Kim from Minneapolis writes: "Lately on gallery websites I've been seeing the specific phrase: 'We are currently not accepting unsolicited submissions.' Why the change from 'We are currently not accepting submissions?' What does unsolicited mean in this context?
Are they trying to say, 'We're not taking on any new artists but we might be willing to look at your material if you ask before you send it.' Or 'Stop! We really mean it!' Or something else? I've seen this enough times of late that it seems to have some sort of meaning that is eluding me."
Kim, you're overthinking this. There's no hidden meaning here. Submissions have always been unsolicited, unless a dealer specifically requests that you send a package of materials. By adding the adjective unsolicited, dealers are simply reminding artists that the packages we prepare with so much care and expectation are, in fact, not requested by them.
The recent two-part series on How Galleries Are Considering Artists Now makes clear that while some dealers do look, the cold-call submission is the least effective means of introducing your work to a dealer. A Midwest dealer gave the odds of success as “one in a million.”
In his book, How to Start and Run a Commercial Gallery, the dealer Edward Winkleman lists these methods by which a gallery finds artists. Note the position of the unsolicited (aka cold-call) submission package:
. Recommendations from gallery artists, curators, other dealers, collectors
. Institutional exhibitions such as non-profit galleries and contemporary art museums
. Studio visits and Open Studio tours
. Cold-call submissions
Over to you: Have you had any success with the unsolicited submission? If so, are there things you have done to pave the way for it (i.e. sending postcards of your work, visiting the gallery regularly)? I suspect this is more likely to happen in cities that are not New York, but do tell.
If you work in a gallery: Would you share your advice and insights about this hit-or-miss method for artists to get their work seen? What has impressed you? Have you ever shown anyone as a result of the unsolicited package? And without blowing your anonymity, if you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know if you are from a large metropolitan city or elsewhwere, as accessibility does seem to favor artists who are looking for galleries in cities other than New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco.