Part 1: An Introduction to Exhibiting
The exhibition is part of a long tradition in the art world, and is a well thought-out body of work that gets put on display, whether that be an individuals work, or a group of artists work. Exhibitions have historically been held in museums or galleries and are primarily used to show artwork to the public and further the careers of artists. The exhibition is in many ways, the marketplace for ones work. An exhibition provides a space where the photographer can sell work, garner feedback, and discuss the meaning behind the work. Having a show is the metaphorical icing on the cake in the world of image making; It is your vision fully realized.
An exhibition requires commitment, patience, hard work, and a willing gallery director or curator to put it all together. The gallery director or curator is the person that contacts the artist (or vice versa) to begin the initial steps in putting the theme of a show together. A curator can make or break a show, in a sense they can be likened to a movie director and the photographer an actor. A successful exhibit is the sum total of many parts working and complimenting each other as part of a multi-functioning machine.
There are many steps in putting together a show. A few things that you must initially think about are: do I want to be part of a group show or have a solo show? Do I want to put the show on myself, or do I want to be represented by a gallery and have them host it? If you have never exhibited your work before, then you will want to start exhibiting in group shows. You can seek these out by looking for “calls for entry”, both local or non-local. Non-local shows may broaden your audience, but will typically cost you more since you will need to ship your artwork. Since you may not be able to attend many out-of-town shows, this is also something to consider. It's best to work your way up- start small, and start local. After you have mastered the art of showing locally, and in group shows, then it may be time to branch out. It falls in the photographers favor to have a solid resume that shows a consistent exhibition history when approaching a gallery for a solo show, or in hopes of getting represented. It can be likened to having experience for a job you’re about to apply for- the more experience, the better your chances are at getting a show.
Once the artist secures a space, the administrative work begins. Putting the actual art aside- what you will be showing and why, you will need to think about the other components of exhibiting- presentation, pricing, the artist statement, and getting the word out.
It's best to advertise at least a month in advance, and to send reminders through email and /or social media near the opening date. This is to insure the public comes out to see the work, which is why it’s also important to have visually enticing imagery on the marketing materials. A strong image or several from the show that standout is what should be on the press materials to get people interested in coming to the opening. The opening night is usually when the show will have the most traffic, and when you will want to really pack a punch with your presentation- of the art, of yourself, and of the exhibition as a whole.
If you're planning an exhibition on your own, it can be costly, but the return is in many ways worth it. A major cost is space rental, but there are many alternative venues that can also be found. The local library will in many cases provide space at no cost, and coffee shops or restaurants are also great places to showcase ones work and are quite cost effective.
Other things to think about when planning your show is: food and beverages, signage, press releases, and soliciting reviews or write-ups from art critics. If a show is reviewed, it’s more likely people will come out to see the work while it’s up.
Although you may want to sell your work- of course, who doesn't- having a show doesn’t guarantee a sale. Just keep in mind that if the work is never shown, then there is an even smaller chance of sales, and with each exhibition the chances become greater and the photographer gains more experience for the next show.
- Michael Reese