Interview with Soren Christensen Gallery
Speaking of galleries, we have got a lovely gallery here, to talk to us. And by here, I mean through the internet. So, I am bringing in Leslie Spillman, who just runs the show at the Soren Christensen Gallery in New Orleans. And I have been represented by the Soren Christensen Gallery for the last probably four years, or so, maybe even a little bit longer, and have a wonderful relationship with them. And it just seemed like the perfect choice to bring Leslie on, and ask her a few questions about galleries. Because, I am not a gallery owner, and so let's talk to somebody who is. So, let's talk to Leslie. Ah! Hi!
Oh! (laughs) It's so good to see you. Thank you so much, for doing this.
Thank you, for having me.
Oh, I'm so pleased. And everyone is going to be so excited, to hear what you have to say. It's just really, really an honor that you're gonna be here to talk to us about all these questions, that we all are dying to know the answers to. So, if your ready, I'll ju...
st jump in.
Go for it.
Okay. So first question. How frequently do you look for new artists?
Okay, so I feel like my answer to this question might be a little unique to my specific gallery. But, we have 35 artists currently on our roster, which is a really giant roster of artists for any gallery, I would say. So, to be honest, we don't go seeking out new artists very often. We have a sort of a core base, that we've had for many, many years. We do always review submissions and occasionally make room for the right work. Or, occasionally we find something, usually on social media, like how we found your work, that we simply can't live without. And then we will seek out that artist. But, truthfully, we don't go looking all that much because we have so many artists already.
Okay, cool. Well, that's really good to know. And I think that a lot of emerging artists, are often a little bit hesitant to reach out to galleries, for the reason that your explaining. Which is, there is already a core group of artists with that gallery. So do you ever put out the word saying that now you're looking for submissions, or do you go to portfolio reviews, or anything like that?
We do occasionally do some portfolio reviews. In fact, for PhotoNOLA of this year, I'm one of the people doing the portfolio reviews. I would say for artists who want to approach galleries, I think it's really smart, even if there's a large established roster. Or even if they seem to work with the same artists year in and year out. I think it's important to familiarize yourself with the roster of the gallery that your submitting to. Every gallery is different. Some galleries like a lot of similar work, or they have their own niche. You know, very contemporary, or highly representational, or all photography, or not much photography. I think you should be aware, because typically it's one person, like myself, or two people that sort of are responsible for the general aesthetic of the gallery. So I think you want to make sure that your work isn't in stark contrast to that aesthetic.
That's great advice, and echoes what we've been talking a little bit about here. So, thank you. If you receive a submission from somebody, what information do you prefer to receive? A website link, images attached, CD, bio, etc.?
Sure, a website is awesome, because a website tells me a lot of things. That this is an artist with their stuff together. Also, everything that you're talking about, a CD, a statement, great examples of the work, maybe even previous installations. That's all gonna sort of be contained within that one site. So if you have a website, and you've got it together, that's your number one tool, as an artist reaching out to a gallery. I will always look, I will open JPEG's, I will do some googling, if there's not enough information there, if I'm interested in seeing. But it's always great to have everything kind of right there, contained. And it also just makes you look really pro. And especially this day and age, with the sort of accessibility of website building tools. I feel like for emerging artists, that's the most important thing. You need to have your website together.
That's great. I feel like I just learned a huge lesson right now. Because I was just thinking, oh, I could add this to my website, oh, I should add this. So, that is, oh, that was so good!
Also, one more really important point, because it's the thing that when I do have this conversation, when I'm responding to submissions. If I'm interested, the very next question I'm gonna have, and it seems tacky, but this is a business, we need to know what price point we're looking at. So, if I fall in love with your work, and then I get your price sheet, and everything is $10,000 to $20,000, that might make the decision easier for me, you know. So I think it's important to let a gallery know, when you're showing them the work, at least a range of the price point. Because they're going to want to know.
Yeah, good. And we just did lots of work today, didn't we, with pricing? So that is perfectly timed advice. So if you are looking at portfolios, if your at a review say, what makes a portfolio stand out to you?
I think... overall, there are nice things that you can have that make a portfolio appear very slick. But the number one thing, I mean font and layout and all of that is great, but you really need to have faithful images of your work. If you're a photographer, obviously, this is easier, but you wanna make sure the resolution is ideal and all of that. But a lot of times, otherwise good submissions or work that you can tell... I've been in this business 15 years, so I can tell with crappy images, even if their crappy images, if something is actually probably really great in person. But it's a great way to get yourself passed over, if you don't have good faithful images of the work. And here at the gallery, it's pointless for me to put images on our website, of works that I know look nothing in reality like the paintings. It's the number one indispensable tool for selling your work, is quality images. Number one. But, also, I would like to see something that I don't see all of the time, you know. And the easiest way to do that, is to really focus on your own voice as an artist, and really make sure that that comes through. What sets you apart, from other things that I might be seeing? I will tell you candidly, we get submissions every single day. We get them in the mail, we prefer digital. But we get them daily. So it's really important, to think about how you might stand out. I get that, it's important! I think the number one way to do that is with really good work, and great images of that work.
