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FAQs for holding exhibitions

How do I start?

First ask yourself – “Why do I want to exhibit?”

  • It may because you want to display your work (for whatever reason), you may want to sell your work, or you may want to display your work and if sales occur then great.
  • Is your work concept or theme based? Is it ready to display now, or is it “a work in progress”?
  • Your answers to these questions determine the type of gallery that you need to find.
  • Whatever your decision is, you will need an artist’s statement and an ‘artist’s curriculum vitae’ (CV).

Which gallery?

There are many types of galleries.

  • Fee paying
  • Commercial
  • Alternative
  • Government funded
  • Museum style

What is a “Fee paying gallery”?

Artist hires the space and does everything themselves, including manning the exhibition, hanging the work, dealing with sales, etc. Nothing is provided by the gallery or place except perhaps hanging devices.

What is a “Commercial gallery”?

There may or may not be fees charged for space & the gallery takes a percentage of sales. Dates of exhibition can be determined by the gallery or you book a time with them. Mostly the curator hangs the work. As these galleries are commercial they depend upon sales for their livelihood, because of this they will most likely be submission based and only accept those that look profitable.

What is an “Alternative gallery”?

Coffee shops, offices, banks, public areas used as gallery space. There is generally no charge to use the space but you may have to negotiate how to handle sales.

What is a “Government funded gallery”?

These are galleries that are designed for beginning artists or students but can be used by most people. These galleries can be called ‘artist run initiatives.’ Generally there are hire fees for the wall space and you may or not be required to join as a member.

What is a “Museum gallery”?

These are galleries that are about showing an exhibition to the public to address an issue, to provide education or for other reasons. The works displayed here are usually not for sale.

How do I select a gallery?

In part the type of gallery depends upon why you want to hold an exhibition. Visit galleries and look at current exhibitions. Talk to the gallery staff and find out what their requirements are and how they operate. Prepare a list of questions beforehand regarding costs, responsibilities and selection processes. Be prepared to answer questions about your work and anticipated exhibition.

The gallery wants a submission, what does this mean?

Many galleries make their decisions on what they will display based on artist’s submissions.

A submission should describe your work, the form and size of the display, the concept on which your work is based. Basically your submission should sell your ideas to them and prove that you have something to offer that is saleable and of interest to the public. You will need an artist CV, and possibly an artist’s statement to go with the submission.

What should be in my CV and artist’s statement?

A CV can be built up by participating in exhibitions as a shared exhibitor or by having your own solo ones, even if they are ones you funded yourself. Other things also need recording on your CV to give you credibility as an artist. The artist’s statement should explain the thoughts and ideas that you want to get across through your work.  

When should I submit my submission?

This will depend on the gallery. Some galleries call for submissions at set times, check with the gallery personally, or on their web site. Other galleries may, or may not, require a submission. If they do require a submission, then have it ready when you approach them.  

Does my work need to address a concept or be theme related?

Most exhibitions require a concept, a theme, something that will bring the work together as a whole. If there is no theme, then your work just becomes “items for sale” and is not really considered an exhibition. It can be a broad concept, so a variety of work will come under it. Or it can be very specific.

What are my likely costs?

This will depend on the type of gallery. Some of the likely costs are: Hire of the gallery space, gallery’s percentage of sales, official opening costs, advertising & insurance.

Do I need an official opening?

Generally there is an official opening, most often in the first week of being hung. Some galleries may have a set time for this, which is set in concrete. Some galleries organise it, other galleries may expect you to.

How do I set a price for my work?

This is one of the toughest options to decide. Initially your work needs to cover your costs, both in producing your work and in exhibiting it and provide a bit extra for yourself. It is all about how much people will pay for your work. You have to be prepared to expect no sales. This means you have to be able to afford the costs that come with it without expecting re-imbursement.

Is my work protected while on display?

Generally you are responsible for insuring your own work while it is on exhibition, but check this out with the gallery.

It is also a good idea to produce a duplicate list of your works, with one copy for the gallery and one for yourself. If the work is for sale, then it is a good idea to have the gallery owner or staff member sign your copy of the list when he/she takes receipt of the work.

Do I need to advertise the Exhibition?

If the gallery doesn’t handle advertising then you will need to advertise it yourself. Possible ways are through the media, either newspaper or radio. One method it to write a press statement giving details of the exhibition to the newspaper. Gaining media coverage gets your name out there, plus it can be recorded within your artist CV as media reviews.

What are my responsibilities for the exhibition?

The extent of the artist’s responsibilities depends on the gallery.

Possible responsibilities include hanging/displaying your work, both organising the official opening and paying for it, issuing of invitations to opening, advertising, looking after sales, insurance.

Who handles sales?

Either the gallery or you will be responsible for sales with red dots and a notebook to record the purchaser’s information, plus to take the money. With some galleries this may be negotiable. Generally purchasers collect the work near to the last day of the exhibition, either from the gallery or from you directly, dependent upon galleries. Some alternate galleries do not have credit facilities and you also may not have that. This will require change for cash if purchasers are willing to provide cash. Direct debit is another option, but you must be prepared for all options if you are responsible.

Do I need labels and a catalogue?

All work should be labelled, even if it is only to identify it for sales. The label generally provides the name of the work, the artist’s name, the year of production, the type of media used and the price.

The catalogue will include the artist statement plus a list of all works and their prices. A catalogue may not be necessary if not intending sales as long as an artist statement is provided to explain the work to the public. One good idea is to print a tiny thumbnail of the image on the label or in the catalogue to identify it easily if misplaced.

Who hangs or displays my work?

Once again this depends on the gallery.

If you are the person responsible for doing this, then check out other exhibitions to see what works.

Do I need to obtain an ABN and pay GST?

Most of us will be classed as “hobbyists” and as such do not need to be involved with these issues. However, there are tax implications and each individual’s case may differ. You will need to check this with the gallery, and you should get advice from your accountant, or the tax office. In the first instance, read this article in artslaw.com.au

There are other useful articles on the Arts Law Centre of Australia site: http://www.artslaw.com.au/ and the Australian Business Register site: https://abr.gov.au/ . You may wish to look at NAVA, National Association for the Visual Arts Ltd.: https://www.visualarts.net.au/

Does Contemporary Group offer any further assistance if I want to get started in exhibiting?

Yes. Anne O’Connor has been appointed as the co-ordinator of a service to answer your further questions, and give you feedback on your proposed CV or submission.