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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Exhibiting your Work

Often I get preoccupied with making artwork (and photographs) that I don’t focus enough of my time and effort on exhibiting the work that I make. Showing your work is just as important to your art practice as making the work. It’s important to exhibit work so that you can share your artwork and ideas with other people, have discussions, receive valuable feedback to enable you to grow as an artist and of course to get exposure. An artist invests a lot of thought, time and effort into creating a work of art, it would be such a shame not to share it with the world.

Exhibiting your work can also lead to art sales. Selling your artwork can be beneficial in several ways. The most obvious is that you will make some money from doing something you love and you won’t need to find storage space for all the artwork you’re making. It is a great feeling knowing that someone loves your work as much as you do, so much so, that they are not only willing to pay for it, but that they are going to take it home and hang it on their wall to enjoy for many years to come or gift it to someone else who will treasure it.

As an artist, knowing that someone else cherishes your work as much as you do, is more than just a good feeling. It gives you peace of mind knowing that your work is going to a good home where it will be loved and cared for by someone who values it as you do. It validates that what you are thinking, feeling and creating as an artist is of interest to others and that what you have to say is important. It also gives the artist confidence to further pursue their art form and passion.

Each year I try to exhibit at least once during the year. I also try to exhibit at a new venue each year; where my work has not been shown before. It is a great way to network, meet new people, make new connections, and participate in new events and exhibitions, while also reaching a wider audience that gains further exposure of your work. There are a few different types of exhibitions and events that artists can participate in. Below I have described the most common types of exhibit opportunities

Some exhibitions are open calls where you can submit one or two examples of your work and all entries are accepted to be in the show. Often with these exhibitions the work must be for sale and are usually holiday sales or fundraisers. Another option is to apply to a juried exhibition. This means that the work you submit is presented to a panel of jurors who choose a selection of artwork to be included in the exhibition out of all the work that was submitted. Juried exhibitions often have a specific theme and get hundreds of submissions but only a select few are included in the final exhibit. There are also opportunities to show an entire body of your work such as a solo show. Usually there is a theme that links all of the work on display or the connection between the works could simply be that all the art in the exhibit is by the same artist. These opportunities could range from an exhibition in a professional private gallery to something more grassroots that supports artists in the local community like a showcase of artwork in the public library.

High traffic areas are great spots to get exposure and to reach new audiences. Artists are usually keen to exhibit in these places. Having the opportunity to showcase a selection of your work in an exhibition is an exciting experience, but it takes a lot of planning and preparation. To begin this process, start by making a list of questions, research the space, contact the staff and find out important information like how big is the exhibit space? How long will the work be on exhibit for and when? What are you responsible for as the artist and what is the venue and their staff responsible for? What kind of work would show the best in that space? If it is possible, I also recommend that you visit the space beforehand, take measurements and take photos of the space for future reference, and meet with the staff to ask all your questions. This will help you to plan and make important decisions about the exhibition as you move forward in the early preparation stages.

Are you going to have a theme or showcase a broad range of different work that is all made by the same artist? Knowing this before you select what work will be in the show can help guide you in the selection process. Take the time to go through all your work and begin the Selection process, choosing work that will show well in the exhibition space. This step is very time consuming but it is important to go through the motions to narrow down your best selection. Having a theme can also help to further narrow down what work you choose to include and exclude.

Have a Plan B. Always have a back-up plan in case your initial plan doesn’t work out or comes up against unforeseen complications. This can include coming up with another theme or even another selection of work to show if the first plan falls through. You may be able to include some of the same artwork from your initial plan for your plan B, so that you have less artwork to prepare for the exhibit.

After narrowing down your selection for both plan A and B, begin curating the work. This means selecting the order in which the images flow to best depict the theme and deciding where they will be displayed in the room. Some exhibitions will have a curator who will take care of this part, but it is good to have an opinion or idea in mind, just in case the curator asks you about your thoughts on the subject. Other times a curator is not involved and the responsibility falls to the artist. Curating your work should be done before you deliver the work to be installed in the space. This is part of your preparation plan and you should be open to making changes to your curation plan. Often, once the work in the space is laid out as you intended, it’s not as good as you thought it would be and that is why you need to be prepared to make adjustments and keep an open mind.

Preparing your artwork is probably the biggest undertaking when getting ready to exhibit. This means getting the artwork ready to be displayed in the exhibition. For example, if your artwork is meant to be hung on the wall like photographs, then you need to have the images printed, framed, and install the necessary hanging hardware on the back of the frame such as D-rings, a hanging wire and maybe even security hardware (depending on where it will be installed). The artwork needs to be properly documented by taking well-lit photographs of each artwork that shows an accurate depiction including colours and details. Other forms of documentation can include information about the artwork including title, date, dimensions, medium, artist and sale price (if it is for sale). Other information may include an artist bio and an artist statement. The artwork needs to be properly packed before it is delivered to the place where it will be installed.

Usually there is paperwork that needs to be completed between the artist and the exhibit venue. This is usually a formal agreement that outlines responsibilities and makes sure that there are no loose ends. This can include insurance, what happens if a work is damaged and who is responsible for the repair, is your work covered by the insurance that the gallery has in place or is it the responsibility of the artist to have the insurance coverage on the artwork. Sales and pricing is another area often covered in the agreement. Who takes care of the transaction if a sale is made? Does the gallery take a commission and if so, what percent do they take from the sale? All of this important information is usually explained and laid out in these written agreements (if it is not, then you should ask about it). Make sure that you have read the entire document and that you understand fully before signing it.

The last stage in preparing for the exhibit is to deliver and install the artwork. Again, as the artist your responsibilities will alter depending on the venue. You may need to install the work yourself, an assistant may be provided to help you or there may be a team dedicated to installing the work and you may just need to be on hand to advise staff.

As the exhibition opening approaches spread the word and tell people about the exhibition. If there will be an official opening reception, invite people to it. Use social media and your website to promote the event and get the word out so that people can see the exhibition while it is on view.

You see! I said earlier in this post that exhibiting your artwork does take a lot of planning and preparation. This post just skims the surface of some of the key steps an artist should take to properly prepare for an exhibition. These steps are the ones that I often use when I have to prepare for an upcoming show. Keep in mind some of these steps may not be needed in every exhibition situation. They may differ, be altered or not be necessary at all depending on the circumstances.

Below are a few images from an upcoming photography exhibition that I have put together. More information about the exhibition will be posted on the Exhibitions and Events page of this website.

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Jan Hawley
Jan Hawley
Jan 03, 2022

Interesting blog and images. Each photo is so sharp and draws you in to its story. Good luck with your upcoming exhibition.

Jan 05, 2022
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Thank you and all the best to you in 2022!

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