Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My Very Worst Show Ever (So Far Anyway)

Hay Bales with Purple, 2006, Oil on Panel, 18x24

I think now is a good time to tell the story about the very worst show experience I have ever had. It's a good time to tell it because I feel myself getting all overly self confident (which is an unnatural and uncomfortable state of being for me) about having had a pretty good run of shows and sales in the last few months. When I start to feel too confident I usually pull out the rejection letter file and recall the first show that I had after we moved to upstate New York.

Within about six months of starting to paint again, I felt absurdly confident about what I was doing, enough so that I had invited a local art gallery director to my studio (she scheduled me for a show) and sent in an application for a show at a nonprofit arts org in a neighboring town. Each year this org. sends out a call for artists and from that pool of applicants they schedule shows for the upcoming year. Often two or three artists who don't know each other are put into one exhibition based upon their art and how it relates visually or conceptually.

I was accepted and given a two person show with another girl, D. And when I say girl I mean that literally. I was paired up with a girl who had just graduated from high school and was leaving for art college the weekend after the opening was scheduled. Nothing like showing with a young and talented girl to make me feel old and ridiculous. Great. And not only that but the show was scheduled for the same month as the one other show that I had lined up. So I would have to prepare for both at the same time.

As is my tendency I painted many paintings for this show (for both shows actually) and went to deliver them to the arts org. D. had not delivered her work yet and there was some question as to whether she was finished with anything or not. She did manage to bring in five large paintings a day later and so the show was hung.

I had handed out postcards for the show, left stacks of them at area businesses etc. but since we were pretty new to the area I didn't hold out a lot of hope that anybody I knew would be at the opening. And I was right. I knew not one single person at the opening (except for Doug), I had the worst headache ever (I had neglected to wear my mouth guard the previous night and when I am nervous or stressed I clench my jaw at night which gives me major headaches) and when we arrived I found that D's prices were about one quarter of what mine were and that she had already sold two pieces. The opening was fine I guess, a good turnout, although I inadvertently made eye contact with a guy who then followed me around all evening, insisting that my paintings were profound (he was also interested in Doug's work and called him about a hundred times in the following weeks asking him to get involved in various lame projects-he was such a pest and it took months to get rid of him politely), and D's high school friends, looked at me as if I were a parent-yikes-when I hugged D and wished her luck at school. The people that we enjoyed talking to most were D's parents, who were, as I had suspected they would be, exactly my age. Fabulous...

Anyway, during the show I sent various people down there and it turned out that almost none of them had been able to catch the gallery when it was open. Seems that it had very limited hours, like two half days a week. The one friend of mine who was able to be there during those hours stood in an empty gallery for about ten minutes waiting for someone to come and help her. No one ever showed up and she told me that had she been the type she could have cleared the place out. And then about a week before the show was to end I called to find out which day I needed to pick up my work. The gallery director, as usual, was not in and I spoke to the president of of the org. who informed me that they had to sand and stain the wood floor in the gallery that week so a) the gallery would be closed and b) I couldn't get my work until the following week. She was actually rude to me when I asked if I could get my work before they did the sanding. She never once apologized for the situation, had obviously never planned to call me to let me know about the work to be done and to maybe give me the option if getting my work out beforehand. Finally, I went to pick up the work (it all had a good layer of dust on it-clearly no one thought about protecting the art on the walls WHILE THEY WERE SANDING DOWN THE FLOORS) and none of my work had sold. This did not surprise me since the girl who was working in the gallery had her head down on the desk and was sound asleep when I went in to pack up the paintings. It really was the perfect ending to the whole experience.

The next day I made it clear to the gallery director, who had been strangely out of the loop the whole time, that I was not pleased with how the show had been handled. She was very apologetic, and I appreciated that but the woman who had been rude to me never did call me or anything like that. So I have not continued to support the org in any way since then. I have heard that they have alienated many local artists with their disorganization and unprofessional behavior and I now know many artists who refuse to show there at all.

I know that working with a non profit organization can be risky, as they are always short of funds, volunteers and staff, and that the people who ARE there are often burned out and overworked, but since that experience I have shown in several more non profit arts orgs and they have all been absolutely wonderful to work with. So luckily, this was an isolated experience for me as well as the only show (with the exception of a few group shows) where absolutely none of my work sold.

By the way, many of those paintings are definitely cringe-worthy to me now, but several were really nice and I later sold about five or six of them. Our neighbors down the road bought on of the best ones, pictured below. The photo isn't so great but you get the idea.


Johnnie Scoutten said...

What a great - but unfortunate- story. Well told - I felt your angst. But it seems due more to lack of organization on their part as opposed to over confidence on yours.....

Anonymous said...

Did I ever mention the time I was hung across from the autistic kid?

Tracy said...

Hi Johnnie, I did question the quality of my work when nothing sold, but really I know that disorganization was really the issue.

Chris, You mention it all of the time! And you definitely win, my perky little high school girl cannot compete with an autistic child:-)

Anonymous said...

I meant, did I mention it online where other people could read it?

I promise to repeat myself more often.

I mean, I promise to repeat myself less often. Right. That's what I mean.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it a really horrible mixture of feeling helpless and angry when treated thus? We are all so helpless when we are starting out, and I think it is good to relate such experiences in blogs to help prepare others.

You are now experiencing the better fortune you deserve.

Tracy said...

Chris, I knew what you meant, silly, and I recall that you've mentioned it once or twice in various comments you've left around blogland. Always, in the proper context and always funny!

Hi Omega, Thanks for the kind words. I knew at the time that being treated that way sucked but I initially agreed to the show because I wanted a line on my resume, then I stuck with it because I had made the commitment and when I make a commitment I do everything I can to follow through. But it still upset me (the headache) and after my part was over I felt I couldn't continue to support the org. Hhhmmm. Maybe I should write more about this in another post...Clearly, I can go on and on:-)

Chris Rywalt said...

Imagine how much fun I'll be when I've had more than one painting in two groups shows!

And by "fun," I mean "unbearable."

Chris Rywalt said...

By the way, this really is me. The Blogger/Google merge has resulted in some general weirdness with usernames.

Shan said...


I'm so happy for you for all the success you have now. All artists seem to have one or more stories like this in thier bag of experiences. You have such a great sense of humor and your story is a good reminder not to take ourselves too seriously.

The painting at the top of this post is lovely--the hay bales have a very Monet-like quality about them (with your own wonderful color twist).

Tracy said...

My dear Chris, I could never consider you to be unbearable!

Shan, You make a good point about not taking things too seriously. I think that one of the best results of delaying my career a bit was to learn what is important to me and what is less so. So that has made it easier to put things in perspective.

Love the Monet reference:-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracey, just a courtesy note to let you know my blog address is now http://laurenartstudio.blogspot.com/ the link in your list is no longer working.

bdelpesco said...

Loved this post! Laughed out loud, and cringed too... The avalanche of bad-to-worse in sequence must have been unbearable, but the humor in your telling just reminds us all to "Pick the Hill you wanna die on", and Save it for the Big Stuff. Esp. in the Art World. Thanks for the chuckle.