Be Smart About Art

Make the phone your exhibition ally

written by: Susan Mumford July 20, 2014 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 3729 views

Make the phone your exhibition ally

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

Ask an experienced gallerist about how many exhibition invitations they receive on a daily basis, and they will roll their eyes at you. Dealers get put onto mailing lists (for email and post) without ever signing up, so are awash with invitations. The business is so event-orientated that after awhile, they are liable to stop taking note of each and every group or solo exhibition.

I sound like someone with personal experience, right?

By 2011, I had been curating shows for almost a decade and was on countless mailing lists. Did I notice when five new invitations would arrive in the general email account? Let’s be real; if I didn’t personally know the artist or gallery, there was realistically not a chance. I was focusing on building collections for clients and gaining exposure and sales for my represented artists.

When dashing out one afternoon, I took a call about an upcoming private view. The person on the other end of the line was calling on behalf of the artist. I confessed that I honestly had no knowledge of the event. What struck me was how kind, considerate and professional she was; it wasn’t a problem in the least that I hadn’t taken note of the email invitation, and she was more than happy to send it to me again.

I agreed that yes, resending would be much appreciated. I asked her to make a reference to our telephone call in the subject line so that I would be sure to spot it.

Did I open the email? Yes. Did I attend the opening? Yes.

I have previously written about the importance of both the art/gallery fit and relationship being right. In this case, I thought that if the artist had it together enough to find someone so very personable to make calls in advance of a show, it was a positive indicator that the relationship part would likely be right with the artist, too. This prompted me to open the email, and as it happens, I was immediately taken by the works of art.

I have many times thought back to that conversation. While established personal contacts are likely to take notice of email and printed announcements, you’re missing a trick if you don’t make special effort with people who you don’t yet know, or not well at least. It might be that you are targeting particular collections, institutions, curators or gallerists. Sending invitations is only part of the process, as doing what is possibility the most scary, calling, so happens to often be the deal closer. If you’re not the right person to do the deed (which only you can judge), then do what the artist did, and have someone trustworthy, personable and professional make calls on your behalf.

The same principle of picking up the phone even applies when you do personally know someone whose attendance is important. They’re undoubtedly busy and inundated with invitations. To get them to take notice, a call can make all the difference. If you do know someone well, it might need to be you who makes the calls.

Here’s a task to set yourself: Next time you have a show, make a list of 25 people who are important for that event. Ensure that you, or someone on your behalf, speaks with those individuals or their PAs. And going forward, do this exercise for each and every exhibition.

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Photographs © Chris King.