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Art competitions: Why artists and galleries win every time

written by: Susan Mumford May 31, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 3920 views

Art competitions: Why artists and galleries win every time

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Many small commercial galleries run their own annual art prizes. In most cases, they offer shortlisted artists inclusion in an exhibition, the top prize being representation. With everything involved in the organisation of a prize and show, why go to all the effort?

It’s simple; artists suitable for the gallery programme apply, all at the same time in an organised fashion specified by the gallery. Think about it: for much of the year, gallery owners, managers and staff are staging show after show, exhibiting at fairs, running around meeting potential clients, generally running top-speed and non-stop.

Individual artist submissions received throughout the year take time away from whatever projects are taking place and come in many forms. I will never forget the time when, as a gallery owner, an artist sent an actual portfolio from Spain, complete with original works on paper! It felt like a burden more than anything else, particularly as return packing and postage wasn’t provided. Not only did we not want original pieces of art delivered through the post, it felt like a huge responsibility.

Galleries have many reasons for setting up their own prizes. For starters, the individual approach by artists is cumbersome for everyone involved, and is difficult for small art dealerships to handle. Furthermore, as much as gallerists want to be seeking new talent, they don’t have the time they wish they did to make studio visits. Even if the artist and dealer live in the same city, it takes half a day of the dealer’s time to make that visit, time they can’t afford to lose promoting the artists they already represent. Plus, holding an open submission show is an interesting addition to the exhibition programme that might very well garner press attention, too.

As so many galleries are jumping on the art prize bandwagon, it’s a smart move for artists to look at the yearly calendar of events. Do galleries that interest them tend to hold an annual prize? If so, it’s an ideal opportunity to present yourself. Even galleries that don’t normally accept submissions – as stated on their websites, will take the time to consider your work. And thus, an essential element of research for attaining representation is reviewing the exhibition programme.

Sounds fabulous, right? It’s a lot of work for everyone. As I judge prizes from time to time, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of setting up submissions and judging platforms that work well for all involved. Want someone to judge your prize on multiple occasions? Ensure the process is smooth and that all necessary information needed to make informed decisions is provided. I’ve had great as well as dreadful experiences. Providing they’re happy with the process and receive clear communication for all associated events and prize winners, you’ll create ambassadors that will spread the word all the more.

As frustrating an experience such competitions can be for artists who get rejected, you can appreciate why they make sense for commercial galleries. Keep trying and be selective about the prizes that suit your work. Eventually, you, alongside the gallerists and judges, will be celebrating together.  


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