How to hold an art exhibition

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By Júlia Palazzo

I work in a studio with another artist and for the past month I’ve been helping him put together his first solo exhibition in Melbourne. I have to say I’m SO relieved that we had the opening last Friday and that all the work is nearly over! As much as having your own exhibition is an incredible experience, it can also be stressful and daunting.

If you are early in your visual art career, you will eventually want to showcase your work in your own show. And (at least at first) you will probably show your art in artist run galleries and more alternative venues, and will be responsible for a lot of the work related to making your show succeed or fail.

Here are 5 areas to keep in mind when creating an art exhibition:

Paint: Go on a journey with your art

When creating art for a show, pick a theme that you know you can explore for an entire body of work, that you are passionate and curious about. Write, think and study the concept behind it before you start creating the final art pieces. You should be able to describe the ideas behind your work concisely, and refer back to them when you feel lost.

Know how many pieces you’ll need to create for the show, and be realistic about how long you will need to paint them. Make sure you book the venue well in advance, and try to have all the art finalised a few weeks before the opening. You don’t want to be painting until the last day available and then have no one turn up because you didn’t do any promotion.

Choose materials that you are comfortable working with. Exploring and practicing with new mediums might be best left for when you are not under pressure to create work for a show.

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Present: Use the space creatively

Measure the walls and choose how you’d like your art to be displayed in advance, making sure that you create enough art to achieve the result you want. Think about how people will walk around the room, and whether the order of the artwork can tell a story or take them on a journey.

Think beyond the art. How can you transform the venue’s space to create a remarkable experience for your viewers? Can you use the scent of flowers, music, or change the colours of the walls to help people immerse themselves in the art? Attend other exhibitions in your city to get inspired. If you are in Melbourne, Backwoods Gallery in Fitzroy always does an incredible job of presenting their exhibitions in an unexpected way.

Give people context. Did you go on a trip away or develop a new method to create this body of work? Think about how you can tell your story to people through the display, and prepare yourself to be able to talk about your art.

Promote: Spread the word through your network

Make sure that the design of the promotional materials and the photos of your art will do it justice. If the venue does not have a designer or photographer, consider getting one to help you.

While you are creating the art, post sneak peeks on your social media and remind people regularly about the upcoming event. Talk to the venue about creating a Facebook event and sending out press released to relevant publications.

If there are important people in your industry that you’d like to attend your show, do not be ashamed of inviting them directly through an e-mail or message. Ask you contacts to share the event with their peers.

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Party: Make an event of it.

Plan an opening event to give people a chance to gather and meet you at your exhibition. Choose a date that won’t conflict with other similar events, and make the space pleasant through offering drinks and food. Many beer and wine businesses offer sponsorship and discounts for creative events.

Consider offering an artists talk on a separate date from the opening. This will give people a chance to hear about your work, and an opportunity to meet you if they missed the opening night.

Consider having accessible options for people besides the artwork. Not all you fans or visitors will be able to afford an original piece of art, but I guarantee a lot of them would be happy to support you and take home something from your exhibition. Maybe you can have an exhibition book, prints or postcards for sale.

Peace: Be in a good frame of mind

Look after yourself and your health during the process and make sure you SLEEP. Exhaustion will destroy your ability to make good art, and the last thing you want is to finally get to that opening event and be unable to enjoy it or talk to anyone because you are too sleep-deprived.

Be kind with yourself. It is perfectly normal when you are working on a big project to have moments when you feel that you are not a “real” artist or that your work won’t be good enough. Reach out to your friends or family for reassurance, and don’t feel guilty if you have to take a few days off to relax.

Keep the long term in mind. If you are a working artist, you will probably exhibit many times over the years, each one will be a step on your journey and a learning experience. Do not expect that one show will bring you overnight success, and do not be hard on yourself if at first you do not sell many pieces or get much of an audience. Stay positive, learn from your mistakes, and keep on creating.

Images by Michael Panozzo 

Júlia Palazzo is a visual artist from Brazil. Since moving to Melbourne in 2013 she has been running a partnership, Mayfield Palace, creating mural art for businesses and organisations all over Australia. She shares her art daily on Instagram: @julia.palazzo