Why an artist should keep in touch with the art dealer who said no

June 24, 2020
by Susan J Mumford

I was once introduced to an artist who is the sister of a friend and collector. At a meeting in my Soho gallery, the artist and I viewed her portrait paintings and discussed the subjects and inspirations. The work wasn’t a suitable fit for the gallery, so I thanked her for the visit and confirmed that we wouldn’t proceed with representation.

Life running a gallery is busy. The work carried on, and I all but forgot about the portrait painter.  

Several years later the friend told me about an upcoming exhibition by her sister. It turned out that the location was my own neighbourhood and I RSVP’d straightaway. My interest was a surprise to the artist, for she hadn’t seen any point in staying in touch. She didn’t think I would ever want to attend any shows since I hadn’t made an immediate offer of representation.

“What a shame! She doesn’t get it!” I internally exclaimed.

Many people think in black & white terms when it comes to building a network. Someone doesn’t want to do business after a single meeting? Then they’re of no use, obviously. Incorrect!

One savvy artist calls the process of an artist and dealer getting to know one another a ‘dance’. Had the artist in this real-life story stayed in touch by putting me on her mailing list and reaching out from time to time – starting the dance in other words, the story might’ve had a different ending. After all, I never told her to cease contact or to not add me to the mailing list. She’d taken it as an given.

And there’s more. A Be Smart About Art survey of dealers in the UK and USA found that one of the top three ways artists attain representation is by knowing a dealer who does not represent them. The reason for this is that professionals, including dealers, tend to have a peer network. Someone in my network could have been the ideal gallerist for the painter, and I could have facilitated an introduction.

Therefore, it’s worthwhile for artists to reach out to dealers in their network who are never going to be the right fit, to see if they can recommend art dealer peers who are the right for the artist’s style, experience and so forth. This necessitates action on the part of artists, as well-intending dealer friends may never come up with the idea of making personal referrals, or at least suggestions.

From staying in touch with the dealer who said no to reaching out to people in your existing network, it’s vital to continue building relationships as well as tap into your network’s network. After all, what do you have to lose? 

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Susan J Mumford

SUSAN J MUMFORD is a serial entrepreneur in the art market. She ran a gallery in Soho, London, from 2006-11, which was followed by the creation of the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD) in 2009, an international network with multiple chapters. In 2012 she launched Be Smart About Art, an online-accessible professional development platform. Then in 2018, she embarked upon her latest enterprise, ArtAML, which unites technology and art market know-how to help dealers keep dealing and buyers keep buying in the face of anti-money laundering legislation that hit the art market in 2020.

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