Gallerist’s Voice: Here’s How Our Gallery Chooses Artists

As a gallery owner, the most common question I’m asked  ‘How do you find your artists?’

Here’s my  answer:

We find the artists the same way a company finds great employees, the same way a person finds their partner, the same way I choose a restaurant for a special occasion.  And for you dog lovers, the same way you chose your furry family member.

I want the best one I can possibly find. I want to be blown away. I want to see something that effects me emotionally. I want to see something I have never seen before.  In the words of Rilke,

Let me be with those who know secret things or else alone.

I want only the best.  I’d rather show nothing than show something that doesn’t move me.

Pachinko Lily Kit Nagamura

So, I go to as many of the art school graduation exhibitions that I can and also hit the museum shows, annuals and biennales. I also ask our existing artists and their teachers for recommendations.

My advice to young artists is always the same: get your work out there and exhibit anywhere you can—hotels, coffee shops, restaurants. Enter every competition open to you, create a website, sell via the Internet and get your work seen. It’s got to be out there. Get on Facebook–yes Facebook matters.

Gallerists like me, as well as collectors and potential clients, go to these shows and they can easily look at your site.

Like a recruiter, we track down the artists we want.

Do you remember when you were dating? The ones who liked you were not necessarily the ones you liked.

Artists need to make it easy for people to see their work—and I don’t mean dropping by a gallery with a portfolio or sending unsolicited emails. I can’t remember ever choosing an artist who sent an email with a large attachment. I get too many of these and don’t recommend this strategy as a way of getting representation.

As I said, I go to shows—a lot of them—or look at the websites and catalogues if I can’t go in person.

But the visits to all of these shows, and reviewing web sites, catalogues and portfolios, is only part of the story.

We actually find some of our artists by accident  when we see their work in a bar or a club, and this is always a great pleasure. It’s like a surprise birthday present or an inheritance you weren’t expecting. I consider finding a new artist by accident one of my greatest pleasures—up there with how coffee fans must feel about finding the perfect espresso.

When my partner and I find an artist we like, we track them down like a headhunter does with great talent, schedule a meeting and a portfolio review. We’re looking for a good fit with what we do in the gallery.

We don’t choose someone because “they went to Yale.”

Then when we finally meet with an artist, we focus on the work, understanding more about what he or she is communicating, and learning more about the goals and the dreams of the artist.

We also look at his or her resume and the range of work. The most important is the work itself, but the personality of the artist matters. We choose to meet with the artist because we like the work, but we also want to know if the personality is a good fit with ours.

If the work is great, but it looks like the relationship will be high maintenance, we’ll most likely pass.

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  1. Hi Bob,
    This is great information and very much appreciated. Finding representation in a good gallery is the goal of many artists.
    It’s nice of you to take the time to give us a perspective directly from a gallery owner.
    Michael Hayden

  2. This is the closest I have got to insider info, after 35 years living art.
    A big thank you for this.
    All the best, Chris

  3. Thank you so much for this information! I am not a young artist, but an emerging older artist. Your information is invaluable.

    Thanks again,
    Jill Valenzuela

  4. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the reminder on “I want the best one I can possibly find. I want to be blown away. I want to see something that effects me emotionally. I want to see something I have never seen before. In the words of Rilke,” It’s easy to try and emulate the success of fellow artists and forget what’s important is tapping into our inner makeup – what makes us different. Oh, images are easier than trying to describe in words. I appreciate your taking the time to do just that.

  5. Bob, Great information and just in time. I was about to start an email campagin to a gallery in Santa Fe, NM I would like to be in. Can you give me any ideas on how to make sure the gallery that contacts you is a place that is honest and takes care of the work and the artist. I have heard some frightening tales from other artists about theft and never receiving payment.

    • bobtobin says:

      Thanks for your comments and good luck in what you are doing. I will try to address your concern in a future post. In the meantime, I would recommend you talk with the other artists in the gallery.

  6. marianyap says:

    Good advice – thank you for being candid. Its all so subjective, isn’t it, so the best we can do as artists is to do the best that we can, take risks, and keep working.

