Ask a Gallerist: What is the Best Way to Approach a Gallery?

Artwork Archive | May 14, 2019 (Updated April 12, 2021)

What would you ask a gallerist if you had the chance to sit down with them over coffee?

Jamnea Flnlayson is the owner of JF Gallery. She currently sits on the board of the City of West Palm Beach’s Art in Public Places Committee and is the Vice President for the West Palm Beach Antique Row Art & Design District Association.

In this series, we sit down with gallerists around the world to ask them the questions that artists want to know. 

Jamnea FInlayson has been a gallerist and curator for more than 16 years. As the owner of JF Gallery, a contemporary art gallery located in the nationally acclaimed Antique Row Art and Design district, she exhibits works from both nationally and internationally recognized artists as well as emerging local artists. 

She answers six questions we have on the best way to approach a gallery.

As a seasoned gallerist in the field of art, what is your advice to emerging artists seeking to exhibit their work in an art gallery?

How to approach galleries and what to avoid is an important subject that many artists do not really get schooled on during their art education or training. My number one advice to artists looking for gallery representation is to not walk into a gallery in an effort to talk a gallery into considering your work in person. This aggressive and often badly received approach is the biggest no-no in the book.

What then do you recommend artists looking for gallery representation do?

Do your research first.

A gallery may have clear indications on their website about how to submit a request for representation or if they are not currently accepting requests, and if so you will do well to avoid the ones that are not open for that dialogue.

How do you suggest an artist contact or reach out to a gallery in which they wish to exhibit?

Only when there is no information as to if the gallery takes on new artists to represent should you contact a gallery about your inquiry. If this is the case, the best way to contact them is through email or mail—never by a phone call or visit.

The direct mail approach is a great way to get images of the work you do and your resume right in the hands and sight of a gallery you have carefully selected to consider your work.

Emails are often dismissed or links are not clicked and therefore your images never get to the right eyes.

When doing your research on galleries who accept representation proposals, also make sure that the gallery is a good fit for your work. I am often approached by representational artists or photographers when my genre is very clearly not those mediums or styles. The idea is not to waste your time and energy on galleries that would not have an interest in your art style or do not desire to represent new artists.

Image courtesy of JF Gallery

What is your take on art fairs and artists submitting in person in that setting?

Art fairs are a great way to scope out multiple galleries in one space. Plus, you can see what styles of work they carry.

However, do not use this as an opportunity to approach a gallery.

It is perhaps the very worst time to do a cold approach with a gallery since they pay a hefty amount of money for a booth at art fairs. This is a time that galleries need to focus all of their time and energy on securing leads for art sales by conversing with collectors, clients or patrons. Going up to a dealer at a booth when possible buyers in their booth need to be greeted and attended to is viewed as inconsiderate and won't do you any favors.

The best way to make use of your time at an art fair? Jot down the galleries you like and think you could be a fit for and contact them after the fair has concluded.  

How do feel about your local art community and how the local art scene views galleries?

I have realized that local artists can become disgruntled with their local galleries, especially when their work has been turned down for exhibiting.

It is virtually impossible for a gallery to exhibit or show all local artists in their area—every county has hundreds of artists. If a particular gallery thinks your work is not a right fit for them, this doesn't mean they don’t show local artists, it just may not be their main focus for a show. This is usually not an indication of their commitment to their art community.

Do you have a final thought or idea you would like to convey to artists in general?

Try not to take things personally in your art career—it will not help you succeed. Focus on your passion, be positive, and do not make room for bitterness, greed or jealousy in this beautiful form of self-expression.

Want more advice on approaching galleries? Check out these 7 tips for getting a gallery to notice your art

About the author: Jamnea FInlayson has participated in world-renowned art fairs such as Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary, Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antiques Show, Art Palm Beach, Art Naples and Art Wynwood, and as a longtime lover of the arts she continues to also support the local art scene. She is currently serving as a Board Member for the City of West Palm Beach’s Art in Public Places Committee and as Vice President for the West Palm Beach Antique Row Art & Design District Association, a nonprofit corporation that implements community leadership and enhances the business image of South Dixie Antique Row through ventures such as the notable yearly event: Evening onAntique Row, done in partnership with the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. She also serves as Vice President of the No More Starving Artist Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a vision to help sustain Palm Beach County artists by providing opportunities and services.
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