Ask Alexandra: Portfolio diversity

Remember that new column I was talking about the other day? Alexandra has fished a question from a reader and let’s give her a warm welcome as she tackles the issue of multiple portfolios! (Want to ask Alexandra a question? Get in touch via the contact form!)

Hi Alexandra!

I ask myself a lot lately – how diverse should a portfolio be?
I am working with a lot of different materials, do installations as well, as classical fine art. Right now, I am putting work together, in an attempt to find a gallery overseas and in other cities than Berlin.

Would it rather be smart to send only the relevant stuff? Meaning installations for dealers who specify on that and for others, the paintings? Or should I show a wider range of my work?

Greetings from Berlin,


Hello Annton,

Very good and tricky question.

Generally: You should avoid to give a split impression as this could come out as if you haven’t matured in your art yet. This is a question some artists really wrestle with now and then in their career (I’m one of those) – and others not at all (weirdos!??). Illustrators writers , etc also wrestle with it. Somehow you feel you should be easily defined as an artist “that is work by Pablo Picasso”, “That is work by Antonn Beate Schmidt”. And for commercial purposes some gallerists may want to be able to pinpoint you, to describe you in a few sentences, even if there’s much more behind your work.

A clear style, an easy way to describe an artist:
Cindy Sherman – she dresses up and takes photos of herself
Christo – wraps things up, outdoors
Botero – the one who paints those really chubby people with small hands and feet
Modigliani (whoops!) Mondrian painted squares and used the colours black, white, blue, yellow and red

So my advice is: don’t show a wider range of work … unless you can connect it in some clear way.
The question will then be if you could have two paralell careers going on; one working on installations and one with classical art? Probably not … That would mean double the administration, double the paperwork. You could try to approach both art worlds, and see where you get a positive reaction. But that would be not taking the decision yourself …

I think it is good to reflect over the reason for being diverse. Ask yourself why your art is diverse and how it is diverse. There could be different answers to this very question. Get some one to ask you questions about your art in case you have trouble doing it on your own. Someone who knows you might pose questions with insight. Depending on your answer … this could help you finding an answer on to how to present your portfolio and how to approach galleries.

Here are some suggestions on reasons to/ways to approach the diversity:

You still haven’t found what is you/in an exploration phase. This can happen in the beginning of one’s career but also when your in a phase of changing your art practice, in the process of changing materials or looking for a new approach. Does one way of expression feel more important? Does one way stick out compared to the other (more “unique”)? You might not be able to force yourself to chose right now – this is something that should grow on you. But start to ask yourself why you are diverse. Could it be that you feel, for example, that painting isn’t very contemporary? Cecily Brown (nowadays a very famous painter) didn’t paint for years because of that reason … but in her heart she was a painter.

The theme/idea is actually the same for the classical paintings and the installations. There are actually many contemporary artists who work in many different materials, but normally there is a uniting context behind the work (and thus the art can be described in a paragraph). Make it more obvious. Sometimes it is about how you present it – a different presentation can make it seem less diverse. Don’t divide into installation/painting – but under series/themes and mix the different materials. Strive to find ways to unite it. Can you includes your more classical art work in your installations? A good artist statement and explaning texts to the installations is crucial here. (Do some research to find artists who do this. An example is The Chapman brothers, but there are many more).

I don’t want to limit myself. Art should be without limits. It could be that you really love to work in all different materials and that the theme behind isn’t necessary the same. Try to see if you can find a framework, a broad idea that units it all. Example: Charles Avery, a scottish artist, working in different materials (drawings, installations and sculptures) creating the world of an imaginary place, an island. Avery has worked on his project The islanders for over a ten-year period.
Another approach could be : construct the installations and then make classical paintings of them. And of course an artist statement explaining the thoughts.

Working in one way can be thinking for the other way. I know of artists who show installations and performances, but in the privacy of their own studios they paint and draw in a way that would be considered classical. It’s basically their way of reflecting and nothing that will be exhibited.

And a final advice: less is more. When approaching a gallery Choose your very very best work only. Do not include work that isn’t strong enough just because you want to show a context or because you would like to show a technique you master. If you doubt about an art piece – it’s probably not one of your best. Five very strong art pieces is so much better to show than double the amount but mixed strong art pieces with “regular” art pieces. It could even be advisable to “save” one or two really good art pieces in case they want to see more. Then you can show more of your very best work and make an even better impression.

Research how other artists do. A good book to get insight into how other artists think is “Sanctuary, Britain’s Artists and their Studios” which is full of interviews. (I will soon review this book on my blog on Sunday!)

Good luck Antonn!



Alexandra Hedberg is a Swedish artist exhibiting frequently and making huge public commissions and shares her experience frequently via the series art as business on her blog. She also teaches and moderates a self-paced class on Camp Pikaland called Art as a Business for artists and illustrators who dream big!

5 Replies to “Ask Alexandra: Portfolio diversity”

  1. Dear Alexandra;
    Thank you so much for taking that much effort into answering my question. You gave me a lot of useful stuff to think about, this will definitely help clearing things up. Some completely fresh aspects.


  2. zoe says:

    This is a brilliant response to a question I’m thinking we all have. And especially for me in the throes of the Pikaland bootcamp, trying to figure out who I am and what I do. 🙂 Wonderful. thank you.

  3. Jane says:

    A really superb answer to a big question — many thanks.

  4. Natalie says:

    Very interesting & useful, thank you!

  5. Marina says:

    Very interesting to read this as I always ask myself the same thing!

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