Atypical Notion

What I Learned From My First Exhibition

ArtLaura McGuiganComment
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Last week I attended my first exhibition, Raw Reveal, at the Howard Theatre here in Washington DC. I didn't know what to expect going into it, and in fact went into with no expectations—nothing around sales, interest, clientele, setup, nothing. As the show went on, I kept note of some interesting things that should help me for future shows and exhibitions. 

Getting Set Up and Being Prepared to Improvise

I wasn't sure how much room the stuff I had would take up in a car, and because Zipcars are so expensive for how long I would need one (about a day) I decided to rent a UHaul van. It was overkill in hindsight, but cost about $50 for 24 hours of rental, which sure as hell beat the $120+ rental for a Zipcar. 

When I got to the venue, I realized that because I was up against a wall, I couldn't place the grid panels they provided against the back to act as a backdrop and instead had to create a stall out of my space. This meant that I had to reconfigure my work and my set up on the fly to optimize for this unexpected change. I also shifted one of the panels during the beginning of the show to corral more people as I noticed people completely overlooking me.

I was also fortunate/unfortunate to end up at the bottom of the first set of stairs as you enter the venue. This was good because I was the first thing people saw and given my layout, a lot of traffic backed up here, getting me more eyes. But it was also not great because people had just gotten to the show and either didn't want to buy anything just yet, or were so distracted by the myriad options in front of them that they completely overlooked my work. 

In hindsight I would probably move the table with my prints out to be parallel with the back wall where my banner was, so that people could more easily see them without feeling like they were coming into my nook (twss). I think that would have increased print sales, which I was suprised were so low. Which brings me to my next point.

Low Print Sales

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I know I said I went in without any expectations, but I did figure my prints would sell better than they did. After all, my whole schtick is affordable prints and fine art—I want to maintain that accessibility so I put a lot of effort into prints of my work; purchasing a scanner and printer, calibrating, printing 10 copies of 5 different prints, and packaging them nicely. I think I ended up selling about 5 prints total, which was surprisingly low. I'm not sure if it was the venue/audience/setup of the show, or how I presented them (being tucked into my nook), or even the particular prints themselves. I still want to try to promote them more, and I'm hopeful at later shows this year I'll be able to hit the right audience and perfect my presentation. 

Oddly the work that sold the best was my $75 - $100 range of originals, which I sort of assumed would be the highest impulse buy of folks at the show. I'll likely try to incorporate more in that price range in the future for shows to see if my theory holds true. 

Talking About the Work

Holy cow I do not do well with people. I clam up and think they are judging me and oh god is there something in my teeth, what's my hair doing, am I grimacing? Constantly asked — what was your inspiration? This is something that perhaps I need to dive into more and put more thought into, but I'm inspired by so many different things that it's hard to coherently talk about it. It ends up being a jumble of 'I'm a designer of 10 years who loves blending organic and geometric, bold colors, whitespace, watery forms, juxtaposition, blah blah blah' — one of my goals is to clarify it a bit. I'm not sure if it's just because I'm in such an experimental phase where only a couple pieces of my work look like the others, so it's hard to nail it down, or if this is just how it'll always be. 

I had a good conversation with Marta at Latela Gallery last night (with whom I'm doing a 5 week consultation course) about speaking about my work and about my practice. It came down to not feeling obligated to tell too much, because it's not always peoples' business, but also it could be overwhelming. Perhaps the person asking me about my inspiration just wants to show their engagement with me and isn't sure what to ask. She suggested giving a quick bit for the piece closest and turn the question back to them; what do they see, what does it make them feel? I'll have to work on my elevator pitches, but also in gauging the person with whom I'm having the conversation to see where their level of involvement and interest lies. 


So, would I do it again?

I get a free show in another city from RAW for hitting my ticket goal so I'll likely do that. I'd like it to be an important city like LA, SF or NYC, but those are far and the logistics makes my head hurt. As for another one in DC, I'm not sure. If it was specific to the type of work I did, I think I might, but I think these shows were more for the fashion and hair and make up crowds; I didn't get a sense there were a lot of people interested in my work. Now, that could have had to do with my location at the show, or the fact that it was my first show so I had put a lot of effort into the production of it so it was disappointing that it ended up how it did. Maybe I'm just overthinking it. 

I do plan to continue doing shows, generally. In fact I have two upcoming in DC at the end of September and the beginning of October. I'd also like to try hitting the market circuit this winter/spring. Below are the dates for my two upcoming shows! 


Upcoming Shows

Art in the Alley
Saturday, September 24th, 6p-10p

Takoma Park Street Festival
Sunday, October 2, 10a-5p