How to set up your first art exhibition

How to plan your first art exhibition.

A friend recently asked my advice on her first photography exhibition. This is relevant for any kind of art however.
I’ve curated some very successful “studio” exhibitions held in a person’s home. You can exhibit in a shop, a gallery, a laundromat, a warehouse… Get creative with it.

You need people to see your work if want to call it an exhibition. Close friends and relatives are your backbone here. If you ask them all to bring along one friend, you have doubled your audience. Always give plenty of notice and MAKE SURE you call each person to make sure they got your invitation (be it on paper or electronic). People are forgetful these days. Trust me.
Use facebook, LinkedIn, etc but be warned, only one third of online “people attending” ever show up.

Hanging/”bump in”

It’s customary to exhibit work of one or two styles, so pick your best pieces, and others that complement it. Unresolved work will bring down the collection so be picky.
Try to get a flow going around the room/s where works are tied together by theme, style or colour. A mish-mash can look cheap and unprofessional (unless that is your angle). Hang everything square (get a spirit level) and slightly above the average person’s eye level. Line up either the middle of the works or the tops of the works. Get a friend to look over the show before the public sees it.
You can number the works with stickers or pencil on the wall. Or you can do a catalogue or both. Some artists sell a colour catalogue with the images for say $10-$15 for people to collect, and have a free black text version for pricing info etc.
You will want to include the title of the work, the price, it’s number (if applicable) and medium eg oil on canvas. Year is optional.
You can also print gallery cards with this info and place them next to each work, perhaps bottom right where they are visible but not dominating.
A very tricky one. I recommend a majority of works at a high to reasonable price, then a few very expensive (special ones) and a few cheaper small ones. Why? The psychology of this is too long to get into. But it’s really up to you. If in doubt, Price = (2x materials cost)+($100 per hour).
Also most galleries take commission of 25-59%
All work should be signed. People pay for not just the piece, but YOUR part in it. Photography and printmaking is generally bottom left = edition, bottom middle = title, bottom right = signature & year.
Other works can be signed front or back, not too big if on the front.
Stuff sells better when framed. Even a cheap frame (as long as its in good condition) adds value and ease for your buyer. Add on at least three times the frame price for framed pieces. Old frames from second hand shops can be spray painted black, white or whatever and often look amazing.
Put a sold sticker or red dot sticker on sold works. For editions, (multiples) add a dot for each time it sells. I find that once one sells, the floodgates open, so consider putting a dot on something and pretend it’s a presale.
Get the phone number and email of all your sales so you can invite them next time. You might let them take the work that night, or wait until the end of the exhibition.
Don’t get too upset if nothing sells. At least people have seen your work and maybe grabbed your business card.
Food and drink
People rock up after work hungry, so at least some chips and nuts will keep them around longer. Alcohol may add extra spending potential. Depending where you are, you may need to check on laws around serving alcohol.
Good luck, and let me know if I need to expand on anything.
Amanda West
(Previous owner and curator of Monstrosity Gallery, Sydney)ImageImageImage

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