INTERNATIONAL SUMMER ACADEMY FOR ARTS AND MEDIA | VENICE
June 24 – June 30, 2012
*Adapted from Art/Work – Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, Free Press 2009.
“Name Five Artists In My Program” – Mary Leigh Cherry, a Los Angeles gallery owner, expressing a very common sentiment among dealers. “We were joking that if an artists came in our art fair booth to give us a submission, we would say ‘Name five artists in our program” if they couldn’t, they are done. Then we thought about it. Could we name five artists in the programs of galleries we approach for work? Yes! Because we’ve done the research on their program.
Asking a gallery to look at your work is akin to announcing your belief that you fit into its program. So you’d better be ready to explain why you fit in- something you can’t do, of course, unless you are familiar with the other artists. This is a good thing. The more you know about a gallery’s artists, the better equipped you’ll be in deciding for yourself whether it really is the right place for you.
Top Ten Ways Curators and Gallerists Find Artists
The “One Year” Rule – Okay, it’s not really a rule, but pretend it is. You should follow a gallery’s program for about a year before you even think about asking the gallery to look at your work. That means going to see the shows; looking at everything on the website; understanding the program and what the owner is trying to do. (And taking advantage of other exhibition opportunities in the meantime.)
Study Artist Resumes – Just as important as understanding a gallery’s program is becoming familiar with the resumes of all of its artists. Those resumes tell you where the artists were in their careers when they starting showing at the gallery, and in that sense they reveal the kinds of things that you need to do before that gallery would probably consider you. Doing the same residency as one of the gallery’s artists won’t guarantee a thing, obviously. But getting a sense of how many residencies or shows the artists have had; whether they’ve had several solo shows already; how many years into their careers they are – these are all ways of gauging realistically whether you’re ready for a particular gallery.
Talk To Other Artists – The best way to hear about how a gallery operates is from artists who have shown there. They can tell you how they were treated, how the place is organized, and whom to approach about submissions (when the time is right). They can give you a sense of the gallery culture so you can decide whether it’s a good match.
Go To Openings– If you’ve got your eye on few galleries, you should go to as many of their shows as you can. You should make it a point to see what their openings are like. It’s a great way to get to know their artists and to see who works there. Just remember than an opening is a social event; it is not the best time to see the art. It’s probably the worst time. You’re there to see what the place is like and how it’s run. You can always go back on a normal day to get a better look at the show itself. Speaking of going back; there’s a fine line between becoming a familiar face and becoming a nuisance. Use your judgment. You don’t need to go to every opening. You don’t need to strike up a conversation with the staff every time you walk in the door. They know what’s going on; they’ll understand why you keep checking out their shows. If you don’t live in the same city, keep track of the shows online and then make a trip at some point to visit the gallery in person. Coming from out of town is a good excuse to interrupt the staff for a quick hello. Tell them how much you like the program and ask what their submission policy is (if it’s not already posted online.)
Then What? So you’ve gotten to a point where you know you fit into a gallery’s program, you know who the other artists are, you know who works there. Find out from the artists (or the gallery staff) whom you should approach about looking at your work (maybe it’s the director, not the owner) and how (it might be in person, it might be email.) And don’t be shy about asking artists you know to put in a good word with their gallery. Chances are you’ll be asked to send an email with a link to your website. Keep it short and simply. Mention any personal connection you have to the gallery (assuming it’s okay with that person), convey your interest in the program, and ask whether the gallery would like to see your work in person. Make the link to your website easy to see. Don’t include an image in the body of the email (unless you were specifically asked to). Let the gallerist go to your site and see all of your work in context.
What Not To Do – So these are the things to do in your quest for a gallery. Here are some ways to shoot yourself in the foot. They’re not hypothetical. Artists make these mistakes all of the time.
1. Don’t send blind submissions. It’s okay if you eventually contact a gallery that is “blind” about you, assuming you’ve taken the time to learn about its program, you really believe you belong there, and you can explain why when they ask you. But it’s never a good idea to submit your work to a gallery that you’re blind about. Do your research first.
2. Don’t walk into a gallery with your portfolio asking for “just five minutes.”
3. Don’t bring your portfolio to someone else’s opening.
4. Don’t “CC” a group of galleries on the same email submission. If you don’t take the time to contact them individually, they’re not going to take the time to read your email, let alone look at your images.
5. Don’t start emails with “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.” You should know the gallery well enough to have a name.
6. Don’t ever, ever approach a gallerist you don’t know at an art fair and ask about submissions.
7. Don’t interrupt a gallerist when he or she is talking to people you don’t know. You could be interfering with a sale or simply interrupting a story. It’s not the way to make yourself known. Wait till they’re in between conversations to say your hello.
8. Don’t harass people. It’s not easy to read every signal and everyone does things a little differently, but “no” usually means “no”. Silence is a little trickier, but if someone doesn’t get back to you after a few messages, it’s a no.
When applying for residencies and exhibitions at non-profit galleries, submissions are most often required and it’s very difficult to gauge why you were rejected.
Causes of Rejection That You Can’t Control
1. Gallerist / Curator / Juror / Panelist Taste
2. Your work is too similar to other applicants’
3. Your work is too different from other applicants
4. Your work doesn’t balance well with other applicants’
5. The program shifts focus to other mediums or styles
6. The program budget
Causes of Rejection That You Can Control
1. Failing to follow directions
2. Poor-quality images
3. Sloppy written materials
4. Not tailoring your submission to the program
5. Your proposal has unrealistic goals
6. Not sufficiently describing your experience and background
7. Failing to make your need apparent
Causes of Rejection That You Can Minimize by Doing Your Homework
1. Institutional taste: the program never shows that style or medium
2. Your work isn’t ambitious enough
3. Your work is too ambitious given the program’s facilities
4. Your work does not address the program’s mission
5. Your background and experience don’t fit the program
6. You don’t actually need the program or support