What's the Deal . . .?

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Today I've grouped  five related questions  from readers, all recent. One of those questions began with “What’s the deal . . .” and I've adopted that phrase as the title and the repetitive element for each question. I have  written about each of these topics in the past, either in dedicated  posts or in passing, but there are a lot of  new readers  (welcome!) so I’ll address them here with reference to the earlier posts.

What’s the deal with galleries that state ‘we do not accept unsolicited submissions’ on their website? Is it still OK to contact them and ask them to look at my work, or do they just wish not to be bothered? "
Dealers running a private business have every right to determine how they wish to run it. If they do not wish to view unsolicited submissions, you will most likely waste your time and money preparing and sending a package. And if you contact them and ask them to look at your work,  you will almost surely piss them off.

Dealers are always looking on their own terms, however. Here’s how Chelsea gallerist Edward Winkleman, writing his book, How to Start and Run a Commercial Gallery, found/finds his artists, in order of frequency: "recommendations (including from other dealers), institutional exhibitions, open studios, cold-call submissions."

Winkleman is not alone. Unsolicited, or cold-call, submissions require a staffer to open them. In lean times such as this, galleries are cutting back on staff, so a staffer's time will more likely be put to use in helping run the gallery's day-to-day operation than opening packages and sending yea or (mostly ) nay letters. Instead, consider other ways to get a dealer's eyes on your work. Send a postcard of a show you’re in, a website that’s been updated, new work in the studio, or news of an Open Studio. The postcard is a quick look for a dealer, who has the option of responding or not. If the exhibition is nearby, a dealer whose interest is piqued by the image just might pop in to see the show. Make sure your name in on the front of the postcard with the image. Just as you might post an interesting postcard image on your wall, so might a dealer or gallery assistant. Over time, that image may work its way into the psyche of a dealer. Then again, it may be tossed along with the junk mail—but it’s certainly cheaper than an unsolicited submission package, and a lot less intrusive to the dealer.

Additional MM posts:
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"What’s the deal with artist-curators who put their own work in a show?

Eyebrows used to be raised when artists put themselves in exhibitions they curated. But since the economic downturn, artists, dealers and curators are finding ways to create opportunities for themselves. As a result, I think there’s new respect for the entrepreneurial artist-curator. (Frankly, in this economic climate, I think there's new respect for anyone who can keep doing what they do.)

In my own experience, sometimes I include my work, sometime not. I think if an artist curates and always includes her/his work, you have to examine the artist-curator's ulterior motive. Are they not getting invited to show anywhere else? On the other hand, sometimes the fit is right. Pop-up shows and academic galleries seem like good places for artist-curators to include their work; indeed non-commercial venues of all kinds seem to encourage a colloquy—of community, of concept, of colleagues—which the curator can be part. In commercial galleries, not so much.

Additional MM posts:
. Artists: Should We Write and Curate?
These are not Marketing Mondays posts, but in them I talk about curating:
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"What’s the deal with curators who make a studio visit and then . . . nothing?

I’m going to go back to a post I did in February 2010 with Mary Birmingham, then curator at the Hunterdon Art Museum, who says it clearly:
 “Curators visit artists for all kinds of reasons. Maybe I'm planning a show and am considering your work; maybe I'm curious about work I've seen in an exhibition and want to see more; maybe I'm doing someone a favor or accompanying another curator on her rounds; maybe I'm actually interested in possibly offering you a solo show; or maybe none of the above. The important thing is to not read too much into it. I sometimes sense an impatience on the part of artists I've visited when nothing immediately comes of it. Curators have lots of other factors that influence whether or not they will work with a particular artist--often out of their control. Remember that if a curator visits you there's a good likelihood he/she liked your work to begin with. That may be all you get--at least for the moment.”

I have made studio visits to artists whose work interested me and whose work I wanted to follow. While a visit has sometimes resulted in an immediate blog post, it may not have resulted in anything tangible (yet). However, having seen the work up close and visited with the artist, I have mentioned an artist to a gallery or curator or to other artists. Right now I am planning to include an artist in a show I’m co-curating; the studio visit took place over a year ago.

Additional MM posts:
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"What’s the deal with collectors who expect huge discounts? Don’t they know I’m already giving 50% of that price to the dealer? "
You’ve brought up two issues here. First, You are not giving up 50% to the dealer. You and the dealer have reached an agreed-upon price that satisfies each of you. You make the work; the dealer sells it. Even Steven.

However, as a second point, I couldn’t agree more: Some collectors are asking for too much in the way of a discount. Thank you, crappy economy.
It’s not unusual for a dealer to allow a 10% “courtesy” to a regular client (or for artists to build that discount into their price). But some aggressive clients, taking advantage of the current financial climate, are requesting discounts of 30 or 40 percent. You want a dealer to deal--to negotiate a financial arrangement that satisfies the client without giving the work away. Fifteen or 20 percent? Maybe, if they're regular clients, if they're acquiring multiple works of yours. If you have a dealer who's caving to bigger discounts, speak up. Let the dealer know you're willing to go up to X percentage, but not more--or at least not without a discussion. This is your work we're talking about!

