5 Questions for Gallerist & Professor Cindy Lisica, PhD

Emilie Trice | March 10, 2022 (Updated September 20, 2022)

Professor Cindy Lisica, PhD. Photo credit: Jan Rattia. Image courtesy Professor Lisica.

Professor Cindy Lisica's class for emerging artists is in session.

Cindy Lisica is a professor of Art History at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). She holds a doctorate from London’s University of the Arts and has held archival and collection management positions at Tate Britain in London, The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Menil Collection in Houston. She also ran a commercial gallery in both US cities—Revision Space in Pittsburgh and Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston—all while adjunct teaching and working for institutions.

We asked Professor Lisica five questions that emerging artists wish they could ask a gallerist, but are perhaps too intimidated to do so. Here's what we learned.

In your experience as a gallerist—when considering a new artist to exhibit or represent—what are the top things you look for (other than "quality of work")?

CL: I look for artists who know their medium(s) and are active in their field, those who have a current body of work that shows their growth (so, I'm not super interested in everything an emerging artist has done in/since art school or years-old work).

A good studio visit (there are multiple platforms for this these days) and conversation is also imperative. Those conversations are an opportunity to develop a good relationship and to understand the artist's process, productivity, and seriousness to move forward and work through new ideas. 

What kinds of materials do gallerists want from prospective artists? 

CL: This depends on the gallerist, but, personally, I love print media, such as catalogues. I also understand, however, that those are often cost-prohibitive or impractical for artists. If an artist is selective about the gallery that they approach (just like the galleries are selective about artists), and they make sure that the gallery is open to accepting submissions in this way, then these can be useful. 

You can always check back in or include return postage if you want it back after review. That may be "old school", but so am I in some ways. (I remember when artists sent in physical slides by mail and we would pull out the light box and review submissions every six months or so.) 

These days, however, a website and/or PDFs will suffice. Social media is a given (one should be active on it and have a dedicated Instagram account), but I don't think that their following is generally a major measure of whether or not a gallery will represent the artist.

I will also say that most dealers do not want/need artist's statements (although they can be useful to the artist for other reasons, like applying for grants and residencies and some juried shows). We get to know the artists through real-time conversations and our own eyes. 

How do you navigate a collector who tries to cut you out and buy from an artist directly? What would you do in that situation and how would that affect your relationship with said artist?

CL: For gallery-represented artists, I have found that many artists prefer to send collectors to me and not have to deal with pricing or negotiating deals on their work themselves. They rely on their gallerist to help assign and guarantee value and appreciation (which is potential for future earnings) and to place their work in more significant collections. 

Otherwise, this is a case-by-case situation. Mostly, gallerists like myself are relying on making and maintaining great relationships with artists and collectors, and if we do that, we shouldn't run into this problem very much. 

As their gallery representative, I have expectations of artists, and I know that they have expectations of me and my ability to properly promote and sell their work and think about their future. 

For collectors, if they care about the artist, they will also work with the gallery to ensure that they're not stepping on toes. They know what they're doing. So, if they (collector or artist) compromise that agreement intentionally for a quick buck, it does have the potential to harm the relationship. 

Ultimately, it is up to them to decide if it's worth it for a one-time bargain or something like that. Most of the time, I think all of this can be fairly clear and worked out with simple communication. Often galleries have consignment agreements for the exhibitions (and some amount of time after), and, apart from that, artists can sell out of their studios or in other ways. 

What are three things artists should never do to try to “woo a gallerist”?

CL: This is easy, so I'll use direct language. 

  1. Don't walk in randomly without an appointment and start showing off your portfolio and talking about yourself (ever, but especially at openings). That goes hand-in-hand with never going into the gallery only to ignore the current exhibition to self-promote in any way. 

  2. Do not leave cards on the table or otherwise intrude on the gallery space with your stuff. There are places for that; a commercial gallery is not one of them. 

  3. And, finally, do not send form-letter emails. They are obvious, and they go into the trash. Overall, it's a matter of respecting the existing artists (you presumably want to be in their positions) and remembering that people's time is valuable.

Even if a gallery seems quiet on a given weekday, that does not mean that the staff isn't very busy. Trust me, they are. 


What's your best advice for an artist trying to break into the commercial gallery scene? 

CL: My best advice is to be present and proactive by going to events at galleries and museums, open studios and the like. This is networking, and it's important. Support other artists. Even if you cannot do so monetarily, it doesn't hurt to say a few words like "congrats" and be a positive presence. 

Offer and ask for help (this means that you must know your strengths and weaknesses, respectively). So, if your artist-friend is a solid photographer and you are great at social media, exchange services. If you know someone who has been selected for art fairs and/or gallery representation, ask them if they're willing to share their methods and experience. 

If you are in school, ask your professors for advice.

Find your mentors. Find out who you want to be like and follow their activities, go to their shows, read their reviews (or write them, nothing wrong with having more than one "place" in the art world). 

And finally, and I mentioned this earlier, I still think that one of the best ways to show and talk about your work without intruding is to invite the curator or gallerist to your studio. This way, you are the host, and you are inviting them into your world. It is your opportunity to "woo a gallerist."

They still may say "no", but I (and many other curators I know) truly enjoy studio visits and almost always say "yes" to them. It doesn't guarantee representation, but it is absolutely an opportunity for it.

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