Why every artist should organise their own exhibition - at least once!

Since going full time as an artist, I have had the pleasure of organising fourteen exhibitions. Some have been total calamities, others great successes, and many somewhere in the middle. My god have they taught me a lot!

The reason I started organising exhibitions is because I saw opportunities which galleries were not offering me. I was fresh out of uni and found it difficult trying to get any half decent galleries to show my work. So, I started organising shows with artists that I admired from various art fairs, open studios and on social media, the rest is history.

In this article I hope to share with you a few reasons why I believe every artist should organise an exhibition.

Do it for yourself

You may be finding it difficult to get gallery representation, but don’t worry, there are other ways to take ownership of your career. You need to cultivate an audience and a culture around your artwork before galleries will take notice of you. Naturally, they don’t want to take on more work than is necessary; so why would they take on an artist who has no track record of sales and zero following? They want someone who already has the ball rolling, so you’d be better off by getting some like-minded artists together, pooling your resources and start putting on some exhibitions of your own.

Me doing a speech at the recent “Where We Live” exhibition

Me doing a speech at the recent “Where We Live” exhibition

Direct feedback and sales experience

When invigilating your exhibitions, you’ll learn how to engage the public and share the narrative of your work. This feedback will be critical to your development. Each exhibition an experiment; showing your latest artworks and taking on feedback of what worked, what didn’t, and how to move forward when you return to the studio. You will learn the standards that collectors expect, which will in turn help to mature the work you produce.

Learn where the value is

Whether your show is a raging success or a total failure, you will come to understand the business of selling art, and gain an appreciation of well run galleries. This will help when dealing with galleries in the future; you will see when they are can add value to your career, and also spot when they are trying to screw you over… it happens!

When considering galleries you will know what to look out for in terms of location, lighting, rent, whether or not they have a mailing list, hanging systems, etc. You’ll be more aware of the questions to ask before entering into any agreement.

Growing your network

If you organise group exhibitions you will develop relationships with artists, collectors and galleries. People in the art world will hear about the work you are doing, which brings value to you as an artist. The more you are known as a person who can get things done the more other artists want to work with you, and you can choose the best ones with whom to work. Like those marketing slogans say, “Your network is your net worth” - cheesy, but true.

Circumnavigate the gallery system

In the age of social media and easy to build websites, rental galleries and art fairs, there is no reason why you can’t establish yourself as a successful artist without the need for exclusive gallery representation. Many successful artists you see today have thrived because they are entrepreneurial enough to understand the macro environment in which their work exists and don’t limit themselves to outdated ideas of how artists “should” be.

Galleries can do a fantastic job for you, they take away the financial risk of putting on a exhibition and can expose your work to a broad audience. The price to pay for this is usually 50% commission on sales. If you’ve still got to pay your studio rent and material costs, then they have to be selling consistently at a good price for it to be worthwhile. Remember, you will also have to match their pricing when selling work privately to maintain consistency.

Footage from the private view of my first international exhibition that I organised this year in São Paulo, Brazil.

Do it because it is fun!

One of the best things about organising art shows is the people you meet; you build camaraderie working together, share ideas and bring in bigger crowds to your shows. You start to create your own unique scene, which if nurtured correctly, can grow big enough to draw outside attention.

Knowledge is power

The more you know about the various aspects of art business the better informed you will be when it comes to weighing up options for your career development. Exhibition organisation is one piece of that puzzle.

Find what works for you

There are many ways to show your art, so you have to explore them and find what works for you. My aim with this article is to outline the benefits of a path that I have taken. So, organise a show! Even if you do a one-off, the lessons you’ll learn will be valuable for the rest of your career.

If you found this article interesting and know an artist who it would benefit, get sharing!

Happy painting. X