Confessions Of A Gallery Girl Pt. 6: Letters Of Rejection

The Williamsburg art scene didn’t exactly have the same flavor back then as it does today. While some may be under the impression that the activity began at the turn of the century, it actually began to take shape in the 80s, as artists were looking for cheap live/work alternatives to the thriving SoHo and NoHo mainstays they could no longer afford – so they quietly holed themselves away in the mammoth industrial lofts, living off pad thai and vodka. Several of my art school professors had taken that track, and thanks to one of their recommendations, I found myself interning one summer for one of the first galleries to establish themselves in the area. It was here that I got my first taste of rejection—I was giving it.

It's Not Me, It's You

With community building in mind, the gallery had instilled a rather ingenious system which allowed them to represent several hundred artists. As part of my reception duties, artists called in regularly requesting to share their work – some still brought in sleeves of slides, others had early digital solutions, but everyone had to wait the nine months or so that were already booked up. In the meantime, hopefuls and wannabes sent packages with their CVs and portfolios for review, which mostly ended up in the slush pile—and by mostly, I really mean hundreds, and by hundreds, I probably mean thousands. There was no way to tell exactly; it was an endless pile.

When the task of sorting the slush pile was given to me, I was ecstatic. There I was, barely 20 years old, with half a minor in art history, entrusted with curatorial duties of an important gallery! But then, as I tucked into the giant boxes, eager to sort them into the four piles as I was instructed, the reality of what I was doing hit me. It went like this:

Pile I received rejection letter A: We like your work, but we aren’t ready to represent you. Please make an appointment to see the director (9 month wait), or send in a new body of work for future review.

Pile II received refection letter B: We like your work, but it isn’t a good fit for this gallery. We have confidence that your work may be selected for representation at another gallery.

Pile III received rejection letter C: Thank you for submitting your work. We feel that you are not ready for representation and that you could benefit from additional training.

Pile IV went to the director for review.

Number 1, 2, 3, or the dirty laundry pile? Artwork by Alex Flemming – read about him here. Photo: Chris Phillips

In my two months of working there, I sent out over 1,500 of the pre-written rejection letters (careful to insert the correct name each time). Packets that included a self-addressed stamped envelope were returned, the rest thrown away. I took the job seriously, and at the end of it only three packets made it to the director, who may or may not have called them in for a discussion. There I was, inching closer to my 21st birthday, with another year to go before receiving my BFA, and I was telling artists with twice my experience (or more), that they needed more instruction. 

If the hopes of artists could be squelched with a stroke of the pen, I knew I’d rather be holding the pen, but this time to celebrate the work I admired or to guide the hopefuls with fair and constructive criticism. I never regretted leaving the Williamsburg scene behind. Some things haven’t changed though: decisions are still being made by the under qualified, making or breaking dreams as easily as printing out a pre-written rejection letter—this time from a state of the art computer in an artfully decorated office rented with trust fund money.

But hey, maybe what letters of rejection really mean to  say is that you're a genius who's simply misunderstood because you're ahead of your time—repeat that mantra and you'll be feeling better in no time. Or join the following:

Article by Anonymous Gallery Girl

Last Week's Confessions: Secrets Of The Louvre