A Gallery Director Speaks: A Day in the Life

 

Robert Patrick

by Carolyn Edlund

Part Two of a three-part interview with Robert Patrick, Director of Marketing and Wholesale for Linda Jones Enterprises in California, dedicated to the art of legendary film creator Chuck Jones

 

Robert has a long history of curating and producing shows, tours and events, including 12 years as a very successful gallery director at the Walton Street Gallery in Chicago. Robert graciously agreed to an interview focused on what artists must know about galleries, collectors, selling, and making presentations.

AS:  Could you describe a typical day for a gallery director?

RP: I would have to say that a gallery director never has a ‘typical day’, but I think there are certain processes and steps that a director may take each day that insures the viability of the business of an art gallery.

My day usually began the night before. Before leaving for the evening, I would clean off my desk and I would write a short to-do list for the following day, leaving it neatly centered on my desk. The next morning, on the trip into town, I would do a series of visualization exercises focusing on the items that I wanted to accomplish that day plus I always visualized selling a work of art. I encouraged my staff to do the same.

Once in the gallery, I would consult with the staff regarding their plans for the day, delegate tasks to the back of the house staff (assistants and registrar), and drink copious amounts of coffee (alright, maybe not copious, but at least a cup or two).

If we were planning a show, there would be press releases to write, invitations to design, envelopes to hand-address, catering/flowers to order, art to install (which usually entailed a complete overhaul of the gallery—walls would need spackling  and painting, etc) and although the back of the house staff would do the work, it was my responsibility to see that it was done as directed and as needed for that particular exhibition.

Along with exhibition planning, usually a few days before (or even the day of the reception) we would meet with the artist for an exhibition walk-through.  This would be a time for the staff and I to have some one-on-one with the artist, able to probe and discover new ways of discussing their artwork with our collectors. It also gave the artist the opportunity to make any changes to the installation of the show.

And of course, on a daily basis I would be in contact with collectors, either those walking in, those with appointments, or on the phone; coordinating deliveries and installations (a service we offered to all of our local clients), making presentations and handling T.O.s (turn-overs) art consultants would usually begin a presentation and then introduce me at a later stage of their sales process and I would either close the sale or offer details that enhanced the probabilities of the consultant closing the sale. It is a business after all, and sales are the most important charge of the gallery director.)

As often as possible, after a consultant had finished with a collector, we would vet the experience; dissecting what worked and what didn’t. Why they bought what they did or why they didn’t buy anything. What the consultant could have done better. One day a week before the gallery would open, I would hold an hour-long all-consultant meeting where we would discuss upcoming events, work on sales presentations, and consider new and better ways of doing business. It is important that your staff, particularly the art consultants, feel that they have a sense of gallery ownership; that their voice and opinion matter to the success of the gallery.

And there is the merchandising of the gallery. Even without a specific show, I like to keep the art moving. At home I prefer the salon installation (a la ”Samuel F. B. Morse’s “Galleries of the Louvre“) and sometimes I would employ that technique in the gallery, depending on the artist and the work, but more often than not, we kept the art hung gallery-style (in a line, one after the other, with the occasional double-hang.)

At an exhibition with an artist reception, the entire gallery would be devoted to their work for at least two weeks. After that we would start to reduce its size over the next couple of weeks, slowing adding our other artists back into the mix. If there wasn’t a special exhibit or focus, I would re-hang the gallery every two weeks (as well as changing the art in the windows), particularly because the majority of our clientele were local. When I directed the Circle Gallery in the Westin Maui, we re-hung the gallery less frequently as our clients were tourists almost exclusively and were in the hotel for three days on average, but change was still important in keeping the staff fresh and excited about the art we presented and sold.

The interesting thing about being a gallery director is that the job does not end at 5:30. After the gallery would close, there may be community outreach programs to attend, gallery openings, artist open-studios, all of which are about connecting and networking with your community. Although I believe in the power of social media to help network, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication; that is real community building and it pays major dividends when you are in the business of placing art into the homes and offices of those who love it.

Don’t miss Part One and Part Three of this interview series with Robert Patrick.

 

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Comments

  1. Wonderful description of a active gallery director.
    I’ll Tweet this now.

  2. Much like artists, the job of gallery director is not a 9 to 5 job and there is much that goes on behind the scenes and when the gallery itself is not open.

    Thank you for sharing a general description of what a very active gallery director oversees on a day to day basis.

  3. Hi Jean,
    You’re absolutely right, the work of the art business is never done. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

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