Eric Smith, CEO of Redwood Media Group and Art Expo New York and Success Summit Speaker, Has Some Tips for Showing Your Work for Maximum Impact
There is no one more qualified to talk about how to make a maximum impact at your next art show than my friend Eric Smith. In fact, that’s why I invited him to speak at our upcoming Success Summit in June. Eric and I go way back. He asked me to speak on a panel at Artexpo New York the same year I debuted my ADC exhibition booth. Since then, my booth has grown (it’s now one of the largest at Artexpo New York) and so has our friendship. When I was thinking of experts who could truly give artists the “insider secrets” to having a successful exhibit at a trade show, Eric was the first and only person who came to mind. There is simply no one who can honestly and succinctly tell artists what they need to do to prepare for a trade show more than Eric.
Here Eric and I are at the ADC/ Blink Art booth during Art Santa Fe 2016.
Art Expert with Over 20 Years in the Business
So who is this Eric Smith I so esteem?
Eric happens to be the CEO of Redwood Media Group (RMG), which owns Artexpo New York, Art Santa Fe, Art San Diego, Spectrum Miami, Spectrum Indian Wells, Red Dot Miami, and [SOLO]. Prior to leading RMG, Eric served as the Vice President of Summit Business Media, the leading producer of art-related trade publications, including Art Business News, DÉCOR, and Volume magazines. But Eric got his start in the art world over 20 years ago at the world-renowned national art retailer Martin Lawrence Galleries. As a director, he managed over 20 galleries in California, Colorado, and Hawaii. His passion for modern and contemporary art led him to sell work from some of the world’s top artists: Warhol, Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg, and Haring. His expertise in the art market, latest trends and forecasts, and what makes artists successful is a talent in and of itself. He is the go-to guy when someone is seeking a speaker at industry trade shows or simply a quote from an art expert for a major magazine. So I went to him, too. I wanted you to hear for yourself what it takes to make it in trade shows—and the art world as well.
Stand Out as an Artist
“What makes an artist stand out at exhibition—anywhere really—comes down to two things: The work is both consistent and unique,” Eric says. “What did Lichtenstein, Picasso, Klein, Pollack, Chagall—you name the famous artist—all have in common? They were consistent and they created something unique. You can look at the work and know immediately who did it.” What Eric is talking about is what is known as a “signature style.” Sure, people can copy it, but by being the first to do something and doing it over and over again—that sets you apart. “Sometimes it may seem kitschy at first. Look at Rodrigue’s Blue Dog,” Eric says. “This guy made a living painting a blue dog—that traveled through history, landscapes, and different art periods. He took his little blue dog and made it into a signature.”
Speaking of dogs, Eric told me a story of how another painter of dogs failed to do the same—at least at the exhibition. An artist in the [SOLO] pavilion of Artexpo New York packed her booth with every type of her artwork imaginable—landscapes, abstracts, and dog paintings. (Just an FYI: Every year at Artexpo New York, individual artists, who aren’t represented by galleries yet and who are trying to break into the industry at a lower price point, can display their work in the [SOLO] pavilion. For about $3,500, they can rent a small booth, curate the space, talk directly with buyers, and sell their work.) Eric approached the artist and said, “What are you doing? You can’t show all these types of work at the same time!” Her response was one he often heard from novices: “I wanted to show all that I can do.”
As Julia Roberts said so well in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Huge.”
By filling up a booth with clutter, leaving no space for the viewer to breathe, you unwittingly look desperate to sell, and more importantly, like you have no idea what you’re doing. “Buyers and collectors aren’t stupid,” Eric says. “They’re informed. They don’t want a one-and-done painting. They’re looking to see if an artist has staying power and a signature—what I call consistency—and that their work stands on its own—what I call unique.”
Art shows are a great opportunity to expose your artwork to masses of potential new clients and trade buyers, but there is always A LOT going on.
Our booths wall layouts are powerful because each wall is carefully curated and planned. Letting one or two pieces shine makes an impactful statement to the buyer.
To Build Relationships with Clients Be Consistent
Now, Eric isn’t saying you can’t experiment, grow, or transition. But, you save that for the studio. When you’re at an exhibit, you want to present a streamlined message. You also need to be persistent. “Becoming successful is not something that happens overnight—for anyone,” Eric says. “I remember this one artist who started off at a [SOLO] booth. His first year, he didn’t sell a thing. But, his booth was well curated and he had some initial interest. People wanted to see if he’d be back. He came back, he sold a few paintings in the second year. By the third year, he sold every piece in his booth. He was consistent. The customers knew what to expect.”
Here's our Spectrum Miami booth from 2015 and 2016. Our artist Bruce Niemi displayed similar works in size and orientation to captivate buyers. While there are always new eyes at these shows consistency is key.
Eric estimates that there is a 30–40 percent success/return rate for new artists at his trade shows. Yes, that means 60–70 percent don’t return for one reason or another. The ones that do stick with it seem to be prolific enough to keep producing work upwards of 20–50 pieces a year and who sell their work consistently—while being consistent and unique.
Presentation is Everything
That being said, Eric doesn’t want to discourage anyone. He knows exhibitors and artists are paying a lot of money to participate in the trade shows, and he wants them all to be successful. And he has a few tips to save them time, money, and disappointment. “Preparation is key,” Eric says, “You have to come ready with handouts. The work has to be excellent—consistent. And, most importantly, you have to know how to hang your work. There is nothing worse than seeing poorly hung work. Presentation is everything. You need to give your art—and buyers—room to breathe.”
The Price Has to Be Right
Another key aspect of success is pricing the work. Eric recommends using what he calls the TAPS approach to retail pricing. “Title, Artist, Price and Size should always be clearly displayed,” Eric says. “This,” he says, “encourages the consumer to ask questions like: Where did the title of this piece come from? Who is this artist? Where is he or she from? Questions like these open up the piece for discussion and allow you or your dealer to engage the consumer, encourage sales, and get a feel for the type of pricing the market will support. A piece that you feel was priced on the higher end might be a no-brainer for an interested and seasoned collector. Or, perhaps you’ve out-priced yourself, given the reaction of passersby. Either way, you’ll know for next time what works best.”
Eric’s best advice? “Be patient. Keep working. The most important thing is to be prepared and work together with your gallery, publisher, or trade show. Have a long-term plan. And remember, it takes a lifetime to become an overnight success as an artist!”
Eric has so much more to share and will be on hand at our Success Summit on June 9th-10th to answer your questions and help you show your work so you can SELL your work. You don’t want to miss this incredible opportunity to meet Eric, network with your peers, and form lifelong relationships. But, you’ll want to register quickly. Our Early Bird Special will end soon (May 5th), and you want to lock in the low price now! To learn more or register, click here.