The Ten Commandments of Art Exhibitions
For over 15 years, I’ve been immersed in the world of art and artists, including the conception, curation and execution of exhibitions. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many extremely talented artists. I’ve also been witness to the less glamourous facets of art exhibitions, particularly those which are juried. While one would assume that common sense and common courtesy are standard practice, unfortunately, such is not always the case.
That being said, presented for artists’ consideration are what I call the “Ten Commandments of Art Exhibitions.” Sadly, each of these is based on actual and quite unfortunate situations. Behold, the cringeworthy transgressions.
1. Thou shalt not submit incomplete information.
There’s a reason the prospectus requests the dimensions of your artwork. It’s to ensure that when all of the selections have been made, the overall linear footage of the exhibit does not exceed that which is available in the gallery. This is especially important for larger pieces that require a generous allocation of space.
2. Thou shalt not disregard hanging requirements.
If the prospectus advises that 2D works must be wired, don’t send work with sawtooth hangers. Or worse, still, no hangers at all. Often times, the gallery hanging systems dictate what can and cannot be accommodated. Additionally, for liability reasons, works sent without wiring cannot be modified by gallery personnel. What results is a piece that cannot be hung, and therefore, will be excluded from the exhibition.
3. Thou shalt not deliver work on which the paint has not yet dried.
It should go without saying, but it happens more often than one would think. Artists who deliver works with “fresh paint” not only risk damage to their own work, but also to additional works and the gallery itself. If an unsuspecting individual picks up the work to move to its anticipated space within the gallery, the paint accidentally can be smudged in the process. The pigment-stained fingers which result can then pass those colors onto other items, walls, and so on. Not cool, people.
4. Thou shalt not use inappropriate packing materials.
When shipping works for an exhibition, please do not use old, stained (and possibly dirty) t-shirts or other equally inappropriate scraps as packing materials. (Yes, it has happened.) That’s just gross. If your work is worthy of an exhibition, it’s worthy of decent, clean packing materials.
5. Thou shalt not submit the same work to multiple calls for artists.
If you’re submitting work for consideration in concurrent exhibitions, you’re running the risk of acceptance into both shows—then being unable to fulfill your obligation to one of the two in the event your work is selected for both. Because the selections are made–or even not accepted—so as to not exceed the gallery’s linear footage, the selection of your work means the exclusion of someone else’s. It’s extremely inconsiderate to all of the other entrants. Consider this Artist Etiquette 101.
6. Thou shalt not send work in lieu of the piece selected by the juror.
When honored to make the juror’s cut, deciding to substitute a different work is not acceptable. The juror has made the choice based on the original submission, and to supersede that decision with a replacement of your choice is not only inconsiderate, it’s unprofessional.
7. Thou shalt not fail to submit accepted work.
This happens all too often, and it’s perhaps the worst transgression of artists entering juried competitions. First off, the selection of your work means that another artist’s work has not made the cut. (See Commandment 5 above.) Additionally, once the juror’s decisions are made, long before the artwork arrives, the gallery begins promoting the show and the artists within it. The names of selected artists and photos of their works are distributed to print media, posted on social media and included in collateral materials, such as exhibition postcards. If work is featured in the publicity, people tend to look for that work when visiting the exhibit. This makes for very awkward situations for the gallery. Artists should not submit work unless they intend to honor that commitment. An artist’s desire to be able to list acceptance into a show on a resume, without intent to fulfill the commitment, is a cardinal sin in the art world.
8. Thou shalt not submit unframed or unfinished work.
When your work is featured in an exhibit, the quality of that work is a reflection of the artist as well as the gallery in which it has been chosen to hang. If your work is not properly framed, or in the case of gallery wrapped works, if the edges are not properly finished, that is a distraction that affects the works between which it hangs. What a tremendous disservice to neighboring artists.
9. Thou shalt not forget to include your return shipping label.
Please review the prospectus carefully and ensure that you follow all of the shipping requirements. This will expedite the return of your artwork when an exhibition ends, and it will make life so much easier for those entrusted with packing and shipping.
10. Thou shalt not attempt to remove your work before the exhibition ends.
When you submit your work for an exhibition, you are making a commitment to display that work for the duration. When the show is hung, the gallery walls are treated like one large canvas. Artwork is displayed in complementary groupings to create the most aesthetically pleasing overall exhibit. Artists who wish to remove works from the exhibit disrupt this flow and leave a gaping hole that breaks up the space. While another work could be substituted, it’s unlikely that that the size, colors, textures and content will complement the adjacent works in the way the original submission did. Again, this is disrespectful to the other artists who have honored their commitment s for the show, and to the gallery which is hosting it.
The bottom line is that it’s all about respect and integrity. Artists who display these traits are likely to be blessed with good karma and success. On the other hand, in the long run, artists who violate any of these ten commandments may not fare so well.
It’s not just art. It’s business.