Yeah, do you think that you would prefer to see images that are more polarizing, that have a bolder, really just expressive opinion about something? Or, something that's a little bit more, accessible to a wider audience?
You know, I think that really depends on the work. Because, some things are not for everyone. And like I said, we have 35 artists on our roster here. I have artists who sell very, very well and quite frankly, are easy to sell and can kind of go anywhere, and do have a bit more mass appeal. My favorite work that we represent, is some of the work that's a little harder to sell. Somethings that are darker, or edgier, or make you think, or make you feel emotion. I would say, whatever is most gratifying to you as an artist, that's what you should pursue. I think it's also important, maybe, to have a range. So if you do have a series of work, that is a little moody, or edgy, or stronger, or highly political, that you also have an ability to show another side of your artistic yourself. And we have artists who work in multiple series, that are ongoing, that do that very thing.
Interesting. So would you say that you would put an emphasis on an artist having a cohesive series, or just a cohesive body of work, that wasn't necessarily made for a series?
Yeah, I would say for sure emphasis would mean a nice, concise series is wonderful. But I think a broader range, of really good work, that's cohesive, is preferable. I can speak from curating, our PhotoNOLA exhibitions for example. Each photographer that I've worked with, has had, like yourself, has had multiple series that they work in. Or there's like a lot of images to choose from. And when it comes to that, when there's lots of different series, I think it's kind of nice to show the range of what an artist can do. So a lot of times, I'll select multiple works from each series. But I think, you know, you can't understate how important it is to at least have one really good series. So, rather than have a lot of different things, if it's not a really strong body of work altogether, I would say focus more on really one good series. Because, really, you're gonna be showing a body of work anyway, rather something that's more retrospective.
Neat. So, if you had to say, this is a big question, but what do you think is one of the biggest pitfalls among emerging artists?
You know, I thought a lot about this, and I think one of the biggest pitfalls is not understanding the relationship between the gallery and the artist. Commodifying one's work can be a real icky, and uncomfortable thing, for an artist. I say this as an artist myself. So it's really, and a lot of artists I find, prefer not to have to think about that money aspect, right? And so it's in this way, that the gallery and the artist really have this wonderful symbiosis. But I think it takes a lot of trust, from the artist and the gallery, to sort of be able to step back, provide the work, and then sort of relinquish some of the control. And trust that the gallery really knows what they're doing, in terms of the business side of things.
Yeah, that's great advice. And that's what we're hoping to focus on during this class as well, is just bridging that gap between the gallery, that seems so far away and so difficult to attain. How do you work with them, and how do you know you're doing the right things? So we're definitely gonna keep talking about that.
I would also say too, that the number one biggest downfall beyond that sort of navigating that relationship, is presentation. And I'm sure you've been speaking about that a lot. I can't tell you how many times I've seen really beautiful work, that just has such simple craftsmanship issues, like framing, and things like that, print quality, that really detract from the sellability, and the overall beauty of the work. And I think a lot of times, because emerging artists are usually working under budgetary constraints, and things like that, you have to be really careful and sometimes creative, about how you can present your work and make it look as high-end as possible.
I like that. So if you had to give a quick tip, sorry I'm going off script, but.
Nah, for sure.
Can we get a quick tip about what is an easy way that an artist can make their work look a little bit more high-end. Would you say, just keeping the framing simple? Or, what do you think about presentation?
Definitely simple framing. A frame goes a long, long way, and I would definitely not overdo it. And every artist has different ideas about what ideal framing is. But you have to think about making it as, sort of, widely appealing as possible. But you also don't want your framing to distract from what is being framed, which is the most important part.
So, do think that the photographic medium is harder to sell than others?
I will tell you, decidedly, yes. Photography, and we represent lots of different media at this gallery, photography is definitely a hard sell. Any photographer who has worked in the medium professionally, or in a gallery setting, or has even, unfortunately, spent a lot of time talking to other artists who work in other media, there is a perception sometimes that photography, when it comes to value, that it doesn't have the same value. Especially photographs involving humans, involving the figure. I don't know what that is, it's a very strange thing. It's the same thing really with paintings too. Paintings with the figure are harder sell, than maybe abstractions or landscapes, or whatever. But, photography is definitely a harder sell, for that reason. And I don't know if it's the idea that there can be multiples of something. I'm not really sure exactly what it is, because some of the photography that we have is some of my favorite work. But people either are about fine photography, or their not. And there are a lot more people who will put up the money for a canvas, or a sculpture versus a photograph. And it's regrettable, but it's true.
Yeah, I mean, I feel it, I know that. And I know all the other photographic artists that I've talked to, have said the same thing. So it makes sense, in some distant way that's really sad to all of us here. But we get that.
It's like a respect for the medium. I don't really know what that is, and I've experienced some real snobbishness from other artists, about this sort of medium in general, of photography. And I think also the accessibility of digital photography in the last few years, has kind of added to that, idea, that perception for people.
