What are the Chances of Having an Art Gallery in Chicago Look at Your Work? Survey Says … by Michael Hopkins

Chicago Art Gallery

In a survey of 50 Chicago galleries, 40% answered in the affirmative: yes, they do look at unsolicited work. Final numbers were 30 said no and 20 said yes. The percentage was higher than I had expected but was nothing to brag about.

The survey was compiled by phone and through gallery websites. I was surprised how many websites had no information concerning submissions. I was also surprised that three gallery owners told me they still make studio visits. I thought this practice had gone the way of doctors making house calls.

Most of the people I spoke with were nice and forthcoming on why they did or did not look at submissions. Then there was the occasional person who sounded like they were doing me a favor by answering the phone.

The biggest fish story involved a gallery owner telling me that in the days before the dominance of computers he had received 150 submissions per day! Over a year’s time, that would be some 36,000 submissions. I imagine some Dickensian-like situation in the gallery’s backroom: a grim workforce opens and sorts submissions with one dim bulb hanging from the ceiling supplying their light. Mau Mau, faster with those submissions! And when you’re done with that, get cracking on making more iPads….

A River North gallery reported that currently they receive about 10 submissions a day—this seems much more realistic to me. They also mentioned that out of those, one or two are from serious artists. The remainder are unprofessional carpet bombers—artists that hit every gallery possible.

This begs the question: why can’t a gallery look at 10 email submissions per day? If I were a gallery owner, the idea, however minute, that I missed a diamond in the rough because I couldn’t give up 15 minutes a day would haunt me.

Visit a gallery during the day, and you might think you’ve mistakenly walked into a morgue. Over the past 30 years, gallery opening-night crowds have shrunk noticeably. Not looking at unsolicited submissions can be a contributing factor to a gallery’s demise. Collectors who frequent a gallery eventually get tired of the same old, same old, and they move on. When I read about another gallery closing, it rarely surprises me, and I feel unsympathetic to their plight. Not looking at enough new work causes a self-inflicted wound that smacks of ignorance, laziness, and/or smugness.

Yes, I know the old, sad song of gallery owners: we don’t have enough time to look, we get too many submissions, we like the stable of artists we have…. yawn…. sound of a tiny violin playing….

How does that saying about insanity go…?


Michael Hopkins is a writer and artist who makes drawings, paintings, and sculptures. He has work in numerous museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago. He has work in numerous corporate art collections including the Progressive Collection and the Wellcome Trust Collection in London, England. He is a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant recipient. michaelhopkinsdrawings.com

Top image: Illustration by Norbert Marszalek