Diane Belfiglio, Fredlee Votaw and many others can relate to what it takes to mount a major solo show. Both of my fellow artists have solo shows either on view now (Dr. V at the Crandall Gallery), or opening soon (Feb 13, DB at the Butler Institute) and I will be delivering the work for my second 2011 solo show next week. This one entitled “Grins and Giggles are Good for the Soul” goes on view Feb 6th with an artist’s mid-exhibit reception March 11. Located on Public Square in downtown Cleveland, the Old Stone Gallery is getting quite the reputation for being the place to be. But this blog is not about that, it is about what goes into preparing for a major solo show.
Beginning in art school or just in the beginning of our careers, the first few solo shows tend to be small. A small show is about 8 to 15 pieces depending upon size and content. The venues are also smaller, perhaps in a gallery adjacent to a main exhibition area or in the main room of smaller gallery itself. Often the pieces can be shipped, but smaller shows tend to be by locals (within 150 miles) so the work can be transported by vehicle by the artist himself. Sometimes the artist even hangs their own work.
Mid-sized solo shows may share some of the same conditions of location and number of works, but the venues have staff which assumes responsibility for hanging, printing labels, brochures and other such details. These are often good exhibitions as far as crowds, sales and publicity. Most of us like these types because the work load for us is just a bit less than that for what is considered a major show but we still get to enjoy the company of our local friends and patrons.
Mounting a major show can be both time consuming and expensive. Venues expect 20 or more pieces of consistent work. 20 is the magic number for any portfolio submission to a major venue for exhibition consideration. A large scale show can consist of 25 to 45 works depending upon size and content. In the case of 2-D pieces which is all I can speak of since I rarely do any 3-D work, they are expected to be similar in presentation. Diane and I both do pastels and paintings so the overly lay mat and frame are expected to be consistent (read identical). Some venues even require the wires to be located at the same height down from the top on each piece.
Many hours (days, weeks, months, sometimes years….) go into creating work for a large show. Each must be catalogued into a database online portfolio (which all artists should maintain for record keeping reasons) and which I also back up on index cards. Believe it or not, but each piece I make has an index card with the title, size, year and order in that year as well as each show or venue to which it was submitted or exhibited, the judge, location of show and the jury results. Any awards and sales are also recorded. That record for each work is invaluable. It is backed up on a computer, but I can lay out the cards easier when it comes to putting together a show.
The venue will require paperwork for insurance so hence prices need to be cared for, information for the labels, and arrangements made for delivery and installation. Storage of packing materials must be discussed as well as who pays for what in regard to the opening food, wine and entertainment. For the most part, major venues pick up that tab while shipping or transportation of the work to and from the venue falls upon the artist. The price of transportation to and from Texas was worth it for the 15 piece mariachi band, local TV interview and the gaggle of drag queens that came to my 2nd opening in Laredo.
So let’s review….we make work, then have to document it all, produce paperwork, mat and frame each piece, package for shipment, transport, unload, sometimes assist with set up (but usually not), attend an opening event, then repack and transport the unsold pieces back to storage….and it is worth every second and every penny. The occasional downside to a major solo show is that when one is held far from home, it is always a gamble whether anyone will show up to the opening. Personally I have been blessed with good PR people and meeting locals from other cities is a hoot. Fortunately my current show is local in Massillon and the upcoming one is relatively close so I won’t feel alone with just my paintings and a glass of wine. Two weeks of down time and we start all over again, painting, drawing, recording, planning and promoting for wherever the next location will be. I guess begin an artist is sometimes like being part of a traveling circus. We pack up the show and move from town to town, entertaining those who come to see it. If you have ever seen an artist unload a van full of work, it does somewhat resemble a clown car (without the clowns of course…..).