Art Competition Odds

What I Wouldn’t Wish for Any Artist

Five reservations about calls for art, starting with a competition judged by collectors.

#1: This call from Sylvia White Gallery in Ventura, CA.

This call set off all sorts of red flags for me. On a small scale, it instantiates what’s wrong with a market-driven art world.

For this exhibition, Sylvia White has invited 15 of the gallery’s best collectors to review the artist submissions and select their favorite work.

The gallery will exhibit works selected by the gallery’s collectors (read: customers). There’s no guiding curatorial vision beyond that.

With works selected by 15 people with different tastes, the resulting group show will probably be haphazard.

Also:

Collectors names will be kept anonymous until the opening reception.

Why? I don’t believe it’s to dissuade undue influence, because jurors are named in open calls regularly. I think it’s because collectors love a discrete gallery, because their interactions are about money, dibs, and discounts.

It’s certainly not for artists’ benefits—art competitions create unfavorable odds for applicants; the chance to introduce our work to jurors is a secondary consolation. But with anonymous jurors, we can only surmise. Experienced artists will steer clear of this mystification (and a gallery whose website features exhibition images sans artist credits). Less experienced artists hungry for a chance to show or sell their work, however, may not know better.

Let’s break it down. These costs are certain:

  • All applicants will spend at least $35 in entry fees each.
  • All applicants will spend time preparing their submissions.
  • Fifteen successful applicants will spend more money and time on framing, and outbound and return shipping. (Even artists whose works are already framed, but with glass, will have to swap out the glass for plex.)

There is only one guaranteed benefit:

  • Fifteen successful applicants’ work will be exhibited.

…and this possible benefit (with a certain cost):

  • Sale(s) (minus a 40% gallery commission).

In the past, I may have participated in juried calls with terms like these. The exposure seemed worth it to me then, but strikes me as a raw deal now.

I encourage young artists to apply widely to calls, especially when your work is developing. But as your work matures, it’s OK to be more discriminating, and to seek out more advantageous opportunities, and especially ones that cohere to your values and goals of why you’re showing and to whom. (Proceed with caution.)

#2: CAFÉ (Call for Entry)

CAFÉ is a call for entry service loaded with regional, fee-based calls for exhibitions. When I realized that their shows and venues generally weren’t interesting or advantageous for me, I stopped reading it—a decision the above call further validates. (Proceed with caution.)

#3: SlowArt Productions/Limner Gallery, Hudson, NY.

In checking NYFA, I come across calls from SlowArt regularly…. Almost too regularly.

Years ago, back when the gallery was on Sixth Ave in NYC, my work was accepted into one of their calls. I spent what seemed like a small fortune on framing and shipping, and I was disappointed that the show didn’t lead to more opportunities.

In retrospect, given how many open calls SlowArt posts per year, I realize the over-reach of my expectations. By nature, open call shows are mixed bags, and galleries won’t have well-respected programs if they’re always showing mixed bags. Though I am grateful for the exhibition opportunity, it would be nice to spare young artists misconceptions about what these calls can do for them. A huge reach, much less critical attention, is highly unlikely, especially in Hudson (population 6,713). (Proceed with caution.)

#4: Entry fees based on quantity of images. 

The calls from Sylvia White Gallery and Slow Art use a variable entry fee: $35 for 3-4 images, and $5 per additional image.

<Huge generalization> I think this fee structure can be an indicator for low- or middle-brow exhibition calls. It seems suited for finding iconic images or salable works, rather than understanding artist’s overall practices. It also rewards convention—it’s easier to convey your practice in three images if you work in one media (as opposed to say, post-media or post-studio artists).

In the past three years, I’ve applied to 79 residencies, exhibitions, grants and other opportunities. I don’t think any of them used this fee structure. (For most, I submitted 8 to 10 images—sometimes as few as 6 and as many as 20—for a flat fee or no fee at all. The flat fees always work out to a better deal per each image.) More importantly, these calls are often for better opportunities, offering visibility as well as resources or stipends.

(Proceed with caution.)

#5: Calls requiring  “framed, ready-to-hang” art.

Similar to Reservation #4—this is also not a great sign of a killer exhibition—but more persnickety.

[A caveat: This requirement makes sense for annual juried shows with dozens of artists, or one-night installs at benefit auctions. I’m less sympathetic when it’s for a call for exhibition that’s part of the gallery’s regular programming.]

A gallery exists to exhibit art. Asking for ready-to-hang art implies that the gallery has only the bare-minimum capacity to install artworks. Instead of finding the budget and hiring the necessary labor, they ask artists to facilitate installation and/or compromise what they exhibit (as not every work calls for framing). Limiting a show to framed art minimizes labor while also restricting risk, creativity and innovative exhibition-making.

(Depending on the situation, proceed with caution.)

Standard

10 thoughts on “What I Wouldn’t Wish for Any Artist

  1. Like the author, I submitted work to many of those juried shows when first starting out. At first only print media shows, because I was a print media artist. Then all-media shows, hoping for a better exposure. Then only to shows with a notable juror. Then I outgrew juried shows altogether after I was invited to be a juror. Seeing how an open call juried show worked from that perspective dispelled permanently any remaining belief I had in the advantages of participating in such shows. Going through a few hundred slides in three quick rounds left a really bad taste in my mouth.

