Most artists harbor the fantasy that if they could only find one art dealer who loved and believed in their work, their career would be set. They secretly believe that there exists a special person who can catapult them to fame. Many artists spend most of their careers searching for "the perfect gallery." And, like all quests towards perfection, it is never-ending. If they already have a gallery, it's not good enough; if they are looking for their first gallery, they dream about the moment when someone sets eyes on their work and offers them a solo show immediately. The harsh reality is that having a gallery love your work is only one very small part of what goes into the decision to represent an artist. From a gallery's point of view, adding an artist to their stable is much like adding a stock to one's portfolio. There are many complicated factors to take into consideration, and liking the "stock" usually has very little to do with the decision. There is no doubt that while liking the artist's work is certainly the first criterion, there are several other hurdles that must be overcome before a gallery will commit to an artist. Understanding those hurdles will help you to present your work effectively to galleries and detach yourself from the inevitable sense of personal failure that follows when a gallery rejects your artwork.
Too similar A gallery looks at the group of artists they represent much like an artist looks at a painting. It is not so much the individual artist who is considered, but, rather, how the art fits into the existing group. Often galleries are reluctant to take artists who are too similar to an artist they already represent.
Too different All galleries try to create a niche for themselves by representing artists who are stylistically similar and would appeal to their core group of collectors. If your work is outside the arbitrary parameters they have established, you are out of luck.
Too far away Unless you have already established a reputation elsewhere, galleries are reluctant to work with artists outside their regional area. Issues surrounding shipping costs and the inconvenience of getting and returning work in an expedient manner often make it not worth it.
Too fragile/difficult to store Regardless of how big a gallery is, there is never enough storage space. Galleries shy away from work that is three-dimensional, easily breakable, heavy or hard to handle.
Too expensive Most artists undervalue their work. But, occasionally I will come across an artist with a totally unrealistic sense of how to price his work. Prices are established by the law of supply and demand. If a gallery feels they cannot price your work fairly and still make a 50% commission, they will not be willing to take a chance on you.
Too cheap Artists who only do works on paper (photographers, etc) often cannot generate enough income from sales to make an exhibition worth it to a gallery. If you have 20 pieces in a show and each piece sells for $500 and your show completely sells out, your gallery has only made $5000, barely enough to cover the costs of the postage, announcement and opening reception.
Too difficult Entering into a relationship with a gallery is, in many ways, similar to entering into a marriage. It's a relationship that needs to be able to endure candid dialog about the things that are often the most difficult to discuss with anyone--your artwork and money. Both the artist and the gallery need to have a level of trust and comfort that will guarantee honest communication. If a gallery perceives you as being a difficult person to work with, they tend to veer away.
Too inexperienced Many artists start approaching galleries too soon, before their work has fully matured. Most critics and curators say it takes an artist several years after college for their work to develop fully stylistically. Galleries want to make sure that once they commit to you, your work will not make radical and/or unpredictable changes. Even if a gallery loves your work, they may want to watch your development over a period of years to confirm their initial opinion. Artists must also have enough work of a similar sensibility to mount an exhibition.
Too experienced The gallery's fear of failure is strong, particularly in this economic climate. Careful to be sensitive to a price point that is right for their audience, galleries may not be financially able to risk representing artists who are farther along in their career, therefore demanding higher prices, than emerging younger artists. Artists with a long sales history of gradually appreciating prices may find themselves priced out of the current market.
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Sylvia White has been working with artists for over 25 years. Her company - Contemporary Artists' Services - is located in Los Angeles. Visit her website for more valuable information at www.artadvice.com