Friday, March 17, 2006

The secret

It's clear from the tons of emails that I've received since the last posting that:

(a) Many of you have no patience
(b) Some of you already know the secret

And some of you, in writing "is the secret the fact that blah, blah, blah..." have also revealed some interesting stuff!


As all of us know, museum curators and good galleries are flooded (and I mean literally overwhelmed) by submissions from artists. I know that by the time that you add up email submissions, snail mail submissions through slides, CD ROMs and photos, and visits, we get probably anywhere between 1,000 to 1,500 artists a year approaching the gallery seeking some sort of exhibition opportunity.

So as you may imagine, museum curators probably get their fair share of submissions from artists seeking to catch that curator's eye.

And it is not that much of a stretch to imagine that because of time and interest, most curators quickly glance at the submission (if even that) and immediately put it in the return file (in the event that the artist enclosed a SASE) or the round file if no SASE was included.

It's hard to blame them - if they looked with depth and interest at every submission sent in, they'd never get anything done!

And I suspect that by the nature of the curatorial world today, rare is the museum curator interested in "discovering" an unknown or emerging artist. Although I suspect that if the curator is working on some thematic group shows, there's a chance that some work may catch the curator's eye.

A good example of that was the fact that the two curators from this year's much maligned Whitney Biennial were technically open to receiving unsolicited proposals from artists. And I am curious to learn (and I have asked the Whitney):

(a) How many unsolicited proposals did they receive?
(b) Did they actually go through all the unsolicited proposals received?
(c) How many of the finalists (if any) were selected from this set of unsolicited proposals?

But back to "our" secret.

To review the issue: Museum curators get a lot of stuff from artists in the mail (snail and email) and they probably seldom look at it in depth, if ever.

And yet our own Hishhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, has an incredibly artist friendly policy (either voluntarily self-imposed or because they are a federally funded museum) that requires that submissions from artists are all reviewed at joint curatorial meetings that are regularly scheduled throughout the year!

So when you send the Hishhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden your slide packet, or CD ROM, and resume, at some point it (one or two images I suppose) is presented and reviewed by the museum's curators!

And as we all know, just in having the work seen by a curator, a huge task has been accomplished!

Even being seen and rejected is better than not being seen at all! Especially by a group of curators.

Witness what happened to John Lehr.

John Lehr is a Baltimore-based photographer (represented locally by the new Heineman Myers Contemporary Art gallery soon opening in Bethesda).

A couple of Trawick Prizes ago, John applied to the prize and his work was reviewed by the three curators and rejected.

But he caught the eye of Jonathan Binstock, one of the curators for that year's Trawick Prize, who is also the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Corcoran Gallery and subsequently one of the two curators for the 48th Corcoran Biennial.

And guess what?

Binstock not only picked the work of Lehr for the Biennial, but if my memory serves me right, there were at least three regional artists in the Biennial whose work had also been exposed to the Trawick Prize curators earlier on; none of them won the prize that year, but nonetheless made it to the Biennial!

Even in rejection there's sometimes accomplishment.

It is better to submit and be rejected than not to submit at all.

Enough with the trite sayings; at the very least all of you should enter the Trawick Prize.

And handle the Hishhorn secret carefully, you don't want to waste this golden opportunity if your work is not ready.

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