By Humboldt Magnussen
A couple of years ago I went to a photo exhibition by an emerging photographer. The photos were of old hand painted signs on the sides of large brick buildings. I cannot really remember what the work really looked like, just that I decided it was “not a good show,” a decision which wasn’t solely based on the work but on other things such as the fact that the show title was printed in Comic Sans and the photos were hung way too high. There are a lot of layers to putting on an exhibition, from framing, to making plinths, setting lighting, printing post/business cards, and vinyl lettering. All the little things add up and can pose as a distraction (or ideally attraction) to the work.
The work that goes into putting on an exhibition can be very time consuming and expensive. But little things really do influence your audience in how they respond to the work. In an ideal world money wouldn’t be an object to putting on your dream show, however since we don’t live in an ideal world, you likely have to budget and decide what is essential to putting on your show and what might not be needed.
The choices you make should reflect the work and the theme of the exhibition. Your marketing should stay true to the show, and be appealing to your audience. It would not make sense to have a photocopied black and white print poster for a exhibition about colourful abstract paintings. Knowing that posters and postcards are often thrown away shortly after being put up or given away might sway you from spending a lot of money on them. But they are often a first impression and they should make the person want to go to the show. I personally do not spend money on professional postcards because they are not often kept and doing photocopies allows me to print several hundred more (choosing quantity over quality). I try to make sure that what I lack in nice postcards I make up for in other forms of free marketing such as facebook, and emails. I would argue that it is better to put money into making your work the way you want it, then spending a lot of money you can’t afford on marketing.
There is a difference between having your work professionally framed and buying a less expensive frame at either Ikea or above ground. At the same time, it is important to have the frame reflect the aesthetics of the work, some work should never be framed and other methods such as pins, magnets, bulldog clips can be used for an equally professional installation without having to pay big money on frames. Ikea frames are cheaper partially because they do not last and might need to be replaced, however there are slightly more expensive (but still affordable) pre-made frame options that you can purchase at above ground or other art supply stores which are sturdier. Spending an extra ten dollars could be worth it in the long run. It is about finding the right balance for your work and making sure the frame protects and displays the work properly. Mostly you want to make sure that the choices you are making for the display of your work look and feel intentional. Framing can cost hundreds of dollars but the nicest thing about the piece should not be the frame.
Lettering or some signage that states the name of the artist and exhibition title is often something that is seen at an exhibition. But like everything there are a variety of ways to include this information, from a poster on the door, to a neon sign. I think signage is a place where you can save a bit of money. Though printing vinyl lettering is easy and looks really professional I would question whether or not it is needed in all cases. Art spaces with larger budgets are able to create very professional exhibitions because of their budget. I think it is best to not try mimic all the techniques that are used when installing a gallery exhibition, but attempt to get as close as possible with your budget. I have had friends who have spent huge amount of money for a gallery exhibition with the idea that they would sell a large portion of the work on display, however you can’t always make decisions based on estimated future profits because there is a chance you will just go into more debt.
These are all things I am currently considering since my MFA thesis exhibition opens this week Thursday at Videofag (7- 10pm, 187 Augusta Ave). Obviously I want to put my best foot forward, however there have also been compromises down the line. I was very aware of how expensive an art exhibition can be and made sure not to spend an excessive amount of money that I don’t have. I feel there is a bit of pressure to give off an aura of excellence or pretend you are established when you really are not. When you think about the things you truly need to show your work the list is simple. You need your work, hanging devices or stands, light, space, and people. The issue gets more complicated when you want the “right” or “best” way to display work. It is easy to spend money on putting on an exhibition, and it often seems like costs are never-ending. But it is also entirely possible to have professional looking exhibitions without worrying about spending a lot of money. Perhaps you see the money spent on your exhibition as a good investment that will help you establish yourself as a professional, but having higher end frames, signs, advertisement, opening food, is not the only way to go about things. Most importantly, make sure the choices you are making are in line with your work and in your budget.