Applying & submitting art to galleries: Carol Naylor
Recent TextileArtist.org interviewee and one of the UK’s leading artists in machine embroidery Carol Naylor has a wealth of experience both curating exhibitions and submitting art to galleries with great success. Who better then to share some words of wisdom with artists hoping to have their work shown at exhibitions?
Artist, teacher, curator
Carol Naylor: As well as making my own work I have been involved in curating exhibitions since 1999. I co-curated Designer Crafts for the Society of Designer Craftsmen at London’s Mall Galleries for 13 years, and in 2012 curated a further exhibition called Everyday Encounters with the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. Prior to that as head of Fine Art at Chichester University for quite a few years I was responsible for overseeing the students’ degree shows, so showing other people’s work has played quite a part in my life!
In writing this article I shall try to address some of the issues that come up, suggest pointers for those applying to galleries and for exhibitions, and also highlight some of the problems that I have encountered along the way. I hope this will prove of interest and of value to readers, not just to those who are embarking on a career in the arts but to the more experienced of us as we do make mistakes sometimes!
So here goes…
I am constantly amazed at how bad artists are at presenting their work and reading the criteria for selection. The following may seem obvious to experienced exhibitors but it is amazing how often incomplete applications come in!
Making a presentation
When submitting art to galleries:
- Read the criteria very carefully
- Make a check list that you can refer to before finally pressing the send button or posting the work
- Images-ensure they are clear and focused and do your work justice. A detail that shows technique can be useful
- Send EXACTLY what you are asked for. For example six images means six, sending 12 won’t help or give you brownie points!
- Sending images electronically is the norm these days. Label each image exactly as requested. If no directions are given my advice is that each image should have your surname, title and size on it if appropriate. DON’T leave the generic file code on it! IMG_2122 does not help the curator identify you or your work
- If you are attaching images to emails make sure they are not too large (check with the receiver if you aren’t sure ) Many places now will use Dropbox, Wetransfer etc so that large files can be sent through
- Send a printed list of images and include prices if requested or appropriate.
- Your CV- Concentrate on clarity of presentation, relevance of items and accuracy and ensure it’s up to date
- Make sure any statement/proposal you have to submit has been checked for spelling and grammar, and DON’T just rely on your computer programme! It’s a good idea to get someone else to check it for you as well
- Finally, try NOT to write and send your proposal by email on the last day! When I received the applications for Everyday Encounters at the William Morris Gallery, the call for applicants had been out for several months. Over 60 came in by email during the final 24 hours. A few were clearly last minute and un-thought out and did not make the final cut
At the selection stage of an exhibition, we always look for accuracy, quality of work and its suitability for the exhibition. The following are likely to be automatically rejected;
- Poor images
- Poor presentation
- Not responding to criteria laid out in the submission document
- Late applications
One of the great joys in being a curator is seeing the huge variety and quality of work made by artists not just in the discipline of textiles but from those working in other media as well. One of the problems is that sometimes you have to leave out makers whose work you really like because of the high standard of applicants or because it isn’t right for the space. The gallery space clearly affects decision making and so I am going to use the exhibition at the William Morris gallery as my example.
The gallery space was quite small but purpose built, and we had over 100 applicants for 25- 30 places. This included a range of 2D and 3D media, from ceramics and glass to furniture, metal and textiles and the applicants were asked to respond to a specific brief.
First to be rejected outright were those who failed to do this, or who showed no evidence of thinking the brief through.
Second to go were those who had poor images. It’s no good submitting an excellent proposal, if the selectors can’t see what your work will look like.
This left us with around 60-70 which we gradually whittled down to 30. There is never complete agreement, compromises have to be made, but in the end we felt we had a really exciting range of ideas and media.
The artists had to create work specifically for the show so the resulting exhibition was one of harmony and extraordinary coincidences. The artists did not see each others ideas before the final submission, yet aspects such as colour, form, pattern and research showed strong affinities to one another and this aided the hanging team.
Preparing your work for hanging
- Re-read instructions regarding hanging methods before you send or deliver your work. The gallery team will expect it to be ready to go- that is fit for purpose.
- Adhere to instructions sent out by the gallery. Wall based work must fit with the gallery’s own criteria whether that is d-rings, mirror plates and so on
- If the work is very difficult to hang, offer to help
- Including a sketch/diagram of how you would like it shown can also be helpful although it might be ignored!
During my time at the Mall Galleries we received work that;
- Had no hanging method attached to the work
- Was not labelled or did not correspond to the list we had received
- Was badly framed
- Was badly packed and thus arrived damaged or broken
I was not involved in hanging the work at the William Morris exhibition but was fully involved at the shows at the Mall.
Juggling the work of some 100 artists presents its own problems, yet at the same time is immensely rewarding. Certain pieces can dictate how or where you begin, perhaps because of scale or special hanging needs. Patterns, colours, shapes emerge leading to groups that work well together giving the exhibition its own unique shape.
Many exhibitors send far too many pieces. An exhibition works not only on what is displayed, but on what is left out. Less is more. Be selective, look at what you have and always send your best. Never substitute an inferior piece just to make up the numbers.
Final words of advice on submitting art to galleries
I will leave you with the best piece of advice I ever received on finishing my degree course at Goldsmiths many years ago. The principal of the college knew I had an exhibition coming up. I’ve never forgotten his words and have repeated them many times.
Always show your best, as you will always be judged by your worst.