One of the easiest ways to get your foot in the door at a gallery is to participate in a group art exhibition. Instead of a gallery taking the chance on the collected works of one artist, they offer space to a group of artists creating work based on a common theme. The public is exposed to a wide variety of work, and the artists are able to exhibit at a gallery without completing an entire series of pieces.
Of course, there’s no reason why you have to just wait—and hope—that a group opportunity will come along. Here are 6 steps for organizing your own group art exhibition, from the ground up!
1. Develop a theme
A group exhibition usually hinges on a unique and dynamic theme. This theme links all the different works together, as each artist interprets the theme however they see fit.
You need to choose a theme that’s flexible enough to allow each artist the freedom to express his or herself, but also structured enough to create a cohesive collection of works.
Have a look at other group shows in your area and the kinds of themes they use. Which themes work, and which don’t? Then pick a theme that encompasses some of the successful ideas which you see working already.
2. Recruit artists and choose pieces
Find artists in your local community whose work you admire, and invite them to submit 1-3 pieces for the group show. Pitching prominent artists who have an established audience will help your show draw a crowd.
You can also put out a call for submissions on mailing lists and websites followed by artists in your community. Set a date for a couple of months away to give artists time to complete their pieces or put together a concept.
If you receive more submissions and responses than you have space at the gallery, you will have to choose the artists to display. You need to maintain a high quality of work, so ensure you choose pieces that are completed to a high standard. Choose a variety of mediums and styles, and focus on the artists who have the most unique interpretations of your theme.
With luck, you’ll acquire a solid collection of both established and up-and-coming artists who each submit between 1-5 pieces for the group exhibition.
3. Pitch the gallery
When you approach a gallery, you should have a written explanation of the concept behind your exhibition, plus at least 12 images to accompany the written report.
In that written report, you need to tell the gallery:
• The appearance, theme and aesthetic of the exhibition.
• The minimum size of the wall/floor area you need for the exhibition (and if there are any unusual requirements, such as projections or large constructions.)
• When the exhibition will be available. The more flexible your dates are, the better, as the gallery has a limited number of slots—each with individual requirements—to fill.
• How the exhibit will be mounted. What are the materials being used, and are there any health and safety factors to be considered?
• Whether or not you’re able to offer any educational elements alongside your exhibition, such as workshops, classes or lectures. This element of community outreach will raise your application to the top of the pile.
4. Write a press release
You’ll need to advertise the group exhibition and get as many mentions in local press as possible. The easiest way to do this is by sending out a press release. See my article on how to write a press release for your first solo show for tips on creating a press-ready release.
5. Install the artwork
One of the most exciting parts of organizing an exhibition is watching it all come together. As the pieces arrive at the gallery, it will be your job to oversee their installation.
The arrangement of a group show is vital to its success—you want to lead the viewer in a natural order around the pieces. Look to create unusual juxtapositions in the arrangement. Aim to surprise, stimulate and delight your viewer.
Always ask artists for their ideas on installation and placement—you don’t always have to listen to them, but they often have great ideas you haven’t thought of. Allow artists time to check their works are installed correctly.
6. Hold an opening
An opening event is a great way to stir up interest in your group show. Get all the artists involved to bring their peers, invite along some press and important people in the art world, have some music, some drinks and nibbles, and have a great time celebrating the work of local artists.
Organizing a group exhibition can be a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding, and a great way to gain experience working with galleries. And, curating successful group exhibitions can also lead to other things, such as more curatorial work, or a position in a gallery.