There's no hard-and-fast rule about discounts. Some dealers expect you to split the first 10 percent and will then absorb the rest, while other dealers expect a split down the middle. Make sure the discount terms are in a contact. Absent a contract, talk with your dealer. Remind him, that you're not getting 20 percent off your monthly rent (but he knows that, because he's not getting 20 percent off of his, either.)  
Some artists and dealers have countered by adding an extra 20 or 30 percent onto their prices so that the collector is happy with the "discount," but that creates a potentially endless price inflation at a time when sales are slow for the average mid-level dealer and artist.
Additional MM posts:
. The Dealer’s Commission
. Lets Talk Prices
Update 9.12.11:

. Paddy Johnson's report on gallerist  Priska C. Jushka getting sued by an artist for, among other issues (like non-payment) over discounting work without the artist's permission
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"What’s the deal with: Galleries that expect 60 percent of the sale price?"

The 50/50 split makes sense for the reasons I noted in the previous response. But I have to say that 60% of the price, even if you get what you want, makes me nervous. Who made the art, anyway? I'm aware of one gallery in San Francisco and another in New York City that operate with these terms. An artist who shows at one said, in essence, “They sell so well for me that I go along with it.”  But in a business where there are few hard-and-fast rules, mutuality is one of the basic concepts we can expect. I'd like to hear from anyone who feels they can defend that imbalance.
And as always, your comments are welcome.

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Kesha Bruce said...

As an artist who recently became a gallery director I completely understand the ‘we do not accept unsolicited submissions’ thing now.

I get it.

On average I get 20 emails a week from artists asking me to look at their work, but I can't take on any new projects or artists.

I'm SWAMPED with the work I already have.

The reality is that there aren't enough galleries to represent all the artists that are working right now. There just aren't.

And so what!?

I don't even think that's a bad thing.

*end rant*

pam farrell said...

In response to the question about artist/curators who include their own work in the shows they curate...

Having recently had the experience of curating a group show, which is up now in a commercial gallery in Philadelphia, I feel I have a bit more insight into the decision not to include my own work. Here are a few thoughts on this: 1) The show was conceived around a medium and process that is not necessarily my strong suit, but one that I feel strongly drawn to;

2) With the work of 13 artists held in a commercial gallery, it just didn't feel quite right to have my own work up (and I'm not represented by the gallery). I felt like the shepherd or steward of the work, and with my role of bringing it all together, I don't think I would have had the same objectivity--about the work of others or my own--that I believe is necessary for the curating process to work the way I wanted.

As Kesha said in the comment above, "as an artist who recently became a gallery director I completely understand the "we do not accept unsolicited submissions thing now."
Completing the curatorial process without including my work allowed me to see things from the other side of the fence, so to speak.

Conversely, being an artist also allowed me a unique sensitivity with which to communicate with artists in the curatorial process for the show.

But back to the idea of including my own work in the show, (and many folks in attendance at the opening asked about it)...if it had been a different venue, such as a non-profit or academic setting, as JM mentions in her post, I may have included my work.

To that point, I'm participating in a show of five artists later this fall, with the curator being one of the artists, and this works for's been a collective endeavor, with input from all.

With the show that's up now, and in response to the many people who asked where my work was, it's not me being dismissive of my work, or not believing in my work that contributed to the decision not to include it, but rather, simply wanting to highlight the work of others whose work I was very happy to show.

Finally, I recently saw a show in a Chelsea gallery that was curated by one of the artists in the show. Reading the artist/curator's well-written essay was interesting, informative, and provided insight into some of the ideas behind the choices made for the show, but ultimately, the artist/curator's work seemed to dominate, and not necessarily in a good way. It also seemed superfluous, if work can dominate and be superfluous at the same time.

Ultimately, I want my work to be chosen by others who are interested in including it in a particular setting or among other artists, not chosen by me because I can.

Joanne...thanks for this post based on these interesting questions, the questions that reflect the many challenges we all face.

Susan Schwalb said...

A good solution for an artist who wants to be in a show that they are curating is to get a co-curator. It was the solution to a show that I planned for a non-profit space. My co-curator, a professional and experienced curator, wrote the catalog essay and worked with me on curating the show. I did more of the nitty gritty work- dealing with the artists, getting the show to travel and packing and unpacking the show. Many artists wind up curating in a gallery that represents them. I find nothing wrong with being in the show but try not to let your work be the center of attention. said...

I'm one who wrote to ask about "unsolicited submissions," and it was really the specific phrase that threw me. When would a submission be solicited? Anyway, it just boils down to "Not no way, not no how," as they said in the Wizard of Oz. Thanks for offering some suggestions for getting through the gate.

Joanne Mattera said...

Kesha, Pam, Susan and Kim: Thank you for your illuminating comments. I feel as if you're my co-authors on this post.

Dana S. Whitney said...

A different question: Having come late to the art-making game/business/process, and not having had shows or sales, but being obvious... what does one DO with the paintings that are multiplying on my walls at home until my energy and the emerging markets make a match?!

annell4 said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Tamar said...

So many good insights here in the post and comments, it is hard to think of anything else to offer.
But here's a little something......

As a painter who has been affiliated with a NY gallery for many years, BUT remained relatively isolated from other artists until the last few years, I now see how critical it is to be part of a community of artists. Had I come out of isolation a few decades earlier, my creative life and career would have been nourished by those relationships. The message: build community.

Susan Schwalb said...

A good answer for Dana -I am not sure where you are but in the Boston area a organization called is often able to place work with non-profits. Lots of area artists use this to give away in an organized way older works. There maybe something closer to where you live.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kesha's assertion that not all working artists deserve gallery exhibitions. However, I know serious accomplished artists that are left out of the gallery world. When galleries and curators that I'm not crazy about go down the tubes, my response is not "so what!?". Instead, I generally regret that an exhibition opportunity is lost. While an unsolicited submission is inconsiderate, the insular courtship between gallerist and artists is nothing to be proud of.