How to Organize Art Exhibition Part I : Preparation for the Show

How to Organize Art Exhibition

I don’t exactly remember since when, but all I can say is that since I was a small kid I always wanted to hold an exhibition of my paintings. Though I was always painting, but having an exhibition seemed like a mystery that I would never be able to solve. But it all changed in 2009, when I decided to solve that mystery and had my first group show in Jun-July 2010. And since then I have had numerous group shows and three solo exhibitions in different parts of India. In this post I’ll talk about How to Organize an Art Exhibition mostly in an Indian context.


The first question that you must ask yourself is whether your work is mature enough to be shown to the public. To find out whether you are ready you can take your work to a few well known artists in your proximity and ask for their feedback. You can also participate in local art fairs to see how your art fares with respect to all the other artist’s works in the fair. Though these are not quiet objective methods, but they do give you pointers about whether you should be doing a exhibition now or not. Second point to be considered is whether you have enough in your repertoire to be exhibited. So when you decide that you are ready to show your art to the world and you have enough to be shown its time to start preparing for the show. Preparation is the most important part of your exhibition and no matter how much you do you can never be over prepared. Here are some pointers on how you can prepare for your first ever art exhibition.

Choosing between a Group or a Solo Exhibition

The first thing to decide is whether you’ll go solo or you would prefer to do a group show. First check the quantity of paintings that you have that can be shown in a gallery. Be very strict and dispassionate in choosing the best pieces for the show. In case you do not have enough gallery worthy works the choice is clear. But even if you have enough works you may like to consider whether you’ll be able to organize the exhibition yourself with your own support system of family and friends. And moreover unless you are a known artist it is difficult to pull people to a solo show. A group show works well because people come in expecting variety of art work in the exhibition. However keep the group small. Go with maximum 2-4 members. When the number of members is too high coordination becomes a huge problem.

How to apply for a show and book the gallery

Government owned Galleries like Lalitkala Akademi is a good place to organize Painting Exhibition
Government owned Galleries like Lalit Kala Akademi is a good place to organize Painting Exhibition

The gallery booking process is almost similar across galleries in India. Every gallery generally has a form to be filled. And along with the form you’ll have to attach the bio data, photo of the artist and a few photos of the works of the artist (for each artist). Make sure that the photographs you submit are of good quality. Because it is on the basis of the photograph that you’ll be judged. The photograph has to be as close to the painting as possible visually. Spend time in taking good quality photographs and invest in taking good prints of the images. It can be quite frustrating if your application is rejected because of poor quality of photographs.

When your application is approved you need to choose a date for your exhibition. Galleries are almost always booked for at least 6-12 months in advance. A few famous galleries are booked even 3-4 years in advance. Hence just choose the first available date that you and other participating artists can commit to. However if a date is available in very near future (say in 15-20 days time), don’t be tempted to take those dates. Keep at least 2 months time in your hand before the exhibition date. You’ll need it. You’ll need to pay an advance when you book the gallery. Sometimes you may have to pay in full and also pay a refundable caution amount. Do the necessary payments and keep the receipts safely.

Choose a Theme and Title for the Art Exhibition

Title of the show and the Invitation Card were few of the reasons why many people flocked to my last solo exhibition
Title of the show and the Invitation Card were few of the reasons why many people flocked to my last solo exhibition

It may sound like a trivial task. But choosing a title for your art exhibition is actually one of the most time consuming and important tasks. When people get an invitation to your exhibition first thing that they notice is the title of the show. And they build up certain expectations according to the title and other information in the invitation. Hence your title or theme of the show needs to be in sync with what you are going to display. And it should also create enough interest to pull people to your art exhibition.

Sometimes you and other artists of your art show may have works that are very different from each other and it could confuse the viewer. In such a case you have two options. Find a few paintings of one uniting theme from your works and work on more paintings during the time you have till exhibition to fill in the gap. The other hacky option is to go for such a title that would justify the randomness of the repertoire. One such title could be ‘Kaleidoscope’. In such a case the viewer is actually expecting different themes, styles and subjects etc and hence will not be disappointed.

