Curate a Solo Show of Your Art

Are you still diddling around with juried shows or exhibitions with your art group?

There’s nothing wrong with either one of these as a starting point, but there comes a time when you have to leave the nest. You have to plan a solo exhibition.

Your career will grow rapidly when you start having solo exhibitions of your art.

Dora Ficher’s solo show “El Balle de Colores” at Gold Standard Café in Philadelphia, PA.

Dora Ficher’s solo show “El Balle de Colores” at Gold Standard Café in Philadelphia, PA.

Solo shows are the pinnacle of an artist’s career, but in most artists’ dreams they usually take place at fine galleries and museums.

Those prestigious venues will happen for those who persevere. In the beginning, you will probably need to curate your solo show for less lofty places.

All possibilities are on the table: restaurants, private homes, rented storefronts, bank lobbies, salons, or your garage.

The location doesn’t matter too much. What does matter is that it’s only your work and that you have an opening or event to invite people to.

Why Go Solo?

A solo show stretches all of your professional muscles.

In sponsored group shows, you follow the rules. Someone else sets the dates and deadlines while telling you the exact format for everything.

When you put together a show of only your work, you make the rules. This forces you to be organized and proactive. You realize that you are in charge of your destiny.

When you’re part of a group show, you never know whose work is going to be next to yours. You can’t be assured of the quality.

Installation of Holly Wilson’s solo exhibition “Weight of Water,” 2011, at JRB Art at the Elms in Oklahoma City, OK.

Installation of Holly Wilson’s solo exhibition “Weight of Water,” 2011, at JRB Art at the Elms in Oklahoma City, OK.

For your own show, you know precisely what to expect from your work. This means you have 100% control and 100% responsibility.

This is daunting, which is why not all artists can pull it off.

A solo exhibition forces you to look at your body of work, not just 2 or 3 pieces that you will submit to a jury. You must think about what ties the work together, and how others will interpret it.

The entire process develops your critical thinking. You have to decide what to include, which pieces to put next to one another, and how to interpret the work for your audience.

You must come up with language for your statement, for your publicity, and for talking with the public about your art. It’s fairly easy to do this with a single piece. It’s harder, yet necessary, to do for a complete body of work.

Make It Happen

Commit to having at least one solo exhibition this year.

Installation of Elaine Kehew's solo show “Mixtape” in Nairobi, Kenya.

Installation of Elaine Kehew’s solo show “Mixtape” in Nairobi, Kenya.

As I tell my private clients, you don’t have to know how it will happen. You just have to make the commitment.

All kinds of things will work in your favor once you commit to taking a big step.

Notice when you find yourself thinking of all the reasons that you can’t accept this challenge. These are probably excuses.

Reframe the situation and start figuring out how you can make it happen. Remind yourself of the good things that could result from taking this step.

Do you have a solo show on tap this year? Feel free to tell us about it in a comment here.

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58 comments to Curate a Solo Show of Your Art

  • I’ve been discussing a possibility of an art show at a local bookstore that hosts solo exhibitions every month.

    They thought my surreal paintings were a bit too gory for the venue (and they’re right), so now I’m pulling together a theme with my more illustrative fantasy work that’s a much better match for them.

    I still don’t know the date, but it’s happening in 2015. for sure!

  • Great article, Alyson. And very good advice.

    About six years ago I began actively seeking solo shows with galleries and also producing my own, in various venues. Since then, I’ve done at least one major solo show each year; sometimes several. They’ve all been successful, in varying degrees.

    And I agree that it’s a crucial step for most artists.

    However, and looking at the other side of the coin, I am again now also actively seeking high-profile juried shows to enter.

    Why? In a nutshell, visibility and prestige. Getting work into a respected group show can introduce my work to many more people – and, crucially, important people – than we artists can often muster on our own.

    So although I actively started avoiding group shows many years ago, I am now very interested in getting my work into a few key events.

    In particular, the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy in London is a good example. Although it’s the largest juried show in the world – they hung 4,000 works in last year’s show, from over 12,000 submissions! – getting work into that venue is still a significant accomplishment that could open many doors.

    This is just one example, and of course not all shows are created equal. In fact, I’d say that most juried shows are a complete waste of time and resources. But there are exceptions.

    I was actually inspired to start looking for group shows again after reading a very interesting book chronicling the business struggles of artists in the classical period, ‘The Struggle for Artistic Success’ by Rosemary Stewart. This book was very enlightening for me and was a reassuring reminder that creating a career as an artist is very difficult for most of us. Historically, being accepted into juried shows run by prestigious academies was a major goal for most top artists.

