How Can I Show My Work If a Gallery Won’t?

The fledgling YBAs readying the space for the groundbreaking 1988 exhibition "Freeze," organized by Damien Hirst. (Photo: © Lala Meredith-Vula © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.)
Members of the fledgling YBAs readying the space for the groundbreaking 1988 exhibition “Freeze,” organized by then Goldsmiths student Damien Hirst. (Photo: © Lala Meredith-Vula © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.)

Dear BURNAWAY,

I’m late to the fine art game. I’ve been a graphic designer for the last 12 years and now I’m sticking my toe into the painting waters. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t have the confidence. Over the last year, I’ve made a lot of paintings that I want people to see, but the galleries I’ve approached in my region don’t seem to be interested. It’s got me a little discouraged, but I don’t want that to stop me. My question is: Do you have any advice for me on how to show work if I’m not with a gallery? Where might I go from here?

Sincerely,

Little Fish in a Big Pond


Dear Little Fish,

I deeply admire people who are willing to give their new dreams a fighting chance. Three cheers to you! It’s not easy to start pursuing a different path (though in your case, it’s not all that different) when you’ve dedicated so much of your life to a certain skillset and way of creating; yet, it’s those kinds of challenges and lateral movements that keep us young and virile and spirited and alive. Becoming an amateur again is one of the best things we can do for our creative minds.

Years ago, I went to a TEDxNashville conference and a guy named David Mead gave a talk on the value of “amateurism,” a term he coined for making the choice to go outside your comfort zone. He described it as choosing to put yourself in new situations where you’re working from a place of weakness, so you have to trust your intuition and take risks. That experience, he suggested, makes us grow as people and artists. The concept, and his glowing endorsement of it, made a big impact on me then and continues to now.

I’m willing to bet that, within the design field, you’ve reached a pretty comfortable place — confident, validated, respected. After 12 years of doing anything, you can probably conquer most tasks with your eyes closed. Yet now, you’re attempting to be a painter, and you’re back to that uncertainty, that winging-it phase, which is super exciting. So before we go on, my dear, I want to remind you to enjoy this part! Enjoy the amateurism; it’s making you a better person.

On left, dealer Friedrich Petzel and artist Louise Lawler attending a 1994 exhibition organized by emerging dealer Caroline Nathusias at N.Y. Security Mini Storage. Right, in 2014, Atlanta artist Sarah Hobbs held a multi-unit exhibition of her installation work at the 14th Street Self Storage in Atlanta.
On left, dealer Friedrich Petzel and artist Louise Lawler attending a 1994 exhibition at N.Y. Security Mini Storage. Right, in 2014, Atlanta artist Sarah Hobbs held a multi-unit exhibition of her installation work at the 14th Street Self Storage in Atlanta.

Now, on to the dilemma of exhibiting your work. I have one suggestion for you: have a house show. I’m serious. If there are no galleries willing to show your work, get together with some friends, or just roll solo, and create your own exhibition. (Have you heard about a group of scrappy art students known as the Young British Artists?) Promote it via email and Facebook. If you can find a better venue than your garage, great! If you can’t, don’t worry about it. Just put your works up and invite your friends and the community. Keep doing that and you’ll get somewhere. And when you’re a famous artist, you’ll look back on these “house shows” fondly and future art historians will talk about what a cool, hip time it was. Right? Right.

Need more proof? Earlier this year, Sara Zielinski, an emerging artist in NYC, had a solo show in her apartment. She even interviewed herself about it for Huffington Post. If she can do it, so can you!

And finally, sweet pea, try to remember this: there’s more than one way to get into a house. The front door is a good start. But if you can’t get in that way, go around; try the back door, the side door, try to open the garage. If none of those work, throw a rock through the window and climb in all bloody and vengeful. If you want to show your artwork, you can do it, you’ve just got to get resourceful.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Stories:

Tags:

Leave a comment

Comment