Preparing for an Art Exhibition: The Blood, Sweat & Joy

"Preparing for an Art Exhibition" article written by Rebecca Collett. Image used is "Reaching, Australian Eucalyptus" semi-abstract acrylic painting by Rebecca Collett, Artist Perth Australia (c) 2019

Long before an art exhibition opens, the preparation begins.

As artists, we would love to immerse ourselves in creating, and only creating.

The results of our artistic immersion would sell themselves. People would flock. Buyers would be drawn to us like magnets. Everything we create would be in demand. Heralds would, well umm, herald. We would receive a living wage and a secure future. We would be able to lose ourselves in our creative zone.

Did I just describe an artist’s utopia? Yes, I believe I did.

Now I’ll describe an artist’s reality.

We need to sell our work. This isn’t just about being able to buy our next paintbrush, lump of clay or paying the rent on a studio. Selling reveals us, and our work, to the world, even if that world is a handful of people.

Artists, just like most people, are insecure; we need validation. We need to know that what we are creating is valued. We want people to be entranced by our artwork, that it moves them in some way. We need others to help build our artistic credibility. Even as we fear it, we need feedback, .

Artists jump at the opportunity to have an exhibition. They jump at it with their heart in their throat, a knot in their stomach and a cold sweat on their brow.

Preparing for an art exhibition is a protracted affair.

It takes far more than throwing together a few artworks and swanning around with a glass of champagne collecting cheques…but that would be nice!

During my first exhibition I was too nervous to even drink the champagne. Even when the opening was over I was too exhausted to enjoy it; as a champagne lover, that was a first for me!

You need to create enough works to fill a gallery, but not just anything that takes your artistic fancy. There needs to be a theme, a cohesion tying the pieces together. And you need to do this to a deadline and invest in all the equipment and supplies upfront. You also need to work out the story of your work for all the promotional material and activities you need to do in-between this creative frenzy.

Different galleries will handle different aspects for the artists, however, being involved in all aspects of the exhibition not only provides for a cohesive message, it also provides the artist with an incredible insight into the process. You can apply these invaluable lessons to your next exhibition for a sell out success!

The works you create or choose to exhibit should also take into consideration the space. You want the space to enhance your work, not overwhelm it. Not all galleries are four white walls flooded with beautiful light, so work with the space you have.

You’ll need and want to photograph every item. High resolution, high quality images that can be used online, in print and for your own archives. One day you may decide to produce prints of the sold piece or write a book about art.

Remember, you own the copyright on your work, even after you sell the original.

Make sure your artwork is exhibition ready before it arrives at the gallery. You’d think this would be fundamental in preparing for an art exhibition, but I’ve witnessed some crazy things on the eve of an opening. I’ve seen artists wielding a drill and attaching D rings and hanging string on the floor of the gallery. I’ve also witnessed the raw edges of canvases being painted while they were hanging on the gallery wall. Countless times I’ve seen artworks without labels that would let the buyer know what they just brought home and the details of where to buy more at a later time.

Type up a list of the artwork details and prices, then double and triple check them before giving them to the gallery or adding them to a catalogue for printing.

Update your artist’s statement and maybe have a professional photo taken. Check your CV is current and make sure this information is consistent across all platforms e.g. your website, the gallery website, other websites you have a profile on, social media and online art markets.

Don’t leave it up to the gallery to do all the promotional work; you need to be your own marketing machine. This is a key factor in preparing for an art exhibition; ignoring it will be to your detriment. Spread the news of the exhibition and the opening far and wide: social media, websites, press releases, industry notifications, community groups, posters, word of mouth, subscriber lists etc.

Once the big day comes around, this is probably the first time you will see your artwork displayed together and telling its story. It will be spaced to flatter and lit to enhance.

This can be confronting, overwhelming, exciting and nerve-wracking, and you can’t do anything about it.

The paint has been flung, the dye cast, the wood chiselled.

Seeing your work like this is similar to viewing it with fresh eyes, a different setting, different lighting and a greater distance. You can’t hide from the visual nor from the feedback, the good and the bad. Take that information on-board, along with the ego boosting feedback, the uncomfortable criticism and the “helpful” suggestions.

This is not the time to get into an argument; everyone views art differently and is entitled to their opinion. Store the feedback away to be pulled out later and considered in a calm environment when your emotions aren’t already at DEFCON 1.

Finally, my biggest piece of advice is to start early, on the plan, the artworks, the wording and the marketing.

The big day comes around quickly and the more you can do in advance, the more you will enjoy the experience. Yes, sales are wonderful and truly appreciated financially and emotionally, however, having an exhibition is a huge achievement.

Take some time to revel in your success.

"Reaching, Australian Eucalyptus" Eucalyptus silhouetted against a bronze and red sunset, semi-abstract acrylic painting by Rebecca Collett, Artist Perth Australia (c) 2019

“Reaching, Australian Eucalyptus” Click photo to see painting details

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