    The key is for all artists to always be looking for the best opportunities for exposure, recognition and, ultimately, sales. And even established artists can benefit from being accepted into certain juried shows.

    • Nat: Thank you for sharing your experience. Absolutely: not all shows are create equal. You have to know when it’s time to move on – whatever that means for you. Still, I think you’d agree that you learned a lot from doing your solo shows.

      Prestigious annual academy shows used to be the pinnacle of an artist’s career because there wasn’t a whole lot else. You didn’t get much work if you weren’t in the Salon that year.

  • What a timely post! I was just invited to do a solo show. I put my 2015 goals out there, publicly, on my blog, and already things are coming together on those goals, it’s kind of amazing! I’m also writing a proposal for a 2-3 artist show, artists who do work on related themes. That’s pretty interesting, to look at my own work in the broader context.

  • I’m finally having a solo show! I run an arts non- profit so I have the perfect space. During the exhibition month, I’m hosting some talks and events! I’m very optimistic about it, even though the task is really daunting.

  • Ihave committed to one in August at a fine arts gallery and you are correct that it is stretching me in every possible way. It is scary and exciting at the same time.

  • Alyson – Great article. And, for me, great timing. I have been working on curating a solo show of my plein air paintings for 2015. I am just beginning the publicity phase – I will be making announcements, save the dates, and sharing schedules in the next week or so.

    I had been painting at Hadley Valley Preserve for about 6 months when the thought occurred to me to have an exhibit somewhere. The natural spot seemed with the Will County Forest Preserve District, since their efforts cared for the land I was painting. I approached them with the idea and the went for it.

    I never expected the exhibit to turn into what it will be: A traveling exhibit of nearly 30 paintings that will be on display at four Forest Preserve District visitors centers between April and October. Included are an artist reception and talk, a painting demonstration at Fall Fest (which attracts 3,000 visitors!), along with an article by me in the FPD newsletter (mailed to 25,000 homes!). I could never have imagined the scope of this exhibit and I am SO excited to see it actualized. The Forest Preserve District’s enthusiasm and support has been wonderful.

    And – all along – I have been referring to your book and your insightful and generous articles here on your blog. THANK YOU!

    • Maggie: Congratulations! This sounds like a very big deal. And I’m so happy to hear that my book and blog have been helpful.

      What has been the most helpful for you?

      • Thank you, Alyson!

        I got “I’d Rather Be in the Studio!” 3 years ago, I think, and read it cover-to-cover right away. I had just picked up the brush again and have been working on my professional artistic identity ever since. What I read in your book helped to frame out a general idea of how to go about marketing myself as I continued to grow. This has been helpful because when I reach a new milestone or set a new goal, I refer back to the book – or I do a search on your blog – for information I know I read at one point when I didn’t need it yet. When I’m ready for it, it’s there. Some of the specific topics I’ve looked up include blog development, maintaining contact lists, and timelines for exhibit mounting and publicity – among many others!

  • Dear Alyson: Just a question. I am represented in an art gallery in Boca Raton, Florida and design and build modern sculpture. I have thought about a solo show but to move the work to my garage where I have a 400 lb. sculpture sitting there would be a mamoth task. I renlentsly rely on the gallery for marketing as I still work. Although I have sold two sculpures to private collectors, nothing has happened for over two years. Any suggestions?
    Thank you for all that you do….
    Warm Regards,
    Dennis

  • Alyson, I have been following/receiving your emails for about the past year and always find at least one gem in each. This one is amazingly timed – just yesterday I was offered a solo exhibit quite unexpectedly, and this confirmed that solo exhibits are where I want to focus my efforts at this time. I will continue to produce works of art that are more accessible in terms of sales, but really put the time into developing and curating a body of work that is cohesive and meaningful for exhibition. When the artistic director apologetically said that she is scheduling a year out, I sighed with relief to have the time to plan and vision. I will be tapping into the resources you offer as the year goes on! Thanks, Beth

  • Last year I applied to do a solo show at a not for profit gallery. This gallery has two spaces. One large one reserved for bigger national shows, and a smaller one reserved for community artists. I was alplying for the community gallery but the art director asked if I would be willing to do the bigger more prestigious gallery. Now I am scheduled for a big solo show starting this November. I don’t have enough work for the show yet but I am planning to make a lot of sculpture between now and then. You never know when a smaller show could lead to bigger ones.

