In this guest blog from Venster, founders Peter and Stephan share their thoughts on why it’s so important to get your work into public spaces, and what to consider before you take the leap.
In case you’ve not heard of Venster, it’s a platform that matches up locations (like restaurants and beer shops) with emerging talent to give them an offline stage. This provides artists with an easy and fun way to get their work out into the real world, while giving diners, shoppers and passers-by a chance to discover it, and buy it.
[Update Sep 2020: Sadly the pandemic has made it very difficult for Venster to keep do their thing, and so exhibitions are on hold indefinitely. You can find out if/when things change by signing up to their email updates.]
We know, it can be scary. Showing your work to people. People outside your comfortable network of friends, family and Instagram followers who love just about everything you do.
However, there are four good reasons why you should at least consider exhibiting your work offline, in the ‘real world’.
800 x 800 pixels don’t tell it all
Instagram, Facebook, Etsy, other web shops… they all reduce your work to little tiles. Fun and easy to scroll through, but they rarely do any justice to the ‘real’ work.
Take this work by Frank Willems, for example. In real life, it’s an impressive piece of art, consisting of four wooden panels, measuring 1.95m wide and 1.2m high. There is no way a photo on Instagram can have the same impact as the original work has in real life.
Having an online shop is one thing, finding customers is another
Have you ever tried to find your own works on Etsy or Google? Not by searching your name. But by browsing categories, like ordinary customers do. Try it. It’s damn hard. Having your online shop running is one thing. Getting found is another.
You can learn a lot
Having your work out there in the real world will not only lead to feedback on the work itself. We have noticed, for example that while installing an exhibition, people exchange thoughts on all kinds of aspects that come with making. For example: where can you get good and affordable frames? To number or not to number your prints? And if so, which number is right? (In the Netherlands there are tax implications for bigger series, did you know? If not, you can find out more below).
Meet fellow enthusiasts. Have fun. And one thing might lead to another!
You’re more likely to actually meet interesting like-minded people when installing your work in a bar, restaurant or coffee bar than if you’re uploading it on social media. We’ve heard of so many cool collaborations in one year, originating from one small exhibition. We’ve had illustrators being asked to design birth cards. Screen printers to do a tote bag design for a local beer shop. And numerous makers getting asked to exhibit their work in other cool places, in different cities. In fact, one printmaker will be a keynote speaker at EXCHANGE #2. Definitely go hear Petra Verkade’s story on Tuesday 14 January at Rabarber!
So… when was the last time you did something out of your comfort zone? Do you remember the feeling of satisfaction that came afterwards, or while doing it? The same goes for exhibiting your work. It might seem a bit scary at first. But it will definitely get you further along the road on becoming a more skilled, knowledgeable maker!
But before you dive in…
Here’s a list of things you might not think of immediately when setting up an exhibition.
Visit the location that you’ve chosen
When starting an exhibition, try to visit the location a few weeks in advance. What applies to your work also applies to the location: it probably looks different in real life than in the photo. The light alone can be different at any time of the day. This can influence your choice of frames. On top of that, it’s a nice chance to meet the people who run the place. Tell them your story and the story behind your work. That way, they can pass it on to potential customers during the exhibition.
Consider a duo-exhibition
Collaborations are fun and lead to surprising things. And from a practical point of view, not only will you get the chance to learn from each other, but also to share each other’s audiences. Win win!
Numbers / runs / VAT
The more copies (reproductions) you have of an artwork, the lower the price you can ask for it, because the artwork is made less unique. You have to consider whether you want to sell a lot at a lower price, or fewer at a higher price. At the same time, this decision has VAT implications. If an edition of numbered and signed copies of screen prints, for example, consists of more than 250 prints, in the Netherlands the VAT will be 21%. When the prints are considered art, and the series is smaller than 250, you need to pay only 9% VAT. These rules differ per discipline of print or art.
Set your price with confidence
This is, as we have seen, the hardest part of an exhibition: setting the price for a piece. There’s no golden rule for it. All we can say is: Be confident when you share the price of your work. You are the artist, you know what your work is worth to you. Production costs and size are just one aspect. As is the decision of making it a limited edition (or not). But there are way more factors that determine the value of your work. What makes it even more complex is that different people will value the work differently as well. One person might be deeply touched by it. Where another might just find it pleasant to look at.
Don’t forget to put your price tags on the wall
We’ve noticed that a lot of makers find it hard to literally put a price tag next to their work. They think it will downgrade their work. We’ve even seen makers putting price tags on the bottom of a frame, written in pencil only visible if you get really close AND below the work. This way of price tagging might cause the audience to think you’re ashamed of asking for money for your work. This is downgrading your work more than if you display a clear price tag.
Our question to you is: do you want to sell your work, or not? If so, use obvious price tags. They will make it clear to the audience that your work is for sale. That it’s on display as an exhibition, and not just for decoration.
Prepare certificates of authenticity
If you’ve only made a limited number of prints, a certificate of authenticity is really appreciated by the buyer. It somehow adds more value to the whole process of buying your artwork.
Ok, you’re all set. You can now start finding the perfect place to exhibit your work. We (Venster) have gathered some cool ones, you can check them out here. We call them ‘Vensters’. They are open for exhibitions of all kinds of work. Feel free to browse them and apply for one if you like. (Please think about their audience and the size of your work). The list is getting longer every month. So checking regularly might be a good thing to do, or sign up for regular updates.