How To Get An Exhibition


This is my Art World Walkthrough bc truly friends, this thing is a game. When i was studying fine art, i used to ask people how you get exhibitions, how u can be in them. except no one knew shit, and if they did they weren’t telling me; or maybe they believed that if u were a Chosen One, success would come to u naturally like good skin. but i’m sorry, we are not in a film, and now that I have a footing in this system i would like to formally write the rosebud cheat codes as a guide not only to my past self but for upcoming artists in general so they are ALLOWED to know how they can be in exhibitions, from little diddy ones all the way to the tate.

a list of dos and donts, I’ve written this based on who i see exhibiting and different things that have happened to me and my peers here in the UK. But a disclaimer, i think the current steps to get to be An Exhibiting Artist are weird and I *in no way* want to insinuate I approve of them by writing this. and still someone’s gotta say it. oK LETS GO

  1. before anything, be very good at what you do. make good things. deep down we are all in this to enjoy some fuck-off-good paintings so before you do anything please shut up and make some

  2. and be a decent person! capitalism has tried to convince us there is one image of success - being rich, institutional and loud, and something we must get to asap,, we must be careful not to suddenly start climbing over each other to get on the train. let’s not be adversarial to people who don’t deserve it. have healthy relationships, be collectively progressive and encouraging. the art world is Social and I’m capitalising that because frankly you’re not getting anywhere making art in isolation. no one is going to come knocking if no one knows who you are. U have got to introduce yourself (and that wont be welcome if you’re a dick), which brings me to:

  3. instagram. in this 2018 art world your success depends on whether or not you are going to participate in the Social. Instagram is the biggest tool with which to do this; to platform your art, to make and keep that visible, and to follow/support art-people who will give u Likes and Attention and Opportunities in return if they appreciate what you are doing. Instagram is convenient in the sense u can track where good exhibitions are happening and who’s involved with them;; as well as keeping a tab on general trends n discourse. V literal tips are: make your username your actual name so ppl can find/remember you, and do not have ‘Fine Artist’ or ‘FA’ in the username or profile section bc it looks stiff, just have your location and a link to your website (which i will come on to). Post images and videos without dangling balls of hashtags below them, which will only falsely conflate your follower and like numbers and make you a good ol’ megalomaniac. Make a big effort to follow artists, galleries, curators and critics you enjoy. And to kickstart some back-n-forth, follow people who you think might enjoy what you are bringing to the table. To make sure that table is in order, post clear photos of the art u are making, brightly lit, horizontals and verticals aligned. Don’t use filters, it is weird; and DSLR photos you’ve put through Photoshop and then sent to your phone to Instagram come off over-baked. stick to squares, portrait if need be

    • landscape photos do not get as much attention. N consistency is important or u will drop out of the timeline because of algorithms and science, so aim to post one thing a day/every other day. Don’t go overboard posting, liking, commenting, messaging or u will be annoying and ppl will write you off.
  4. Not as many artists have Twitter but I think it’s important. however do not use Twitter in the same way you use Instagram. Twitter is for commentary, what u think of art, life and politics. No one wants to see your art here unless u specialise in memes. Try to be involved and present without begging for attention. Follow people you genuinely want to listen to; and then to get things rolling, again follow people who you think might like your work (but please god do not then tweet pushing them to ‘check out’ your profile or your desperation will undermine my entire Art World Walkthrough where we are all cool hardworkers casually plotting our way to success). And I promise I’m not saying all this for nothing: curators and institutions are on social media constantly looking to the timeline for their programming because they are afraid of being out-of-touch. and artist-led spaces *especially* love to put on shows of artists they have been introduced to online. that’s the research people are doing nowadays, it’s the new easy/lazy studio visit. Some galleries would literally rather invite in someone with a good instagram over a relevant local artist who does not come with the same level of social media presence. gotta play the game i guess.

  5. for both twitter and instagram, it’s interesting to see how people delineate their personal and professional lives and somethin u should consider. it can feel warm when an artist blends real life and art life content on their account, and it’s always useful to know that maker’s subjectivities and where they are coming from in their production. And yet,, that balance can tip; if it’s wholly Art, it can feel soulless and the type of account a Professional Development Workshop you paid too much money to attend would have you set up. Alternatively if the content is all you-you-you, i’d question if you were in it to exchange cultural capital for social clout (normally the people who do this don’t make very good art, normallyyyyy).

  6. Get a website. if you don’t know how to make one from scratch, get wix or squarespace (buy your website plan near christmas or Black Friday/whenever they have literal 50% sales on, which they seem to do all the time). You don’t have to pay out for A Proper Website, you can always get a tumblr/cargo collective/newhive, feel it out, even put your own domain as the URL (like Zarina has done). here are other various website examples for ur eyes and advice, pls see: Sarah M Harrison’s for it’s clarity, Laura Morrison’s for putting you directly in front of good images, Yuri Pattison’s for its thorough archiving of seemingly everything he has ever done and made, and Jennifer Chan’s for full sized images and not being boring. (The Kara Walker-level of artists don’t have websites, maybe they did until they didn’t need to kick up their own visibility anymore)

  7. Once you are visible, make sure you are contactable. get a plain email address you can throw at the top of ur social media accs and on ur website too. It doesn’t NEED to be because email hosting can be expensive, is fine but then make the first half your name. I hope your parents gave you a good name. everyone in the art world is called Ruth i don’t know if you’ve noticed. 7b. Business cards sound old-fashioned but they can pay off. i walked into an exhibition once, got speaking to the guy invigilating who also ran the space, gave him a business card so he could check out what i do and about a month later i got an email asking if i’d like to exhibit there. ofc this is only bc he had instagram, twitter and a website to visit. I also once went to a talk Grayson Perry did and i thought ‘ay he’d probably like the white pube,’ so i wrote @thewhitepube on the back of a receipt, gave it to him at the end, and he followed us the next morning. so remember pen and paper exist.

  8. I know this one sounds counter-productive but: I have seen reliable success in banding together with other artists in your position, finding a space, and putting on your own show to begin with. sounds like cheating or self-publishing but it’s necessary imo. you can get that first line on your CV, images to distribute online; and it’s also an opportunity to invite publications in to write about the show, gettin your name out in new places on the internet. For some universities, putting on baby’s 1st exhibition is a mandatory part of the Fine Art course - and if you didn’t go to uni or it wasn’t standard on yours, i think it’s something you should make the effort to do. Hopefully u can find a network of people to do it with through ur now blossoming online presence, or you could do it with jus 1 other person. everyone seems to be keen to be involved in things like that so hopefully it wont be that hard to wrangle urself an artist. One of the biggest things I got out of university was meeting a tonne of people, the people they know and so on. it’s all social, its social its social. So, the more the merrier with putting on ur own exhibition, just infinitely increases your visibility. my point here comes with the hope u are then out-there enough, seen to be Someone Who Exhibits, and you have enough points to qualify for the artist-led scene *as a start.* (a dream: as first on the ladder, u tour the different artist-led spaces across the UK ~small like Hutt in Nottingham or CBS in Liverpool; ur in a group show somewhere in Leeds. someone in Glasgow then picks you up and you tell everyone it counts as a different country. Then comes Vitrine in London, and next you have unlocked the Cubitt/Auto Italia/Cabinet level. you have a residency at Wysing to figure some things out, everyone is very nice there; and then u got a video piece somewhere in the Berlin Biennale or an exhibition at Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, either/or. when you come back you show at Cubitt-level again, a solo this time. the guardian have written about you now and you feel more and more establishéd. time to show at Chisenhale, and the CCA are asking if you’re free next year. after time and more write-ups and artist talks and a trip to the US for some meetings with the New Museum, the Serpentine are in touch. you’re in a booth at Frieze which you’re not sure about but you need the money;; and then back to making in the studio, where someone from the Arts Council Collection makes a visit to buy ur work on behalf of the Arts Council ie the Government. you call home to tell them ur a real artist). my advice is: roll over dry ground like a chewy picking up more and more debris and experience until you are at the Tate. ~let’s rewind~

  9. When it comes to finding somewhere to do that first exhibition: in London you’re most definitely going to have to pay to rent space, which is why it’s sensible to find a number of people also keen on exhibiting so u can split the costs until its affordable (call it an investment in urself idk, its privileged but being an artist is, sooooo). in other cities, find small shopping arcades or unused spaces; doesn’t have to be an art-space remember, all u need is a room. if you find somewhere contact them, hand or email briefly what the exhibition is going to consist of, how many days you’d hope for, opening hours, why it would be good for you and even valuable to the locality (bringing in culture, entertainment, whatever). write a very succinct and charming email; if you are good at flirting you’ll always be able to write a solid cover letter. but showing u have a plan will come off Professional:: you can be trusted. Btw Lots of people do exhibitions in their own homes now cause space is tight so if you have a big enough spare room and think you will be able to take good photos in it, why not. that’s an exhibition too. do it in ur garden and hope it rains for the pathetic fallacy or somethin.

  10. You can also lie. Because of the stress and costs of putting on a show yourself, i personally realised what I wanted most from the process was the pictures afterwards bc they would be content for my website and for the artists involved; the exhibition documentation would be cultural capital, more things for us to distribute over social media, and more ‘experience’ I could cash in on when applying for anything, funding applications etc. SO, i got in touch with a low-key gallery space that I had been to see a show at, that I had reviewed a show at, that had paid me to travel to review something they had put on, and somewhere i felt I was generally on good terms with (that social ding ding ding). I asked them if I could install an exhibition, photograph it, and take it down the same day without it ever opening to the public - n they said yes because it was an interesting proposition; and also the gallery would be able to add another show to their CV. a fuck u to the capitalistic expectation of being hyperactive by just appearing to be active. Collectively, between myself, the artists, the gallery space and even an online publication that lists upcoming shows, we told the lie of the exhibition together. I made the show ‘by appointment only’ and then ignored all the emails from people asking to visit. I had already gotten what I wanted in the photos, we all had. that process of what I came to call the non-exhibition has turned into a website I now run with Michael Lacey called @littlemangallery, and it continues to be a sneaky way to legitimise yourself. i very much love it.

