It’s the newly emergent artist conundrum: to get into shows, you need a resume; to have a resume, you need to be in shows. I started my career as an artist in Los Angeles, thousands of miles from where I attended art school. I had no connections in town. Less than a decade later, my work has appeared in print, it has been shown nationally, and is even a part of a prestigious art collection. Here is how I started.
Don’t knock the internet.
When I first came to town, all I really had was Craigslist. The first shows I participated in were through calls for art on the forum. I hung larger than life nudes at a comedy show. I met an energetic young woman who put on shows at bars and clubs and house parties. There’s nothing wrong with an art filled house party. I made my first sale, 7 paintings, in a Venice home. My advice is to avoid any “opportunities” that require you to pay to show.
Follow the spaces you want to show in and keep and eye out for ways in.
As I became more familiar with the Los Angeles art scene, I stopped relying on Craigslist for opportunities. I joined mailing lists for all kinds of spaces around me; high end galleries, libraries, coffee shops, and retail shops that also display art. This approached added several lines to my resume.
Galleries often host events for charities, and these charities seek art donations for supporters to bid on. Catching these events and donating art for a good cause added 2 high end galleries to my resume. I recommend supporting operations who give the option of taking only a 50% commission, and who return unsold work. We have to be careful not to devalue our work along the way.
Start an artists group.
I really wanted to be a part of a show at a beautiful local library, but my work never fit their calls for art. One day, the city hosted an art fair, and artists who were a part of the fair were invited to hang one work in the library. I submitted my artist group to host a booth at the fair, and we all got a nice new line on our resume.
Having an artist group makes you more likely to get the entry level opportunities you apply for. Unconventional spaces seeking art don’t want to coordinate with multiple artists because it’s time consuming. So they’ll opt for the artist group. My art group was able to secure a regular space in a business along an walk and once, we were able to quickly fill a last minute vacancy in a gallery because we had the work to fill the space. As a group we quickly handled everything for the spaces we showed in and we even spackled when we were done. We were called Circa Artists. Having a cool name helps, too.
Put on your own show
I’ve hung more group shows than I can count, in spaces like hair salons, real estate offices, warehouses, and recording studios. Fellow artists who are just starting out are glad to have an opportunity to show, and are usually happy to help hang and bring a bottle of wine for the reception. While living in Atwater Village, I put a show together for artists I met in my neighborhood called “Atwater Village Artists”. It hung for a month at the local wine bar, and Will Sasso even showed up at the reception.
Visit the places you want to show.
You’ve heard this one. But here’s the difference. Don’t just attend openings. Look out for events and find ways to support the space. Attend a portfolio review. Purchase gifts from their shops. Retweet them. Attend figure drawing session. Bring your friends along.
Things you can put on your resume that you may not have considered.
If you went to art school, did your class hang work in a campus gallery? This show can go on your resume. Did you put paintings up in your aunt’s office? I once hung a painting at my dentist’s office. The line on your resume might not get you into the Gagosian, but a record of relationships and evidence of shows shows gumption, and that’s not a bad thing. It will get you into the next show. With each new show you can retire an old line from the resume.
Teaching an art related class is another great way to beef up the resume. It may not be an art show (though it could always lead to one), but it establishes you as an art professional. You can teach online through venues like Skillshare, or, through a barter system like Tradeschool LA. I’ve added things like judging an art walk and speaking about creativity in business to a business 101 class to my resume
Don’t assume you can’t get into something.
Looking back, I can see where my assumption that a gallery owner or a curator wouldn’t consider me early on in my career prevented me from showing in higher end spaces sooner. While you shouldn’t expect something from or annoy an art world professional you look up to, don’t let your own assumptions keep you down.
My unconventional art exhibition journey enabled me to get to know the city in a way I never would have otherwise, which informs my art making today. It also introduced me to so many of LA’s underground visual artists and alternative exhibition spaces, which informs my art consulting practice. It’s particularly rewarding to sell artwork by emerging artists because I know how hard it is to create and sustain an art career by one’s own bootstraps . Fortunately, the people you meet along the way become your contemporaries and over time you rise together.
Diana Kohne is a visual artist and artpreneur. As an art consultant, she helps people who aren’t rich collect great art. She is also the creator of the Pocket Press, a handheld printmaking press. Dianakohne.com, artcricketLA.com, and printmakingpress.com, respectively.