I get a lot of emails from emerging artists asking for advice about approaching galleries. I thought I would put together a list of things to look for in a gallery; things I have had to learn the hard way. I will say that I have considered myself a professional artist for only about 2 years, so take anything and everything I say with a grain of salt. In fact, don't bother reading this article.
1) The gallery shows other artists whom you respect.
You should see what sort of other inventory the gallery carries and if it is done by other artists whom you respect and admire. (When I approached S.R. Brennen galleries, it was because both Adrian Gottlieb and Michael Klein exhibited there.) It is also a really good idea to talk to other artists who show at the gallery as well to see what their experiences have been in terms of sales and payments.
2) The typical commission rate should be around 50% of the retail cost; any gallery that asks you pay them to be included in the gallery is a not a gallery that I would recommend.
3) Location, location, location.
A gallery does not have to be close to where you live, though it can be helpful. I live in Canada but sell everything in the States. It is good to research which areas are solid art markets, ex. Santa Fe, Palm Desert, Scottdale, etc. No matter how good a gallery may seem, if it's in a place like downtown Detroit, you may want to avoid it.
4) Make sure that art sales are the gallery's only source income. You may want to avoid any galleries with frame shops, crafts, all you can eat buffets, etc., as selling fine art may not be their primary focus.
5) Have work available before approaching a gallery.
That being said, it is a myth that you need an entire portfolio built up to give a gallery. You should have around 10-12 images of works of consistent quality you have done, but very few galleries want to commit to a dozen pieces all at once, nor should you want to commit all your eggs to one basket either. 3-4 is typically plenty. Having a website is the best way to showcase your work......or having the most manly blog in the world.
6) Artists are always getting approached by galleries. Choose carefully.
The better you get, the more people want a slice of the pie. Don't get overly excited and settle for the first one that comes along, like Kate did with me. You should have a strong and friendly relationship with your gallery. The gallery isn't doing you a favor by accepting you, they are going into business with you. Talking to Maggie and Carlen from "M Gallery" where I show feels like I am talking to my relatives.
7) If you are going to a gallery in person, wear a monocle and top hat to look sophisticated. I also fake a British accent to sound more intelligent. If that doesn't work, you can simply cold call a gallery to get a better feel for them and see what the application process is.
I am sure there are points I have missed or exceptions to the rules, so feel free to comment (or praise me).