  11. Go to things. go to the kind of things you enjoy and that you’d want to be a part of, if an event sounds vaguely interesting and ur not doing anything else and its free, take a riskkkkk. my willingness to attend talks and events definitely increases the amt of time people i’m sitting next to start talkin. I went to a film screening once and the guy next to me starting chatting. he runs a space in London. i gave him a business card ~ and a few weeks later he’d added me on Fb and messaged to ask if I would like to include something in a show he was putting on in Mexico?? Another film screening I went to, i got speaking to the curator who kept in touch on Facebook and he emailed last month to ask if he could include a video the white pube made in a screening on at Whitechapel Gallery. those 2 exhibition invitations wouldn’t have happened without me participating. I know it’s calm to throw on headphones and go to talks and quickly float away at the end like a ghost but you’re closing off a lot of timelines for yourself. (a reminder: I don’t support everything i’m writing, i’m just saying things as I know them to be).

  12. facebook, i should probably mention that I just accept all friend requests now as long as they look like real people. I’ve hidden all my family and holiday albums and accepted that Facebook is simply another way for business to happen. as much as i don’t like seeing business-related messages in my inbox (because I like those propositions to be contained in emails so I can properly sit down and reply to them as Work), it’s prrooobably best u open the gates. something good could come to thru.

  13. Go on art dates. After the white pube’s own twitter and instagram were up and running and we started to get followers, i was like, who are all these people? we put out a call for art dates - 2 meet strangers off the internet and get to know them in galleries, cafes and such. it’s always been friend-making to us more than *networking* but sometimes those are one and the same because the people you know are the ones you want to work with. they are the people you even think to work with because you know them well. it’s another way to make the social happen isn’t it, except it’s in your hands to make the invitation.

  14. Another point i need to address but one that is nuanced, is whether or not you should submit to open calls. A rule of thumb would be if you have to pay to submit, it’s probably going to be a shit exhibition - tho a few exceptions would be Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival which is excellent, the John Moores Painting Prize is worthy, n Bloomberg New Contemporaries is a springboard for serious exposure n success across the country and world (and further invitations to exhibit, gud luk). I guess with everythin, you need to decide if you mind being in bad exhibitions or whether you’re in it for CV experience and exposure. As much as getting your name out there can sound like a good thing, u need to be careful you’re not putting yourself in a box u don’t wanna be in. bc if your entire exhibition experience is open call shows about like, Gothic Art or Digital Bodies or the colour pink, the art world class system might decide prescriptive art is all ur good for - and the curatorial limits of those kinds of shows might not allow your own practice to breathe or be visible at all. i can see some artists with genuinely good work being pulled towards those type of shows instead of the ones where they get 2 truly flex, and i worry.

  15. Ok Submissions??? Submitting to galleries directly??? Well, the lower down the rung the gallery is, the more welcome they tend to be when it comes to receiving exhibition proposals and emails in which u put yourself forward. Do not walk up to the desk of an institution and ask to speak to a curator because u have just decided they’ve got time to listen to you (it happens). Most artist-led spaces prefer to curate their own shows and will turn their noses up at submission emails which is rude and frankly it’s bc they’ve gone mad with power and think u are now massively below them /in their volunteer position/. Some artist-leds will take your email seriously and reply but even that is rare. And it can come off as bad etiquette if you send an unwanted submission to some spaces;; you might look silly for emailing that, bc if you don’t know the workings of that particular gallery it might look misguided or bigheaded, so maybe ask around or check the website. a lot of galleries that aren’t social themselves rely on submissions and people putting themselves forward tho, so just do some research.

  16. and finally, Competitions. locally, things like the Northern Art Prize or The Liverpool Open lead to respect and more exhibitions. while you are working hard at ur internet visibility, don’t forget real life and the galleries who don’t ride the internet’s dick. competitions are a smooth way to enter into spaces you can unlock a whole new audience (and even patrons, image).

okkkkkkk What I’ve written relies on MONEY, LUCK, SOCIAL ENERGY, MENTAL HEALTH and u not being a bastard. I haven’t mentioned anything about making money because i’ve written about getting paid for things at this level in another text on this website, Money Feelings. Mostly what I want to get across is, at the end of the day this is just people talking to other people and deciding whether to include them in things or not. and if you are popping up all over the places, u might come to mind when people are having those conversations. The jobs we’ve gotten through the white pube have all been through being found on the internet, people knowing about what we do and recommending us, or ppl reading about TWP on other websites and then getting in touch. the net is big but try and make urself a big fish so you’re easy to catch.

I hope what i’ve outlined above can help you get to where you want to be. but remember that exhibiting should be based on the quality of your art and how much value people find in it, not how popular u are as a person. I think this is getting more and more confused and a lot of exhibitions now are all gravy and no meat. so maybe,, cross-my-fingers,, Instagram will die like Myspace did, politics and culture will relax; and the Walkthrough I’ve written will mark an ending, become a historical document, and we’ll have time to reset the network;; 2 change how art is permitted to b shown and shared. brb while i think up ways of making that happen.