The dream of many aspiring art superstars is to hold an exhibition in a commercial gallery, imagining that the Gallery will take care of everything, instantly sell your artwork to their large client base and make you a H-U-G-E success, however, for many beginners and independent minded artists, holding your own exhibition in a space that you choose is the way only to go.
My very first solo exhibition was held in the most unlikely location of a hairdressers salon, albeit a very swish large and classy inner-city one, with fantastic clear walls ready for art and great lighting once all the free standing hairdressing mirrors were tucked away. It worked rather well event though people had to lean over sinks and hair-washing attachments to see some of the art. The hairdressers and their clients made for a faaaabulous night darrrrling. Just use a bit of imagination and I’m sure you can come up with some great places to host an art exhibition. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Local Community or Council run Public Gallery
If you have public gallery in your area which shows local artists work it’s worth investigating a bit further here. They are usually well equipped with great lighting and hanging equipment. You might (if you are lucky) even have assistance from volunteers who will hang your exhibition for you.
When it comes to promotion the press is often interested in covering stories related to a community focused gallery.
A public gallery will often have its own mailing list of people interested in art exhibitions and they may be willing publicise your event. Be aware though that these places tend to be frequented by artists and art fans rather than art buyers. If your aim is to raise your profile as a serious artist as opposed to raising serious cash a public gallery might be the go for you.
Don’t expect to just walk in the door though and have your exhibition booking accepted then and there. Public galleries are often booked well in advance and their may be a fee. Also be prepared to join in with the gallery’s other activities to boost your profile and increase your chances of getting an exhibition accepted.
A Hotel or Resort Conference Facility
A hotel or resort can be a fantastic place to hold an art exhibition, especially the five star ones where people have high disposable incomes and like to look at and buy art. The more stars the place has the better! Just the very fact that your art hangs on the walls of these places actually infers some kind of value on it, after all, resort management would not subject their high flying clients eyes to anything less than the best would they?
There are certain challenges with these places though. A five star hotel charges a five star price for hire of their rooms as they are generally geared to dealing with big businesses who pay big money to hold glitzy conferences in an elegant location. Lighting may also be an issue as its generally geared more towards a cosy, relaxing and reassuringly expensive atmosphere suitable for listening to a high profile keynote speaker than highlighting your artworks on their walls. They do however have that certain sense of style, class and all round poshness that art buyers love.
How would you ever get your art in here?
These places sometimes have quiet times of year when no one actually wants to book a conference or event but conversely they have a resort full of guests. Think about it; would you want to hold a conference at Christmas? No, you’ll be too busy racing around buying Christmas gifts, wrapping presents and planning the parties you’ll having. Therein lies the opportunity. A vast, empty conference room makes no money for the resort. “Hey Mr Resort Manager! How about you let me hold an art exhibition all through the holidays? It will look great, provide entertainment for your Christmas and New Year holidaying guests, and I’ll even cut you in on the profits!”. It’s a win-win for you and the resort. This works well here in Australia where people go on holidays during Christmas, but if you do a bit of digging I’m sure you’ll find that there is an equivalent quiet time for conferences in your area which leaves these vast but luxurious spaces open for your keen negotiations with resort management!
The basic principle here is that you are looking for a win-win, matching how you can win as an artist (get your paintings in there and sell them) with a win for the resort (get a cut of the profits at an otherwise quiet time of the year, provide entertainment for guests, do some social good etc).
If you look around you’ll probably find that there are council run or community run meeting spaces in your area. The local Church or community hall are often the haunt of local art groups holding their annual exhibitions. They are generally cheap, easy to book, able to accommodate lots and lots of people and usually have a hole in the wall which gives access to the kitchen for the serving of tea and biscuits (bonus!). The main drawback with these places is that they are generally furbished in a utilitarian way, have poor lighting and are not particularly designed for hanging art. This should not prevent you, creative wunderkind that you are, from transforming a dull space into something magical, however, a community hall is not generally associated with the kind of glitz, glamour and poshness that generally play host to the actual extracting of credit cards from wallets in return for fabulous, expensive and rare artworks from up and coming artists. People generally visit these places and expect a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a nice sit down. Aspiring art superstars might look elsewhere if profile building and money come into the equation somewhere for you, however for price and convenience these places are hard to beat.
