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My First Exhibition – How To Hold Your Own Exhibition (Part II)

May 10, 2013 by Cissi Tsang

So, you have decided on the theme of your work. You have also decided whether to work in collaboration with a group or by yourself. You feel that you are ready to take the next step – to book a gallery. Where to from here?

I won’t lie to you – it can be a tedious process. There is a lot of writing, and sometimes it feels like you are writing advertisements of yourself and your proposed theme There is nothing more awkward than telling strangers how seriously awesome you are, while maintaining a straight face the whole time.

Clock - Exhibition

You will be asked to give an in-depth analysis of your theme, as well as your general artistic view. On the bright side, the process will help coalesce and refine your theme, as well as your general practice.

Finding A Gallery

The obvious first step is to find a gallery. In most cities and regional centres, there are multiple small galleries available for hire. They tend to focus on local and emerging artists. Many have taken advantage of the Internet and have a strong web presence, and you can usually find a listing of them on a local online arts hub. You should also check out community newspapers to cover your bases – sometimes, older galleries haven’t quite gotten around to having an updated website. Be prepared to see some Geocities-esque websites along the way.

You should carefully consider the gallery before deciding to approach them. Generally, galleries that are closer to the centre of town are the most expensive. This is due to their location, which gives them heavy passer-byer traffic (and higher rent, which they then pass onto you). They are generally in highly-visible locations and you will have a good opportunity to entice people off the street. They are also closer to public transport, increasing accessibility. Aside from the cost, another downside is their space – they tend to be one-room affairs, which restricts the amount of work you can display.

There are also some galleries established in suburbs. They might have good public transport access as well, but with less passer-by traffic. They tend to be cheaper and might consist of multiple small rooms.

Lastly, there are some that are placed on the outskirts of town. Those tend to be cheapest, or will offer great rates for multiple large rooms. They can be placed in beautiful locales – like a valley backdrop or in a lush forest, which can really enhance the general ambiance of your work. The major downside is access – no car, no can do.

You should visit the gallery itself before making an application. Talking to the gallery owners can be quite enlightening. Some gallery owners offer to help exhibitions by doing some promotional work as well. Others simply sit back – or with one gallery here, lie on the sofa all day whining about the vacuum while exhibition organizers frantically set up.

One of the most important questions to ask are their rules. Some may have restrictions on alcohol being served on the premises, which can limit your opening night. Others have time restrictions on opening and closing. Some encourage music to be played, be it through live musicians or a sound system. Others will tell you that it is an exhibition, not a party. Some may not care at all what you do, as long as the gallery comes back in pristine condition when you are done.

Also, check out their facilities. Some may have a kitchen so you can prepare and store food, others may not. Some will have their own cleaning supplies, others will require you to supply your own. Some places are accessible, while others – like one gallery I visited – can only be accessed by a steep set of stairs, which prevented anyone with mobility issues from entering.

The Application

Once you have chosen a gallery, it is time to make an application. You can download an application form off the internet, or you can email the owners for a copy. The majority of galleries – even the dinosaurs – greatly prefer electronic applications, because it is quicker than paper ones.

Below is a typical layout of an application, broken into sections.

Basic Details

This is the most straight-forward part of the application. Use a professional-looking email and approach this like any job application. Pimp_Slapper@gmail.com isn’t going to get very far – usually, as far as the bin. You may also be asked to give a short description of your exhibition, its title and who is involved. This section may also ask for preferred dates and items you need.

Guide to items and possible uses:

  • Plinths – stands for works that need to be displayed away from walls. Usually reserved for sculptures, which is useful if you are working collaboratively with sculptors.
  • Hooks – attachments found at the back of frames, to allow hanging. The most common way of displaying works.
  • Tape – acid-free tape for non-framed works. You can buy this tape at any good art shop, and they are usually double-sided.
  • Ceiling hooks – if you need to hang works from the ceiling. Can be effective for a series of small photographs.

Project Description

Here is the most important part, where you are asked to give a detailed description of why you have chosen your theme, and your goals. You will need to carefully consider this section because it can make or break your application. If you haven’t written an art application before, here is a short, handy guide:

Explain the central focus of your theme, i.e. what is your aim in pursuing it? What do you want to achieve? “It looks nice,” is a bad answer. “I/We want to explore the relationship between humans and their environment,” is a good answer.

Explain how your theme is different from others. What new perspectives do you want to bring? Why should the gallery choose you to exhibit? What is it that you are doing, that no-one else has done?

The art world also has their own jargon. Here are some photography-specific descriptors:

  • Photomedia – means all forms of photography. A photo taken by a digital camera is called “digital photomedia”. Photography on film is called “analogue (or analog) photomedia”.
  • 2D is anything that is flat. Photography – sorry, photomedia – are considered 2D works.
  • Mixed media – when your work combines different art methods. For instance, photomedia mixed with collage, or photomedia mixed with some paint work.

You will also be asked to attach samples of your work. Choose one or two of your strongest work that you are considering for the exhibition.

Artist Biography

This last part is the awkward one, because you are asked to describe yourself in glowing terms. Basically, you have a paragraph to sell yourself to the gallery owners. This is where you tell them that you should be taken seriously because you are a fantastic unicorn who shoots rainbows.

Some tips:

  • Note when you started photography.
  • Note where you are based.
  • Give a few sentences about yourself – your educational background (doesn’t have to be art-based), your place of birth.
  • Talk about what drew you into photography.
  • If you have previously published photos, note them – doesn’t matter where, as long as you can show some experience.
  • Don’t call yourself a beginner – you are an “emerging artist.
  • Don’t be hyperbolic – emphasize your talents and skills without using descriptors such as “great”, “wonderful” and “amazing”.
  • You can use third-person or first-person, depending on your preferences.

As an example, here is one I wrote about myself, broken down into parts.

  • Name and location: Cissi Tsang is a photographer from Perth, Western Australia.
  • When I started photography, my educational background (yes, I am aware my degree’s acronym is MCDAD, yes, it sounds like a McDonald’s meal, and yes I have heard all the jokes): She began taking photos in 2008 and is currently studying for a Masters in Cross-Disciplinary Art and Design from the University of New South Wales.
  • Summary of the focuses of my practice: She has worked in a variety of settings, including live music, abstract work and landscapes.
  • Some notes about my experience: Cissi has taken photographs for multiple music publications at several major music festivals, including The Big Day Out, Southbound, West Coast Blues and Roots, Laneway and One Music, as well as being the official photographer for RTRFM’s In The Pines festival.
  • Some more notes about my experience: She has also exhibited photographs in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
  • Look at me, I am a serious artist: Cissi has been recognized in her photography by being a finalist in international and national competitions.

Useful descriptors:

  • Still life – observations on inanimate elements of life.
  • Landscapes – panoramas with a focus on a large area.
  • Urban environment – for city-based photomedia.
  • Documentary – those with living creatures.
  • Practice – way of describing what you like doing.
  • Piece – an item of work.
  • Abstract – for odd-looking pieces.
  • Deconstruction – pieces where you have deliberately focused on one part of a scene.

In the next instalment, I’ll through through organizing and holding the exhibition.

Cissi Tsang

About the author: Cissi Tsang

Cissi Tsang is a photographer and writer from Perth, Western Australia. She is an experienced live music photographer who has taken photographs for multiple publications. She also has experience as an artistic photographer and has exhibited around Australia. You can also find Cissi on Google+.