Working with Multi-media
Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)
The Quintessential Blade
Doing the Gallery Thing
Doing the Gallery ThingWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
So last week, I had an art show reception.
If youíve never attended one of these, thereís a bunch of art on the walls and sometimes the floor, and the artists all hang out in the corner looking either bored or terrified or (god help them) eager, hoping that somebody will show up and that they will not be left lurking by the table with a giant plate of uneaten cheese.
I have been to a fair number of art receptions in my time, legacy of being the daughter of a fine artist who did a great many gallery shows, or went to gallery shows, or had friends with gallery shows, and mostly what I learned is what sort of cheese I like (dill havarti in small quantities, gouda in any form, brie if the crackers are acceptable, decent cheddar) and that if you have fruit and veggies, people will eat all the carrot sticks and leave the celery alone as if it contained the black plague. Also, no one is ever sure if the red grapes are food or some kind of arty garnish.
Iíve also learned that no matter how high-brow and intellectual the crowd, if you put out a plate of double-stuffed Oreos, those suckers will be GONE.
(Art shows on campuses are a peculiar breed, because art students are always ravenous, so the cheese will go in twenty minutes. If you can get a show on a campus, do it, because you wonít have to worry about no one showing up. They may descend like locusts, they may not even LOOK at the art, but thereíll be warm bodies there. Putting out Oreos to students may result in your fingers being bitten and your crockery gnawed upon, so proceed with caution.)
So. Letís say that you have a show. You got one by hook or by crook or by idly sending an application into the town arts council, and they handed you a block of time to show. This is a good way to do it, by the way -- most towns have an art organization and a MUCH shorter waiting list than private galleries, who often have a two year waiting list, and take a much bigger cut. Downside -- less controversial art is usually more acceptable for a public art show, because the government doesnít want to get yelled at for supporting art that somebody finds offensive. Still, itís a good way to get a show on your resume, and the weird thing about galleries is that while art directors in commercial fields very rarely give a ratís ass about your resume -- they want to see your portfolio, thank you very much -- galleries always do. Iím not sure why this is, youíd think that theyíd be LESS concerned with your work history and more with the quality of your art, but go figure.
My stepfather, who is a sculptor and a cynic, claims that this is because gallery owners want to make sure that somebody else has liked your work first so that they donít have to stick their neck out. I cannot speak to the truth of this or not, but I know that having a show on your resume looks good.
Anyway, you have the show. Now what?
First things first -- the host of the show (town council, gallery, whatever) brings the cheese and the booze if theyíre allowed to have it. (You may be asked to bring a bag of pretzels or something in addition, if theyíre on a tight budget. Only do this if they ask, and again, remember that a double-stuffed Oreo is a thing of beauty.) You donít need to obsess over your wine and cheese unless they actually ask you to. (It happens.)
Secondly, assume that you will have to provide your own little cards to go next to the art. These should include your name, the name of the painting, what series it belongs to if any, the year of creation, the medium (put ďPrintĒ if itís not the original) and possibly the price tag.
Ah, the price tag. Be aware that a private gallery takes a 50% cut out of sales. Lots of people balk and twitch and scream at this number when first they encounter it. I donít blame them. However, there it isóthatís the standard fee. (Some places go a little lower, which is always nice, but generally only if they have low overhead or are very well established.) Itís not pretty, but they gotta pay the bills too, and many galleries can be forgiven for thinking that they donít need to lower the percentage, when theyíve got a two year waiting list of people desperate to throw them a 50% cut. (The general response to this by artists is to double the price when it goes in a gallery, which is part of the reason that art is bloody expensive.)
Thirdly, you will have to write an artistís statement. We may have to address this in a later column, because I canít even bear to think about it here.
Fourth, the gallery/organization/town is supposed to mail out cards to advertise the show. They may give you a stack. Give these to people. Save one to tack on the fridge. (Resist the urge to tuck them under windshields, as this only infuriates.) The odds are pretty good youíll be left with a stack at the end of the day, but thatís okay, and not a sign of failure on your part, I promise.
Attire to a reception depends on the venue. I know many artists who wear formal dresses to their receptions, and I know many who show up in jeans and a belligerent expression. Either is fine. You are the artist. Do what you want. It will either be appropriate or charmingly eccentric. This is the one event where you can actually play the artist card successfully.
The general thing in a column like this would be to end with a perky comment like ďBe sure to have fun!Ē I will not so insult the reader. You will be a nervous bloody wreck, and I am told that you may well continue to be a nervous bloody wreck no matter how many shows you have. But try not to kill yourself, try not to bite your nails to the elbow, try to relax and not fret too much, and you will probably find, at the end of the day, that even if you didnít exactly have loads of bubbly fun, that it was a rewarding experience.
And hopefully somebodyíll buy art.
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