Is there any empty shop in your town high street or shopping centre. The shop is probably making no money for the owner of the property, so why not seek the owner out and make them an offer to cut them in on the profits of your exhibition? You may have to do a bit of tidying up to make the place suitable for your exhibition, but if you can do this cheaply then you could secure great location for a short time.
How many times has someone said to “hey, you know what, I’ve got a great idea, you should hang your art in my coffee shop / restaurant / cafe!”. You start to think about it. You look at the numbers of people going through the place with disposable incomes, sipping their skinny-decaf-chocco-latte-chinos with nothing to do but look at your art. Surely this is a fantastic opportunity, surely this is an art exhibition with a ready made audience, heck you don’t even have to invite anyone along to see your art because people pour through this place all day long! You think about saying YES! YES! YES!
Think again my oh-too-keen and ready to be fleeced friend! People go to eating establishments to eat. They go to coffee shops to drink coffee. They go to art galleries and real art exhibitions to buy art. They don’t go to coffee shops to by art. They don’t go to restaurants to buy art UNLESS the establishment in question actually has a reputation as a gallery and restaurant double combo!
Often, all that will happen is that your art becomes free decoration for the restaurant, and it will stay there on the wall, probably hanging hanging at a strange angle because not one of the staff thinks to straighten it until the price tags start to fall off. Oh how they mourn when you finally call it a day and take your paintings back, leaving a big empty painting-less space on their walls.
How to use a restaurant for an exhibition that works:
Rather than just hanging your art in there on a permanent basis consider instead booking out the restaurant for a special one night only exhibition. This works best in upmarket establishments, though if your art is gRoOoVvy, EdGy and cOOL a trendy coffee house with a clientele to match could also be the go . If you can guarantee the manager that a certain number of people will actually turn up then you should be able to strike a sweet deal. I’ve heard of charity fundraiser art events at cafes and restaurants (where you donate a portion of your sales) that do rather well in this kind of location.
Like high class eating establishments, high profile corporate offices would seem to offer an opportunity to put your art in front of people with money and influence, but are the rich pickings here?
Large corporate foyers of the kind found in sky-rise office buildings offer a fantastic opportunity for an exhibition, and I’ve seen art gallery businesses that actively show in theses spaces, indicating that there is business to be had here. You are going to have to do some research to get on the inside track and figure out who can say yes to your exhibition proposal.
Your own home
Do you have one of those homes which looks like it came straight out of Cool Abode Magazine? No? How about if you tidied up a bit, evicted the kids toys from the living room, kicked the dog out into the back yard, actually used that vacuum cleaner and arranged a few fresh flowers in a vase? Is it starting to appear more inviting, as if someone creative and successful lives here? If so then maybe you need to look no further than your own place as a venue for your art exhibition. I’ve known many artists who as owners of beautiful homes who have held successful art exhibitions. The more gallery like your home the better, and an investment in the kind of gallery spotlighting that makes just about any art look like its worth a million dollars would be a wise move. I’ve even known artists that open their house up on a permanent basis as an art gallery. Of course, if exhibition opening night is going to cause a bit of a traffic jam on your street you had better warn the neighbours first, lest you embarrassingly find yourself negotiating with angry locals rather than potential art collectors. There’s nothing that kills an exhibition quicker than the artist being led away in handcuffs for getting into a ruckus with the crazy guy next door.
…or someone else’s home
As an alternative to trashing your own place, you might be able persuade your very trendy designer home owning friends to host your art exhibition at their place. This can work really well if the hosts are huge fans of your work and own a few pieces already and are likely to swan around the assembled gathering extolling the virtues of your art to all those assembled.
…or a home that you rent just for a weekend
You could seriously impress your potential art buyers by holding your exhibition in a ritzy location such as a dazzling penthouse apartment or palatial riverside home by just renting one for a weekend and then inviting a select group of potential art buyers for upmarket wine and nibblies.
Here’s my challenge to you
- Go and book an exhibition space immediately after reading this entire article.
Even if you don’t have enough artworks right now to fill an exhibition you can create more in time for the exhibition if you give yourself a long enough time-frame (not too long so you procrastinate though). This might be just the motivation you need to climb out of that bottom shaped depression you’re wearing in sofa and get on with the job. There’s nothing like the pressure of setting the time and date of your exhibition to get you up and running to your easel!