    • Daniel: That’s wonderful! And it’s a testament to your professionalism that the director thought you could pull it off. Congratulations for stepping up to the challenge.

  • Lee Schiring

    Dear Alyson,

    You are to the absolute right of Right. Fourteen years ago I started having my own Open Studio in our home, and have repeated that every other year since. It is the best thing in the world to see all your own work as a complete statement of what you do. My husband made racks that can be taken apart for storage, and we sell the paintings matted, except for the few that have been out at a gallery.

    This is the event at which I sell paintings. It is completely gratifying to have people enjoy my work; many return time after time. They tell me where they have hung the pieces, and what they mean to them.

    I am nominally in two non-profit galleries; although the work has been shown, sometimes advantageously, and many have been out on rental, which is good, there have been no sales.

    The only difficulty that I have now is traffic—not enough people attend the Open Studios. So this is my next step.

    Thanks so much for all your helpful posts, and of course, your book, which I reviewed on Amazon with gusto some years ago.

    Lee Schiring

  • Alyson, Thanks for the great article. I have just committed to doing two solo exhibits this year. One at a museum (November)and the other at a local gallery. (May) It is very stimulating beginning to think about the whole process as you stated. Title of the exhibit, artist statement, how the work will flow, etc. Lots of planning and work, but exciting as well.

  • What good timing! I have my first solo show in a local art supply store next month! It is exciting, scary and many other emotions all rolled into one. The work is ready and now my website is under revision to reflect his major step!

  • I just concluded with a yearlong tour of traveling exhibitions, showing each month in a different Colorado venue: East Slope, West Slope, mountain towns, resorts, cities, and locally. Even though I showed with 1 other artist, I did all the work from scheduling the shows to marketing, attending openings, and hanging. I also did one other solo exhibition at Tempel Farms in Illinois, (home of the Lipizzaners) and a solo in my hometown I called, “Home for the Holidays,” after all that travel. You name it- everything you mention in your article is absolutely true. It was a HUGE learning opportunity! I was able to launch myself as a serious professional artist through this strategy. I now have 3 galleries, two upcoming exhibitions and two workshops scheduled for 2015, commissions, and name recognition. You can read about my yearlong journey at https://cheriisgreenfineart.wordpress.com Feel free to use any of my ideas.

    This week I am taking the ideas from the webinar and turning them into my business plan. All the data I gleaned from filling out the webinar spreadsheet (with my 2014 numbers), creating a few other spread sheets, plus the 5 step strategies are putting me on a strategic path for 2015. Thanks so much Alyson!!

  • Hello Alyson and fellow commenters:
    Bringing together a body of work as a Solo exhibition is certainly a daunting task. Your generous encouragement, tips and lessons are well appreciated! As I can see here, none of your efforts are wasted when we apply the things we learn. I’ve been doing a bit of research (as always) in order to secure a public space for a collection of my own work in Solo Exhibition. The difficult part for me has been choosing pieces to remain in showing, while leaving some more of the best-open for opportunities which spring up every now and then. thanks one again, for keeping us ahead of our “A” game and pushing us gently forward! I’ll post info as soon as all is prepared.

  • Hi Alyson,
    Coincidentally I just finished hanging a small solo show in a gallery space in a church eduction center — SoL Center at University Presbyterian in San Antono. It was a last minute invitation so I am playing catch up on all the art biz that I should have had done already — but I decided to leap in anyway. The audience will certainly be those at the center rather than a typical gallery going group, but I’ll have my workshop brochures there and the commission is quite modest.

    I’ve had great luck selling work in small one-day by invitation studio/home solo shows — I own a short-term Airbnb rental home that I also use for teaching, and it’s a cool Mid-century modern house that is great for hanging art. I plan to continue that event at least once a year.

    Susie Monday

    • Susie: Way to go! Jump at the opportunities – you never know when they’ll pay off and it’s too easy to think of why you shouldn’t or couldn’t take advantage of them.

      The Airbnb house sounds so cool.

  • I just had my first solo show in a winery’s tasting room for the month of December (every month features a different artist) and it was quite successful. The winery takes no commission, promotes the first Friday of the month as the Artist’s Reception and even discounts glasses of wine. Artists bring in the food and invite all their friends. Great business model event for both winery and artist.

    Michelle

  • You’re very welcome Alyson and thank you, once again. Cheers!

