What a fabulous morning I had, schlepping around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, strolling down the most fashionable interior designer aisles of this year’s INTERIOR DESIGN SHOW. Thanks to artist and artist’s representative MARK J. GLEBERZON of MJG Gallery, now an online gallery showcasing the works of exciting local artists, my photographer Gabriella and I were given carte blanche to play among the chi-chi furniture and decorating & design booths on the main floor of the Metro Toronto Convention Ctr. (I’ll be posting a full show blog later) and I videotaped this quick interview with Mark from his booth at IDS …..
I recently asked Mark to share his thoughts about being a working artist in Toronto and the move from a storefront gallery location in Leslieville to a virtual environment (his proposed rent increase was just too outrageous). Here’s what he said…..
Mark, after moving your bricks’n’mortar MJG Gallery in Toronto to an online gallery, have you found you’re reaching a wider audience for your art and the artists you represent?
I haven’t yet found an increase per-se in inquiries or sales since I closed my gallery (see below) but I’ve always tried to make my presence known online, one way or another. Many people thought when I closed my gallery that was that. I always tried to explain I will always continue offering my own work – which I’d been doing for nearly twenty-five years – as well as promoting other artists I’ve worked with over the past four years and do so using the internet more and more. I would like to think doing shows like IDS as well as continued participation in other gallery and trade shows, including possibly doing the Affordable Art Fair in New York City in a few months, will continue getting me and the MJG identity noticed by a broader audience. Also, making sure to continually update my Facebook page, release periodic newsletters, Twitter feeds and Instagram posts are important to let people know what I’m up to, what’s new and reach out to new contacts.What was the best (or most interesting) experience you encountered as a gallery owner?
I can’t think of a specific event but I suppose being told mine or another artist’s painting was a client’s first art purchase ever is always a nice thing to hear….popping their art cherry, if you will !
What was the downside to running a storefront gallery in Toronto?
First and foremost, the actual costs of maintaining a gallery are always the bane of any retailer. On top of rent (or mortgage if you own the space), there’s electricity, heat, internet, phone and many other expenses. In my case, there were also my art supplies which were rather costly. There’s certainly the ebb and flow of sales that occur in the gallery but any ‘free’ money is almost always rolled back into the business. Plus, being in the physical space, somewhat isolated (as was my case, where I didn’t have an assistant) one can be feel locked away from what’s happening outside the gallery. I found trying to visit other gallery openings and art-related events and sometimes just plain socializing was extremely difficult when you’re beholden to your business and trying to be there as much as possible. Retail in general is not for the faint of heart. You really have to be dedicated to what you do and feel confident in for what you’re selling.You’re exhibiting at this year’s Interior Design Show, a very prestigious expo where you’ll meet many interior designers & decorators – do you anticipate making new connections and expanding your art business?
As I often say, it’s making ONE new important contact that’s always key with any of these shows. Yes, I always enjoy working with clients looking for one painting just as much as with those looking for a larger purchase, but it’s always important to continue reaching out to more and more people. IDS (see Mark with a new client in his IDS booth today, below) is a show that can potentially introduce me to those in the interior and design industries as well as architects, film industry folk and others. In a recent home show, I met someone who was the building manager for two downtown condos. Eventually, she and the Condo Board oversaw the purchase of nearly two dozen works from several artists including those represented by my gallery. With the closing of the physical gallery, I hope to be able to direct people to myself, the artists I work with and the services I provide, including art consultancy via shows like IDS. My hope is to match clients and designers with artists and their work as well as coordinating personalized commissions. I always make it a point that when I meet someone at a show like IDS, I follow up with them immediately. They may not need me right away but at least the connection was made. As a working artist, what inspires you and how do you separate your own work from the business side of representing other artists who entrust their work to your online gallery?
It’s always a fine balance when you’re both a working artist and representing other artists as well. I always did my best to bring as much attention to my gallery and the roster of artists I represented as to my own work. That’s why I tried to balance my participation in self-representing shows (incl. the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, the Artist Project and RAW to name a few) along with gallery-exclusive or home decor shows (incl. IDS, Love Art) as much as possible. A gallery owner needs to assure a relationship of trust between them and the artists they work with and it’s easy to break that trust if an artist feels you’re compromising them or their work. Luckily, it seems all of the artists I worked with in my gallery space, are just as happy to continue working with me as I shift online. Now as far as my own work is concerned, I’ve developed several series of art – both painting and photography (see below) – and I’ve decided to make 2016 the year I explore others genres. I may find inspiration from what’s going around me or simply (and usually) thru sheer desperation to try to develop my own voice in the visual world. Any advice for emerging Canadian artists?
I think in this day of insta-everything, an artist needs to make their presence known by making the Internet their friend. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and other services are terrific and often free ways to get work noticed. If you’re working with a gallery, make sure that gallery’s hanging and consignment arrangements are as fair with ‘newbies’ as with the more established artists in the same space. NEVER sign an exclusivity clause unless one really feels secure the gallery owner will direct a lot of attention to your work. It’s easy to get trapped thinking – or being convinced – that getting ones work hung ‘anywhere’ will lead to good exposure or sales. Try to be as strategic as possible and feel secure that “Yes, this is somewhere I’m proud my work is being shown”. And don’t always be willing to do things for free. Many people feel they have the upper-hand offering exhibition opportunities to new artists, offering little compensation. That’s not fair…it’s taking advantage of people.
Any other comments you’d like to share? MJG is poised for a fresh, new start in 2016. Although the format of the gallery has changed, I’m looking forward to new opportunities that already seem to be coming my way.Mark can be reached via MJG Gallery’s website http://mjggallery.com/ and you can follow him on Facebook (MJG Gallery); Instragram (#mjggallery), and Twitter (@mjggallery)