The topic today may be a little different from the common grind of discussing artists and art works but I’m sure that it’s something that concerns most young artists, especially those who are still fresh from art schools.
Anything that serves the interest of art is a sound topic for the Art Explainer and so today we tackle the practicalities of writing exhibition proposals.
I am surprised to know that until now a special topics class covering the practicalities of mounting exhibitions is not taught at most art schools here in the Philippines. Unlike in my college where we have a creative writing course called CW 198 or a special topics class that teaches the young budding writer how to write scripts, copies and proposals (those writings that bring food to the table) including proposals for publication, most fine arts graduates are left to figure it all out on their own.
How to mount exhibitions is a complicated subject. Enough is said about that but you know what’s more complicated than that?
How to create the possibility of an exhibition.
This scenario is of course not true for every artist. Sometimes you just stumble upon a gallery owner and if he likes your works then presto! The more likely scenario is that you are able to gain some prominence by winning some recognition in an art contest and you are almost immediately invited to exhibit. Others start by standing out in a series of group exhibitions until perceived as someone that has really something important to show.
The better situation is that the gallery perceives that you have something important to show after say, working on your thesis for a BFA or MFA.
But if you’re not in any of the those scenarios above or if you are in one but the stroke of luck has never struck you then you will have to work for an exhibition proposal and portfolio. Either that or some lucky uncle owns an art gallery.
Well I’m assuming you’re in the former and because I also belong in that category allow me to share today the art of the one-page proposal in doing exhibitions.
You heard me right, “a one page proposal” technique for artists to send the message across and get in a gallery that one deserves. While the one-page proposal may sound like a myth to you, I can attest to its success and impact in many situations. I learned this when I stumbled upon a little book when I was still an intern in an ad-agency. This book was originally intended for business purposes and it is called “The One-Page Proposal: How to get your business pitch onto one persuasive page” by Patrick G. Riley.
Although the book teaches you how to create a one-page proposal, the book itself–of course– contains more than one-page. So for here and now, I would like to give a gist of what this book means for young artists.
Basically an art proposal is structured to convince the art gallery, specifically the owner or curator about your worth as an artist. You have to let them know that your art has some artistic significance and has found its own niche in the wild variations of artists and artistic practice, and two, that your art appeals to target-viewer of the gallery. If both requirements are met a little on the side but equally important issue is if your artworks can sell–meaning if this can sustain an exhibition and return the investment of the gallery. The case is different however for independently-run art spaces and museums. Something that I wont discuss for here.
For now, we will discuss the basics of getting inducted into the roster of artists in a commercial art gallery.
Let us take into consideration that no matter how much we idealize the production of art, in this unideal world it continues to exist as a business. There’s nothing wrong with that–in this world–if you still think there’s nothing wrong with this world or you fancy yourself in another planet.
The artists’ shot in getting the solo exhibition and become Pablo Picasso depends on two things. A badass portfolio and a load of luck. I can’t do anything about your curse or your jinx but with creating a badass portfolio, I can attest to that. Moreover, I am for bringing this badass portfolio to the 21st Century. (i.e. creating your own artist website professionally in the least cost).
How to do your portfolio correctly
The contents of your portfolio for presentation should not include all the works done from when you were a baby until now. Although Leo Castelli might find it cute that your drawings of mickey mouse and bugs bunny are so distorted and of deranged color scheme, you can try presenting only those works which would closely resemble things you intend to exhibit. This is not a catalogue raissone and a portfolio of your best works containing 20-30 slides or photographs is the best way to go.
Unless the sundry characteristic of your body of work is what you want to show, word of advice, focus and consistency are two things you should keep in mind. If you can’t keep that in mind then you clearly have none of it.
Photographs of your works should also show the scale and dimension. If your works are as small as a peanut or as big as the Eiffel tower, go ahead and imply this by photographing them with a referent object such as a gallery wall or having a can of peas pose beside it. Do not crop your images unless you want to emphasize detail.
For your object list take this publication format by most art books I know.
100 x 100 in / 254 x 254 cm**
*** for works in mixed-media, best practice to name all media that were included in the work. Most galleries who will decide to presell or consign your works would be concerned with the conservation of your work.
**say the size is variable if the artworks dimension changes. If it is an installation work, best practice to include the sizes of objects that are included.
*exclude if proposal is for a solo exhibition
Ideally one slide should contain a single photo of your work. Images in CD are not advisable. The best practice is to print them out on photo paper and number them with an object list. I said, images in a CD are not advisable because in many cases your CD-rom may not burn correctly or the staff in the gallery might accidentally lose it. The printed out folio is also very convenient to peruse.
Do damage control and make sure your artworks are seen in their best light. Do not submit pixelated images or poorly lighted photographs. Take your photos in natural daylight or angle and dillute the flash of your SLR camera so light won’t bounce of the works, which happens all the time with paintings done in oil and framed watercolors.
Do not decorate your portfolio with unnecessary garbage. Remember that this is not a scrapbook but a proposal for an art exhibit– a proposal for future business not different from any other.
A one-paragraph artist statement may accompany your proposal. One paragraph means not more than 300 words.
Normally the opening letter is just for formality if you have had a previous acquaintance with the gallery owner or their board of directors who will read your proposal. But for formality, the opening letter should fluidly express your intention to exhibit a definite project in mind. For example, “I am submitting this exhibition proposal for a one-man painting exhibition of my latest mixed-media compositions” or “I have in here the most badass exhibition of works waiting to reveal itself to a multitude who’ll be sitting at the edge of their seats, banging their heads on the wall at the sight of my wonderfully, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious sculptures.”
