Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving. Help Desk is co-sponsored by KQED.org.
Could you tell me the best way for a newcomer to select an appropriate art consultant in the first place? It appears to be almost impossible in this economy to get into a gallery without the proper help. I have just completed a series that would probably be better suited to an institutional setting, i.e. a winery or a business. How do I find someone to help me place this series?
Okay, so you have two issues: you want to “get into” a gallery (i.e., become a represented artist), and you want to find a permanent home for a series of works. The problem here is that you’re assuming these two goals have one solution: an art consultant; and I’m sorry to tell you that this is not how things work.
In all likelihood, an art consultant cannot help you become represented by a gallery. A consultant’s job is to place artwork with clients. Most consultants work with galleries, but the flow is almost always uni-directional: that is to say, the consultant gets work from a gallery, and not the other way around. But just to make sure my hunch was correct, I asked Maria Brito—author and art advisor, and an “authority on why, where, when and how to display and mix contemporary art…in any environment” (that’s from her bio)—and this is what she said:
“As an art advisor, my company is set up to provide support to our clients (the collectors) in selecting the right pieces for their own collections. I try to understand my client’s goals as much as possible and to work closely with them to reach their objectives. I work mostly with galleries that I trust and like and whose artists’ works I’m really interested in introducing to my clients. I’m also always meeting new galleries in art fairs or through invitations that they send. I’m always open to seeing new art and meeting new people, but I rarely place the work of an unrepresented artist directly from his/her studio; it has happened maybe a couple of times in the past four years. It is not a matter of talent or the quality of the works, it is mostly that my clients feel more comfortable dealing with a gallery and having that kind of back-up when spending money on art.”
“I understand that the contemporary art world has gotten very competitive for artists and that there are only so many galleries that can take them and seriously invest in their careers. Some galleries are open to submissions, others have directors who are always going on studio visits, and some others get artists right out of school. It all depends on the economic circumstances and the evolution of the market but typically (because there are always exceptions) top galleries pay attention to graduates from top schools, artists who are already represented in other cities or by other galleries in the same city, or who, as self-taught artists, have developed something extraordinary.”
Lest this all seem like bad news and not at all a solution to your dilemma, let’s look on the bright side: you no longer have to track down a consultant to try to place your works. Instead, you can take another tack: if you think that your work is made for wineries, why not contact a few and ask who buys their art? Larger wineries might work with an art consultant, but chances are good that smaller and newer wineries do all their own buying. If you can find a winery or other business with a temporary exhibition space, pitch a show of your own work and perhaps you’ll end up having this series acquired by the institution.
In terms of finding a gallery, it’s true that the present economy sucks. But if you’re starting from scratch it’s going to be a while before you find representation anyway— we can all hope that the economy will pick up in the time that it will take you to do the necessary research and some serious legwork. If you’re new to the gallery game, I recommend that you start the process with my advice here. Also, pick up a copy of the book Art/Work, which will explain many of the important details of negotiating the commercial gallery world. And remember the words of Alexis Mackenzie, assistant director at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art: “…the work itself should always come first. Make strong work that you believe in, and the rest should follow.” Good luck!