  7. Jim Otis says:

    Dear Bob
    Very inciteful, Thank you for your honesty, I can feel it. there are so many artists, and your views reflect I think, how it really is out there..well chosen words. “. ‘To everything, there is a season’…..
    But Bottom line, in the end, is the Art, right?

  8. Hi Bob,

    I think many before me have already told you how beautifully you answered the big question. Thank you, it was very insightful, makes total sense.
    Thanks and all the best


  9. Thank you Mr. Tobin- best of luck to you and your gallery and finding that treasure of an artist-

    I, too, believe in fate- so much so, I create at the whim of my subconscious at the canvas as my prime template.


    Eric Harley Schweitzer

  10. Renee Brown says:

    Your info was invaluable and inspiring to get out there……


  11. Thanks for that! Great read and insight to YOU scary gallery owners!

  12. Wow, point blank and useful – no beating around the bush to spare “feelings”. This is a great article that all artists should read and follow. It will help them, if they let it. Thank you.

  13. Jagoda Lane says:

    Thank you for the insightful information in regards to choosing the right artist for your gallery. I fully understand to feel lucky to find the perfect fit like the perfect medium roast of coffee that I love.
    Thanks for taking your time and explaining this to us.

  14. liked your article, very useful for artists who want to reach out to art lovers. you never know which work you will like and why. more than mind , it is linked with heart i suppose. best

  15. Very timely advice! After years of selling through word of mouth and the occaisional exhibition, I have finally set up a blog and I am hoping for good things. I often wondered about approaching galleries by Email or by dropping in, thank goodness I was too chicken!

  16. Ife ka Terry says:

    yeah, when I was young, those that fell in love with me were not alway the ones I liked.

    Your artworks hanging in offices & homes also brings in a lot of commisions (because see the real thing in person has an ‘ooooooly’ effect on some art-loving-viewers.

    when I was younger, I would write my name & phone number at the back of my paintings & the framed. Those that are attracted to the artwork usually want to get closer (They would pull the frame from off the wall to have a closer look/touch therefore seeing my contact information).


  17. lmz66 says:

    Hi Bob,
    I think what strikes U strikes U – somex its over the head.
    Don’t U think its also who U knw? Iv Bn hvng the same conversation over & over & some aw gets out there b/c U hv friends in the right places. I’m a SVA grad & my style – well I hv 3 – but U can C my hand in all!! & there is nothing that I won’t play w; I weld in steel – but it goes w a series of paintings that Iv Bn doing 4 a very long x, I H2O when I’m in a mind bender & I am an oil painter that works from the grid & U can put that 2 anything!! Interested my site is I hv a fan page on fb that is showing a solo show in CT – of mind consisting of 103 pieces – 101 paintings & a steel candelabra & stained glass window – Y b/c I needed 2 build them after painting them 4 so long I wanted 2 hold it in my hand I wanted U 2 walk in2 my room!!!
    Thnx 4 the info!!
    LMZ the Artist

  18. Mehnoush says:

    I was always wondering about this question and you answered all.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge.

  19. Christine M. says:

    Hi Bob, Thanks for the information from the ” inside man”!! I just organized an exhibition in London for my husband, an emerging old painter but the gallery did not play fair and their mailing list was poor!! I think luck plays also a great part, there are millions places where art can be seen and an artist just need one to be seen by the right person at the right time!!
    What is important for an artist is to be very active in exhibitions and art competitions, you are very right!!
    Christine from France

    • bobtobin says:

      Hi and thanks for your comment. Much appreciated. I’m sorry to hear that your experience with the gallery was not a good one. Hopefully some people got to see the work and people never forget the work that they see, especially if they like it.
      No doubt, luck plays a part in building a career. And I really believe that doing the work and getting it out there are so important. These days, there are so many options for showing work that don’t involve galleries, and some artists in my local market have placed many works through internet sales. Thanks for taking the time to write and good luck in what you are doing.

  20. Thank you to all who commented on this post. Much appreciated.

  21. Il Colorista says:

    Complimenti,in bocca al lupo….