  2. Hi Christine, My sentiments exacltly. And look at this one from the same CaFE email. Red Flags galore!

    2014 Call for Artists: MINAN GALLERY | Los Angeles, CA

    VIEW MORE INFO
    APPLY TO THIS CALL

    Call Type: Unspecified
    Eligibility: International
    City: Los Angeles
    State: California
    Fee: $45.00
    Entry Deadline: 2/14/14
    Days remaining to deadline: 4
    Number of Applications Allowed: 3

    MINAN GALLERY | Los Angeles, CA

    2014 CALL FOR ARTISTS

    Minan Gallery is seeking emerging and mid-career artists to join their roster. The gallery is located in Los Angeles, California, just blocks from LACMA, Museum Row, Miracle Mile and Culver City. Selected artists will become official Minan Gallery artists, and will receive all the benefits of being a gallery artist. Benefits include, but are not limited to the following: Solo Show Exhibition, Invitation to participate in group exhibitions, Representation at various art fairs, Consultation and portfolio assistance, Marketing and promotional assistance in selected art magazines and publications.*

    *Minan Gallery does not collect representation or consultation fees from their artists.

    There is no minimum or maximum limit to how many artists will be selected.

    Artists of all mediums and genres are encouraged to apply.

    Must be 18+, reside in the U.S or Abr! oad

    DEADLINE: February 14, 2014 – Midnight 12am MST

    $45 for 6 images (up to 20 images)

    • Hi Narangkar! What a strange call! I applaud small galleries that are creative about how they find artists and keep their doors open, and when galleries outline exactly what they are offering artists. But asking artists to pay $45 to have their work reviewed in consideration for gallery representation is a break in the usual custom of reviewing artists for representation for free, as well as the mutually beneficial way of coming into a longterm business relationship like gallery representation gradually (such as seeing the work in person, for starters, and having enough interpersonal rapport to recognize each other’s professionalism). This “innovation” is not good for artists!

      More info from their site reveals:

      ENTRY FEE
      $45 for 6 images
      Additional $10 for 10 images
      Additional $15 for 15 images
      Additional $25 for 20 images

      So it’s $55 for 10 images, and $70 for 20 images! That’s outlandish.

      You do not have to be a Student or Senior to apply. However, if you are either statuses, you are eligible for a discounted price of $35 for Students/Seniors with proof of status eligibility, for 6 images*

      At first glance, this discount seems kind or democratic, but it’s also very unconventional because most galleries don’t want to work with students. In fact, most teachers warn against students gaining gallery representation too quickly—when you’re a student, you should be focused on developing your work and experimenting, not grappling with market pressures. Again, this seems designed to increase the call’s revenue, instead of garnering mutually beneficial relationships for the gallery and artists.

  3. How are emerging artists supposed to get exposure? I sell half the stuff I list on Ebay to the same person. It’s not exactly what I want, but it’s better than nothing. I guess I should feel lucky considering all the art there. More people see my art there then they would in a gallery, but I don’t get the kind of dinero I might get in a gallery.

  4. Vakseen says:

    Funny I was researching whether Limner was a scam or not and came across this page. Excellent post! It’s not called the entertainment business for nothing!

  5. Hello, do you have another article listing those 79 things you applied to? I mostly enter annual juried exhibitions through artist organizations. They do charge a scaled feel $35 for 2 g 3 images +$10 for each additional. Does than mean these are not good shows? I haven’t seen ANY shows that don’t use this fee structure for entering. So I’d love to have a look at how you found so many with out it. I look extensively for shows that aren’t scams to enter, that will get me the right exposure, and I haven’t found any way to tell before applying. So please share your knowledge in a more specific way.

    • Hi Moto Painter, I don’t have an article listing every competition I’ve entered. I recommend that you check out my Artist’s Resources page (just updated), which at the very top lists art competitions listings. As mentioned, the 79 refers to a mix of shows as well as residencies, grants, fellowships, and other opportunities, so the number of juried exhibitions I’ve applied to is much smaller than you seem to imply. They are rare, but no-fee open calls like Southern Exposure’s is one example of a show that doesn’t have that model. I qualified my statement with “huge generalization” so, no, I’m not saying that your shows are not good shows. You said you have no way to tell if you a call is a scam or give you the right exposure, and want specifics? I’ve listed red flags above. I’ve also suggested how widely you apply and how discriminating your criteria depends on where you’re at with your career. If you’re just starting, it will be tough, but the longer you’re around the more you’ll be able to look at a gallery’s track record (and the call’s if it’s annual), and recognize professional art and gallery practices, along with names of artists whose practices you respect. And if they’re a good fit for you and your work. You could also just do a web search of the gallery or call and see if other artists have written about their experiences. In my experience, artists who share openly are in the minority, as it can seem like thankless work sometimes.

      • Thanks I will check that out, and I agree it has taken me years to befriend artists that will share helpful information. The shows I enter were suggested to me by other artists. I am looking to branch out though. I also looked at your site and I LOVE those lights that turn on in the shadow, I am very into lights lately, bit of an obsession. It really seems that there is a glass ceiling for painters and I want to learn more about what’s on the other side.

      • You’re welcome, hope it’s helpful. RE: “glass ceiling for painters,” I am not sure—painting is still dominant in many arenas. But the important thing is: You do you. Make the art you want to make, whether painting or something else.

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