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How to Find Museums to Buy Your Art

Updated on February 15, 2013

Louise Bourgeois Sculpture at the Guggenhiem

Source

Introduction

Without a doubt, having work in an established museum is the ultimate in respectability and validation for most artists. There are no hard and fast rules for getting there though. There is no set of rules which when followed, definitely end up with your work hanging on the walls of a museum like the National Gallery.

Artists live and die without their work ever seeing the inside of a museum, but this does not mean that their career was not a “success.” Whether or not you are a success ultimately depends on your very personal definition of the term, but if you are hell bent on getting your work into a museum during your career, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances.

Be aware that to be in with any sort of chance, you need to be producing museum quality art work on a consistent basis. But that is not all you need. The ability to network and maintain relationships with dealers, curators, collectors, writers and bloggers within the art world goes a long way to getting you noticed, especially if you are good at what you do.

Networking

The art world is relatively small and incestuous. What this means is that you do not have to travel far at all to meet the right people. Whatever stage you are at in your career, start to immerse yourself in the art scene in your area. This means finding out who all of the top players are and introducing yourself to them.

Get to know them without forcing your work onto them. There is no need to expose your agenda from the outset, unless they specifically express an interest in your work that is. Make use of your unique skill set and make yourself useful to them. Join in, participate in events. If you have a popular art blog, offer to review events and help promote them.

People Buy People

Ultimately, what helps you get to the top of the game is people. People buy people, so be nice and friendly, but don't be pushy, don't be needy and don't be desperate. Be yourself and the rest will follow. Remind yourself to enjoy the journey, as it is not all about the destination and it is most certainly not all about you.

University

If you attended a good art school, chances are that you are a bit ahead of the game in terms of contacts. By the time you graduate, you should have a fair idea of who the top players are. Use this to your advantage and make important friends.

Who you Know

Of course, it is not all about who you know, but in the art world, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, who you know can often be critical to the direction your career takes.

Galleries, museums, dealers, collectors... All of these people make decisions based on the recommendations of people they respect every single day. If your work is good and you are well connected and respected, your work is more likely to be recommended.

Remember, all of these art world people are just that, people. They value their reputations and they value being respected. They can only make recommendations which will make them look good.

Everyone has an agenda, whether that is to advance their career or to attract more visitors to their museum. Whatever that agenda is, be mindful and respectful of it.

People argue about whether it is about talent or about who you know all the time. The truth is, there is no one direct answer. Artists who make the big time because their work is so unbelievably astonishingly good are exceedingly rare. It is obvious that one needs to produce work of an excellent quality, but this alone will not help you make the big time.

An extreme way of looking at this is the artist with no social skills who locks himself in his studio day and night, feverishly producing work of an outstanding quality. If no one gets to see him or his work, it is highly unlikely that it will ever end up on the walls of his family, let alone a top museum.

What you Know

What you know is critical also. If your work is intellectually driven, be sure that you can talk about your work in an intellectual way. Curators, gallery owners, dealers, they all want the full package, not half a package. At the same time, don't force your work and your intellect down peoples throats. Answer when asked and let it simmer. Let them be and do not pester art world decision makers to look at or consider your work. This is only likely to annoy.

Publicity

Publicity can give you a significant leg up. So many artists baulk at the idea of publicity, but the fact is that if you are interviewed by top arts publications like Art Review and The Art Newspaper, the who's who of the arts world are much more likely to sit up and take note.

If by the time you get some publicity, the who's who of the art world are all your friends and associates through all of your schmoozing and socializing, of course, they are much more likely to be compelled to recommend your work to the decision makers.

Bilbao- Guggenheim Museum

Source

Understand where your Work Fits

Understanding where your work fits from an art historical perspective, where it fits in with your contemporaries and where it fits in terms of the galleries and museums you are targeting is critical. Fully knowing and understanding this will help you to choose which people you should be networking with as a priority.

Speculative Calls and emails

Traditionally, artists have been advised to make work and send out mail shots containing their portfolios to galleries and museums on spec. While this may have worked in the past, in today’s environment where competition is ludicrously high, this technique can prove very difficult and time consuming.

Aside from the fact that your work is likely to be just one of thousands, if the person whose attention you are trying to get does not know you, you would be very lucky indeed if they noticed your work and decided to take you on. The best way is via formal introductions via people they respect.

Putting on Shows

Don't forget to actually make work! While you are making friends with the who's who of the art world, continue to make outstanding work.

If by the time you have enough work to do a show, you have not been approached by a gallery, put on your own show. These days it is really not difficult to hire a space and put on a show. The internet and social media also means that you can have a relatively large number of attendees.

The advantage of all the shmoozing means that by the time you are ready to do your show, you can also invite all of your new art world friends to the show. You never know who they could bring or where that show could lead.

By Zarateman (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Zarateman (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Curators

In the vast majority of cases, getting into museums starts with galleries and dealers. Gallery owners and dealers are experts at spotting good quality museum art because that is what they spend their lives doing. Of course, museum curators know this, so they all network with each other, because they depend on each other for their careers.

When gallery curators and dealers introduce an artists work to a museum curator, obviously, they do so with great care, because again, their reputations are on the line. Hard sells rarely work in art anyway and they do not want to be made to look stupid by picking up an artist who is no good.

Once the curator is convinced, they then have to convince the board of directors at the museum to look at the new artists work. Again, this is done with great caution, because their reputation is on the line. By the time a curator gets to be working in a top museum, you can bet your life that they have spent years cultivating a reputation for picking excellent art and artists. If they suddenly develop a reputation for picking bad art, you can rest assured that they will be relegated to some distant part of the art world, never to be heard of again.

Conclusion

There is no magic pill, but it is important to learn the hierarchy of gallery owners, dealers and curators, get to know who the leaders are and network with them. Getting your work in a museum is no easy feat, but by producing excellent work, knowing your stuff and networking with the right people, it is by no means impossible.

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