Covid Curation: Which Online Exhibition is Right for You?

Covid-19 is forcing the world to rethink how we show, view, and sell art.

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to curate the Emerging Artists in Oil Exhibition at the Four Seasons in Whistler, British Columbia. The show featured three young painters from Vancouver and Richmond, BC, none of whom had exhibited their work before. This was a huge milestone in the careers of these artists!

This was a truly lovely experience and the hard work of the artists showed. You can see photos/videos of the exhibition and read the artists’ words here: https://jamiekemp.ca/pages/emerging-artists-in-oil-exhibition

The exhibition was an outstanding success, but due to Covid-19 it had a smaller audience than it deserved. Mounting a show with masks and social distancing is difficult to do responsibly, and we had to be careful to limit our audience size. We had to be mindful about how close we could stand to the artists to hear them talk, and distancing restrictions changed how artists, curators, and viewers could interact in the space.

This experience has thoroughly convinced me that, for now at least, online exhibitions are the way to go for artists. 

The slow-down of in-person exhibitions is not a change that I think anyone wanted to see, but it has some real benefits. There’s an opportunity to reach a much broader audience through online exhibitions (especially if there is paid advertising) and showing your work online dramatically reduces the costs of exhibiting art (not just in terms of the space, but also framing costs, and generally high gallery commissions). Online exhibitions are simply more accessible to more artists, and the circumstances of Covid-19 mean that some types of online exhibitions are now becoming legitimate and prestigious. For the first time, a good online exhibition is worth putting on your résumé. 

There are many organizations and individuals offering online exhibition opportunities these days, so artists have plenty of options. But how do you choose between them when costs can range from $10 entry fees to $2000?

Here are some questions you should ask to help you decide which online exhibition opportunity is right for you:

1. How many people will see your work?

There are a number of factors that will help you to figure out the potential reach of your show. 

  • How long will it be posted? 
  • Where will your work appear? 
  • Does the organizer intend to advertise broadly?

Paid advertising and organic advertising are both good, but if you are paying a significant entry fee, you should expect paid advertising.

Some online exhibitions, especially online juried shows, are hosted on private facebook groups. This makes a lot of sense because it streamlines the payment and submission processes for the organizers and prevents spammers from commenting on your work. The limitation here is that the only those who pay to participate or are invited to the group will see the exhibition. 

2. How many artists will be represented in the show?

Open exhibitions with low entry fees generate a lot of submissions. This is a good thing in some ways because having lots of artists participate likely means having lots of viewers; the built in audience here is other artists who have submitted to the show. 

The downside is that large exhibitions involve scrolling through all the posts. Individual works of art, especially pieces that are on the subtle side, are likely to get lost in the big group.

3. Is the exhibition curated?

Will there be a human or group of humans who will make meaningful decisions about the exhibition and how your work is presented within it? 

If the exhibition is curated, someone will decide what art is in or out of the show, arrange individual works of art in a coherent way, make sure award-winners are showcased, add important commentary, and work to make sure that the exhibition as a whole provides a good viewing experience.

In the case of high-end online shows, you should be able to talk with the curator and get one-on-one help with writing text panels and captions for your work.

4. What steps will the organizers take to make sure your work is showcased to its best advantage?

Some online exhibition organizers may simply upload your work to a website as is. 

Others will work with you to make sure your photos are cropped to remove background clutter and framing, set to a suitable resolution for online viewing, and are of high quality.

A premium exhibition will tell a compelling story that contextualizes your work. It will show your audience why your art matters. It will offer biographical information about the artist, and relevant information about your art should be included and correct. Furthermore, your pieces should be displayed in a range of dynamic ways (from showing detail images to including videos).

5. Will there be opportunities to connect with other artists, curators, and art-lovers?

 

In-person exhibitions have a built-in social component. You meet with other arts professionals when you submit and/or mount your work, and exhibition openings provide great opportunities to network with people who are interested in what you create. There’s usually a specific event where artists can bring friends, family, and the public together to celebrate their achievements.

Online exhibitions that try to meet this need could create a facebook group for the show, post live introductions by curators, or even include live opening events via Zoom or Facebook Live. 

6. Is it possible to sell your work? Are you required to sell your work? If so, what are the commission fees?

 

Many in-person galleries charge commission fees of around 50% for art they sell. This is quite a high cost but it comes with a very high level of service. Online commissions are generally lower, but they should reflect the level of service you are getting from the organizer or curator. 

Consider asking the organizer what the commission covers beyond basic web hosting and point-of-sale payment processing.

 

Ready to have a meaningful online exhibition of your own?

Or, apply for a solo exhibition here.

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