Friday, July 29, 2005

Shopping for Art (or "The Tale of the Gallerina")

Greg Allen points us to this amusing interview with Deborah Needleman, the editor in chief of the newly launched Domino magazine (whose tag line is "The shopping magazine for your home.") The new publication plans on including a monthly feature about buying art. Cool, no?

Well, decide for yourself:
Art is another form of shopping,” Ms. Needleman said by phone July 25. “It’s not like buying a toaster oven, but it’s not that different, either.”

Ms. Needleman said that her magazine’s monthly arts coverage will aim to “demystify” art in the same way the magazine makes home decorating simple.

“I feel like the art world tries to maintain this mystique,” she said. “It’s particularly apparent when you go into a Chelsea gallery and there’s this big lie they’re propagating, like they’re pretending they’re not selling stuff. They make you feel bad for just looking. Those gallerinas are there, but I don’t know what they’re there for.”
Now I know there are people who will get pissed off by this, but if you don't see a big difference between a painting in my gallery and a toaster oven, I'm not about to sell you that painting. Seriously, you can buy one from somewhere else. Toasters are interchangeable. The work I'm selling is not.

It's not about mystique. I'll spend hours explaining an artwork to an interested collector (regardless of whether they're just starting out or have a major collection), but I'll expect that person to put in some effort to understand. If they're not interested in "getting" it, I don't want them to have the work. That's a service to them and my artist.

I don't have gallerinas (love that term, actually), but I understand why some of them are hard as nails. If a gallery goer knows what they're looking for, or is genuinely interested in learning about the work, they'll get past the gallerina and on to the director or someone who can help them, with no problem. If all they want to do is vent about how much they hate contemporary art (and it's stunning how many people interested in that will punish themselves by going to galleries), the gallerinas develop the necessary skills to respond accordingly.

I know how snobbish that sounds, but think about this for a moment. Artwork is an incredibly personal expression. The artist is risking a tremendous, very public rejection by putting up an exhibition of work they've often literally put their heart and soul into. The gallery is similarly invested in the work, feeling very strongly about it (one day, I'll do the math for you, and show just how much faith a gallery must have in an artist to justify the overhead for an exhibition). With all that vunerability, freaks who stroll in and sniff around as if choosing a toater oven are threatening. Seriously. It's one thing to stand there and see the work rejected by a viewer because they don't like it (the artist and gallery are fully prepared for that), but because it's all very personal, it's something else altogether to be rejected by someone who thinks they're in Macy's. After that happens enough times, even the most generously hearted gallerina develops a jaded shell (and perhaps fangs).

One more note: this is a photo of Ms. Needleman. I provide this image as a service so that should she stop by your gallery, you can help her find the toaster department (or perhaps take a few moments to explain why she might rethink her position). And with that, I'm off to get some much needed caffiene.

UPDATE: Full up on caffiene now. In re-reading this, I realize this line is a bit of a tease: "If a gallery goer knows what they're looking for, or is genuinely interested in learning about the work, they'll get past the gallerina and on to the director or someone who can help them, with no problem." Galleries are intimidating, mostly because the work costs so much, and the assumption is you have to be able to afford something to deserve the gallery staff's time. Although it's not a good idea to make up questions about the art just to feel like you're getting special attention, there's no gallery in the world where you can't ask for assistance/information. Believe me, I've asked in spaces it would take me 60 years' salary to afford something.

Someone will almost always be at the desk or in the office. Feel free to approach them and/or poke your head in and ask "Hello, can I ask you a few questions about this painting[/photo/video, etc.]?" Ignore any sense you may get that they're sizing you up and judging you by how you're dressed. Some of the biggest collectors in the world run around looking like hobos (don't ask for names).

You may catch them at a point when they are genuinely in the middle of something they can't stop doing (like anywhere), but don't let that put you off. Ask when might be a better time. Suggest you're gonna go to another nearby gallery (this will peak their interest), and that you'll be back. When they finally turn their attention to you, ask your questions. If you're not in the buying mood, tell them thank you and move on. It's really that simple.

30 Comments:

Blogger ham paw said...

thanks Ed for your post. I completely agree with you and I love the fact that you are so supportive of artists and understanding of the labor of love needed to make the art. It is disturbing to imagine my work at a garage sale next to the old toaster. Gross.

CHEERS TO YOU AND JEERS TO HER.

7/29/2005 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

thanks Ham Paw,

It is disturbing to imagine my work at a garage sale next to the old toaster.

Perish the thought! Next to some other gem in the Met, and nothing less!

7/29/2005 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Or next/near to a beautifully designed toaster in the MoMa! Ms Needleman actually has a gallerina look going, without the smile of course and she needs to be typing something.

7/29/2005 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ms Needleman actually has a gallerina look going,

That was my first thought upon finding her photo too. Perhaps she worked as one once and remains bitter.

7/29/2005 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Perhaps she worked as one once and remains bitter.

Or perhaps she once had a decent hairstylist who was next to an art gallery and her attitude towards art got her thrown out so she had to go somewhere else where they did THAT to her hair. And the sleeve over the bottom part of the hand thing is supposed to say what to me, "I'm too lazy to take different photos for professional use and online dating use."?

