8 minute read
The artist curator relationship is truly that, a relationship. And like all relationships, it can be described in various ways; harmonious, tumultuous, smooth, cohesive or so mismatched it could end in divorce! As an artist it can feel like a mystery as to why a gallery works with an artist or not. I can't be the only artist out there wondering what it's like from a gallerists point of view, so I decided to ask one all about it! I highly recommend that all artists have conversations with a curator, it's quite illuminating :-)
Luckily for me, Irma de Visser, the owner and curator of Art Gallery Kimberley at The Laundromat in Kimberley, BC, is a gem. When you step into her bright, cheerful and welcoming gallery space, not only do you feel this to be a reflection of who she is, but her passion for the arts and her eye for spotting local talent in abundant.
I have worked with Irma to display my work at temporary exhibitions and have nothing but good things to say and I'm thrilled to be exhibiting in her gallery once again as part of the Christmas Art Market that runs November 18th through December 24th 2023.
But back to the matter at hand, Irma has been kind enough to spend some of her valuable time answering my questions, to shed some light on the role of a curator and gallery owner and show artists the working relationship from her point of view. I hope you enjoy her insights.
What is your background as a gallery curator?
I have been using my creative voice in many different ways throughout my life. However, it wasn’t until I left The Netherlands in 2013, that I was introduced to the world of fine art.
Shortly after moving to Kimberley, I started working as the administrative assistant at Kimberley Arts at Centre 64 - Kimberley's arts and cultural centre - where I discovered a passion for the arts and more specifically, for supporting artists in their creative journey. This passion ignited and grew, pushing me to open my own art gallery in the heart of Kimberley's Platzl when the opportunity presented itself in 2021.
I am self-taught when it comes to curating. I learned mostly by doing and researching on the Internet. Listening to the volunteers on Centre 64’s Visual Arts Committee has been valuable also. I was happy to have some help when curating the first Christmas Pop-up Art Market back in 2021, and I soon learned that curating artworks comes naturally to me.
When did you open your own gallery?
On Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 at 10 am 😊
What is your Gallery’s mission?
I strongly believe that art is for everyone. Sharing knowledge and inspiration is what my gallery is all about. It is my mission to facilitate art; represent original artworks and artists that I’m excited about; and build meaningful relationships with artists, art collectors, and the community.
What do you look for when creating a Gallerists/Artist relationship?
The quality and originality of the artworks is a factor for sure, but the artist’s enthusiasm is also important.
In a nutshell, I am looking for artworks that will show successfully.
To me this means community/visitor interest and publicity, and more important for the longevity of the gallery: sales. Sales can be very hard to predict. However, past sales can be a good indicator of future sales. If the artist doesn’t have a sales history, I will try to judge the work by my own reaction to it. “If I like it a lot, other people might too.”
Price point of the artworks is also a factor. One artist’s works can’t cost dramatically more or less than that of other artists in the gallery.
Whether or not the artworks bring something new to the gallery is another factor.
Also, in order to have a strong display of an artist’s collection in the gallery there needs to be some consistency in the supply of new artworks.
Lastly, trust is at the heart of all dealings in the artist/gallerist relationship.
Do you tend to find yourself approaching artists or do they mostly come to you?
Both. Artists approach me at the gallery on a regular basis, but I also pay attention when I visit galleries and/or browse social media. In addition, visitors often point out artists they like, as well as artists in their circle of family and/or friends.
What's the best way for an artist to approach a gallery with a working relationship in mind? Every gallery owner will have their own approach and preferences, so make sure to check the gallery website for information regarding their application process. Most gallery owners will prefer that you send information, rather than visit unannounced. Having said that, I do believe that the best way to show your enthusiasm and passion is in an in-person meeting. However you decide to approach a gallery, make sure you show up prepared with the following.
A consistent body of work: focus on one medium and/or style within one portfolio. Create multiple portfolios if you want to present a variety of mediums and/or styles.
Enough artworks available to keep up your inventory without delay when your artworks sell.
An easily accessible portfolio including 15-20 recent artworks with title, medium, size, and price; artist bio; artist statement: resume, and ideally some photos of installed artworks. Simply referring to your Facebook or Instagram account does not cut it.
Consistent pricing: learn how to be confident and consistent in the pricing of your artworks. Don’t under-price!
An appropriate body of work for the gallery you are approaching: research the gallery before contacting them.
Could you describe the ‘perfect’ artist from a gallerist’s perspective? Not necessarily about their work, more around work ethic and habits, etc?
