Part of “Best of Chicago Art Magazine,” originally published June 10, 2011.
Artist Tom Torluemke has been answering my questions about his thoughts and experiences in regard to gallery representation. He has been represented by numerous galleries since he was in his early 20s, as well as representing himself without the assistance of a gallery. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.
Tom: So now, I am representing myself. All along, I have been pursuing projects, public works, stage set design, illustration, grants, speaking engagements, demonstrations and workshops, other kinds of showings and developing my own collectors. Many years of these things started to add up to a living. So it was a big sigh of relief that I did not have to worry about galleries again. How I made this decision was that I was spending too much energy trying to get a gallery and it wasn’t paying off. I had to go where the payoff was going to be. I had a daughter and a mortgage and I didn’t want to deliver pizzas.
Jeriah: And, you talked about having to hustle, to promote yourself. Is it the same way when you’re with a gallery, or is it different? How would you compare your experience being with a gallery vs. being on your own?
As far as promoting yourself, when you have a gallery. It’s always better to promote yourself while you have a gallery. Because the gallery owner knows you’re hustling. Your stature as an artist is going up and your name is all over the place. This helps the gallery tremendously. Comparing being with a gallery vs. being on our own, the gallery is still quite important, even nowadays. Museum curators, collectors, critics, universities, they all seem still to be very connected. There are some artists however that have the business and social acumen to bypass those institutions and people, but I think that’s rare. So all in all, if you can be a dynamic self-promoter and hook up with a dynamic gallery that fits your philosophy and personality, that would be perfect.
Jeriah: So, in preparing these questions, I looked at your CV, and I see that you’ve got an upcoming exhibition at Linda Warren’s. That’s awesome! She’s one of my favorite gallerists in Chicago. How did this exhibition come about? Who approached whom, and how did it go?
Tom: As far as Linda Warren goes, I had been once again thinking about trying to get a gallery. I had it narrowed down to two galleries I liked, Kavi Gupta and Linda Warren; neither of these people knew that and for all I knew, neither of these people even knew who I was. And then I decided I was going to start saying Hi to them, instead of being shy, going to the shows and not saying anything. Then I decided to go to Linda Warren Gallery during an off time with Willie Kohler to see a show that we both liked and Linda just happened to be there. She walked up, said Hi to Willie and I introduced myself. She said, “Oh Tom Torleumke, I know your work, I was just talking about you with someone. Didn’t you have a show at the Cultural Center recently?” And then after we left, Paul Klein came in to see Linda Warren and said to her, “Do you know artist Tom Torluemke?” and she said, “He was just in here!” And so, to go back to your Co-Prosperity Sphere meetings, it’s like what Hamza Walker said, it was in the ether.
Jeriah: And, does this mean that you’re thinking about being represented by a gallery again, or is this more like a one-off exhibition opportunity?
Tom: Yes, I consider myself completely represented by Linda Warren Gallery, looking forward to a long relationship.
Jeriah: Okay, more generally, it’s obvious that you don’t think gallery representation is for everyone. Is there a heuristic an artist can use in deciding whether or not to seek representation?
You have to figure out what benefits come from being with a gallery and whether or not you can do those things by yourself or with a helper or partner, studio manager, like Linda D, and you have to compare how much time it takes you to do those things. After those are done, do you have enough time to paint? Ask yourself very practical questions like that. If not, you might want a gallery, because it does lighten the load.
Jeriah: When might an artist be better off on his or her own?
Tom: An artist might be better off on their own if for whatever reason they have a hard time getting along with galleries. Often the expectations of the artists and of the gallery owners don’t match and it causes bad relations. If this happens repeatedly, I say go off on your own.
Jeriah: How should an artist go about approaching a gallery to seek representation?
Tom: How should an artist go about approaching a gallery? I’m really clear on this; it’s taken me till now to realize this. There is no general recommendation here, you have to assess each gallery, each gallery owner, their personality and even the people that work there and their personalities and figure out how to do it. Some people don’t really want you to pursue them, they want to kind of find out about you through other people and then you just have to pop up once in a while, make yourself available for a casual conversation. Others respond to very formal, respectful appointment or sending in materials. For another, it’s best to schmooze and patronize the gallery for a long period of time, until eventually the owner will say, “Hey, why don’t we do a show for you?” So you have to figure out what to do on an individual basis. However, being active with a community at large, where a lot of different people know who you are, what you do and what your personality is like helps a lot. Those people spread your name and work out into the “ether” and it gets to people. Then come the opportunities.
Don’t forget, be yourself, be nice and try to help others.
Jeriah is an artist, educator, writer, and snack enthusiast. You can see his work at www.jeriahhildwine.com, and read his columns at Art Talk Chicago and Chicago Art Magazine. Jeriah lives and works in Chicago, with his wife Stephanie Burke.