Once upon a time, in a not so far away land, a man approached me and said,
"Michael, it is time to show". I answered, " I don't do shows. I get the
Purchase Orders and I do the photography."OUTLINE TO AN EXHIBIT
He grabbed me by the arm as a father would do, and looked me in the eye
and repeated, " Its time to show your work. Please do a photography
exhibit at my Gallery."
My head spun around with thoughts. How does one do a show? If I am going
to do a photo exhibit, it must be outstanding! It must be noteworthy and
not just a regular photography exhibit of a bunch of prints.
I remembered what my friend Jimmy Valentine showed me in Highland, North
Carolina at his forest studio. He showed me how he did his great
photography exhibits. He makes miniature models of the planned exhibits
that he intends to do. I followed his advice, and I recommend this
technique to you also.
First develop a realistic time line for you to accomplish everything
necessary for a successful show. Most Galleries and Museums are booked up
for months even years. Yes, you want to show your prints tomorrow, but
trust me that you need months to prepare and get ready to achieve maximum
exposure. You also want maximum sales. You are not going to do this much
work for your ego. You need time to get your PR done and in place. You need
time to get your show ready for opening night.
Focus on what you want to achieve by showing. Then work backwards from the
date given to you by the Gallery or Museum. Accept the best date for you.
The date may appear to be a long time off in the future, but take it
because the Gallery is probably talking to several other artists at the
same time they are talking to you. Be sure to get the commitment from the
Gallery or Museum in writing and signed with what they are willing to do
Nikon House asked me to have a one man show of 100 of my new digital art
photography at their Rockefeller Center Gallery in February 1986. But is
was 1984 when I received the invitation. I hesitated on the phone, but was
informed that if I didn't accept that date two years in the future, the
next available open date was four years away. They had already had
contracted with photographers that far into the future. So I jumped on the
date only two years away.
You have to understand that the printer is not sitting on his hands
waiting to print only your invitations and collateral materials. You'll
need lead time of about 6 to 8 weeks for printing unless your Daddy owns a
printing company. Add 2 weeks for an Art Director to design the mailout and
prep it for printing. Color separations take 1 week. And you'll need
another 2 weeks to address every invitation by hand (which is a must), and
1 week for the mail to be delivered and another week or two for your
invitation or PR to be read. Everyone is so inundated with tons of mail
that it takes some people a long time to actually act on your invitation.
You might mark it Urgent.
Personally I do not do shows where my work will hang less than one month.
It is a tremendous amount of work for one or two days. I also do not do
outdoor exhibits because the weather is too unpredictable, and the elements
and shipping are very hard on the pieces of photo art.
With your time frame solidified, pick the prints that you want to exhibit.
Depending how you show your work, I suggest no less than 20 pieces and no
more than 100.
An Engineer friend of mine made models of the Gallery spaces from
architectural drawings of where I had been invited to have shows. These
cost approximately $150 each and are made of thin foam board exactly to
scale with no roof. Have the model made strong enough to withstand
The labs that I regularly work with printed miniature prints of the photos
that I wanted in each exhibit. These tiny scale pictures are temporarily
glued into position in the miniaturized model of the gallery. This way I
make my mistakes small and inexpensively. I place my eye into the model and
get a scaled eye view of what the final exhibit will look like. This
modeling technique allows you to see the impact of the exhibit coming
alive. The exhibit will seem to take on a life of its own at this point
because you can hold it in your hand and study it, and show it to others.
This model can be shown to potential buyers, potential corporate sponsors,
and clients to get support and build enthusiasm for this glorious venture.
My first show cost me $38,000. I had to sell my house to pay for it.
However with the model I was able to almost break-even with corporate
sponsors prior to the Grand Opening. Another $8,900 in sales came the first
night at the wine and cheese gala opening. In addition $17,000 in
commissioned photography was contracted for with two individuals who saw
the exhibit, but wanted me to create special photographs for them.
My first photographic exhibit was in 1983 and it was spectacular. Since
then I have created 10 exhibits which I keep touring. You may view them in
this web site by clicking to the Gallery.
The things that happened to my career were overwhelming. I never would
have imagined such wonderful opportunity awaited me. It was truly time to
show as my mentor friend said.
Maybe it is time for you to show? Good luck!
- Get date of exhibit in writing signed
- Find out in writing what the gallery will provide for PR, sales, storage, grand opening and daily viewing, invitations, shared mailing lists, publicity before during and
after, and how they plan on insuring the show while it is in their possession till it arrives back to you, and how it will be shipped back to you.
- Make budget for show
- Make scale model of gallery space
- Make miniature prints for scale model of gallery
- View model
- Make changes small
- Printing, signage, press releases, invitations, and envelopes
- Print the original show
- Inventory the entire exhibit
- Frame to show using UV plastic not glass
- Do PR, national magazines have 3 month lead times, local press has one
month lead times
- Follow up pre show PR, hype your exhibit
- Plan opening night gala
- Plan tour of exhibit to other cities
- Buy or make case for exhibit
- Make arrangements to ship and insure show
- Make reservations for travel well in advance to take advantage of large
- Make reservations for lodging very near the show.
- Be sure to plan to arrive a few days in advance of the gala opening.
- Make formal arrangements to hang your exhibit. I have never been
allowed to hang any of my exhibits. Only professional show hangers have been allowed to put nails in walls or hanging devices in
galleries and museums.
- Be prepared for extreme changes in humidity and temperature in many
galleries and museums when they are closed. Some turn off the air
conditioning when no patrons are there.