When I decided that I was ready to let my work loose on the world, I looked around for advice in books, from teachers, and from other artists. I heard:
“Get your work out there.”
“Show wherever you can.”
“Get shows on your resume.”
“New York! It’s so important to get a show in New York!”
So I read Art Deadlines List, Art Calendar, and surfed all the art opps boards I could find. I entered a ton of juried shows, especially the ones in New York and the ones with big-time New York critics and curators as jurors.
That particular year, I think I got into a couple of shows - none of the New York ones, though. But I did receive an interesting letter from one of the galleries there that had sponsored one of the shows I entered. It said something like, “The juror rejected your work, but we really like it. We would like to invite you to join our gallery.” It proceeded to recommend the gallery and the advantages of being able to show in New York, etc. There were different levels at which I could “join,” and which would allow me different amounts of wall space in upcoming group shows. They said that they advertised in prominent art publications, promote their artists, yadda yadda yadda. It all sounded really nice until I saw the price list of the membership levels. I think the cheapest one was still over $2000. That’s a lot to pay for a line on your resume.
One of my professors looked over the letter and told me that the gallery was what is known as a “vanity gallery.” She explained to me that the problem with vanity galleries is that most of them have a reputation as just that - a gallery in which someone has paid to show their work just to get New York on his or her resume. For the most part, vanity galleries don’t promote and develop relationships with artists like reputable commercial galleries do. And it won’t necessarily impress a gallery director if he or she sees it on your resume.
Rental galleries are a little different. Although they might not have the same prestige that a commercial gallery or an alternative space might have, they are definitely a viable place to show your work, especially if you’re just starting out and need experience showing.
Most rental galleries charge a flat rate for a specific period of time, say $200 for 3 weeks. It will most likely be a “do it yourself” type of operation. You hang the artwork, design the invitations, do the PR, schedule and host the reception, and sometimes you might even have to staff the gallery.
This is great experience for someone starting out or for a group of artists who want to show together but might not have another venue available.
Obviously you’ll want to find a gallery near your home, especially if gallery-sitting is involved.
Co-op galleries are different still. A co-op gallery usually involves a group of artists who work together to show their work, promote the gallery, and sometimes offer community art classes or workshops. Some co-op galleries will even have studio space available for their members to create artwork on site.
The co-op gallery will require a membership fee, which will go towards gallery maintenance, rent, promotion, etc. You may have to pay a commission to the gallery as well, upon the sale of your artwork.
The main difference between a vanity gallery and a co-op gallery is that the artists in the co-op are invested in the running of the gallery. This can also be a great way to get experience with shows, to meet other artists, critics, curators, etc.
You’ll most likely want to be as involved as you can, so being physically close to the gallery will be important.
I have had good experiences with rental and co-op galleries, but I’m trying to stay away from the vanity galleries...