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Hosting an Art Exhibition: II

Hope you’re having a great week.  So much has been happening that it’s hard to know where to start.  I was just commenting to a friend that I feel like I did very little for the last year and a half, what with my parents’ illnesses and Covid.  Now it seems that everything has come back and I’m constantly fighting to keep afloat.  While I can’t say I’d like to go back to the days of uninterrupted painting and writing, I guess I would actually like to take a bit of a break.

It’s funny, Bogdan and I keep applying for exhibitions abroad hoping we’ll get accepted for a show and have to travel for the opening night.  He was recently accepted for a show in Argentina, and we thought, right… We’re flying to Buenos Aires.  Then we found out that the show was virtual only.  Still a huge honor, but doesn’t look like we’ll be vacationing on the Pampas.  Then he got an award for an opening in New York City, another huge honor… But you guessed it, it’s an online show also.  Oh well.  We’re both applying to an exhibition in Mexico City through PRPGMX, where I’m doing my residency program.  So a trip to Mexico would be a spectacular alternative.  Fingers crossed.

I wanted to spend some more time processing with you all of the things going on with the solo exhibition in just over a month.  As I mentioned last time, I’ll be launching a legacy series that will consist of 5 exhibitions, spaced 5 years apart, spanning over a 20 year period.  That’s 20 paintings, every 5 years until I’m 80 years old.  The idea is to create a very collectable series, that will span my entire professional life as an artist.  I’m calling the series Panca Marga, which is a Buddhist teaching about there being 5 roads to perfection.

I was finally able to finish all 20 of the paintings, and I’m busy now getting them varnished, wired, and framed.  I had an artist friend come by last week to stretch the two large pieces, and we’ve ordered the moulding to custom frame the odd sized works.  Luckily, the majority of the paintings can easily be framed with “off the rack” frames.  

But now the event really gets cute.  I’ve had a couple of engraved stamps made, one about 3 inches in diameter and the other only 1 inch around.  I’m stamping the back of each painting with the red series logo, and will stamp the certificates of authenticity with a logo in sealing wax. Then I’ve had tiny lapel pins engraved with the logo so that each collector can get a pin acknowledging them as collectors of the Panca Marga series.  Ok, I think perhaps I’m going a bit overboard here.

The room is reserved, the catering is booked, so we’re down to getting the invitations and printed materials ready to go to the printer this week.  I will have printed invitations, along with a poster or two for the venue.  I will also create a catalog of the work that will be similar to the Zines we’ve published in the past.  That’s basically a folded 8.5x11 sheet, with a cover in a thicker paper.  We use Mixam for online printing, and have been really impressed with their pricing, as well as the quality.  With art, getting the colors right is so important.  They’ve not failed us yet.  I was able to secure a letter from painter John Ross Palmer, who gave me the idea for the series in the first place, and a dedication from our friend Princess Brianna Caradja of Romania.  Hopefully that will give some class and gravitas to the catalog.  She’s one of Bogdan’s best friends, and she introduced us some 20 years ago.  Brianna did the welcome/opening speech at Bogdan’s first photography exhibition in Romania in 2004, and now she’s dedicating the catalog to my first ever exhibition as well.  I think that’s super cool, and it means the world to me.

As we’ve been discussing for weeks now, we know that as creative entrepreneurs, we have to wear all sorts of hats, and become competent in all sorts of fields in order to run successful art businesses.  We’ve also spoken about how all of the planning, marketing, publicity and sales will have to be done by me, because there’s no way I can afford to outsource all of those tasks.  I’ve been able to hire a caterer, and we’ll pipe in some music.  We’ve paid a printer to produce the invitations, and are having the catalogs printed online.  All of that, though crucially important, is not the really important part of the event.  The part that will make or break the evening is the quality of the experience… and that falls to me to organize as well.