7/29/2005 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

ouch!

LOL.

I think the sleeve over the bottom of the and thing says, "If I make myself look smaller you might not notice how equestrian I look."

7/29/2005 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Gettin hot in here.

7/29/2005 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

heh, equestrian...

Nobody steps on artists in my town!

7/29/2005 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

yeah...not the direction I want this to go...just got caught up in the fun.

Ms. Needleman is a very attractive woman. I wish she'd re-think her position on buying art (mostly because of her position and its potential influence, not because it offends me personally), but other than that, I'm sure she's a lovely person.

7/29/2005 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

Just to play devil's advocate, wouldn't it be more acceptable to have your art rejected because it didn't match the living room sofa than because someone thought you were talentless?

I'd also like to see some examples of what Mis. Needleman is considering buying. Is it that pre-framed stuff from Bed Bath & Beyond? Or a little Thomas Kincaid, perhaps? That stuff really IS like buying a toaster.

7/29/2005 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Todd,

I haven't been entirely fair to Ms. Needleman. This paragraph in the story indicates she's not talking about Kincaid

The four-page entry, appearing in September’s issue, informs readers “What You Need to Know to Start Shopping for Prints,” and includes such service primers as “understanding the market.” Prints from such artists as Jeff Koons, Sol LeWitt and Brice Marden at multiple price points appear against a stark white background.

So she's not an idiot (or her art editors's not), but the point remains that suggesting one can choose a Brice Marden in anything like the way one does a toaster oven is misleading her readers horribly. Perhaps some folks look to their toaster ovens for affirmation, inspiration, a spiritual awakening, or more, but there are nice padded rooms and coats with extra long arms for such people.

wouldn't it be more acceptable to have your art rejected because it didn't match the living room sofa than because someone thought you were talentless

I guess I see where you're going with that, but it negates the idea that there's a dialog between the collector and artist. Not that the two must meet, mind you (although there's certainly nothing wrong with that).

Irrespective of that, however, I think of art as something in a colletor's care, passing on to their heirs or a museum after they pass on, and in being such a non-time-specific acquisition, something they should buy irrespective of the furniture they currently have. In other words, yes, you must have the space for something, and yes it should reflect your general tastes (or why would you want it), but no, you're not choosing a reading chair, so how well it goes with the sofa is to a very large degree irrelevant and so you should do yourself a favor and have other, more meaningful criteria.

If you don't, again, I don't want you to have a piece by one of my artists.

7/29/2005 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger mountain man said...

In some way I think I understand her desire to de-mystify the art going experience, Chelsea can be very intimidating for people (even artists). However, demeaning artworks and employing them solely as interior design elements is a depressing and ignorant move. Galleries obviously need to sell work, so there is a commodity aspect to it, but the tacit agreement between gallerist, artist and collector, I believe, is that artworks can be magical (sorry to sound cheesy). I feel self-defined, comforted, and moved by the art I am lucky enough to have in my apartment. I have never felt this way about an appliance or a piece of furniture.

7/29/2005 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

I have never felt this way about an appliance or a piece of furniture

Again, we'll get into craft vs. art here, but we've got one piece of custom, designed for us furniture. The guy who did it feels much the same about it as the artists who did my paintings feel about them.

7/29/2005 06:01:00 PM  
Blogger mountain man said...

Point taken. I don't want to imply that art takes precedence over craft.

7/29/2005 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The guy who did it feels much the same about it as the artists who did my paintings feel about them.

That's fine, but how do you feel about it?

7/29/2005 06:19:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

That's fine, but how do you feel about it?

Good question. Good, but in a different way than the paintings I have, then again, maybe not so different afterall.

What I mean is that I buy art that strikes me and have a difficult time living with pieces that don't. The pieces I have just struck me when I saw them and I knew that I had to see them everyday.

I guess the difference is, and why I'm attached to this piece of furniture and the guy who built it, is that he somehow took the shell of an idea of something I wanted and created not only what I would have liked to build, but added his own touches that made it even better; touches that went beyond making the piece more useful (which I would ID as craft) but made it special for it's own sake.

He made something for himself and for me. I think that's cool.

I don't know if that's different from "art". In fact, I may not know how "real" art is created. I've never considered myself artistic because I simply don't see things in my head that I have to get out. Ditto words or music. IMHO The people who need to get those things out create art because they must. They don't care if it sells, or if the process of creation was relaxing or if, in the end, even they "like" it, it's just something they had to do. Lucky ones find people who have to buy it.

But you're in the biz, you tell me; what is an artist? If you have a show and certain pieces of the artist's work sell, pieces that have a certain style or mood or theme and others do not, if that artist then goes back to work and works to create pieces like that again in the future, is it art, or is it done to please future buyers?

Is any artist still an artist after his/her first show?

7/29/2005 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Is any artist still an artist after his/her first show?

Yes! Somedays it's pure somedays not so. It's constant balancing. Our purity is diminished at birth, making art is a process to regain a little of it. So don't worry, make something!

