Earlier in the month we released the first part of four posts on putting up your first art show. In part one we talked about creating an outline so that you can juggle all of the elements of a show without anything important slipping through the cracks. With part two, we will dive into the actual “making of” the show and take a look at how to edit your work into a gallery show format.
In my mind there are four main things that you need to do / decide on before you can move onto the physical production of things needed for the show. You need to come up with an artist statement that will guide you in regards to what the outcome of your show will be. Then you must select the specific pieces that will help realize that statement. Figure out the physical format that those pieces will be presented in. And arrange those pieces in a way that guides the viewer and makes the best use of the exhibition space.
A lot of people scoff at artist statements, both artist and viewers alike. There seems to be this idea that artist statements are inherently bullshit art speak and that the work should communicate for itself. I’m sorry if you’re artist statement are bullshit (or have been in the past), there is no one to blame but yourself for not being honest. As to the idea that art should speak for itself, that’s just ridiculous. We expect businesses to explain to us what their products do, we have sports commentator analysing and providing historical context for games, and websites have about pages to tell you their purpose / focus. Why anyone thinks that art is somehow sacred in this regard is beyond me, but I’m not buying it.
A great artist statement provides context for experiencing the work. Because we all see the world through a different lens, one coloured by our lives, we need some reference when interpreting another person’s ideas. This is especially the case with art because the ideas art tends to explore are less clear and understood when we don’t know how we’re supposed to approach them. A good artist statement provides this direction.
When writing artist statements I like to think of what mindset I want the viewers of my work to be in when they look at it. What facts, insights, or issues should the viewer be thinking about? Is there any relevant historical information that the viewer needs to be aware of? Are there previous works of art or culture that a viewer can enter the work through? There is no one way to write a good artist statement, you just have to start writing them. Read a lot of artist statements and take note of successful ones – try to figure out why they work. Your artist statement will be the basis for how you structure your show and ultimately how viewers experience it.
Selecting Work, Presentation, & Sequencing
With your statement in hand it’s time to figure out what it is you’ll actually show. Most of the time you won’t be able to have all the pieces from a project in a show. It’s now time to narrow in and figure out what images, paintings, sculptures, etc., are key to getting your statement across. There are three constraints to always keep in mind – the physical space, time, and money.
To start, get a floor plan from the gallery. This will quickly give you an idea of how much you can realistically show and put some limits on how you present the work. If you don’t have a specific size and presentation already in mind it’s time to figure this out. Do you want a few really large prints or many small ones? Should they be framed or mounted onto plexi? What can you afford? What can be done in the time you have? Make sure all of your decisions lead back to your artist statement. As you get an idea of these various elements it’s time to get specific.
I highly encourage you to make a scale mock-up of the gallery space and your work. This can be done by hand out of illustration board (or anything else) or, if you have the technical know how / willingness to learn, in a 3d modeling program like Google SketchUp. My first show’s mockup was out of cardboard, but for my current one I used SketchUp. In my experience the digital version is much more useful as it’s easier to change, you can get a sense of what it’s like to be in the space, and it’s possible to render out installation views. Once you have have the size and presentation down you can start to sequence (order) the work in a way that best conveys the message from your statement.
Now that you have a statement, you’ve selected work, figured out how to present it, and sequenced it, you are finished with the pre-production of the show. In the next post we will talk about the actual physical production of your work.
As always if you have any questions don’t hesitate for a second to ask, just leave a comment below.
See the rest of the First Show series here: