Making The Most Of Your Opening Reception

What are you doing to get ready for the big day? Our experts have put together a list of everything you’ll need to consider when preparing for your opening reception.

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Congratulations! You’re going to be having an exhibition! You’ve been accepted for gallery representation, built a relationship with your gallery, arranged the dates, and carefully selected and shipped the artworks for your exhibition. Everything is out of your hands now, isn’t it? Time to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Artist Mark Schiff with guest at opening reception
Artist Mark Schiff and guest in front of his artwork at the opening reception for his exhibition on August 27th.

Don’t call it a day just yet. There are still plenty of things you can do to prepare for your opening reception that will ensure you get the most out of your reception and exhibition. An opening reception can be a great opportunity for you as an artist to further your career, and it’s important to approach the night from that perspective. For that reason, you need to prepare yourself fully for the event: from preparing your materials to your clothes to your conversation topics.

You’d prepare before presenting an important report to your boss, wouldn’t you? Think of this like that: the right preparation can really make or break your career!

  1. Pick A Message

Think about what this reception says about you. Is it your first reception? Are you exhibiting abroad? Is it a solo show or a collective show? What is it about you that will attract the attention of your guests?

Jimmy James Kouratoras's mixed media work is inspired by local Maori culture. Knowing that New York audiences wouldn't be very familiar with it, he brought a bit of Maori culture from New Zealand to Chelsea with a live demonstration of a cultural tea.
Jimmy James Kouratoras’s mixed media work is inspired by local Maori culture. Knowing that New York audiences wouldn’t be very familiar with it, he brought a bit of Maori culture from New Zealand to Chelsea with a live demonstration.

By keeping these things in mind, you’ll be able to prepare yourself for the questions you’ll get. Being fully prepared is one way of telling the world that you are a serious artist with work worth seeing. In addition, understanding your “message” as an artist is a big part of establishing your own personal brand: something that comes in handy in your promotion, online, in print, and in person. Your message should always be something you are conscious of, ensuring that everyone you meet understands what you’re doing and why.

  1. Pick A Good Opening Reception Outfit

    One fashion that never seems to go out of style at gallery receptions is the little black dress.
    One fashion that never seems to go out of style at gallery receptions is the little black dress. Artwork by Melissa Arostegui

Part of telling the world that you are a serious artist means dressing the part. Unless otherwise specified, your opening reception isn’t going to have a dress code, so you’ll have a lot of options.

Many artists make the mistake of either dressing too formally or too casually. A serious artist doesn’t need to wear paint-splatter smocks to an opening reception, nor does she need to wear a ballroom gown. Here are the three things you need for the perfect reception outfit:

  • Look professional
  • Be comfortable
  • Wear clothes that you feel confident in

The right presentation will skyrocket your confidence, and confidence is the key to impressing your audience. (Well, that and your art!)

  1. Prepare Talking Points

Receptions can be busy, lively occasions, especially in Chelsea, where many art lovers are out for the evening specifically to ‘gallery hop.’ Visitors love speak to artists, and they know that an opening receptionis the best time to do it. Don’t be surprised by the attention, and don’t be intimidated. These people are curious about your work and about you as an artist, and opening receptions are the few chances they’ll have to learn more about you.

Pro Tip: Sometimes, knowing what not to say can be just as important as knowing what to say. The stories behind your artwork may be very personal and emotional. You don’t want to share too much information when it isn’t appropriate, and you don’t want to talk too much about yourself to somebody who isn’t interested. At a reception, you’re likely to have some alcohol, so be mindful of everything, and know how to gauge your audience’s interest

During your opening reception, you should be prepared to answer:

  • Why did you choose to become an artist?
  • How long have you been an artist?
  • What inspired the works that are on display in your exhibition?
  • Do you have a favorite work?
  • What would you like people to take away from your work?
  • Who are your artistic influences?

Stay in touch with us! Our Newsletter is packed with inspiring stories, art tips, and Agora Gallery’s latest exhibition announcements.

