There has been more talk about opens again, brought about I suspect by a convergence of the season of the 'big ones', a couple of other big names apparently following suit, a seeming plethora of new ones popping up, and a growing body of suspicion that some are using opens simply as a means of generating income. It came to a head for me when an article on ArtLyst stated "Whitechapel Open Barometer For The Best Emerging Artistic Tends" (sic). How can this be if it is A) Geographically restricted, and B) charges an entry fee? Is it possible that such an event can really be perceived as an indicator? For the record, on its website the Whitechapel describes the exhibition as showcasing 'the most dynamic work being made in London in 2012'.
I don't doubt for a second that the work in the show is of a truly high standard, but I'm bothered that somewhere like the Whitechapel - which gets 1/3 of its funding from the government through ACE - should put on a non-inclusive open. Frankly, as a practicing artist trying to make his way in the world, that upsets me.
I want to state clearly that by and large I don't have a problem with the principle of Open submissions. I don't enter many, I have had a good deal of success with those I have entered, and I look upon an entry fee as a worthwhile investment. It is typically the same as a (albeit hefty) round of drinks, or the price of a couple of decent sketch pads. I'm not intimidated by the odds, because if I didn't have the conviction in my work I would be wrong to enter in the first place.
I also don't think there is anything wrong with failing to be selected. Sometimes it is hard not to take it personally, but there are all kinds of reasons why your work may not be picked: there is certainly an element of luck, but there is also the simple fact that the judges just may not be into your particular type of work. Keith Coventry tried time after time to get through stage 2 of John Moores, finally not only getting through - but winning the first prize. Another year, different judges, he may not even have been selected for stage two.
There are different categories of open, as I see it: those where professional recognition is on offer, such as John Moores, MRA's Salon, and the Marmite prize. Amongst the other good guys are the artist led opens, such as Standpoint (for their residency open), WW Gallery, CoExist and Motorcade/Flashparade to name a few. Zeitgeist Art Projects is also about to launch their own open, and from what I have seen of ZAP first hand it will easily be a good one.
Then there are legitimate opens, sometimes run by galleries, run with genuine intentions and where the entry fees go back into artist support and towards covering directly-related costs. Some of these may not get you world-wide exposure, but you may get a decent addition to your CV.
There are the other biggies, often described as 'prestigious'. This is a fuzzy area in my view, and I can't ignore my feeling that there are those that seem less about the art than about art-competitions-as-business. Call me a cynic if you like. Actually, I insist.
Then there are those that seem to have done the math and think "This is a great way to get a few quid", put on a show for a week, and bingo! the rent is covered for a few months. I get regular invitations in my email, particularly from America, and it stinks.
I'm not overlooking the fact that putting on an exhibition is expensive, and it is perfectly reasonable to want to cover those costs. Just don't do it to subsidise the rest of your business. I have been in two open submissions where there was no submission fee at all, but selected artists were asked for a small - and I do mean small - contribution to expenses. That shows commitment to the project. Speaking of which, WW Gallery's Patio Projects - no submission fee, make your proposal, and if you are accepted you get a sum for expenses. That's standing up for what you believe in.
What do I look for in an open? 1. It should be genuinely open, for starters. 2. There should be a good selection of credible independent judges. In the case of a gallery open, if it has chosen its judges wisely it should have no need to sit on the judging panel. 3. A good exhibition will be properly supported, well curated, and have decent PR and publicity. 4. By all means an entry fee, but while I don't want to read a set of accounts, transparency about where the money goes.
I know a number of people have been critical of the Jerwood's decision to charge artists more for regional collection. I'm ambivalent about this. After all, it would certainly cost me a lot more to take my work to Wimbledon and it's not Jerwood's fault that I live outside London. I would be more concerned about my unwrapped work hurtling up the A3 in the back of a van (I haven't entered the JDP for a few years simply because the handling doesn't suit my 3D work).
Finally, back to the London Open again. In response to a conversation on FB balking at the size of the entry fee, someone who should know better suggested "I'm sure if you speak to them they would waive the fee to deserving artists that are genuinely in need." How many shades of truly misinformed is that?