I’m not a dealer, but I work with many, and I’ve been involved with enough artists’ projects to be able to tell you with some certainty why you haven't heard back:
. They haven’t gotten to it yet
. They considered it and decided against it, but they’ve been too busy to tell you
. You sent material in a format the gallery doesn't consider
. They’re still thinking about it
The package you invest with such hopes is in fact one of dozens, possibly hundreds, that a gallery receives each month. And as much as a gallery depends on the work of artists, those submissions are in fact unsolicited.
They haven’t gotten to it yet
Scenario 1: The curator of a small regional museum, addressing a group, was asked rather urgently by an artist, "Why don't we hear back from you?" The curator responded with genuine compassion. I’m paraphrasing her answer, but this is the gist: “I run a small, understaffed museum. There’s a box with about 200 manila envelopes that have been collecting for six months. Each one is a proposal or submission package. It breaks my heart that I haven’t gotten to them, but I haven’t had the time, and neither does my one assistant.”
. Her advice: “Come to the openings. Introduce yourself to me. Let me see you over the course of several events. Show me that you really are interested in my museum. Then if you tell me you’re sending a package, I’ll keep an eye out for it. It’s still unsolicited, but I’ll know who you are. When I do have a chance to open some packages, it will be of the artists who have made a point of making themselves known to me.” Fair enough.
. How dealers are solving this problem: Clarifying their submission policy to encourage j-peg or URL submissions exclusively. It's an easy way for them to browse and a fast way to respond. But if your package at the bottom of the box, don't expect a response any time soon.
They saw it, considered it, decided against it, but they’ve been too busy to tell you
“If I responded to every solicitation, I’d need to hire a full-time staffer to do it. That’s a luxury I can’t afford,” says one dealer who asked that I not use her name. “But I’ll tell you one thing: If I see something and like it, I will get back to the artist—and the more I like it, the faster I’ll respond.”
. And you're expecting a crit? Let's let the dealer of a Westchester gallery take this one. Here's what the gallery's website says: "Due to the large number of submissions we receive, please understand that it is not possible for the gallery to critique work on an individual basis. "
You sent material in a format that the gallery does not consider (or no longer considers)
Dealers these days are very specific as to what they will and won’t look at. Visit a gallery’s website and click onto the category marked “Submissions” or “Contact” or “Information for Artists” and you’ll see just how varied their specifics are.
. If they say, We are not accepting submissions at this time: Don’t send presentation materials. "Put me on your postcard list. If I'm interested you'll hear from me," offers a dealer who asked not to be named
. If they say, We prefer a CD: Send a CD even if you would prefer to send materials in a different format
. If they say, We do not look at packages, but we invite you to send an e-mail with up to five j-pegs, a resume and your URL: That’s what you send. (Invite. Such a lovely word.)
. And be aware of what they absolutely don’t want: Here’s the verbatim instruction on that issue from a Brooklyn gallery: "Sorry, our mail server storage is miniscule. Please never send us Jpeg attachments. We will immediately dump them in the trash." Harsh but helpful.
They’re still thinking about it
This is a very large gray area that could easily be confused with all of the above, but assuming you did submit materials in the approved/requested format and you haven’t heard back, it’s possible they’re considering it. Here’s that same gallery I quoted in the previous paragraph: “Please do not expect an immediate response. [We] often hold onto work for future programming.”
. So what do you do in the meantime? Do what you normally do: Keep making art. Keep showing it. Keep getting it out into the world. If the gallery or curator does finally contact you, great. If not, your studio practice continues as it always has. (There's no reason you can't have a few packages out there at once. And if it turns out that two galleries want the same work, well, that would be a great problem to have, wouldn't it? Cross that bridge when you come to it.)
Postcards Don't Require a Response
That’s why I like postcards as a way of getting your work out there. You never get a rejection because you’re not asking for anything outright. Dealers like postcards because they offer a quick look with the option of a quick Google search or online visit, and they don't fill up the inbox. But, trust me, those postcards get looked at. Some postcards get propped up next to computers, tacked onto bulletin boards, stacked or filed with other related images. In other words, dealers and curators do with postcards exactly what artists do with them. (Remember the dealer who said, above, "Put me on your postcard list.")
Curators, especially, seem to regard postcards as snapshots of the zeitgeist. They hold onto the ones that interest them, typically filing them according to their particular system. Eventually one of those people you've sent a card to will pull the whole batch of them out to see what’s been going on over the past six months or year, or to see who might fit the bill for a particular show. Then you'll hear back.