Be Smart About Art

Be open to unexpected opportunities (even while installing an art show)

written by: Susan Mumford Aug. 17, 2014 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 4843 views

Be open to unexpected opportunities (even while installing an art show)

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

Think that an installation day is a bad time for someone to walk into a gallery off the street? Would you be embarrassed for anyone to witness such a seemingly chaotic scene?

Think again.

The amount of art sold in the midst of installation chaos is impressive. Yet to succeed with this, the people curating and installing must to be willing to reveal the scene, thus enabling the opportunity for outsiders to experience and be enticed.

In my own experience, I distinctly recall the buzzer sounding in the middle of a group exhibition install. The gallery floor was covered with bubble wrap and protective sheeting, with works of art scattered throughout the two rooms. "Typical timing for a visit," I whispered to the technician, horrified. I proceeded to charm the visitor as he pushed opened the oak door, followed by profuse apologies for the poor state of the space mid-hang. To my delight, he looked rather like a child entering a sweet shop.

The visitor proceeded to look in detail at many unwrapped pieces, and decided to buy a work on paper that had only just been delivered by the framer. (The presentation had been a bold decision on my part, and now I was in a position to report on positive results.) An upshot of the early visit was that the show started with a red dot, and we had a client for the artist and gallery.

Recently an artist told me a story that equally highlights the importance of being willing to open the door, even when one doesn’t feel ready to do so. Mid-install a lady walked into the large space, likewise being readied for a group exposition. Observing the breadth of work that included paintings, sculptures and drawings, she surmised that there must be an original piece to adorn a large wall in her new home. Surely enough, amongst the dozens of works by a handful of artists was a piece that perfectly suited the space and her taste.

So the next time that a space isn’t exactly as you want the public to see it, and you are tempted to completely block entry in entirety or at least prevent individuals from entering, stop your own prevention. Instead, open the situation (and your mindset) to possibilities. And if you’re concerned about someone tripping (or similar, owing to today’s lawsuit-tastic liability culture), walk them around, highlighting precarious spots.

With willingness to accept unexpected opportunities, even when the setting is not ideal, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.  


Related blog post: Cursed by creative perfectionism? Learn when to pull the trigger 

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Photographs © Chris King.

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Ditto for take-down or if you're in the gallery after closing. Once I was helping hang a juried show in London and at the end of the hanging day we settled down to a table with our Nandos. :) People peered through the glass and we let them in, apologising for the chicken! We sold more art that evening than any other day of the show when it opened.

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Unless stress tends to get the better of you while putting up a show, I'd say this is a must. I've no doubt that some collectors are savvy about this and 'accidentally' wondering through the front door gives them pick of the crop before the show opens. If I were a collector I'd make a habit of it! It is so true, opportunities come at the most unexpected moments and being aware of this fact is an essential piece of wisdom for any artist to learn. The other piece of wisdom is always give yourself loads of time to hang/organise a show!

In my own experience it wasn't so much pre-show but during a private view at a gallery showing my work. It happened to be in the afternoon of what turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day and lots of people were out and about. Instead of flinging the doors wide open, the gallery owner decided to close it with PV Invitation Only on the door. I was not happy and couldn't understand it. In time the sign was removed but I recall seeing people looking in and wanting to come in. Gallerists may have their reasons for doing this and in certain situations one can understand, but so often the case it's that odd person who walks in on a whim rather than by invitation who becomes the buyer. If I were a gallery owner, I'd keep an extra case of wine and the doors firmly open!

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I will soon be putting this principle to the test when I and the artist Matt Forster hang his exhibition at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery, Pall Mall, on Monday October 6th. Although the PV is on Tuesday (from lunchtime onwards...all BSAA members welcome!), Matt and I will be like eager goldfish in the bowl of a gallery that has two large window areas onto Pall Mall and the Arcade.

We have forty pictures to hang, so that will take several hours...hours when (we hope) hundreds of local workers and tourists will be passing. Not only will lots of pictures be facing outwards, but we'll have a large pile of copies of his book, The Art of MJ Forster, by the open door!

If we don't have half a dozen red dots by the end of the day, we'll be disappointed!