The Online Open-Call: Some Seasoned Jurors Weigh In

by Caleb Bell May 16, 2020

Craighead Green Gallery’s “New Texas Talent XXVI” exhibition title wall

Around two months ago, art museums and galleries across Texas closed their doors in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And I’m proud of the way artists, galleries and museums have adapted, but we can agree that viewing work online is not the same as in person. Of course, everyone has said that for a long time, but these past couple of months have driven the point home.

The influx of virtual viewing has me thinking specifically about the process of jurying exhibitions via online submissions. For those of us who have served as jurors, taking a close look at work on a computer screen is nothing new. For everyone else, I think this can help some light on what it takes. Every juror strives to include the best work, and that’s why high-quality images are so important. (I can’t stress image quality enough.) It’s already hard enough to see details, texture and dimensionality on a screen, but below-par images make it nearly impossible to assess a work of art.

Many factors play into final selections. A lot of juried exhibitions revolve around specific themes, and others are built with a juror’s vision in mind. Space limitations and logistical details are considered. For the juror, crafting the exhibition is a multifaceted process. But if you’re an artist, and you’ve been thinking about applying to an open call, I say do it. You’ll never know if you don’t take the leap.

I reached out to some colleagues and asked them to share some advice with artists regarding the submission process. While image quality was at the top of everyone’s list, here are a few other things they mention that you could consider:

“I think it’s very important to consider how the work you are submitting conveys across a digital platform. Some objects are outstanding in person, but when photographed and presented digitally (even with professional photography), they do not translate as well and lose color, detail, sense of space and composition.”
-Sarah Beth Wilson, Director of Exhibitions and Curatorial Projects, Art League Houston

“Take a look at who the jurors are so you have an idea of who will be looking at your work. You don’t have to play to their interests, but it may help you gauge what to submit.”
-Dennis Nance, Curator, Galveston Arts Center

“If there is an opportunity to describe your submission or your body of work, again, consider the theme of the exhibition or competition, and make sure your work honestly relates in some way. Challenge yourself to find ways that your work fits different themes of exhibitions or competitions as an opportunity to explore your own practice.”
-Mariah Rockefeller, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, Art Museum of Southeast Texas

“Ask someone else that you respect to confirm your picks. Show them choices.”
-Patrick Kelly, Executive Director and Curator, The Old Jail Art Center

“Spend time on the bio and statements! The best statement I have read in the context of an open-call submission was only three sentences long… I want to read a statement that gets right to the point.”
-Leslie Moody Castro, independent curator and writer

“Selected or not, you will learn a great deal by attending the reception.”
-Judy Deaton, Chief Curator/Director of Exhibitions and Collections, The Grace Museum

For a list of current open calls, go here. You might start filling out that application you’ve been putting off.

Caleb Bell is the Curator of the Tyler Museum of Art.

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