“Untitled (Anthurium),” by Martin Klimas
Developing a genuine, solid relationship with a gallerist is so elusive. Just how does it go down exactly? As a former participant in his study center, the Exhibition Lab, and a long-time colleague, I looked to Michael Foley, owner of Foley Gallery in New York City, to spell it out:
Amy Touchette: What kind of artwork do you exhibit/represent in your gallery?
Michael Foley: The gallery opened in 2004 with the very first year of exhibitions being 100 percent straight-up photography. Some of our first exhibitions were Thomas Allen and Martin Klimas, who we continue to work with today. The following year, we expanded the program to include drawing and collage. Now, after 15 years, I can honestly say that we have shown most all mediums, from painting to installation. Good examples of this are in the work of gallery artists Amy Casey, Karen Margolis and Simon Schubert.
AT: What do you look for in artists you would like to represent?
MF: It starts with a gut reaction to the work, regardless of medium. This is the same way to buy art, too…let it hit you and see how it lands. Linger with the feeling and see if it lasts. If it does, buy it…or in my case, exhibit it!
I look for consistency in the work from project to project. I am very interested in the development of work and the mechanisms that the artist employs to grow and develop it. There should be threads of continuity that get refined as time moves forward. The artist needs to be articulate about this part of their practice and be able to see their work from a little bit of a distance.
Another thing is: I need to like them. I hope to have a good working relationship, and although we might not be buddies, I have to feel that the communication channels are open and lubricated. Goals/ambitions/expectations need to be talked about and compared, as well.
Lastly, I need to feel confident that I can sell the work. I run a business, and no matter how much I like the work and the person, if I don’t think I can deliver in the sales department, I will not take it on.
AT: What’s the best way for photographers to find gallery representation?
MF: Don’t make good work. Make exceptional work. You will be noticed. There are so many ways now to release your work (images of your work, at least) that it’s fairly easy to be found.
Outside of this: portfolio reviews. There are many, too many, but they are still the best way—hands down—to share work with people that might move your career forward. At them, you have 20 minutes to share and talk about your work to someone like me…or an editor, curator. We have no choice but to listen! We signed up for this. We love to do it. Things have happened for me and photographers. I met Doug Keyes in Santa Fe at Review Santa Fe and Kent Rogowski at a PowerHouse portfolio review and ended up working with them both.
AT: What misconceptions do photographers typically have about having obtaining gallery representation?
MF: Photographers need to be reminded that we are a business and what we do is not easy. We have to carefully decide if we want to take on someone. It’s not a casual commitment on either end. It’s a business decision. It’s work. Don’t take the rejection personally.
Also, it can be a slow courting process with a gallery. I waited eight years to finally work with Bradley Castellanos! Keep in touch, it can take time for both you and the gallery to believe that a working relationship will serve both of you. I believe there is a right fit for everyone. It may not be in New York! That may not be your place. And, if it is, it may not be with the gallery that you want.
When you do find your gallery, you will know. Build on it ,and grow your exposure, and mature your work and reputation. With a strong foundation, stepping up your career is more than possible. That gallery that said no two years ago may be in for a pleasant surprise when you approach them again.
Foley Gallery brings together fine line and obsessive precision in the disciplines of drawing, cut paper, painting, and photography. It is located at 59 Orchard Street in New York City’s Lower East Side.