Gallery Representation: Case Study, Conrad Freiburg

Jeriah Hildwine

[this is Part 2, in Hildwine’s series about gallery representation. Part 1 is here ]

Many artists seek gallery representation as a step forward for their careers, and I am no exception. I’ve written the emails, mailed the slides, even been invited to bring my work into a gallery to show it to the gallerist in person…but so far, no representation, no solo show. I’ve done the group shows, answered the calls for artists, participated in the juried shows, and I continue to pursue these activities, but the solo show in a commercial gallery, the representation, remains elusive. It can be debated how necessary and how advantageous gallery representation is for an artist today, with many opportunities being available in alternative spaces, but for many, myself included, it remains an alluring prospect.

Rather than speculate on that which I do not know, I’ve solicited the opinions of some of my artist friends who do have gallery representation, to ask them for their insider’s view on how one gets a gallery, what its advantages are, and whether there are any pitfalls or caveats one should be aware of. The first artist to get back to me was my friend Conrad Freiburg, who shows with Linda Warren Gallery. I’m a big fan of both Conrad’s and Linda’s, both personally and professionally, and so was very glad to get Conrad’s feedback on their working relationship. I first asked Conrad about how he ended up getting introduced to Linda:

Conrad: I got a meeting with Linda because my friend who was working for her showed her my work and we set up an appointment to look at my portfolio. I also had a piece in a group show right down the street at gallery 312, so we went and looked at it. This led to some work in a couple of group shows at her gallery, and then I pitched the Slipping Glimpser bowling ball roller coaster as a solo show. She has been super supportive of my work regardless of its commercial viability. It has been a mutual interest and trust all along the way.

Many artists take the advantages of gallery representation as a given, somewhat naively operating under an outdated notion of a gallery paternalistically taking care of a small stable of chosen artists, guiding their career and taking care of their every need. While this stereotype may have been true for a few lucky artists in a few New York galleries in the 1980s, it’s far from the norm today. I asked Conrad for a more practical, realistic impression of what advantages gallery representation have offered him in the real world today:

Conrad: Having representation has helped with practical stuff like getting press and having a formalized space for display. Also it has helped develop a collector base which someday might lead to the long term value of the silly things I leave behind. It is fantastic working with Linda who is smart and vivacious and willing to trust that my weirdest ideas will turn out well, or at least strange enough to be worth thinking about. The tertiary discussions about the artwork that happen when I’m not around are perhaps the most valuable thing though. The gallery and the conversation next to the object is where the art begins to speak for itself and be tested in a public and social environment.

While it may not be fashionable for artists to talk about their work in financial terms, we have to pay the rent just like everybody else. A few artists are actually able to support themselves entirely on the sale of their artwork, but even among artists with gallery representation, this is comparatively rare. I asked Conrad to talk about the financial aspect of the gallery relationship.

Conrad: On the economy of it, I look at it like I am investing in futures. It is certainly not the situation where you get gallery representation then you’re sitting pretty and cashing checks. If I break even on material costs I’m happy. The art has to be sufficient unto itself and effective regardless of its economic viability. The act of making art needs to come from a crafted and generous willingness to folly (risk). I feel exceedingly lucky that Linda Warren saw the potential of my work and gave it a chance; her friendship, support, and counsel in terms of the business side of things have been invaluable, and in return, I give her the opportunity to bring the best work of my tender years to market.

Lastly, I asked Conrad to talk about alternatives to gallery representation: whether it was really necessary, and whether there were advantages to going without. Is gallery representation really all that important? I’ll give Conrad the last word:

Conrad: There are important options outside of the gallery system though. The artist-to-artist exchanges and social network are the real gravy of the art world. The beautiful weird of a life well lived while poor is incessantly inspiring to me. Having no boss and seeing where the day takes you are virtuous pursuits in line with the artist’s life, but economically you might be shitting in a bucket, going to bed with all your clothes on in the winter, eating sprouts to save money, and other such joys. Friendship is free, thank goodness and without my artist friends who need no explanation, the world would be a darker place, and I would be working on the railroad all the live long day.