Setting up a multi-city art exhibition
October 8, 2008 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Quickfire art exhibition in multiple cities - how do I even begin?

I am playing a game which has introduced a fictional pandemic, and I want to ask players to create artwork, photos, sculptures, etc. dealing with the disease... but I want to take it a step further and actually set up an offline, real-world exhibition of the stuff they produce. Problem is, I have no experience in that sphere beyond attending a couple of exhibitions at galleries. So how should I go about making this a reality?

I have no budget so I know I'll have to rely on the kindness of gallery space owners. Are there any resources or messageboards where I could post to see if anyone's interested? (Specifically I'd like to display things in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas or Austin, and NYC, because I have friends there who can help me coordinate stuff...but any cities are fine.)

What's a reasonable timeline from request -> artwork sending/arriving -> show? (I have about six weeks but I would like to do this in about a month, if that isn't totally crazy. I am considering having different art in each city, with the showing on the same night, to keep things within the timeframe.)

What steps am I woefully ignorant of/totally leaving out?

Thanks in advance for tips and advice!
posted by lhall to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, not wanting to p*ss on your party but most commercial galleries will have their shows booked much longer in advance than your six week period, and it's important to remember that they are being run as money-making ventures, so appealing to their goodwill won't necessarily cut it.

Also, unless the artworks are being produced by artists whom the gallery actually wants to show you may have a hard time convincing them to show work which they are not going to sell. Galleries spend a lot of time building up specific client bases and dovetailing them with the artists on their roster, but hey, you never know, someone might have a cancellation and like your idea, but getting that same result across several cities is a little unlikely, IMHO.

If that approach fails, as I suspect it might, I suggest you try looking for artist-run spaces, as opposed to commercial ones, although speaking from experience (I help run one of these in the uk) we normally programme about 3 months in advance, though we are occasionally open to quickfire proposals such as yours, if we can fit them in.

However, as there doesn't seem to be any way of knowing what people are going to produce, how this artwork is going to work in a given space, or whether any of it will be worth showing in the first place. I'd have to say we probably wouldn't take a risk on anything so vague, someone else might, but you have got a real mountain to climb here, as I think there is a lot more work involved in setting this up than you suspect.
posted by Chairboy at 12:23 PM on October 8, 2008

Chairboy's comment makes me wonder whether you might be better finding unconventional venues. I can't quite figure out the form your game takes but that might suggest a kind of venue, and if you've friends there, finding the local spots might be easier: bars, cafes, bookshops, hospitals, whatever.

I don't have experience in the US, but looking at 1) relying on the kindness of gallery owners, and 2) the reallyreallyreally tight timeframe, I think your exhibition would have to be guaranteed phenomenal with recognisable names to work this way, and a different kind of venue might make the whole process a bit more...viable? Even their listings of upcoming events, even for small spaces, have probably been publicised by now.

If you do decide to do it, it might be good to standardise the format (i.e. 10x10" with a flat back, or whatever suits) so that you can come up with an exhibition design as a skeleton that can be set up and filled in each location. You need to think about how they will affix to the wall (and what you're allowed to do to the wall), what configuration they will hang in, whether it's thematic, etc. If you can come up with a list of requirements and a schedule of the pieces (even just "sculpture 10x10x40cm, fragile, requires flat table-height surface") for your venues, it might all actually work.

I don't mean to be discouraging but it's a very tight schedule, and you'll need to be logistically smooth to make it happen, venue issues aside. If that kind of thing excites you, go for it, and if this is boring you to tears, maybe leave it or try a local/online version.

(My brain is fried by exhibition coordination so please excuse forests mistaken for trees, etc. Please feel free to MeMail if I can clarify anything - we're doing a widely-publicised, fairly involved exhibition on a tight timeline and it's fraught with stress, as there's very little contingency for something getting delayed)
posted by carbide at 6:00 AM on October 9, 2008

Seconding Carbide on the standardised format - that's a very good idea and will make life a lot easier for you and the spaces you're working with if you decide to go ahead with this. I probably should have been a bit more positive and offered a few more suggestions as to ways to make this work in my last post, but I was all typed out at that point - sorry!.

Now, I know you're wanting to do this 'in the real world', but the other way of getting quite a lot of people to see this would be to put up a page on a free artist's network like artreview and hold the exhibition online - you could even quite easily have a virtual opening too - you're almost guaranteed to get more people to see the work this way and it will be a whole lot less of a logistical headache for you and your friends. The advantage of this over a stand-alone website is that the coding is pretty much done for you and as part of an existing network people will always drop by and see what's going on...

Likewise, feel free to memail if you have any queries and I'll do my best to help...
posted by Chairboy at 8:49 AM on October 9, 2008

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