A typical opening remark would be “Warm greetings!”. The salutations are typically, “Sincerely Yours,” “For your consideration” and the timeless, short and sweet closing sentence which i personally use: “All the best”.
The format of your letter is business type. In other words, do not beat around the bush.
The Exhibition proposal proper
Since this is not an exhibition proposal for a museum, the exhibition brief should contain not more than 150 words of useful explanations for each of these sections
2. Brief description of the project (its concept and how the space will be used)
3. Curatorial brief (if you have a curator, otherwise don’t write this)
4. CV of artist or exhibition proponent and of curator (again if you have a curator).
For reference, check out Bea Camacho’s CV here.
5. Logistical requirements
6. Source of funding or division of cost
7. Proposal for collateral activities
8. Contact details
Phone, email and reference to an online portfolio.
Before i forget your images should have arrows at the back indicating the top especially in the case of abstractions and conceptual drawings.
Use a slide clear folder in black or clear plastic bind. If the proposal is mailed use a brown envelope.
Websites serve as a convenient accompaniment to your exhibition proposal. You can build one in under 2, 000 pesos using several free templates and programs on the internet. To consult about this for free, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you more detailed tips on how to make your own winning artist website.
You may choose to further sort out your works page by exhibition, medium or series.
Check out this website by Rodel Tapaya. It is an excellent example of a functioning artist website that is up-to-date with its visitors.
If you have the resources, websites are a good investment for the professional artist but sites like multiply will do for those who have a tight budget. In that case, a website also shows how serious you are with your intent to show. Just be careful about posting too much information about yourself.
Most of my artist friends ask me for help to write their exhibition proposals and I am also familiar with what curators want to know and see on your proposal and things that they get annoyed of although I do not claim to be an expert.
Well basically, they get annoyed with pale and uninteresting art.
Disclaimer though, I have not tried these proposals for my own purposes and there are times when most of my proposals for group exhibitions get turned down or don’t receive a reply at all. But out of these proposals, I can say that the one-page proposal has served me well in at least five different exhibitions, including one at a museum. Also don’t be impatient about launching your career right away. The art career is a long distance run according to Napoleon Abueva and those who last a long time doing their art is the greatest of all artists. Grandma Moses whose painting career began in her seventies after abandoning a career in embroidery because of arthritis, is the classic example that the art spirit can hit you at any age. Some artists like Nicolas de Stael, Robert Motherwell and Robert Rauschenberg only launched their careers after a series of rejections from galleries. But I wont mention here that De Stael killed himself at the height of his career at baka madiscourage pa kayo.
On top of this, never mind the rejection, what is important is that you know what you want and you know how to get it. According to Silvana Diaz of Galeria Duemila, “The more bohemian of you may think its structure(the proposal and paperwork), but its structure that gets the job done.” You can read the rest of her article here.
So its either you wait until someone notices you in the high heavens which may not come at the time and place that you expect or you start cleaning up and doing the proposal and portfolio right. Of course there is no single right way to do it.
I can not agree more with Mrs. Diaz and I hope that her article and this explanation helps a lot of artists express their desire to exhibit professionally. If given the opportunity, I would like to share my thoughts and experiences in proposing for exhibits not only in galleries but also in public parks, malls, school buildings, galleries and also in museums. Its not for bragging since most of the things I will share are mistakes that I did as an amateur (I still am now). But my belief as a writer aside from being an artist is that there is no bad painting that can’t be beautified by a little piece of good writing. Although, frankly, the text can only do so much. When its out there in the safari, your works will have to speak for themselves.
As for the art scene I think that only through a set standard of opportunities to propose and exhibit can we level the playing field for all deserving artists. In order to achieve this, we have to start by teaching our young artists how to propose an exhibit professionally. It may sound a little too business-like for you but what is the art scene anyway but a pretty little shiny dynamic of production and marketing. (Just kidding).
Try to feel which galleries suit you best. There are some galleries that accept artists only by invitation (but then how do you get yourself invited? maybe next time I’ll cook up an answer) and there are also those who have made a terrific job of making the careers of many artists starting from when they were still unknowns. Go ahead and propose to a gallery if you think they accept proposals but if they don’t then well, you can still take a shot.
My favorite story is one by Robert Rauschenberg. I don’t know if this is true or not because I haven’t actually read any publications that support this. But in an interview he said that while still a young artist in New York he would go to different galleries and just bring his paintings and see if they are any good with the gallery. After knocking on several doors he was finally given a chance by a kind lady named Betty Parsons of the Betty Parsons Gallery, who would go down in art history as very important persona in the boom of American Modern Art. As for Rauschenberg, we all know what happened to him. As the story goes, Rauschenberg came often to Betty Parsons when he was new still new in town and then one day decided to bring his paintings up there without permission. Upon seeing Robert Rauschenberg, Betty Parsons told him “Well, I only look at paintings on a Tuesday.”
It was a Monday. So Rauschenberg retorted “Could you at least pretend that it’s a Tuesday?”
Betty Parsons replied, “Well, alright.”
Rauschenberg’s first one-man show was hailed by critics as an “eccentric and prophetic show of pictures.” Prophetic because it catapulted him into international fame. He would give rise to a new movement in art: the neo-dada which is credited today for making pop-art possible among many other things.
See this video below for the entire story:
If I have any advice to my fellows, it would also be an advice to myself: concentrate first on your work and pour your hearts out in giving only the best for your exhibitions. Hans Hoffman had his first solo exhibition at 65, Barnett Newman at 44, and Willem de Kooning at 45. So why hurry? In order to be great one must prepare to become great.
If by any chance you need help proposing to a gallery or to your fiancee…then Benny heavens! The Art Explainer is here to help.