A gallery generally has clear submission guidelines on their website, which someone took the time to write and post for the benefit of those wanting to submit work. If I can’t find it, I default to calling or emailing the gallery to see how they like work to be submitted. But if this information is already spelled out on their website, they will be annoyed with you for bothering them with what they consider redundant questioning. I used to be the assistant gallery director at Cellar Door Gallery, where folks had a lot of funky methods for submitting work, such as showing up unannounced with their portfolios and demanding a critique or emailing fuzzy, cluttered photos of their paintings. So I called Jessica DuVerneay, my boss who ran Cellar Door until she closed it last year and moved to LA, to reminisce about these wayward wannabe gallery clients. What things most turned her off to working with an artist?
“People that don’t do any research at all on the gallery and walk in with their bullshit portfolio full of fairies and unicorns and, like, they haven’t even taken the time to see anything about the gallery’s mission or what type of art they carry,” she said. “If you’re an awesome sculptor and you walk into a photography gallery, they won’t take your sculpture. You wouldn’t apply to a company you know nothing about.”
If you apply to a gallery, you’re basically applying for a job, and every gallery is going to be different.
“If you are trying for a real gallery and if you’re wasting the gallery’s time cause you didn’t bother to look at the criteria and submission process and you’re calling me about it, I’m not going to work with you,” DuVerneay continued. “If you’re going to send your stuff, send it in a way that looks like you care about it. I’m not saying it as to be an amazing website, but people would send me the dumbest, shittiest photos in the world — the edges would be all crooked and crazy.”
No matter how good your painting is, if the photo is bad, it will tell the gallery owner a lot about how seriously you take yourself and your work. And good photos are important because we’re no longer living in the romance of the golden age of the early 1900s, when an artist could roll his wares into a gallery for consideration.
“If you walk in with your portfolio, expect the severest of rejections because I almost have to admonish you for being stupid enough to do that,” she said. “It’s very rude. It’s like doing a pop-in at your friend’s house.”
Even worse than showing up unannounced with your work is to demand an explanation as to why the work doesn’t whet the gallery’s appetite.
“People would come in and show me their artwork, and if I didn’t want it, they’d want me to give them criticism as to why but then I was like ‘This isn’t art school. I’m not your art teacher. I’m not going to tell you how to do your art. Get out of my gallery,'” DuVerneay said. “One more thing is don’t ever tailor your art to what you think a gallery wants. People are like ‘What do you want, Frankensteins? I can draw Frankensteins.’ Find a gallery that fits your work — not the other way around.”