There are a multitude of reasons to look forward to The Jealous Curator’s daily art newsletter. Besides discovering incredible contemporary artists, receiving thoughtful creative prompts, and getting sneak peeks into some of the dreamiest studios and art residencies around the world, each Thursday, she shares a career-related question posed by a subscriber and her community jumps in the comments to help answer it. The epitome of #artistssupportingartists!
A recent question was an interesting one: What should an artist include in an exhibition proposal?
My first thought was, it would be nice if there was a standard template, wouldn’t it! But we all know the art world is rarely, if ever, black and white. Institutions and galleries host exhibitions of all varieties for different reasons (especially if they are commercial entities versus not-for-profits). As such, it makes sense that the criteria by which they judge an exhibition proposal would not necessarily be the same across the board. That said, there are several elements that you’ll consistently find in the prospectuses of calls for exhibition proposals. Let's talk about them:
1. An explanation of the work that will be displayed
If you are curating a group exhibition, you’ll talk about the artists you’ve selected to participate and the theme or idea behind the show. What is the narrative or dialogue you aim to create by displaying these works together? That said, there’s no need to over-intellectualize your explanation if it’s simply bringing together artists working in the same medium or the pieces are all 12 x 12 inches, for example. A clear, concise description of what you envision for the show will very likely win out over one riddled with jargon.
Proposing a solo show of your own work? Then you can probably just use your artist statement, assuming you have a polished and current version of it ready to go. I would then suggest adding a few sentences at most emphasizing how you believe the work would fit into the space and why you want to show with that particular gallery, institution, etc.
Note: If there is not a recommended length or word count, aim for 2-3 paragraphs to discuss the artwork and show concept.
2. An introduction about you!
Whoever is reviewing the submissions will absolutely want to know who they may be working with! Include a short biography of your career experience within the email and consider adding your artist resume or CV to your submission materials as well.
Note: Keep the biography to one full paragraph at most, although typically a few sentences will suffice. If you do include a resume or CV, put the most important information on the first page.
3. Practical details
While you’ll iron out the finer points throughout the process of planning the show, it’s worth mentioning a few details like your ideal timeline and duration of the show, how many pieces you expect to have and the price ranges (if working with a gallery or other space that will be selling your art).
4. Your 'why' and what they get
This primarily applies if there are no set guidelines for the exhibition proposal and you are have little to no previous relationship with where you are submitting. If that is the case, provide evidence as to why you truly believe your show would be a match for that particular space and why you want to work with them. The more specific the reasons, the better. Then, think about what you offer them. A high possibility of making sales based on your past experience? Your willingness to help with marketing efforts? An exciting or novel exhibition idea that will surely bring people through their doors? Come up with at least one to mention to make your proposal a no-brainer to say yes to! Here's a bonus tip - use data and numbers whenever possible to back up your proposal idea. For example, I sold 20 artworks in my previous exhibition or I had over 300 people visit my last show or I will be promoting the event to my mailing list of 500 potential collectors.
5. Examples of artwork images
Assuming the artworks you plan to exhibit are ready to show, attach 3-5 of the strongest pieces to the message (being aware to not use very large file sizes) and then provide a website or Dropbox link to see the rest. If you prefer to use a PDF, the images should start immediately on page one or two. Please don’t make someone flip through ten pages of an introduction before seeing your work.
If you are proposing a collaboration in the future and want to create a new series for the show (maybe you’re sold out at the moment!), then send examples of recent work that would be most similar to what you would be presenting. Do be very clear that those will not be the actual pieces on display to avoid confusion.
Note: Use high-resolution jpg or png files ideally no more than 5MB each.
6. An annotated image list
While some applications will simply ask that you name your image files with the artwork details: First name_last name_title_medium_dimensions_price.jpg for example, if the host does not specify, I would submit an annotated image list. Make a simple document that has a small thumbnail of each image and its corresponding information.
Note: The common artwork information to include is artist name (if it is a group show), artwork title, artwork medium, artwork dimensions, year created, and price (if the work is to be sold). Additional information that may be applicable: edition size, if the artwork is signed and where (e.g. signed verso), and if the artwork is framed.
I know this all may sound like a lot, but if you are sending a cold email, do your best to condense the above information into three to four paragraphs. You want to get your point across quickly rather than rambling on to help the other party make a decision right away. Now, shake off those nerves and get to submitting!
Enjoyed this article or found it helpful? I go into much more detail about how to pitch your art in the linked guide. Create! Magazine founder Ekaterina Popova and curator Gita Joshi also have a comprehensive program about how to create or curate your own art show. Thanks for reading!
Alicia Puig has been a contributing writer for Create! Magazine since 2017.