7/29/2005 10:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Oliver said...

This is my favorite enrty EVER.

7/29/2005 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Is any artist still an artist after his/her first show?

that is an excellent question...postworthy even (mind if I steal it?)

I like Mark's answer though.

7/29/2005 11:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

Now we're getting off topic, but the issue of playing to the audience is something I've been mulling over this summer, with regard to guys like William Wegman and Michael Kenna or Abelardo Morrel. (Forgive spellings.) When does your style become your schtick? How do you avoid falling over that line? Look at the recent show by Gregory Crewdson, for example. Especially if you become really popular for one thing, the temptation to ramp of production of what you know will sell for beau coup buck must be awfully difficult to resist.

And lest anyone misread my previous comment, I have posted elsewhere that I feel the only legitimate reason for a purchase is a personal connection iwtha piece whther that's emotional or intellectual. Financial investment and interior design are to be frowned upon.

7/30/2005 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Look at the recent show by Gregory Crewdson, for example.

Do we have to? ;-)

When does your style become your schtick?

We talk about that a lot in the gallery, and it corresponds with Mark's question.

My business partner Joshua (also an artist) suggests that each artist is in danger of becoming a graphic designer if they're not careful. What he means by that is an "artist" will develop a vocabulary that advances the dialog or innovates in some other way, and if they're not careful, rather than continuing to push it, they end up simply rearranging that vocabulary, which essentially is graphic design.

7/30/2005 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

that is an excellent question...postworthy even (mind if I steal it?)

be my guest, especially since you're so kind as to let me be yours here ;)

Case in point. Thomas Reynolds Gallery in SF is where I've purchased much of the work I own. Nobody there is super famous or pricey (except maybe Villerme) so I'd say it's a gallery for people who like what they see and buy. One of the artists whose pieces sold very well (we have one), Terry Miura, recently changed what he wanted to paint from this to this. Thomas respects Terry's decision and I like his stuff (we own one from the past style and will purchase Afterschool this weekend [I can't wait to hang it]), but the last thing Thomas needs is another California landscapist.

I'll be interested to see what Terry's doing in a year or so. If he goes back to the past to earn a living has he sold out? Will he be looking for things to paint that will sell? I dunno. I imagine it might be a sore subject for him, I doubt I'll ask...

7/30/2005 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Our purity is diminished at birth, making art is a process to regain a little of it. So don't worry, make something!

I shoot 4x5 and consider myself to be more a chronicler than an artist, but I know another 4x5er that has hundreds (probably thousands) of undeveloped negatives at his house. He found out quickly that the act of photographing something was enough in and of itself to give him enjoyment; he didn't need to see the finished product because the finished product is how he feels when he decides to leave his spot.

Pretty Zen I think. Well, as Zen as you can be carrying a $500 carbon fiber tripod. We photogs are gadget geeks at heart :)

7/30/2005 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'll be interested to see what Terry's doing in a year or so. If he goes back to the past to earn a living has he sold out?

It doesn't have to be that black and white (although it sometimes is). Two things to consider: 1) We have a painter who has three rather distinct series running at all times. What looks like a shift in style/subject/etc. to the viewer is actually just an exhibition choice. 2) Artists work in a spiral-shaped line I find. Often even a surprise to them, they'll find themselves bringing back things subconsciously that they had consciously abandoned years before. What I mean by that is you're likely to see the same sort of vocabularly/subject in Thomas's earlier paintings a few years down the road, even without a conscious effort on his part to do so.

7/30/2005 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I shoot 4x5

Ever put any images online that I could see?

7/30/2005 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

edward_,

rather than continuing to push it, they end up simply rearranging that vocabulary, which essentially is graphic design

I've heard this concept described with the expression "old man's toys."

7/30/2005 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I've heard this concept described with the expression "old man's toys."

can you think of an example in which that's used in context?

I ask because I wonder if there's a difference between using someone else's vocabulary (which is what that sounds like to me) and one's own, which is what Joshua is talking about. In the end, there's no difference really, except that at one point the later had actually contributed something new.

7/30/2005 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I'll be interested to see what Terry's doing in a year or so. If he goes back to the past to earn a living has he sold out?

Think about the process of Morandi.
I'm having a problem with the earning a living bit. If Terry dosen't earn a living he starves, which could be a performance but probably over done. I think you can do both, many artist have and continue to do so. Michalangelo (lets start on the bottom tier :)) for example did just about everything. I was in Florence this past May, the guy was everywhere; he even did party planning (the wedding of Maria de Medici to Henry 1V). There is also a distinction that we make which seperates art from life. Live an artful life and it will all work out in the end, for better of worse.

7/30/2005 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Did you notice the longer this thread goes on the prettier Ms Needleman becomes.

7/30/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Ever put any images online that I could see?

Unfortunately, no. I've developed the color shots into chromes, but I haven't printed any or put them on a disk. And the B&W's were developed to negs and then contact printed to 4x5.

Now that my house is complete I'll have more time to both shoot, develop and put some of the stuff online. I'll let you know when I do.

Thanks for asking.

8/01/2005 08:18:00 PM  

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