Some time ago, I wrote to you about Canadian artist Claire Sower, who’d recently signed with Agora Gallery in New York. For those unfamiliar, Agora is known for soliciting artists online — if you have a website, you may have received one of their emails. For a substantial fee, artists are given an 18-month contract for representation, a promotion package and, if accepted, the opportunity to exhibit at Agora’s polished, two-level gallery in New York. Though initially wary of a business model that profits from artist registration rather than sales, after some encouragement from a supportive gallerist friend, Claire decided to go for it. You can read my first letter about Claire, Should I or shouldn’t I?, here.
A year and a half on, Claire has an update. It seems our collective, hesitant nose-crinkling may have been a tad premature — perhaps a lingering carry-over from a long-expired pedagogy on curatorship and what it means to show. While most of us still aspire to a system where merit is rewarded with a gallery’s commitment to invest in our work, waiting for this kind of approval can be a long, disempowering grind. Meanwhile, other tools, such as social media, advertising, community work, expos, co-ops and even “paying to show” can help us gain insight, experience, confidence and momentum. Like archers aiming at a target, our quivers can be filled with many approaches.
Claire says her show in New York has sparked curiosity among prospective galleries and her hustle and commitment have elevated her work in the eyes of collectors. “I haven’t encountered a single negative response regarding the gallery,” she says. “People congratulate me, ask me how the show went and did I sell — which I did.”
Since then, Claire’s boosted confidence has inspired her to begin teaching. She’s now also a guest artist at a major gallery in her home city and her international experience has helped her seal an American licensing deal. In the past year, Claire has also received commissions from Burt’s Bees and Wiley Press. “It gets people’s attention,” she says. “Now they’re listening and taking me seriously.”
PS: “These days I don’t hesitate to submit to shows and galleries abroad, I am comfortable with the process and know what’s involved logistically. And I can say I’ve exhibited outside the city I live in.” (Claire Sower)
“Because of a great love, one is courageous.” (Lao Tzu)
Esoterica: When it came time to renew her contract with Agora, Claire decided not to, instead focusing on finding a gallery closer to home. “I’d done what I set out to do, which was to establish a record of my being there, showing and selling with a reputable gallery, and they are a reputable gallery. Their business model is different from that of the standard gallery, but you are paying to be represented one way or the other — up front with the Agora or by paying a commission on sales with another gallery,” says Claire. “I want to take what I’ve learned and work on applying that to galleries with a view to getting a solo show.”
“I am not up there by chance. I am there by choice. And I know the wire. And I know my limits. And I am a madman of details.” (Philippe Petit)