Join a Group Show, Or Fly Solo?
You have such a large body of work - a new series you've completed - and you want to plan and execute your own gallery show. Space planning aside, do you have the audience and marketability to make the show worth your while?
Back in art school, we were able to apply for a week-long gallery show to be held in one of the school's galleries. My senior year, I met an illustration major who had a great body of work, and we decided to plan a show together. We were both working on projects centered around the idea of fairytales, the moon, fire and overall transformation, and decided to center the show on this theme. I came up with the name 'TransFIREmation' as the show title, and she agreed to it. I wrote the proposal, submitted it, and our show was approved for the following spring!
And then - she dropped out of the show.
Luckily, we had decided right off the bat that this show wouldn't be a two-person show, but would be a group show, and other artists were already in the process of creating and gathering their art for the event. In fact, the show proposal was most likely accepted over any 'solo show' proposals because a group show means the gallery is accommodating - and showcasing - more than one artist. As we were all students, the college would want to accommodate group shows, thereby accommodating the greatest number of students.
Out in 'the real world,' galleries don't necessarily have to accommodate shows that boast the greatest number of artists. Instead, they look to these factors:
1. Will this show benefit the gallery space financially?
2. Will the show bring new and returning visitors to the space?
3. Will this show feature work that people actually want to see?
The gallery will base the answer to these questions not only on your proposal and your art, but on your marketability.
Do you have a following for your work that can physically draw people to the gallery, or are you 'unknown'?
What a gallery is really thinking: would you be able to advertise the show and sell the space just by being you, or will the gallery need to implement additional marketing tools and pray people appreciate your work enough, from what they see on the gallery's website, to venture to the show?
The answer to this question will usually determine whether or not the gallery believes you are marketable enough to gain attention, visitors - and buyers.
Remember - galleries are a business. It's a simple equation: the more exhibiting artists in the show, the more potential visitors. And, a larger audience means there are more people who can become returning visitors. And, to that end, more returning visitors creates the potential for more sales.
Do you, at the least, own a phone so you can contact your friends and send the event information?
What the gallery is really thinking: do you have your own online portfolio, website, and/or social media channels on which you'll be promoting the show? At the least, do you own a phone and an email address, so your friends will show?
The answer to this question will add to the weight of the gallery's consideration of your proposal.
Though the gallery is setup to promote the artists, it's also a business; they will always consider what you can do for them. The more the gallery pops-up on the web, the more potential for new visitors - because your own social networking channels are new a new channel for the gallery. And, as noted above, the more visitors, the more potential for returning visitors, and sales.
If you don't invite people to the show, the gallery will wonder why you applied for a show, at all. Hiding the show from the internet, your friends and your community also hides your work, hinders a potential for your growing presence as an artist - and is an insult to the gallery space.
Is your work "unique"?
What the gallery is really thinking: will people care enough about your art to come to the event?
Every gallery in Cape Cod, Massachusetts is full of artwork featuring the beach, water, lily pads and flowers - things you can see when you step outside in New England. But does it sell? Yes; people want to put that stuff all over their living room. These themes feature calming colors, just a hint of motion (a ripple in a pond, a bent blade of grass as the wind had passed over), and these images won't cause controversy with you and your guests as you watch TV. It's 'pleasant,' and pleasant sells. However, you should question whether or not your generic-but-sellable work can draw people into the gallery show to make those sales.
On the other hand, you might have a photography series featuring people being set on fire and slowly burning. (If so, I give the participants major credit.) This series may not sell as well in just any ol' gallery environment, but it gives you the 'unique' factor. This series can most likely stand alone - and stand out - as an incredible, attention-grabbing series that will draw people in for the same reason people rubberneck as they drive by a car accident; they're both curious and fascinated by this big change to the everyday.
After considering 'what the gallery is really thinking,' ask yourself if you can make your own solo show, or if a group show is better-suited to your work right now.
If you have any additional insights into gallery shows and how acceptance of a group vs. solo show works, feel free to share!