The ‘perfect’ artist from my perspective is a reliable, well-organised, hardworking, and curious go-getter who treats the sale of their art as a business, who is always looking to learn and improve their skills, and who is not afraid to boldly ignore rules and guidelines.
What advice do you have for emerging artists? What advice do you have for established artists?
I have some valuable advice for emerging and established artists and it comes straight from the Holstee Manifesto: “Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. Stop over analyzing, life is simple. Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things. Some opportunities come only once, seize them. Live your dream and share your passion!”
My advice for emerging artists:
Start showing your work! Whenever and wherever you can (open art exhibitions, galleries, (art) markets, etc.).
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from peers, adjudicators, and gallerists: be willing to learn and improve your skills.
Don’t take rejections personally: think of a rejection as a favor. A gallery, by rejecting you, is likely saying “we don’t feel we would be able to do a good job of selling your work at this time.” You might feel that they are wrong, but if they don’t believe they’re going to do a good job of selling your work, it’s better to keep looking until you find a gallery that is confident in their ability to sell your work.
My advice for established artists: treat your art as a business, and don’t forget to have fun!
What could most artists do better when working with a gallery?
Something I, surprisingly, don’t see a lot of artists do is adding a certificate of authenticity to every artwork created. In my opinion this should be part of every artist’s business. Also, paying attention to the not so obvious part of the presentation (mounting, framing, finishing the parts you don’t see when the artwork is on display) is something that could be improved upon.
What’s the most challenging thing about running a gallery?
My gallery has only been open for just over a year, and the support from the community and visitors has been amazing, so it may be too early to tell, but considering the fact that more art galleries are closing their doors than there are new galleries opening, I expect that making enough money to keep the door open and the lights on will be an ongoing challenge. The art business is not an easy business, but I’m up for the challenge.
In a world of changing algorithms, what marketing approach has worked best for your gallery? What's the best way artist's can help in this respect?
Word of mouth is the best promotion for any business, in my opinion. In my case, giving visitors a positive gallery experience and building connections between visitors and the artwork and artist is key. In addition, building a recognisable brand that stands out is also important, and so is knowing who your audience is and where to reach them.
When it comes to other marketing approaches for my gallery, reaching out in several different ways works best: events at the gallery, website, e-newsletter, email, newspaper, radio, social media, and magazines.
Visiting the gallery regularly and interacting with visitors (i.e. creating art live in the gallery, artist talks, etc.) is a great way for artists to help in this respect. Promoting the gallery at markets and fairs or wherever else possible is also helpful. Another way to help is by regular posting of artworks and art news (tag your gallery), and sharing of gallery posts on social media.
What is your favourite thing about being a gallery owner and curator?
Hanging artworks in people’s homes and sharing the final result with the artists may be my favourite thing. Or perhaps my most favourite is the connections I’m building with the artists, collectors, visitors, and the community. Although, enjoying; experiencing; and being inspired by the artworks every day is also a favourite. What a tricky question!
Is there anything that has surprised you, good or bad, while running your own gallery?
I think I have surprised myself the most by taking the plunge and actually opening my own gallery. What also surprised me is how many artworks we sold in the first year (my expectations were LOW). I’m excited to grow the business from here.
What advice do you have for art collectors?
Support local artists and galleries where you live and while travelling. Especially at small-town galleries you will often find gems at affordable prices.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’re not entirely sure about an art piece, spend some time with the artwork during multiple visits. Sometimes it takes time to really appreciate a piece of art. Perhaps the gallery will let you try the artwork in your home, or they can work a picture of the piece into a photo of your space.
Don’t hesitate to ask a gallerist for advice regarding curating and hanging/placing the art. The right artwork may not look the way you expected when placed in the wrong spot or at the wrong height.
Are there recurring requirements/trends that your art collectors are looking for? e.g. common size, style, etc?
Bright coloured wildlife and (mountain) landscape paintings and sculptures are popular at the moment, but there is a large variety of tastes among the gallery visitors.
What’s a question you wish I’d asked, but haven’t?
Name two art books on your must-read list for artists.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I hope you found this as interesting and insightful as I did, with some useful actionable items in there when thinking about striking up a relationship with a gallery.
When you're visiting Kimberley, I truly hope you make time to spend some time in the beautiful space Irma has created.
And I second The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, it's a small handbook of creative motivation that all artists, creatives and entrepreneurs should have in their possession to refer to often!
For more information and to see Irma's current collection, please visit: