Friday, July 10, 2009

More about doing shows.

Fredrick Leighton 1830-1896 May Sartoris Image from

I promised to return to posting on doing a show so I will write more about that tonight.
Back when In had my own gallery I had about thirty paintings framed and hanging at all times. That meant I could do a show on short notice. I used that ability a number of times. I would say to a dealer or art organization " I can do a show on short notice, when some artist pulls out and leaves you in the lurch, call me" Several times the phone rang and I did shows that way, I don't mean they called me that afternoon, but I would have less than a month to prepare. I could probably done a show on a weeks notice though if I had to.

There are better an worse times to do a show in a gallery. I like the fall best, but it may be different where you live. Usually you will have six months to a year to get ready for a show. You will probably need most of it. There is a lot to do to make a show successful.

Before you agree to do show, you need to think about of the problems that brings. Here are a few
  • You are going to need lots of frames, and you may want them all to be the same, so it may be that some you already have won't work.
  • You need enough paintings so that you won't have to empty your other galleries to do the show. Other dealers are going to have limited patience for that as they may feel they are being slighted.
  • You will have to sit on and not show or sell your best art for months before the show. It can nearly put you out of business and you are gambling that the show will sell more than if you just consigned the art to your dealers in the more usual fashion.
  • If you derive your income from teaching, heredity or the government a show may be less dangerous for you, as you are not playing double or nothing with your inventory. However teachers often do shows in university or art school galleries. While those may be prestigious they seldom do a lot of sales. It is a very different world than the commercial gallery scene.
  • Art Association shows are generally not going to be profitable either, with a few exceptions. If you have a following that you can bring in to buy your art you can do well, but you may have to bring the buyers.
  • Wild cards, I opened a show on the night the cruise missiles started hitting Baghdad in the opening hours of Desert Storm. Everyone was home watching the news. There was no way I could have known this was going to happen six months out.
  • Another wild card hit me the night of that same show. Here is a long and somewhat pointless story about that. I have noticed how much the readers of this blog enjoy a story in which Stapleton takes a damn good whacking.
My wife and I packed the show into the enormous old Oldsmobile we drove in those days. Some was in the trunk and we had one of those boxes on the roof, filled with paintings. In the back seat we had about five big paintings and a small baby in a car seat. We drove to the gallery several hours from our home. When we arrived the dealer was there to greet us on the steps, and he had steam coming out of his ears. In his hand was a copy of the local"free" paper. One of those counterculture rags that do articles on the local art and music scene and have want ads for people who do things that give you diseases. On the front page in a box, was a reproduction of the card we had sent out as an invitation to the show. Below it was a caption which read (I kid you not! ) Stapleton Kearns, please pass the grey poupon, there are artists , and there are artists, and this guy is neither!

Not even the dealer had seen the show, it was still packed in the car. They had ripped my show without seeing it. There is a phenomena that goes on with the young and supposedly hip. They have lots of friends who are artists, all of their friends are artists. They all just got out of art school and they are as modern as tomorrow. They also were taught that doing traditional art was despicable and the proper thing to do was to try to destroy anyone who did it. This is less common today as more people appreciate traditional painting, and the young and tattooed are likely to know someone who does it.

The dealer was very upset and I was just angry, I couldn't understand why they had gone out of their way to screw a working artist. If they didn't like what I did , they could have ignored it. But they hadn't even seen the show! The show went OK though, and a lot of people came and I sold some paintings. I had done almost all 10 x 12s for the show and so there was a lot of affordable art in the gallery.

One of the people who came to see the show was a big client of mine I called King Henry. He flew his airplane into the local airport,and it wasn't a little Cessna either, it was a big twin engined thing. He had bought a lot of art from me over the years and we had become friends. He was a big real estate guy who owned major buildings and hotels and offices all over New England , and frankly was kind of a scary guy, a very high powered type. After the show he took my wife and I and the dealer out to dinner, and I was still fuming about the slight I had received at the hands of the "alternative" paper. When I told him the story he started to laugh hysterically, a frightening dangerous sort of laugh, that would have made Bela Lugosi proud. He finally was able to stop cackling long enough to ask me "guess who their landlord is?"

Well there you have it, that ought to do it, three or four pieces of good information and a long story, you almost couldn't ask for more than that. I will return tomorrow and beat on this subject some more.


Gregory Becker said...

Terrific story and more great insights.
I do wonder how people can be deceived into thinking that representational art is worthy of attack. How did these opinions gain such a foot hold?

Rae O'Shea said...

I love Frederick Leighton-especially "The Artist's Honeymoon". I did a one night show in NYC and carted 65 paintings into the city. I sold nine and got two commissions so it was worth it but the logistics of moving all the paintings was a nightmare-not to mention the framing!

willek said...

Great stories, Stape. I just did Beacon Hill Art Walk. I was on the dias of a temple with another artist across the way. In the middle a wailing Klezmer band got set up! The clarinetist danced back and forth into and out of our displays. People could not get in and could not hear each other talk. Lots of work for zero sales. WillEK

Knitting Out Loud said...

Wonderful story! Yours is the only blog that makes me laugh out loud. And is thought provoking to boot. Thanks!

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Me, too, on the laughing out loud part. You tell wonderful stories!

DennyHollandStudio said...

That was funny as hell, Stape- I'm sure I'll be thinking of that all day in the studio. Thanks for sharing!

jeff f said...

Great story. I agree with you, why be so snarky about paintings they had no interest in? I think sometimes some people are just out to be jerks.
It's their sport.

Jeremy Elder said...

How despicable! Luckily, most of your clientele probably doesn't read those papers anyway.

Deb said...

I hope you saved a copy of that newspaper ad, just for history's sake.
And I wonder what that snide little
bottom feeder who wrote it is doing these days? I bet HE's NOT AN ARTIST.

"psycate" to intimidate, to scare.

(sort of appropriate to the story_)

Stapleton Kearns said...

I could write a post on that, but not tonight.,controversial subject to say the least!

Stapleton Kearns said...

That sounds like a lot of work. The logistics os New York city are always difficult.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Sorry to hear that. I do like klezmer music though.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks;I have a a few more!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, Paint well in that studio.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I think its a power trip for them. They were also pretty young. They feel powerful and don't think about the consequences of what they do.

Stapleton Kearns said...

DebMy wife has a copy somewhere. It would be fun to know where he is, but he didn't use a byline so I never knew. Not only vicious but anonymous as well.

psycate= psys does matter. Ask cate

Stapleton Kearns said...


I did seem to survive it.The local grownup paper gave me a half page spread later that week.

Frank P. Ordaz said...

great story...

Stapleton Kearns said...

I missed you down there. I guess I need to go back and check those comments. You California guys are up late!

Frank P. Ordaz said...

I read about 10 of your posts this was fun....