  • Lynn Cook

    Thanks Alyson for this prompt. I had a very minimal online show of my work in November, promoted it through facebook and was very surprised, but pleased to sell over half of the works. This year I’ll commit to putting on an solo exhibition in the real world. It might just be small works hanging in my house with friends invited over, but it’ll be a very good thing to do. Thanks again for the push. Lynn

  • For the first time I have just committed to a solo show at Tacchi Morris a theatre in Taunton Somerset UK for July 2015 to show my ‘out of silence series’ I have over the years heard many artists tell me it is just not worth the effort in putting on a self promoted solo show; so have always shyed against it. however this opportunity came up to show at The Tecchi Morris which I felt would be looking a gift horse in the mouth to turn down. So fingers crossed I am in for it. thank you for this article it has helped dispel any doubts I have about it
    As always a great article thank you – best ashar

  • I recently got over the need to get into juried shows. I was doing it at first for the validation. Also for the exposure. Well as things have progressed in my art career I’ve gotten both of those things in other ways and can let go of the need for those types of shows. There are few that I’ll probably still continue to enter but no longer cling to the result.

    I am having my first solo exhibition this Saturday though. It’s at a small gallery and I think its the perfect place for my first show. I’ve learned a lot through the process of getting ready for it. Mostly a lot of “what NOT to do” when getting ready for your first solo show. Now I can’t wait for my next one. The gears are already turning and I’ve made contact with some galleries where I hope to have my next one.

    So yes….I agree 100% with everything in this post.

    Thank you Alyson and hope you have a fantastic year!

  • Brad Blackman

    This lines up nicely with Seth Godin’s “pick yourself” idea.

  • Great article! Thanks so much for getting me to open my mind in new ways. Relates well with one of the comments made in Week one of the Art Biz bootcamp!! How to get the art out of the studio and in front of people. I was thinking that even though I may have some committed for sale online, why not put it in front of people? If they want it then I have options! Thanks so much Alyson!

  • Hello Alyson, thanks for this post!
    I have a solo show coming up in a co-op gallery that is well respected but doesn’t have much visitation or sales. Could you talk a bit about how to make a solo show truly successful, both in terms of sales and in advancing your career? I know it will be a ton of work to put together my exhibit; I don’t want to get to the end of the show and just be packing everything up to bring home!

    • Andrea: The answer will differ for everyone, but do look at the category “venues” in the sidebar here. I would also encourage you to reach out to individuals in personal emails and phone calls. Too many artists rely on bulk messages that are cold.

  • Hello! I have my first solo show at our local Arts Council gallery in the historic downtown Seneca Falls, NY. This month I am participating online in Leslie Saeta’s thirty paintings in 30 days event. I am hoping that at least half of these paintings will be good enough to hang in my solo show. Alyson, my sister Mary is a full time artist and she recently gave me your book, Id rather be in the studio. It looks like it is full of great information that will help me with my next steps towards building my art career. Thanks!

  • I’ve had a small solo shows in the past and participated in many group shows, but this year I was invited to have a solo show at the Triton Museum of Art. I’ve had a year to work on the project, completed new work and combined that with not so old and older work, the Curator has been out to look over the work, it all looks great. Now I need to market, get the word out. local galleries, studios and Art papers are not a problem, but how do I get contact larger papers like the Huffington or others. I have also used Face Book.

  • Hi Alyson!
    I have been selected for a solo show at Studio Place Arts in Barre, VT in June. The show is called “Family Values.” I am using family photos & creating Solarplate etchings and creating vignettes like “Company Man” and “The Swedish Baker.” Glad to have the info you have share about how to plan it! Thanks!

  • Good suggestion given by Alyson Stanfield, I am a big fan of yours always. Its true that solo shows are the pinnacle of the artist career but lot of hard work is needed for this like an artist should have good contacts of people who love art otherwise solo show will totally be a solo show between you and your paintings J.

  • The idea of a solo show is something that needs to happen with me now. It seems such a daunting task. Am open to just about any venue for this and I am looking into doing a full blown solo show from my studio in Dingmans Ferry, PA perhaps during art walk.

  • Thanks for the articles. It takes time to move from the different stages. I have been doing pop ups over the past year mostly in vacant storefront. During this process, I managed to find a storefront that the landlord is happy to rent to me at a considerable discount for year one. I am now moving to a storefront next month. It’s a big move. I am taken it one step at the time.

    Thanks again for your blog.

  • I’ve been looking for places to have one, but I haven’t been able to find one yet