Editor’s Note: We welcome Angie McMonigal to Photofocus. Angie is an award-winning fine art and commercial architecture photographer based in Chicago. She brings a detailed, thoughtful perspective to her work, whether for clients or through the workshops she leads. Focusing more frequently on bold architectural details rather than sweeping cityscapes, her photographs celebrate those unexpectedly iconic elements hiding in plain sight. You can find her work published and exhibited both nationally and internationally. Most recently, her Urban Quilt series was accepted into Catherine Edelman Gallery’s Chicago Project. Visit her website at angiemcmonigal.com, or check out her workshops on photographyunfolded.com.
Many of us would love to get our work exhibited and out there in front of the public. But how? There are so many ways to go about doing this. I’ll cover a few options with you below. This is by no means a comprehensive list, rather just some ideas to get you started.
Of course, the holy grail in exhibiting is the gallery and the ideal for many is to be represented by a gallery. Meaning, they take you on as an artist which results in them marketing your work, exhibiting your work in the gallery and taking it to art shows nationally and internationally, among other things.
They generally take a percentage, often 50%, of the sale price for getting your work out there in the world. However, getting repped is no easy feat and likely not where you’ll start the process, you’ll need a solid resume/CV first. One way to build that CV is to exhibit in other ways.
Let’s set the gallery world aside for just a moment. Many artists exhibit at local establishments: Restaurants, bars, art/craft/gift stores and interior design stores to name a few. This can be a win/win for both the artist and the establishment. They get free art, you get your work in a space that constantly has traffic and new eyes on your work. Also, depending on the space, people can visualize how their work might fit into their own homes or offices.
Another thing to keep in mind — having the work on display close to the holidays can be an added boost as people are in the gift-giving mindset. These locations will often take a percentage of the sale price, just like a gallery would but it’s often much lower, perhaps 10-20%.
You can also donate work to an auction. This can open a whole new audience. Just choose the charity wisely, evaluate your work and what charity might fit best with what you do. For example, my photography focuses on architecture, seen in an abstract way. Donating to a fundraiser for the Architecture Center or an architecture museum would be a good place to consider.
Types of galleries
Back to the gallery world. There are co-op galleries, which are generally a group of artists that come together to provide a venue where they can exhibit their work. Often having a permanent location and a mission to support each other through various endeavors. It can be a great way to create a community of like-minded artists with common goals. These usually involve monthly fees and duties to maintain the gallery, along with the money you’ll spend on creating prints for any exhibition you take part in.
There are also venues that rent out their spaces to an artist or group of artists to host a show themselves. Kind of like a pop-up gallery.
How to get your work shown
If you want to exhibit your work in an established gallery, start by following them on social media and subscribe to their newsletters as many have calls for entry. Typically they involve a fee to submit a certain number of images for consideration.
Some of these calls don’t involve a juror. You pay the fee to submit and you can exhibit. There’s no one judging the work or curating the show. This is rare, but it does happen. This can also feel very much like the pay-to-play mentality and doesn’t lend the most credibility. But if you’ve never exhibited it’s a way to get your feet wet and learn how the whole process works.
Other calls for entry are juried, meaning the gallery has someone reputable in the art world jury the show. Often a gallery owner, museum curator, photo publisher, etc. This is a great opportunity to get your work in front of someone who works with photography daily and who has a good understanding of what makes a photo work. If your work is chosen there is often an exhibit that follows. Making it to the opening to connect with the juror and other exhibitors is a great way to network and for people to put a face to the name, which inherently makes you and your work more memorable. If your work isn’t chosen don’t be too upset. Often the curators have a specific aesthetic in mind and maybe what you submitted just doesn’t fit this time. It doesn’t mean it’s not good. Also, you still had the opportunity to get your work seen by someone in the industry.
Other juried calls for entry result in an online gallery as opposed to a brick and mortar gallery. I’ve become wary of these, often they feel like nothing more than money-making endeavors for whoever is putting out the call. Just be cautious and understand what you hope to get out of calls like this.
These are just a few of the ways to begin exhibiting your work and getting it seen by a larger audience. Of course, there are many other ways to get work out there — social media, publications, art fairs, portfolio reviews, etc. Lots to consider and more for another time. Good luck!