Getting a Curator helps

A curator for an art exhibition is someone who will act like a bridge between your art and the public. A lot of artists find it difficult to talk about their art. But art exhibition is basically an exercise of taking your work out of your studio and presenting it to the world outside your studio. So talking about your art and talking well is a skill every artist must pick up. But in case you find it difficult get a good curator to do the job for you. The curator will spend time with you to understand about your and your art. Try to help her out as much as possible in this process.

Layout and Design of the exhibition

Where and how you display your paintings in the gallery must be decided early on. Check the display options available with the gallery. Check the focal point of the gallery. Focal point of a gallery is that place which draws the eye towards itself as soon as some one enters the gallery. Focal point of the gallery is a good place for your center piece(s). You can then plan the position of other paintings in relation to the center piece.

Another way to plan the display is to follow the natural path taken by the audience to view the paintings. You can sequence and arrange your works in such a way so that the viewer easily flows from one work to the other.

Framing

Plan to get your paintings framed well in time
Plan to get your paintings framed well in time

Framing is something if done well can elevate the painting to a higher plane. And if not done well can pull the painting down. Especially for watercolor paintings, pastels, charcoal and graphite works framing is yet another important exercise that needs to be done well for an art exhibition. I like frames that are light in color,  which do not compete with the painting. I also like to keep them as thin as possible. Off white matting is something I use as a thumb rule.

Get Someone to Open the Show

When someone opens your art exhibition people view it as the person endorsing your art. So if you get someone important to open your show people will take notice. Get in touch with a few well known artists of your area. Meet them personally, show a few of your works and request them to open your art show. If any of them likes your art there is a very high probability that he or she will accept your request. You can also consider museum directors, musicians, top officials of art institutes in your area to inaugurate your exhibition. Get at least three or four important and well known persons in your area to open your show. Sometimes the guests may not be able to make it to the opening of the show. If you had only one person opening the show and he/she does not turn up, then it becomes a very tricky situation. Hence it is good to keep at least two persons booked for the opening day for inauguration of your art exhibition.

Inviting Guests

Now that you have a title for the show and got a few known people to open your show its time to design and print your invitation cards. Just like the title, the invitation card, poster and banners etc also play a huge role in attracting people for your art exhibition. So take time to design them. Again you have to make sure that all of them have a similar feeling as the title and content of your art exhibition. Choose your colors, fonts, images carefully to achieve that. Additionally all these materials should have the same look and feel. You may use a common image, same fonts and color scheme to maintain the look and feel among all printed materials.

Next big question is whom should you invite. Every gallery maintains a invitee list. On request they would give it to you. Sometimes they do not share the list and in such a case you need to give invitation cards and soft copies of the invitation card to the gallery. The gallery administration will do the needful. Sometimes the galleries themselves offer to do the invitation card at a little extra cost. I would not advise going for this option, because they do very generic invitation card which really does not speak much about you or your works.

Generally the invitee list of the gallery is exhaustive. But at the same time it does not hurt to send invitation from your side to artists, art collectors, art institutions, educational institutions and all such persons/institutions who you wish to show your art to. Send the invitations about 4-8 days before your art exhibition, so that there is enough time for people to plan, but at the same time they do not get the invitation too early to forget.

Promotion of the exhibition

No matter how good your art is, no matter how well known the gallery is and no matter who is opening the show, you art exhibition does not have great chance of being successful unless you promote it well. Below are a few pointers on how you can promote your show. But there is no end to how well you can do promotion for your art exhibition. You are only limited by your imagination.

Posters

All promotion materials for your art exhibition should have same look and feel
All promotion materials for your art exhibition should have same look and feel

Public places like restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, clubs, art stores, educational institutions, art institutions are great places to promote your art exhibition. Get posters printed in different sizes (A5, A4 and A3 sizes work well). Invite the authorities of such places for your show in person and ask them if you can put up a poster. Most likely after you have invited them they will agree to put up the poster. Always carry different types of tapes and pins with you; so that as soon as you have your permission of putting up your poster you can do the needful immediately.

