It’s one of those things you don’t really think about until suddenly you must: you have to hang your show.

How do you know what paintings to include, what to put where, how to arrange your work in a way that shows it to best advantage and maybe even makes some kind of sense? You don’t have to know all the answers out of the gate; hanging a show is a creative process, and you’re an artist after all. Don’t overthink it. Make it easier on yourself by choosing consistent framing and a fairly cohesive body of work. Then let your creative intuition lead the way.

Solo shows differ from group shows, in that an exhibition of the work of a single artist is seen, and judged, as a whole. Not only that, an exhibition’s cohesiveness and “flow” (or lack thereof) often influences how viewers assess the work.

When it comes to hanging, sometime’s you’re off the hook, sometimes not. Many a gallery will hang your show for you, but others want your input. You’ll find that most non-profits, co-ops, museums, university galleries, art centers, and alternative art spaces will require or “strongly invite” you to participate in the process. And it’s exciting – why wouldn’t you want to be part of it?

Even world-class artists seldom leave it up to curators. Gerhard Richter, considered by some to be the greatest painter alive, meticulously plans his highly anticipated shows using a precision scale model of the space. He arranges and rearranges tiny color print-outs of his work on the three- or four-inch-high cardboard walls of an architectural model.

scale model of museum show

Gerhard Richter’s scale model of an exhibition of his work at the Tate Modern

Barring that exacting level of prep, these three steps can make a big difference:

  1. Make the cut. Be ruthless. Select only your best work. Bringing more work than you need makes hanging easier, but it also can weaken the show. A bit more white space around fewer, stronger pieces never hurts – in fact, it often helps. You’re only as good as your worst painting. That’s the one they’ll judge you by, so do yourself a favor and leave it in the studio.
  2. Just get the work to the site. Probably don’t try to hang the whole show in your mind or on paper first. Many times you’ll be the one delivering it, so wrap the work in blankets or whatever so it doesn’t get dinged or scratched, but once you deliver the work, lay it all out, leaning against the walls. And when you do ….
  3. Choose an “anchor” piece and hang the show around it. Have at least one large (aka “over the couch” size) work available for the show. Once you have that largest piece in place, you’ll begin to see immediately how the rest of the work can relate to it, even just symmetrically and purely by size. Speaking of which, it’s a good idea to have a mix of sizes: that one big anchor piece, several mid-size works, and a number of smaller ones as well. Conventional wisdom says the big piece sells the more numerous little ones, but I haven’t really found this to be true. Actually, you never know what’s going to sell. There’s just no rhyme or reason. Sometimes it’s the mid-size pieces and one or two smalls, but the big ones sell too – sometimes before the show even opens. On the other hand, it may take some time for the right collector to see it, but they’re out there.

Once you’ve got the anchor piece in place and the rest of the work leaning against the walls, that’s when the magic happens. Prior to getting there, you may have some idea of what’ll look good, but unless you’re as thorough as Gerhard Richter, you won’t really be able to know anything until the work is in the actual space. And that’s fine!

If you have some guardrails like these in place and can stay open, in the moment, and avoid short-circuiting the process, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly everything falls into place.


We’re All Feeling the Heat – Send Us Your Work!

Susan Hartenhoff, “Drowsy Afternoon,” 60″ x 28″ oil, 2022

With much of the country enveloped in a stubborn heatwave, it isn’t just humans trying to stay cool. Artist Susan Hartenhoff evokes the long hot days in the gestures and colors of the horses in her painting, “Drowsy Afternoon.” Susan sent us this picture of her work in answer to our call in Inside Art for paintings showing something of the hot summer days.

Send us your paintings if you’d like to be considered for inclusion in an upcoming edition of Inside Art.

In the Paint,
Chris