Your First Public Show

When I first started my art business in the basement of my house, in 1991, I had no public space for my artists. Did this mean that the work wasn’t any good? Of course not. I was happy with much of it, and grateful that these artists had entrusted me with their careers.

The challenge was to get them… public exposure until I could afford to open the gallery, which came two years later.

When you don’t have space, find it

Consequently, I set up exhibits in corporate lobbies, upscale restaurants, and in the homes of wealthy socialites (which inspired Matt Kirby to remark: “Oh sure, we’ll get a bunch of rich folks and throw them through the door.”) I also entered the artists in select, juried shows all over the country.

The initial sales we made in the restaurants weren’t numerous, since no sales staff was on hand. To deal with that, I offered the wait staff a 10% commission on every prospect they brought me, which increased sales-not a bad beginning.

In the beginning…

Please understand, displaying in venues such as these doesn’t make you look less credible. You’re in the process of establishing a following and collectors. Any appropriate venue is fine. After all, a gallery will look on you more favorably if you have sold several works than if you haven’t.

Check it out first

Restaurants can work well for selling your art over time, but only if the lighting is good and the setting upscale. It also helps if the managers and wait staff feel genuine passion for what you do.

Just make sure that you provide plenty of professionally laid out postcards printed with your contact information and, if possible, try to have an opening in the restaurant that’s listed in the paper.

Beyond that, simply enjoy the gig. When done well, it can be a major step toward gallery representation. In fact, I discovered one of my best young painters-Allan Chow-in a Malaysian restaurant a couple of years ago. This turned out to be a very good thing for both of us.

The last laugh

Sure, you don’t want to stay in the restaurant-display gig too long, since this is only a step toward bigger things. But it can be a worthwhile step, which you shouldn’t shy away from just because the snobs look down on it.

Snobs look down on everything, including each other. What do they know about making it as an artist?

Very little. I advise you ignore them and do what you have to in developing your career. Please just make sure you have some fun along the way. The snobs will applaud you after you’ve succeeded; that’s how they work anyway.

Now tell me, what was the very first venue where you showed your work?

3 Responses to “Your First Public Show”

  1. This was a very good blog, I always give the staff 20% if they bring me a sale. I don’t think many artist think like that, I have seen alot of art hanging with no info about the artist or no one says anything about it. I try to talk to everyone there as I am hanging a show and even show them how I draw my circles, it always get them talking.

  2. Paul says:


    Good thinking. Simple conversation always leads to sales, much more than ‘selling’ does. Is that assessment, along with your art, why you’re famous?



  3. Ariane Goodwin says:

    Paul and Nemo,
    I love this idea of spreading the wealth around. In some ways, it reminds me of affiliate ventures online: you help me sell and I’ll give you a commission.

    Why not do it out in the world?

    Unfortunately, a scarcity mindset will not even entertain such an idea because of the feeling that “I can’t lose money on this sale.”

    When the truth is: you might not even get the sale without giving up a percentage.

    What’s that saying…a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?

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