Los Angeles AND bust

May 18th, 2009

 hollywoodsignIn my post “Defining Myself” I wrote about the epiphanies that accompanied reading Cay Lang’s “Taking the Leap: Building a Career as a Visual Artist.” I wrote that, “I got a lot out of the book, both from its high-level guidelines and nitty gritty details.” I tried to follow her advice meticulously. When I prepared my portfolio to meet with galleries in San Francisco, the only thing I didn’t do was matte all my pieces to the same size. I had some 11×14 pieces, some 16×20, all matted to different sizes. And wouldn’t you know, both galleries that actually looked at my physical portfolios made the same comment: Next time, matte them to the same size.


OK, lesson learned. So when I decided to take on Los Angeles I was determined to follow the advice from her chapter “The Best Way to Approach a New City” more carefully:

  1. I went through the August 2008 issue of  “Art in America” (the annual guide to galleries) and identified galleries in L.A. that show photography by “emerging artists”
  2. I visited each website to view past exhibitions, to get a feel for whether they might be a match.
  3. Did a scouting mission to Los Angeles and visited these galleries.
  4. Back in Northern California, called all the galleries I was still interested in to find out if they are accepting submissions and, if so, their preferred format. (E-mail, CD, or slides. Yes, slides!)
  5. Sent out my portfolio, mentioning my previous visit. I indicated that I’d be back in L.A. between certain dates, would love to meet with them in person to go over my portfolio, and would call them when I arrived in L.A. to set up an appointment.
  6. Drove back to L.A., and started making the calls.

Note: At this point I had a short list of 10 galleries. That is a very short list indeed. Seven months earlier I had sent my portfolio to a similarly targeted list of 33 galleries in San Francisco! Whether the shrinking opportunities are a result of the spiraling economy, or less focus on photography and/or emerging artists in Los Angeles, I cannot say.

The outcome? First of all, almost no one to whom I had e-mailed my portfolio seemed to have received it. That’s what I get for failing to follow up with a telephone call after sending an e-mail with a big ass 6 MB attachment! Once that was sorted out:

  • 2 gallery directors were out of town or otherwise unavailable.
  • 3 of the galleries were not, in fact, taking on additional artists.
  • 2 galleries said they liked my work but it wasn’t what they were looking for.
  • 2 galleries asked me to resend my portfolio and they would call me if interested….
  • 1 gallery was really busy

The gallery that was really busy was having an opening that night coinciding with the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk, and they invited me to attend. I went and introduced myself, saw an amazing show, and left them a CD with my portfolio. (Since they never got my e-mail.) I e-mailed them that night offering to stop by again, but got no response.

After all that planning and effort, I had only one face-to-face interaction, and no opportunities to show my physical portfolio. I’m just glad I only drove 360 miles and didn’t fly across the country.

To be fair to Cay Lang, I did not follow her advice in terms of timing, and this may have been crucial. She wrote:

Your second trip should be scheduled for a month to six weeks after the first, no longer or the people you met might forget who you are. Three weeks ahead, write to all the names on the list and enclose your packet…. Galleries who are not interested in your work will have time to return it, and the ones who are interested will have a chance to call you to schedule an appointment before you leave home (p.151, 81).

I actually went back to LA twelve weeks after the first trip, and wrote to them only a week and a half before I arrived. So I waited twice as long as advised to go back, and gave them half as long to respond. What was my thinking in tweaking the advice of the professional? No reason except that I procrastinated and finally got off my butt and fired off my portfolios in time for me to arrive for the monthly Art Walk.

If I had not waited so long to go back I may have gotten a warmer reception. If I had given more response time I might have known that key personnel would be unavailable, or at least that they never received my portfolio! So I guess I still don’t know how effective Cay Lang’s strategy for approaching a new city is. She did indeed write, “The first thing to do [when you arrive] is start calling the names on your list for appointments” (p.155). Artists and gallery types, what do you think about this approach, traveling to the new town and then requesting an appointment, rather than the other way round? Any other feedback or suggestions?

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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