So would you then say that a series or body of work that is more physically intensive, or maybe has some alternative process done to it after the printing, would have an easier sell or better value to it, potentially?
Yeah, potentially. But you also, and I think in this day and age a lot of photographers, because there are so many amazing photographers really pushing the limits of the medium. So I think that kind of creativity definitely helps. Just for an example, we have an artist, who was our PhotoNOLA artist last year, who does beautiful, sort of, old world looking prints. And she presents them without glass. She does a matte varnish directly on the surface of the print, so that they can be presented without glass, and her backgrounds are very, very dark or black. And she always felt like that sort of reflective glass kind of took away. And we got so many comments about the presentation of that work, and people coming in and asking. It gave them a sort of a painterly quality. People would come in and ask, "Is that a photograph, "is that a painting?". And she did very, very well. I will say this though. There are plenty of collectors of photography who are definitely purests, and film is not dead. But also, just more traditional photographic presentations. I think there are still people who are purests in that sense, who really want more traditional photography.
That's good to know. I mean, I've often heard that galleries say, that if you can present your work really traditionally, and really simply, then that's often going to be an easier sell, than if you're trying to do things to it, just for the sake of selling.
Right, really jazzy mounting styles, and like alternative shapes, and things like that. I'm with you, I think simple is best. I think whatever you're gonna do, do it as cleanly and with the best possible craftsmanship.
When you're collecting artists for your roster, do you tend to choose artists because you love them personally, or more so, because you're thinking about the collectors that you already have under your belt, that are coming in?
I will tell you, it really kind of takes all kinds, it's really both. Like I said, we have a very, very large roster. And I'm pretty aware at this point, of what our client base will respond to, and what they won't. So a lot of the time we are looking at work thinking, obviously we're not a museum, we're trying to sell these, thinking can we sell these, and who can we sell them to. But that's not to say that we don't ever break that rule too. I have an artist that we started representing about six years ago, who was completely different from anything else that we had, which actually will really attract me to work. And I thought to myself, I don't think we have any clients that will buy this work, and that turned out to be true. But the wonderful thing that happened, is that artist brought in a whole new client base, that we did not have. Because the work was really beautiful, and really unique and different. So, for us, although some galleries seem to be different, for us, we just don't like redundancy in the roster. I would prefer to have a little something for everyone. We have seasoned talent, emerging talent, we have photographers, traditional 2D painters, sculptors, installation artists. We've really tried to go for diversity in the roster, because I think that's really how you make the most sales. Rather than focusing more narrowly on one type of work.
It makes sense to me. So then, when an artist is approaching you, what do you expect that artist to already have, in terms of experience, in terms of number of images that they're bringing to the table?
So, experienced doesn't matter as much if the work is strong. In fact, pretty much nothing else matters, if the work is really strong. So, I would say, you wanna have a nice body of work. If we're talking a photographer, I heard you say earlier about ten images per show, and that's a great number of images. But I think, for an overall body of work, you wanna have more, obviously, than what you would be sending for a show. I would say at least 20 or 30 images, for that gallery to consider.
Yeah, that's great. We've been talking about narrowing our portfolio to 30 really strong images, so that's perfect.
We will continue to try to do that as the class goes on. So before I say goodby, any final words of wisdom that you would like to leave us with?
Yeah, I think it's really important for artists to be confident in their work. I think it's really important for you to know the value of your work. But know it really well. I think another mistake that emerging photographers make is with the pricing of their work, either pricing it way too low, which can really be as counterproductive as pricing it way too high. And I think that it's a little difficult, especially for a lot of artists, like I said, commodifying one's work is kind of an icky thing. And you almost have to be able to separate yourself a little bit, once you make the work. If you decide you wanna be an artist who sells in a commercial space, I think it's really important to kind of, obviously, you wanna keep a connection to the work, but also... relinquish a little bit of control to the gallery, and let them do for you what they should do.
Great, thank you so much Leslie. It was such a great honor
Thank you Brooke.
to talk to you. I'm so grateful.
I appreciate it.
Yeah, thank you, so much! So, gosh, galleries. There is just so much to talk about, and I'm so grateful that we had the chance to actually speak to a gallery owner. Because I know that a lot of different galleries are very different from one another, people have different opinions. But pretty much everything that Leslie just said, echoes what I have heard in general. From the portfolio reviews that I've had, from galleries that I've spoken to. And it's just really gratifying to know that, look they're real people. And sometimes they pop up on our television screens and we can talk to them. But they are accessible, and they're willing to work with artists in so many capacities. Whether it's by sending a simple email back to a submission, or going to a portfolio review to really give their in depth opinion, it's just really nice to know, that they're out there to work for the artist, and that many of them are artist themselves. So we're all on the same page, and if we can just find the right fit, to represent our work, then we can do so much more with the art that we have to offer the world. So, we talked about galleries. And we're gonna keep bringing that up as the class continues. But I'm really grateful that we had that chance, to just speak to a gallery, learn a little bit about how to work with galleries, and hopefully we're all gonna move forward and sell tons of images with our galleries.