Monday, June 2, 2014

Checklist for Mounting an Exhibition

Most artists begin their careers by entering juried exhibitions but there comes a time that many of us want to step out and do group shows or solo shows that specifically feature our work.  Most often these are shows come as a result of your applying for a show or being invited by a museum/gallery or other art venue to mount an exhibition.  While many of the same things are required for these shows as with a juried show, each requirement is specific to you and your work.  

With all of that in mind I though it might be interesting to just review what is involved in having a solo or small group show.  This turns out to be a substantial list of things but may not be complete.

  • Research - Before you apply for a show you will want to find out as much as you can about the size of the spaces available for showing.  Does the venue offer any financial support to the artists for travel, shipping or other expenses involved with the show.  You will want to know what type of advertising the venue provides.  Does the artist receive invitations to send or does the gallery send from a list provided by the artist?  Will the gallery want a postal mailing address list or an email address list or both?  Does the gallery allow the artist to do any promotion on their own or do they require that they approve any notices you might send?  Does the venue do a reception?  Will you be asked to do a gallery talk?  Will you be expected to install the show or do they install the show or at least have someone there to assist you in this important phase of mounting an exhibition?  Is the work insured while on display?  Does the work have to be for sale?  Does the venue charge a commission on sales and if so what is the commission percentage?  If you sale work during the show when will you be paid?
  • Apply - Applying for a show involves securing the information for what a specific venue requires for a show.  While much of the information will be the same for each venue they may require the use of specific forms.  You will need to write a letter for what you want to propose, send images of your work as requested by the venue along with a list of sizes and mediums of the work you want to exhibit or the type of work you want to exhibit and indicate if there are any special requirements for installation of your work.  
  • Accepting An Invitation -  When you receive an invitation to show the next thing to solidify is the date.  Often times the venue will suggest a specific date but usually there is some flexibility. Many galleries will include a general calendar in the application forms which allows the artist to begin the process indicating times that they can exhibit.  Once you have agreed on a date the gallery should send a contract with all requirements listed for you and what and when they will perform their duties.  This will include when promotion materials including biography, resume, photographs and artist statement.  There will be a date when the work should be delivered and when it should be picked up after the show.  The date for the reception or opening will be listed and any other activities you may have agreed to participate in during the run of the show.  
  • When Will The Contract Arrive - There is no set date that venues send the contracts out.  Some will get them to you immediately and others prefer to wait much closer to the date of the show.  If you are not comfortable with their timeline you will want to contact the person in charge and discuss this point as there is no agreement until the contract is signed by both parties. An email outlining an agreement is not a contract.  I know this from experience.
  • Prepare for Show - You will want to begin preparation for your show well in advance.  Venues will sometimes suggest a number as to how many pieces required for a show as well as send you a layout of the space in which you will be showing.  Some galleries prefer very sparse installations while other may want as much work as can be reasonably installed with the thinking they want to offer their viewers a wealth of pieces to enjoy.  If you are not sure you will want to discuss this with the venue.  If you are making new work for the show you will want to have a timeline for yourself so that the work can be prepared and ready when the time comes.  I often take a few more pieces than I think will actually be installed to allow for choices when the work is installed.  Some galleries and museums will request specific work so you must plan to have that work available.  Pack the work for delivery.  Deliver the work and review the inventory list with the gallery.  You will want to have them sign this inventory and keep a copy yourself.  If there is anything about the work you want to point out this is the time to do it.  This could be anything that might be of concern to them later or to you. (example:  my work requires hanging sleeves and rods.  I always show people how to unpack and store the wrappings, insert the rod and a quick description of how to hang my work and repack my pieces.  Everyone ends up much happier.)
  • Promoting the show - I've already mentioned the issue of mailings but there are other ways you will want to promote your show.  You will want to put it on your blog and website if you have these.  You will want to post notices on social sites such as Facebook, twitter, linked-in and others.  If you do a newsletter you will want to send an invitation to subscribers.  I haven't seen too many people do paid promotion in targeted magazines but I have seen a few people do this.  FiberArt magazine, Surface Design Journal or SAQA Journal would be examples of magazines for textile artists.
  • Reception - Show up for your reception ready to welcome your guests, answer questions, meet new people and enjoy your evening.  If you are doing a Gallery Talk I recommend you prepare for this with notes so that you remember to share with your guests the things about your work that you feel are most important.  Be prepared to answer questions.
  • After the Opening - You will want to return to the show if possible to take photographs of the installation or perhaps some video.  Your friends and admirers who can't attend the show will greatly appreciate this documentation.  Post pictures and videos for others to enjoy.
  • Closing the Show - Arrive on the appointed day to pickup your work.  You may have agreed to  uninstall the show or you may just be collecting the work.  Review the inventory with the person in charge to make sure you have all of your work.  Asked if there was any coverage in local newspapers or magazines.  If so you will want to have copies of this material.  If you sold something be sure and requests the name and contact information for your new collector.  If you are taking the show down yourself leave the space in good order.  
  • Follow Up - Once you have your work at home you may want to review your work especially if you did not repack or uninstall the show.  This allows you to make sure the work is stored in the best possible condition and ready for another day.  Write the gallery and thank them for the opportunity to exhibit your work.  I personally think a hand written note is the way to go but any thank you will be appreciated.
And some people think artists are lazy.  If they only realized what goes into creating wonderful shows for them to enjoy.


Thank you for spending time
at Studio 24-7.
My show: Textile Constructions 2014
continues at the
Upstairs Artspace until June 20th.

I'll be posting information about my next show
very soon.


  1. All true and good advice. These are the concerns that should be learned by every artist who wishes to show their work in a gallery.

    1. Absolutely and I'm sure there are things I left out. Thanks Christine!

  2. Great checklist. I'll have to bookmark this to use "someday"!

  3. I agree with Vivien...great checklist! I will bookmark as well to use someday. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    1. Thank you Mia! I'll look to get the invitation for your show!!!

  4. Good post. I gather that all or most of the points you make come from the "ask me how I know" category! Thank you for navigating us away from the shoals. Very generous, as always.

    1. Pretty much. I am a wonderful example of learning on the job. Xo,t

  5. I can’t believe I just stumbled across this post — the timing is uncanny since I’ve just received my first solo show confirmation (like, an hour ago). Thank you for the wonderful advice!
    Amy (

  6. Hi Amy! Congratulations on the show invitation. Best wishes for a great event.