Fliers

The easiest way to distribute fliers are through newspaper distribution network. Find out the newspaper distribution hubs in your area. This is the place where news papers are given to the delivery persons early in the morning. All the delivery persons from different areas then disperse to their respective areas for newspaper distribution. All you have to do is reach this hub well in time in the morning and get hold of an agent. Hand him the fliers and specify the targeted areas where you want the fliers to be distributed. He will then get those fliers inserted into newspapers going to those areas at a very minimal cost. This is one of the best ways to reach out to the general public.

Press and Media

Every major city has a press club from where you can send invitations for your art exhibition to all print and electronic media houses. All you have to do is give the required number of invitation card at the office of the press club and pay the necessary fees. Your invitations would reach every media house by the next day. Additionally identify a few news papers and radio channels where you can go personally and invite them for your show. You can also talk to them if they will be able to do an interview or feature on you before the show as a build up to the show. Get phone numbers of the journalists covering art events and don’t forget to call them up and remind them about your exhibition a day before your opening.

Be ready with a media kit all the time. Media kit consists of a write up about the show and your works, few photographs of your works, invitation card, your resume and your photograph. Store it in your mail and also create a few CD’s and keep them with you all the time. Ask the media persons you meet if they would like to have the media kit. It makes the job of the journalist’s much easier and who would not like that.

Activities

Plan a painting demonstration during your art exhibition draw crowd
Plan a painting demonstration during your art exhibition draw crowd

Plan for a painting demonstration or two during and/or before your exhibition. This helps to bring in a lot of crowd. People always enjoy watching an artist paint. You can also invite a known artist to deliver a talk on some topic related to your type and style of art. This also generates a lot of interest. And last but not the least you can do some activity at a local restaurant or some other public place to create some buzz. For example hold a lucky draw contest at a restaurant or a mall and give away few prints of your works as prize. This will help you a great deal in promoting your art exhibition.

Online Promotion of your Art Exhibition

Online promotion is very effective to reach out to a large number of people. Create an event in facebook and share it with your contacts and request them to share is with their contacts. Thus you’ll be able to reach out to people at an exponential rate. Use twitter, instagram also to promote your event. There are many event listing sites. Register your event in such sites. A few sites that list events for free are eventbrite.com, eventful.com, myeventguru.comevvnt.comindiaeve.com. Another very good way to promote your art exhibition is to make a peppy short video on it and post it on youtube and share it with your contacts. The same video can be converted to lower resolution and circulated on WhatsApp. You can also take this video to local coffee shops and ask them to play it a few times in a day. They may ask for a small fee. But it may be worth investing in advertising in coffee shops. You can go for paid advertisement in facebook too .This will be more targeted and hence more effective.


Preparation for an art exhibition may seem like a huge unknown mountain to climb. But since you know what to do now you can plan and do all these tasks systematically. Make these activities as milestone activities and put an end date for each of them to be completed. Celebrate completion of each milestone and enjoy the build up to your art exhibition. In the next post on this series I’ll guide you on how to go about the exhibition when its running including preparation and conducting the opening day function.

With a little search you can find people and galleries who can organize the exhibition for you and all you have to do is just pay them. But what you need to pay is generally a huge amount. And moreover when you organize a few exhibitions on your own your contact list grows and that helps a lot in future. Hence I would recommend people planning for their first exhibition to organize it themselves. But doing a solo show in the first go can be a false step forward. It is better to have a group show and share responsibilities of organizing the exhibition.

1 thought on “How to Organize Art Exhibition Part I : Preparation for the Show”

  1. Whether you re exhibiting your own artwork or someone else s, setting up an art exhibition can be a creative, fulfilling endeavor in and of itself.

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