Becky Hunter, a professional art writer and press manager for Core Gallery, London shares essential advice on getting reviewed.
As an emerging freelance art writer I receive fifty to one hundred press releases and email queries from galleries, artists and their agents each week. I love to discover new work, ideas and creative projects – it’s how I make (part of) my living, alongside writing catalogue essays and, I admit it, temping– but I’m often disappointed by the lack of care and attention put into these vital communications.
After all the hard graft you’ve put into your show - making art, earning and allocating cash, finding an exhibition space or a willing curator, printing up invites and catalogues, and planning an ace opening night – I’m guessing you want to give it the best possible chance of being written about. And all it takes is a little research and planning to move your press release from the trashcan to, potentially, the top of a journalist’s to-do list.
Firstly, timing is essential: however awesome your exhibition, if you submit a release too late it will be ignored. National and international print magazines, such as MAP (mapmagazine.co.uk) or Artforum (artforum.com), plan their issues four to six months in advance; local print monthlies operate with a two or three month lead time; while newspapers and online magazines are more flexible, sometimes able to respond to events with two or even one week’s notice.
If there’s a particular magazine you dream to be featured in, check their contributor guidelines to find out how and when to approach them – but be sure to get in touch with writers and editors before their own deadlines kick in. Then, once you’ve identified a handful of magazines on various levels and timeframes that seem a good fit for your work, the next job is to put yourself in the shoes of a writer (read: do your research).
When I decide to approach an art publication with my freelance writing, I tend to buy a couple of copies of the magazine and read them cover to cover, sneakily make notes in the bookstore, or browse online. I want to make sure my pitch matches their overall style, tone, content, and position. For example, if I’m pitching to Dazed Digital(dazeddigital.com) I’ll focus on providing striking images; for Art Papers (artpapers.org) I’ll put contemporary art into a socio-historical context.
As an artist, you’ll also want to note down the names of writers whose articles resonate with your concerns. Usually, it’s quite easy to Google them, find their blog or portfolio site, and send a brief, polite email explaining that you enjoy their work (give an example!) and would like to send them occasional news on your own practice. While not everyone will get back to you, many critics will be flattered that you’ve taken the time to understand what they’re about, instead of just spamming them with irrelevant content.
Finally, when the time comes to write your press release, abide by the following rules. Make your first two lines punchy, summarising what’s interesting or unique about your show– that will convince the journalist to read further. Build a “story” paragraph, expanding on the opening sentences, using quotes from people involved in the exhibition and further points on the show’s concept. Include key information (who, where, when, etc) in bullet format at the very top or bottom of the release so it’s easy to locate, and attach your best image to the email.
As a writer, I’d love to receive more press releases that correspond to my actual location (currently East Coast USA) and interests (contemporary twists on abstraction, modernism & feminism, for example), and am sure I’m not the only one. Building relationships with the art press may take time and care, but will surely benefit your practice.
Becky Hunter (MA History of Art, University of York, AHRC) writes regularly for Art Papers and is available to write catalogue essays, press releases and creative marketing copy, or to edit artist statements. Fine out more about her at: www.beckyhuffhunter.net or Twitter @musehunter