For this part in the series, I will start with the curator as that is something, I am very experienced with. Full discloser I’ve never run a gallery for more than 8 weeks as I normally and just there for a pop up so the advice on running a gallery is going to be more about basic business practises.
So, You Want To Curate A Show
What is an art curator Anyway? a good question when I find out I will let you know. In all seriousness, it is a very broad term and someone who has done a course at Goldsmiths on it may disagree with me, but they don’t have 15 central London shows working as a curator, so I don’t really care what they think.
My definition is something like this a curator gets a raw vision from an artist and it is their job to make it into something that is both true to the artist's vision and also commercially viable. Now for those thinking that this is an easy job, well it is if all you do is write forewords and help arrange the show but I think you should always go above and beyond the call of duty. In my opinion the curator should; make the artists raw vision reality, invite a VIP guest list, create and distribute a press release, write all the supporting text for a show such as the foreword, hang the show(by hand if it needs to be), work to sort out alcohol sponsors, create and frame the artwork, work on making sales and hosting the event night with the artist. At college they learn that curators do a lot less than all that and mostly talk about the vision part, I fail to see how it takes 3 years to learn this.
If you like the sound of helping people’s artistic ideas come true, then you want to get into managing and curating artists and exhibitions. If you do decide you want to be an art manager you're going to have to do some curating.
So, About That Show, I Want To Curate
So enough about the background of these things lets get to the meaty part, right of the bat this is a very hard thing to do from the outside people tend to think putting on an art show is as simple as hanging some art on the walls. First off where are you going to get those walls getting a space can be hard on its own you’ve also got to think about what artist to show if you are a manager this should be easy you’ve got a roster of artists. Let’s make a quick list of everything you need to make a show great.
- Artists (obliviously)
- A great invite designed
- 3 months to plan and gather press
- Public liability insurance and employer one if needed
- It's great if the venue you pick has a licence to sell alcohol another revenue source( any good curator will have a personal licence too so get one if you are interested in this line of work) remember though a no licence is required if you are giving away alcohol for free
- Some way of transporting the art from A to B
- A space in a good location 4 weeks is the optimal time longer is always better but only do two week shows if you have the list to bring in the sales When choosing a location, I would always pick based on two things, can my client list make it to the opening night with ease and what is the walking trade like the former being more important if you have a client list already the latter if you don’t.
- A list for the opening night of you and the artists best buyers and VIP’s
- A press release and a list to send it out too, you can get the contact details of any magazine of news outlet by just checking their site a good outreach should have a minimum of 60 press outlets contacted. If you have budget hire a PR company but be careful not to overpay they tend to over change if they can.
- A suit or something smart to where you’ve got to look either really sharp and professional or interesting and artistic the choice is you’re but you're going to need a style you are the host/hostess after all.
- Hangers of the ability to hang (this is not as hard as it may seem at first it's just measuring stuff and making holes in the wall, even if you’ve never done it before you’ll pick it up fast.
- A photographer to get press shots on the night
About twelve prerequisites are needed to put a show on before you get all freaked out and think this is impossible that takes a step back and look at it from a high-level perspective. What is the first thing on this road to an exhibition lets take it step by step?
Step one: Make a proposal for the show
a proposal is a document that sets out what the show you want to do, what artists are involved, who is the main team behind it, your budgets, what VIP’s you expect, that sort of thing. In your proposal you should also work out what artworks you are selling what price you are selling for; how many you will need to sell to cover the costs of the show and who is paying these costs. If you’re a manager its really your job to do that but if the artists is willing to pay then take them up on it. It is key though that before you send it out to anyone outside your critical you remove all references to profit loss just keep that to yourself. This document will tell you if the idea is even possible and how risky this show will be. (note all art shows are very high risk for the person paying)
Step two: Find a space
now you have a document explaining what you want to do you’ve got to choose where to do it. The cheapest and lowest risk option is a gallery that already functions they may try to charge you for the time but if your show is strong enough, they will do it. The drawback here is that more than lightly you as the curator will only make 10% of the sales but no risk so hey this is the best deal for getting started. When you’ve got a few shows under your belt maybe think about going straight to renting a location. Renting can be a lot and remember ideally you want your show to run for 4 weeks minuim.
Step three: Contact the press
So that list of over 60 press outlets you got together now is your time to strike get that press realise sent to all of them attend local talks about art, events or anything else in your area (free tip most galleries have public views on the last Thursday of every month, great place to meet people) get talking about what you’re doing spread the work as they say.
Step four: Get alcohol
Its not an exhibition without libations, the best way is getting a sponsor if it’s your first show and you don’t know how to go about this give it a go anyway, send your proposal and any press you’ve got in the past to the PR offices of alcohol brands, you never know without trying. If not buy cheap wine and beer.
Step five: Have the event
Don’t forget this one this will of course involve you inviting your list and getting a huge volume of people to attend (free tip, if you invite 100 people on average 40, will RSVP and only 20 will turn up so over invite) now this part I can tell you to do because it is not really allowed SO DON’T DO THIS if the venue has a capacity of 150 invites 500-600 people not only will only 100-150 turn up but even if over 150 turns up you’ll have queue around the block and your show will look amazing for the press, be sure to get your press photographer to get plenty of photos of the overstuffed gallery queue but I didn’t suggest you do that in fact I would say don’t, always follow the rules. Now the show is on making sure you are there every day from opening to closing this show is only time this show is going to be on making the most of it.
Let’s talk about some ways you can increase the PR on your show, just some ideas I may or may not have done any of this before. If your hosting a controversial show some examples would be an erotic photography show, a political based expo or a hot button issue like that help stir up some trouble how do you think activists find out where to protest? Well other activists tell them you get what I’m saying. Maybe your show of naked women ends up on a feminist site or your show on toxic men ends up on 4chan or a men’s rights forum. As a curator your goal is to create a buzz does it matter what kind not really its art you’ve got to challenge people and make them change their perception the more noise made about this the better in art there is no such thing as bad press as the whole thing is subjective as Andy Warhol said;
“I don’t read what the press writes about me, I just measure it in inches”.
You also as stated before should be attending all the events leading up to an exhibition, talking about your upcoming show everywhere you go.
Another interesting thing you can use if fly posting you’re allowed to do it in certain places takes advantage of that.
Put flyers and broachers into all pub and bars in the area they normally have a place for you to put these.
I hope you found these guides interesting, it’s all I know about everything to do with art, I mean I’ve held a lot back I won’t give away everything for free. But maybe after reading this series of posts you may have a better idea of what working in art is.