From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist


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For those of you not in the business of showing art (whether you create it or not), you may not be aware of the less artsy part of a professional artist’s job.  Submissions.  Finding things to apply to, reading up on the institutions and jurors connected with those submissions to see if they are a good fit, and then  when you find them, putting together applications, coming up with proposals… it takes 1-2 full days a week if you’re serious.

For me finding things is tricky.  Installations are simply harder for most galleries to accommodate, trickier to ship, set up  and very difficult to sell until an artist is VERY established.  On the other end of the spectrum, what I would call safe and easy art is easiest to find show opportunities and homes for. Most cynically, paintings by dead famous artists might be easiest.  To sell: flat things with right angles that hang, which either go with couches or have some strong representational element (but nothing too disturbing).  For example:  I know a excellent classical artist, represented by galleries in three states who does his real work (which sells sporadically in those galleries) and then does paintings of pears for hotels under a false name sold at different galleries to make rent. In his case his real work even fits the qualifications I gave- high quality representational painting.   But pears sell, and they are cheaper, so they move.  It’s rent.   With exhibitions rather than galleries it’s a little more Art-oriented and less sale oriented, but I still sift through mountains of show ops and discard most of them.  I am fortunate that my focus is mainly on showing rather than selling.

Contemporary art is risky and there are less quality places that will attempt it.  How do you define value?  Excellence?  Things are constantly in motion, subjective…  just all around hard to evaluate.  Even if that isn’t an issue a contemporary curator must get fun problems like how to clean up 3 tons of pennies, how to install a fountain, or how to hang several cars from the ceiling and will the roof support it if you can.

In the end even the places dedicated to contemporary art prefer a safe bet: the artist with the longer resume. It proves a shared interest in the artist’s work yes, but  I could see curators preferring the resume for an reason entirely separate from the art.  It represents a greater likelihood that the artist will show up, deliver what they say they will and do it professionally.  Artists are not widely known for their grounded reliability.  I am sure curators get their share of amazingly talented people who are nightmares to work with.  A track record helps.  On the other hand, if a gallery wants truly contemporary work, they need to court emerging artists because if the art isn’t fresh, it isn’t actually contemporary.  I had a little mental tantrum in the “contemporary” section of a certain Modern Art museum when I noticed that more than half of the work was 30-40 years old.  Only 3 within 3 years of creation.  Famous yes, but help.

I digress.  As intense as  finding and addressing opportunities to show work is, I find it gives me something back even if I don’t get in.

Today I followed up on a potential proposal submission I found last week and also found a very exciting  organization in the Bay Area I was unaware of. In both cases I’m well into working out exciting new pieces.  The great thing is that they are both doable in other contexts and situations.  The thing is I might not have thought of them without the situation outlined by the proposals.   A little bit of a frame- a location, an idea to start from… and my mind is flying.  Deadlines also help.  Time slips when I don’t have a target date.  They help prioritize and focus.  My favorite piece so far (Identity Tapestry) was a response to a show submission which I didn’t get into (to be fair the first run of the project had a lot of kinks that needed to be worked out…  but the curator who saw the trial run in my studio space found a show for it within a month).  One never knows.

Anyway- these two particular submission opportunities look right up my alley (geared towards new media, installation, etc. and towards launching emerging artists), but they are also very competitive.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I’m sketching and testing my ideas, and working with images for projections in the glass figure piece.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 19, 2010 at 3:00 am

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