallery opening. The gallery does not want their customers to go to the artist’s website or contact the artist directly (because most likely the customer would then buy directly from the artist-bypassing the gallery).

    • Hi Charles. I appreciate your comment and can see where you’re coming from, but I have to disagree… in most situations. It largely depends on the type of gallery you are showing in and on their attitude/policy.

      If it’s a not-for-profit gallery, they have nothing to do with your sales and you will want to be prepared to represent yourself.

      If it’s a commercial gallery, you do need to tread lightly. I have heard of galleries that don’t like their artists to have a personal web page at all. I think this is becoming more and more uncommon, though. If your work is being sold in a gallery, the gallery price should be reflected on your website. This eliminates any motivation the client might have to buy directly from the artist.

      Regardless of whether or not you give out business cards, a potential client is going to be able to find your website if you have one. This is why many galleries ask for a commission on sales made as a result of the show. Obviously, this is a matter of trust between the artist and gallery owner.

      I just think that if the gallery’s concern is artists being in contact with clients, the business card is kind of a moot point. If the gallery is that uptight about it, they probably will not allow their artists to have websites at all.

      That being said, artists shouldn’t hand out business cards like salesmen handing out leaflets. It’s just a good idea to have them on hand if anyone asks!

  2. I agree with Miranda.

    A certain amount of tact is always necessary, but the artist WILL have a career beyond THIS gallery and THIS show and they need to be thinking ahead.

    Handing out cards and networking is a perfectly acceptable way to build your list of interested supporters, regardless of who’s handling your sales.

    Give AND Take: Don’t forget to GET biz cards (and permission) to add interested patrons to your email marketing list.

    • Hey Nikolas, thanks for backing me up! You’re absolutely right, the gallery may not always be around and artists can’t afford to put all their eggs in one basket.

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