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Create Your Own Exhibition Opportunities

ArmoryShow_poster I've been reading my way, word by word, chapter by chapter, through the comprehensive reference book,  Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. There is a section about the famous Amory Show, which I'd heard mention as many of my favorite artists from the early 20th century exhibited at the Amory Show. It wasn't until now, that  I fully realized how groundbreaking this exhibition actually was, and why.

41OiZd-LhGL._SL160_ What astounded me was that this show was not organized by a museum or any other institution, but by the artists. "The members of the new Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS) were seeking to undercut the power of the conservative American Academy of Design by independently showing their art (and that of their colleagues) that had been rejected by officialdom as too radical. They were quite successful: the Armory Show created a market for contemporary art almost overnight."  And subsequent to this  event, "the younger generation no longer pursued Academy recognition."**

This example illustrates the merit of reading such an in-depth book.  We can learn much from history, and with some understanding, we can also gain some inspiration.  Do you feel that you are limited by the exhibition opportunities in your community? 


Sleeping Muse, bronze sculpture by
Constantin Brâncuşi, 1910, originally
shown at the Armory Show.
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Why not create your own exhibition opportunities? Put together your own show just like the artists who organized the Armory Show in the early part of the 20th century.  The Professional Guidelines offer guidance for exhibition sponsors along with the entire project.

Why not be your own sponsor?  The Professional Guidelines Exhibition Contract (for non-commercial exhibitions) is designed for artists and non-profit Exhibition Sponsors to clearly define each party’s responsibilities. (For retail/commercial gallery exhibitions, refer to the Consignment Contract instead.)

Do be aware that sales in a non-commercial exhibition are usually a low priority.  The Exhibition is not expected to represent the artists over an extended period of time like a gallery. Instead, the Exhibition borrows work from the artists for a limited period of time, focusing on work that contributes to the theme or premise of the show.  Prices are not usually posted on the wall, although a price list may be available at the desk or upon request.

Exhibitions curated without the pressure for sales may offer an opportunity to show experimental work or work that is not viable in more conventional venues. These exhibitions often include work that is aesthetically challenging, provocative in content or concept, or made by artists not often seen in established galleries.  These exhibitions can be important opportunities to expand the audience for artwork and to educate the viewers.  

Armory painting by Amadeo de Souza Cardoso
Amadeo de Souza Cardoso, artist
Saut du Lapin, 1911

Ideally, such exhibitions produce quality, promotional documentation of the artwork and possible professional reviews, and broad exposure to the community.  So while you are putting together this show, consider publishing your own catalog.


Picture of the Duchamp Brothers who helped sponsor the organization of the famous Armory Show.
Three brothers, left to right: Marcel
Jacuews Villon, and Raymond
in the garden of Jacques
Villon's n at their studio in Pateaux,
France, 1914, all three brothers were
included in the Armory exhibition.

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Consider the outcome of the Armory show. "The artist-organizers handled all the administrative details themselves and gave up a year of their art-making time to make the show happen." Summarizing the information from page 86, of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, $45,000 of work sold.  "Marcel Duchamp and his brother, Jacques Villon, sold everything they had at the exhibition." "All the most advanced works, including those of the Cubists, were sold out...".**

Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase perhaps the most famous painting from the Armory Show.
Nude Descending the Staircase
Marcel Duchamp
Painting shown at the Armory Show.


For more insight from history and potential inspiration, read the book, Makers: A History of American Studio Craft.

Ironically, Bruce Metcalf, co-author of the book, helped me by editing some of the early topics of the Professional Guidelines nearly ten years ago. How can you help your fellow artists?


* Professional Guidelines Exhibition Contract

** Metcalf, Bruce and Koplos, Janet, Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, The University of North Carolina Press, 2010, page86.

This post was updated on January 21, 2022, to provide current links.

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