Dear Bmoreart Therapist,
I am a forty-ish year old painter, based in Baltimore and I am represented by a commercial gallery in Philadelphia. I was recently invited to be in a two person show at a small college, outside of Baltimore, with another artist I know and like. I was really excited about this opportunity until I talked to my Philadelphia gallerist. She said that I should say no because the show is ‘beneath’ my career and it will ‘send the wrong message’.
I told her I wanted to do the exhibit, but she basically said it was a waste of time and energy, that it would do more harm than good to my career. I don’t see how this could be true and I am starting to question my relationship with this gallery. I have done two solo shows in Philly in the past five years and we’ve sold a small, but respectable, amount of work, but I don’t feel like this gallery owns me and has the right to tell me what to do. Should I listen to the commercial gallery or should I follow my own desire to pursue this opportunity? I want to continue to move my career forward in the best way possible.
Dear Gallery Snob,
I am skeptical of a gallerist who is not encouraging you to participate in exhibits outside of her space, especially at colleges, universities, or not-for-profit spaces. How could this possibly be harmful to your career? If you are excited about the exhibit and you like the other artist that will be involved it is win-win. Often when one shows at a college or university there is an opportunity to talk to students and educate them about your ideas and process; that is so valuable to young minds! There is also the possibility of engaging faculty members and meeting the folks that support the gallery’s programming.
One always has to weigh the pros and cons of any exhibit: moving the work, insurance, days away from the studio, etc. But you seem to really want to participate at this venue and my vote is to go for it. If the gallerist is upset, ask her assistance in finding venues that she deems appropriate. My guess is she can’t or won’t… running a gallery is no easy task and she has other artists to represent, many of whom may be selling more than you are, and so they may take priority. If you decide to participate in the exhibit at the college, be professional and make sure all inquiries about sales are sent her way, also make sure the labels and price list say “Courtesy of Such and Such Gallery.”
I find that you never know where opportunities come from. Perhaps this college gallery is supported by wealthy alumni, the students that you work with will move on to become professionals who might buy work, the college gallery staff might move on to bigger and better positions, the staff of the college will see your work as will the faculty. The only sure thing is that, by not participating, you are closing the door for all of the possibilities.
Bmoreart Therapist (René Treviño)