An art show can be an awful lot of work, but there's a process I follow to make things as easy as I can I can. Here's a handy behind-the-scenes view into how I go about planning a big project like this, especially if I'm the one who's going to be doing the hanging!
VISIT THE ACTUAL SPACE
When possible, my planning begins with a visit to the actual space, whether we're talking a gallery, coffee shop, museum or even just a little nook inside a store. Often there are little details about a space that get missed when working from a diagram -- a particular corner might not be very well-lit, or the wall may be made of a substance that requires different hanging tools. If the space is a heavily-used public area, examining the movement of people within that space can help determine good placement for pieces I really want to bring to the forefront.
Often, I'll take measurements. Sometimes the folks in charge already have them, or even handy diagrams. None of this can substitute for the actual space, of course, but they give me something to reference when I'm back in my studio and pondering.
LOOK AT MY INVENTORY
Next, I'll step away from the intended space and look at the work. What did I pitch or hope would be the subject matter or theme for the space (if anything)? Does this mean that I have to create any new work? What old pieces might need to be included, or repurposed? Now that i see what I have & what space needs to be filled how many pieces are needed to fill the space appropriately?
Often, this means that I'll shuffle through unframed prints, revisit my digital catalog, or even rifle through spare frames I have lying around. I'll look at old work and new work and spend a lot of time moving things in and out of piles, even making mind-mapping lists of works that fit together in some way.
WORK BACKWARDS FROM THE DEADLINE
And then of course, there's the deadline to reckon with. How many weeks in which do I have to accomplish this, and what is do-able within that timeframe? I take the list of works that I believe fit together and play triage--works that are "ready to go" get slotted in first. Works that need it get cataloged, photographed, framed, and labeled. Sometimes I have to create marketing materials by a certain deadline, too!
Other things I like to check in on with the folks in charge at this stage:
- are there hanging tools readily available on-site?
- what types of hardware or systems are in-place for hanging art, if any?
- are there any special restrictions or guidelines for how art is to be hung on the walls?
- who should I check in with if I have questions or run into a problem?
- if sales are happening, what % goes to the artist & who's in charge of sales tax?
PLAN A MAP OF YOUR SHOW
Once I know the space I'm filling, have examined my inventory & worked backwards from the deadline, then the really in-depth mapping can begin. I take the pieces I'm sure about including and that are ready to go, and then put them where I think they'll look best, filling things in around them as I go.
You can see that I like to use an analog system of moving pieces of paper around--I find that it's harder for me to accidentally duplicate a piece & run into mistakes if I'm working with actual bits of paper.
At this point I'll also print out my handy checklist for art shows that helps me to make sure I've assembled everything & made sure I've done my job in making things professional and that hanging goes smoothly. Here's a handy summary for you if you need it, too:
WORKFLOW & CHECKLIST0 FOR HANGING AN ART SHOW
- create a map & master list of pieces for the show
- confirm set-up & take-down dates with contact person for the space
- sign & date all necessary paperwork
BEFORE HANGING DAY
- check frames for blemishes & damage
- label each piece with name, price, & contact information
- ensure hardware is oriented & adjusted correctly for each piece
- clean glass & wrap artwork for transport
- proofread wall labels for each piece of work
- gather all works & check each piece off the master list for the show
PACKING LIST FOR HANGING DAY
- transport: plastic bins, moving blankets & other padding, rolling dolly
- tools: hammer, screwdriver, level, measuring tape
- hardware: picture wire, nails & screws, adhesive strips, sticky tack
- finishing: scraping tool, glass cleaner, paper towels, scissors artist tape
- presentation: wall labels for each piece & extra blank labels, artist statement & show titles, business cards &/or take-away flyers, list of works in plastic sleeve
ON HANGING DAY
- go over sales %, take-down date, & other details
- photograph the artwork in the space
HANG THE WORK
On the day of hanging, I'll make sure I have a helper if I need it, since moving a lot of work around can be exhausting. And here's the most important thing I've learned: when hanging day comes, my plan always changes.
Most of the time, when I get in the space I soon discover that my conception of things still doesn't quite fit with the visual rhythm I'm trying to create. So i've made it perfectly okay to switch things around as necessary! I even bring a few extra pieces of work just in case, to allow flexibility on hanging day.
IT'S ALL WORTH IT
In spite of all this work, I believe hanging an art show is worthwhile because having an art show forces me to take a step back and look at my work as a whole. I'm forced to see what types of work I'm creating, what genres that they seem to fit within, where the tangents are, and where the themes are strongest. In a way, an art show deadline helps me to determine a new direction of work, or even the completion or culmination of a particular theme or subject matter.
There are ways to achieve this within your own practice -- routinely pinning up your recent work so you can see them all together, or cataloging everything into a database you can explore, tag, and categorize and play. But this casual exploration is very different from the hard look you have to take when your criteria are sharpened -- a particular space, a particular region, a particular audience, and a deadline to boot.
By far the most useful thing about an art show is the feedback. I can work solidly and intentionally, only to discover that certain pieces that I adore don't strike the same feeling in the hearts of others. Most every time I've put my art on the wall for strangers, I've been surprised about what sells most, what gets the most comments, and what people say about the work.
And all this work has to happen with no guarantee that any pieces will sell in the end. After all the organizing and thoughtful process, it may yield little more than another line on the C.V. Even then, the cost of framing means that many times art shows are often produced at a loss for the artist.
(Unless you're super famous or have a dedicating following of collectors.)