If you are an artist or know one, you likely have considered solo exhibitions as a milestone in the creative path. However, as all other things in life, it comes at a cost which you might be unwilling to pay, or at least you need to take into account.
Here is a list of 7 downsides to putting a solo exhibition from my humble experience:
7 downsides to putting a solo exhibition
Investing in materials, frames and logistics.
Depending on the size and medium, cost of materials varies. Nevertheless, this investment can be a bit of a challenge, especially when you are intending to put on a show of 20 pieces or more. The same applies to frames, and should your frames include glass, transportation needs to be handled with extra care to prevent damage.
Increased storage space
Speaking of frames, they automatically increase the storage space you need before the final show. Unless you take the pieces directly to the venue after framing, or decide to go with unframed artwork, you will need to provide extra storage in your studio or home for the framed artworks.
Venue rent and commissions
It is no surprise to anyone who has done business with galleries you need to pay for this privilege. Most galleries require:
- Upfront rent for the venue, allowing the gallery to stay financially stable in case no artwork gets sold.
- 30-50% commission from all sales during the exhibition. This means the artist receives less OR clients pay more. Sometimes both apply.
1-2 pieces from the exhibition remain a property of the gallery. Often these are artworks by their choice, not yours –
meaning your best pieces may stay for the gallery and you won’t receive money for them.
Lack of contact with collectors
Now that we mentioned common practice, I learned galleries in the US would often hide the contacts and information of collectors acquiring the pieces. They are guarding their profit as a middleman, so you may not get direct contact allowing you to approach the collector and at least thank them for the support. Of course, this can be easily fixed, should the collector decide to get in touch with the artist. Normally they would know the name, and in case you are online, all it takes is a Google search.
In case you are up for a grand opening with appetizers, wine and other catering for your guests, you should be prepared to pay for it. Sometimes it is included in the rent you pay the gallery but sometimes it comes at an extra cost.
Delaying the return of investment
Unless you have a patron or your intention is to simply show your work and don’t care about making sales, that’s cool. But in case you rely on sales of your art to help you earn a living, you might find it a bit frustrating to get a delay in the return of investment. You will need to hold your paintings and resist selling them from the moment you create them to the moment the show has finished.
Of course, in case you sell in advance, you can make an upfront agreement with your clients to provide the piece for the time frame of the exhibition but that is not always possible, nor would everyone agree. Besides, no gallery would be too happy to host a show with no available works for sale, would it?
Last, but not the least, you need to consider the only currency that cannot be gained back – your time. Even if you work quickly, or you have a significant body of finished art ready to be shown, you will still need to invest a decent amount of time in researching and contacting venues, organizing and transporting your works, as well as coordinating the whole event.
And don’t forget galleries often need to be booked months ahead!
It would be great if you have a personal assistant or help at your disposal, or your own gallery space, but more often than not this is not the case.
With all that said, organizing and putting on an exhibition can be a great experience. If you have this goal on your professional growth list, go for it! Just keep in mind these pitfalls so you don’t set false expectations. At the end you will know first-hand whether it was worth it.
Have your say!
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- Can you add reasons from your own experience?
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