Over the last two months we've received a mound of submissions to exhibit in our humble space. Being the competitive process that it is, I've had to send more "no"s than "yes"es. And yet everyone has been gracious with the feedback regardless of outcome. What I've learned is that artists are itching not only for a place to show, but a place to be seen and possibly sell. I don't claim to be an "expert" at anything, I simply have a platform in which to sell the work. But I'll delve into that later.
I was compelled to write this post because of an email I received over the weekend. After teetering on a photographer whose work I thought was captivating and technically sound, I passed on the opportunity to show her work because she was enjoying editorial success. In her enthusiastic response, she shared that she was recovering from a recent stroke. She had lost some of the peripheral vision in her left eye but was still continuing to "get out there everyday with my little camera!" That truly touched me and made me remember my own anticipation when I was on the other side of the vetting process, how nerve wracking it was, the hope you hold to find out if your work will be seen.
Every one of you has a circumstance that I know nothing about and all I get is a small snippet of your life experience in a digital folder. For that, I am incredibly grateful. "Thank you" to each and every one of you that submitted.
I'm really humbled by this experience and feel I can lend some advice and hopefully help some of you to gain some understanding on how to continue the path. I'd also like to shed some light on how I make the decisions I do and what you should look for in a gallery and dealer.
Traditionally, galleries sustained artists with a stipend so they could live and create art until the opening of a show and beyond. There are still a handful of high-caliber galleries that practice this model but most simply don't have the capability to function at this level. We certainly don't. I do not represent artists in an ongoing manner, but I do publicize, market, advocate for, live, breathe, sleep that artist's work during the months leading up to the event and the entirety of the exhibit. (And we do have contracts which allow for us to keep and sell work past the exhibit but relinquish upon the artist's request).
From my understanding, the few galleries serving this immediate area have shuttered their exhibition programming or moved on. And there are even fewer chances to be highlighted as a solo artist. We are a small operation but we've had big experiences in the past. I've worked with contemporary artists like Julian Stanczak and Jerome Witkin and curated traveling museum exhibitions. I understand the practices to get work seen and I'd like to apply that to this market.
I look for thematic confidence. Meaning, how well do the pieces look together? After all, hanging a retail exhibit is very much about merchandising. For our Virtuous show, Jermaine Dickerson produced new graphite drawings, mixed media paintings and charcoal sketches, but all on the same topic - modern day media coverage and the state of sexism, racism and injustice - based around the comic book genre.
I'm a stickler for presentation so even if your work is on extravagant paper or your sculptures stand seven feet high, I have to consider how that translates in our space — a storefront with a track hanging system and approximately 11 foot ceilings. It is unlikely, but not impossible, for me to hang works on paper with metal clips and nailed to the wall. I don't think this looks professional nor inspires confidence in a buyer, no matter how exceptional a work is. You may think this is snobbery, but I'm trying to strike a balance between the museum guidelines I once adhered to, the gallery presentation of American works I'm used to and the early 20th century architecture of our building with a combination of cement, plaster and drywall surfaces.
We only show solo exhibits right now and that's what I intend indefinitely. Could you imagine an album that only had one or two songs from each artist? This type of compilation dilutes the aesthetic vision of the artist and understanding the intent and curating a good show takes time and exposure to a theme. My father, who is also an artist, once told me that a good painting means you can imagine the whole world in the style of the work, like you opened the front door one day and everything was saturated Gaughin. Since we're familiar with big names like Van Gogh and Picasso, we know what to expect. But with an unknown or contemporary artist, we need time to cleanse the palette, recalibrate and adjust to their vision. I believe solo shows are the only way to do this.
We enter into a contract where I have responsibilities to publicize and market you in the best light, in a way that's honest to your product. There are certain costs I will cover including print materials and signage supporting the opening, food and drink costs and occasionally supplies and/or framing depending on the deal. A dealer should always be able to disclose what pieces have sold and for what amount during the duration of a contract. They should also be able to relinquish your pieces when you request them, if, this was part of your contract as well.
As the artist you also have responsibilities to deliver the caliber and number of works discussed, on time. They can't be owned by anyone else, unless they're on loan for a show with explicit understanding by all parties. Requests (whether it be for supplies, framing, extensions, what ever it may be) should be asked for in advance when possible.
In terms of the submission process itself, following directions is of utmost importance. We (curators, dealers, gallerists) sift through dozens of submissions weekly and standardizing the process makes us able to consume images and keep track more easily. I recommend hiring or swapping with a photographer to take the best lit photographs possible against blank, unfussy backgrounds. I've received CVs and resumes in Word, text and jpeg formats but PDF ensures things don't get scrambled and look how you intended them to when you sent them off.
And as you may have guessed, salability is key. Because our exhibiting venture is still in its budding stages (our first show and panel discussion was only two weeks ago, selling five out of nine works), we're testing the waters to see what people will buy and whether sales will come via online and phone. But we're hopeful our expertise will drive people to buy in-person over what the internet has offered the last couple decades, much like the craft beer movement is sweeping big grocery store staples. There's nothing like seeing a piece in person (which is why I schedule studio visits when I can), so I'm hoping to capture the group that would normally purchase on Etsy or a reproduction from a site.
I'm also keeping in mind what's easily consumable for a first time art buyer, a corporate collection, a longtime collector. Each show will test out a different price point as I'd like most people that enjoy art to be able to add something to their collection while seasoned buyers will be challenged with contemporary art that's not just "decorative" but authentic and well-executed.
Finally, it's true. It does come down to what I like — what I find interesting, engaging, challenging. When I look at a submission, I have to believe there is a journey of longevity and collaboration. I'm a proponent for the arts and therefore, a fighter for the artist.
Even though the submission season has ended, please don't hesitate to ask if you ever have a question. The images in this post are a few of the artist submissions I've accumulated over the last two months. Enjoy.