We’ve discussed in previous episodes the importance of the “experience” when trying to sell art, and it’s there that I would like us to spend some time now.  I believe with all my heart that people come to art venues as much for the experience of shopping for art as they do to actually acquire art.  You will occasionally get a couple in who have just purchased and furnished their new home, and need to fill it with art immediately before their first party is thrown.  Those folks will come in with a list, a color chart, and will work through a row of studios like I move through the produce section of the supermarket.  I think we can safely rule them out as they’re a rare as hen’s teeth, even if they are ALWAYS welcome.

I’m referring to the true collectors, who likely go to a variety of art events around town, and have particular artists they follow, even if from a distance, to see what work they’re producing.  These folks expect more than just an open door and a smile when they enter.  They’re looking to see the art, chat with the artist, hear the stories of the pieces they like, and only then, iff all the stars align, they’ll make a decision to purchase something they love.  These are people who have probably been to visit your studio before, and may have purchased a little something from you in the past as a show of good faith.  I recently had a delightful couple stop by to visit, and when the chat was going well, they purchased a $100 print.  If I am reading them right, they’re telling me they like me, and are going to keep an eye on what I produce in the future.  While I’m certainly appreciative of the purchase they made, if I develop a relationship with them, they may continue to buy my art over many years to come.

So how do we set up an experience of art for our collectors, and potential collectors?  There are obviously many ways, but let’s just consider my options for my pending exhibition.  

  1.  People want to be honored by being invited personally.  That’s easy with family and friends, and I will certainly send personal notes to my previous collectors, but let’s be honest… There are emails I have on my newsletter list that I may not even have names associated with.  I think the best I can do with them is to send a direct email (not through a mail service) inviting them to the event.  So I will do my level best to be as personal as I can be with my invitations.  I also have ordered some printed invitations as well, so anyone for whom I have a physical address, I can mail them a card with a personal note.

  2. People want to mingle. The whole reason to have a reception event is to give folks a party-like atmosphere to attend.  They want a place to go, with something interesting happening, where they can see other cool people, and be seen as well.  So we will have lovely catering, a lovely display of the art, a drinks table with wine and such, a sound system with music, and a speaker system so that people can actually hear any presentation that is made.  The event will last 2 hours, and I think the trick is to have something happening every 20 minutes, so that people don’t have time to get bored and leave.  As I mentioned last week, I’ll also have someone whose job it is to watch the crowd, and engage people who are alone or looking at their watches.  We will also produce a short movie about the collection, and will play that at some point during the evening.  That’s what we will do for the general audience, but what do we do for those special collectors I mentioned, or for those VIPs we want to court.  I could have a special preview event, but I don’t want to pay the caterer twice.  Moreover, I don’t want the collector crowd to attend an early event, and then not show up for the main party.  So what I’ve decided to do is invite the VIPs to arrange appointments to view the work early, at their leisure, and I’ll be sure to have some nibbles and drinks available.  That way I can spend some quality time with them, and still not sabotage the main event.

  3. It all has to look really professional and thought out.  When people arrive, they’ll be greeted, given nibbles and drinks, and welcomed by the host.  Then they get a catalog and a price list, and when they’re ready to buy, the Square card reader is right there.  We place a red dot on the sold work. They get a packet with a certificate of authenticity, and their collector lapel pin, a photo for marketing purposes, and I get their home address to deliver the work after the exhibition is over.  

  4. I mentioned in the last episode that we’ll also simulcast the event on Zoom and Facebook Live.  That’s still happening, and I feel it’s super important that those people have an experience as well.  I can’t imagine anything less interesting than watching a party like a fly on the wall.  So those who attend the party remotely will be able to have content available to them, they will be able to see the live event as well, and will be able to interact with me on camera, as well as have a live person there to monitor the chatroom, answer questions, and take bids for artworks.  Once they purchase a painting, then we’ll be able to ship them all the information described above.

So that’s where I stand precisely 1 month from the opening of the show, and 39 days before the reception.  I’ll start sending out press releases this week, as well as community calendar reminders.  Next week I’ll start with the printed invitations, followed the next week with the email invites.  It’s all happening, and although I should be scared stiff, I’m having the time of my life.  See you next week.

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