Artist Walter Bruszewski speaking with a guest in front of his wooden sculpture at the opening reception for his exhibition
Artist Walter Bruszewski speaking with a guest in front of his wooden sculpture at the opening reception for his exhibition

Prepare interesting stories. Were there any obstacles that cropped up while you were working on any of these pieces? Is there something about your process that stands out from other artists’? These interesting facts about yourself are going to stick in peoples’ memories as much as your works. Having the right conversation material prepared can make the difference between a viewer and a buyer!

  1. Know Your Art
Eduardo Pola at his opening reception
Eduardo Pola speaks with guests about his 3-D art at the opening reception for Répartie in Art

This one may seem obvious, but sometimes you may be showing your work in a new gallery and it can be easy to get flustered. Get there before the reception, and make sure you know exactly where your works are. Know their titles, their dimensions, and their prices, and it can often be helpful to know their weight (in case a buyer inquires, for shipping purposes).

Pro Tip: Do not be overly aggressive with potential buyers. Not everyone wants to buy art on the spot: some want to think it over, or go home and make sure they have the space. By acting over-eager or expectant of a purchase, you might actually scare away your interested buyers! If someone wants to know more about you and your work, answer their questions, share interesting stories, but do not hound them with information and questions. Allow your audience to enjoy the work and let your talent speak for itself!

  1. What To Bring – And What Not To Bring – To Your Reception

This could be its own post, really. Some artists come completely under-prepared, and others can often come a little too prepared to their receptions.  Are you traveling to get to the gallery? Leave your luggage at the hotel – or in the car. A successful gallery opening can get very crowded, and you don’t want to make your art inaccessible by leaving bags around the floor.

Similarly, you may feel inclined to bring along a library of promotional materials: catalogs from earlier exhibitions, your personal books, or even merchandise. Always be sure to clear it with the gallery to make sure that they are able to accommodate you if you want to bring these. Depending on where you are exhibiting, there may not be space near your works to display your promotional materials, and you will end up carrying more than you can hold.

So what should you bring?

  • Business Cards
  • A Small Bag
  • A Smart Phone/Tablet

Your business card should have your contact information and your website information. A great business card will remind the recipient of your artwork, so if you can, try to incorporate your art into the card. Nothing is less impressive than a flimsy, boring card for an artist.

Opening Receptions: What to bring
If the gallery allows you to, it can be a good idea to bring along a small catalog or promotional materials. Here, Marco Petracci looks at a fellow artist’s catalog.

Why a small bag? Well, this isn’t just to carry your wallet, phone, and keys. If you have a bag, you’ll be able to take as well as distribute business cards. Taking  business cards from collectors or other guests will allow you to follow up with them later. If the sale didn’t happen (or even if it did!) you’ll want to send out an e-mail the next day thanking your guest for coming to your reception, for appreciating your artwork, and for the conversation.

Pro Tip: A small bag is also a great place to store nuts or other snacks! The gallery may have finger food, but if you don’t want to stray too far from your works, a good hack is to hide some trailmix in your bag.

A smart phone or tablet can have many uses at a gallery reception. You can use it to show guests other projects you’re working on – just be sure to take pictures and store them on your device, in case the gallery has no reception (no pun intended). You can also use a phone or tablet to post live updates to your social media accounts, so that fans who aren’t present still feel like they were “part of the event.” The buzz from an event is a great way to keep people thinking about you and your work.  And, of course, you can use your device to allow guests to sign up for your personal newsletter, or to friend them on social media accounts.

  1. Meet The Staff Beforehand

Opening Receptions - meet the staff

Gallery receptions are typically surprisingly short events, and the staff will be incredibly busy making sure everything is running smoothly. Especially during a collective exhibition, it can be hard to get one-on-one time with the staff. However, you may need to rely on them in case there is a sale, or if artwork needs to be adjusted during the event. For this reason, you should make a point to come in a little early so that you can familiarize yourself with who will  be working that night, in case anything comes up.

