This is a story of the many ways in which artists sabotage their careers by making really stupid decisions. I’m writing this to help artists understand that a bad decision can cost them exhibition opportunities, sometimes for years to come. I’m splitting this into two parts for length. The first part deals with 3 different gallery owners discussing one artist’s career killing move: wet paintings. In Part 2 I discuss the lesser examples of the failures I witnessed. The kind of failures that create bad reputations and result in unsold artwork – artwork that should have no problem selling.
The Setup: Several years ago I helped to curate a fundraiser show for an arts organization. The organization had a little gallery space at the end of busy street in Maryland that had several art galleries. Artists paid an entry fee for a small space on the wall. There were over 100 pieces of art. I was one of a small handful of people who volunteered to help curate this. Artists had to drop off their art on the same day. It was the first time I had done intake, or curation, at a gallery and it was quite the eye-opening experience.
When a gallery says to bring your work “ready to hang,” bring your work ready to hang or don’t come at all.
Newsflash: Gallery Owners Talk To Each Other
During installation, owners from two of the local galleries came to help out. The owner of a third gallery, located elsewhere in Maryland, happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped by for a bit. Four gallery owners in one gallery…..
At one point I had to move a painting to get to a photo in a white frame. I hung the photo up & realized there was orange paint smudged on the corner. The painting I moved was wet, something the artist failed to mention to anyone. I managed to get the frame cleaned off but it was not easy. I warned everyone to be careful handling it….
Gallery Owner #1 asks me if that was John Doe’s painting (obviously not his real name). It was. She says “I knew it, I’ve shown his work twice and both times he brought me wet paintings. I love his work but refuse to show it anymore.” Gallery owner #2 says, ” I showed his work once and he brought me wet paintings too.” Gallery Owner #3 says (seriously, I’m not making this up): “He just submitted his portfolio to my gallery. His work is great, but I’m not giving him a show after hearing that. I don’t know why artists think it’s acceptable to bring in wet paintings.” Gallery Owner #4, the one who actually ran the gallery we were in, chimed in on the problem of wet paintings too.
WET PAINTINGS SHOULD NEVER LEAVE YOUR HOME OR STUDIO. EVER. Gallery owners talk to each other about this kind of thing. Don’t kill your career by bringing a gallery wet paintings.
The conversation among the gallery owners continued on about several other area artists. Each new artist’s name came with a litany of reasons why working with them was a complete pain-in-the-ass. There were one or two bright spots too but that’s not what stood out.
Gallery Owners Aren’t The Only Ones That Talk….
Gallery owners discussing which artists are terrible to work with is extremely bad for your career. Everyone else who witnessed your bad behavior can be just as bad. I’ve just written about my experiences even if I’ve avoided naming anyone. The other artist volunteers could write about their experiences as well. But wait, it gets worse….
You can be damned sure I talked about this event right after I took part, and I’m guessing the others did too. I spoke to at least one gallery owner, in Virginia, about the artist in question, and I did name names then. An artist can quickly get a bad reputation in the entire local art scene – and beyond – all because of unprofessional behavior. It might take months, even years (if ever), for the artist to find out they have a terrible reputation and by then it can be too late.