If you have any non-reception related items to discuss with the gallery staff, a reception may not be the place to do it. If you have time, it can often greatly benefit you to schedule a time to come in and meet one-on-one with the gallery staff either the day before or after the evening of the reception.

  1. Utilize social media to spread awareness of the event.

We touched upon this briefly in #5, but this cannot be stressed enough. If you’ve been following our advice posts, you’ll know that Agora Gallery is a strong advocate for the importance of social media for artists.  During the event, you’ll want to post pictures to engage your followers, but there are even some things you can do on your social media pages to prepare before the event itself.

use social media during your opening reception to generate buzz

You can start posting about the exhibition months before to generate the buzz, but don’t post too much too soon. Between two and three weeks before the reception, create an event on Facebook for people to RSVP to. Post updates both to your artist page and to the event. The day before your reception, take a photo of you with your work and remind/invite people to join you for the night.

During the reception, take a few photos of the event or do “live updates” of how the night is going. Sell a piece? Celebrate on social media! And at the end of the night, (or the next morning, if you’ve already done many posts already), thank your guests for stopping by. Social media is all about showing appreciation for those who follow and support you.

  1. Relax and enjoy! 

Opening receptions can bring all sorts of people together, all united for their shared love of art. The events are wonderfully dynamic and exciting, and you by talking to guests of many different backgrounds, you are sure to hear brand new, and often piercing, insights into your own works. This is what makes receptions a great opportunity for growing your inspiration and expanding your thoughts. Go in with an open mind, interact with the guests and other artists, and just enjoy yourself!

An exhibition in a gallery is an achievement, and the reception sort of like a big, art-themed party in your honor. Don’t forget that festive aspect, and have fun!

Relax and enjoy your opening reception - you made it!

Do you have any interesting pre-reception rituals? Let us know in the comments!

Looking to enhance your career and build a presence in New York? Submit your portfolio to us and get the opportunity to present your work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

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12 comments

  • I had the privilege of exhibiting my work at Agora Gallery’s 2013 show, “The Chelsea International Fine Art Competition” and my experience was nothing short of tremendous. Since then, I have always compared other galleries to Agora and their fantastic ways–you are still the best!

    I am extremely thankful for all of the tips you offer regarding artist solo shows. As it happens, my first solo show in my hometown (Detroit) occurs in one week and I have look to your helpful advice to manage my show.

    As for a pre-reception ritual, I’ve worked diligently by posting my event to major local online calendar of event pages, spread art cards around town in local art supply shops and small music venues, and have relied heavily on word-of-mouth and social media.

    Thank you again, Agora Gallery. You’ve been quite helpful.
    http://debbeelotito.com/events

    Good luck to those with their upcoming shows!

    • Hi Debbie, thank you so much for such a sweet comment! Good luck with your solo show and please let us know how it goes.

  • Thank you for this!

    My husband will be showing his very first piece of art, a linocut, in about 3 weeks.

    We live in a small community and my husband is quite shy so this helps immensely. It looks like he has a bit of work to do before the show, but at least we have an idea on where to go from here.

    Thanks again!

  • The energy you have at Agora Gallery for supporting us artists to get the necessary attention is just amazing. This deserves a big thank you!

  • Thanks for your info ! I am having my first solo gallery show on April 28. I will be showing my collages at Galleri Schaeffers Gate 5 in Oslo Norway ! Thanks again Ted

  • Thanks for your info !

  • Thank you! This was very helpful! I am getting ready for my first ever group show and feeling just a little lost. This article was helpful and reminded me in the end that its a celebration of sorts and I must remember to have fun 🙂

  • I am a painter and have a reception in two months , I think to have a tango dancer cuple at the reception. Is this a good idea?

    • Dear Asher,

      Congratulations on your exhibition! Having a dance performance at your reception is not a bad idea, especially if it fits with the overall theme of the exhibition.

      Let us know how it goes!

  • I would love to collaborate
    Giuseppe Chiariello