Friday, September 09, 2005

Tossing Your Teddy vs. Rising to Excellence

The Guardian has a story about the rather transparent appeal by Italy's architects to halt the number of building projects being awarded to foreign superstar architects. With arguments so lame they might as well have just tossed their teddies and stomped their feet, they called on Italy's government to prevent the "architectural mongrelisation" of Italy.

Their protests are supported by the architectural association Direzione Generale per L'Architettura e L'Arte Contemporanea in Rome, whose director, Pio Baldi, says Italian architects are being usurped in their own country.

"It appears that the use of foreign architects has become a fashion, but they are not always the right choice for the right project," he said.

"Architects like [the Brit, Lord] Foster can make skyscrapers in London, but he is not suited to making them in Siena. Italian architects are more capable of marrying the traditional with the modern in an Italian context."

This one is easy. If Italian architects want to be awarded Italian projects, all they have to do is submit the most compelling proposals. This extends into all art-related arenas where selection committees choose who gets what. I hear endless bellyaching from artists (and gallerists) who don't get picked for this open-call exhibition or grant (or that art fair), and my first thought is always, "Well, next time submit a more compelling proposal." Imagining that one should get a pass because of one's nationality or any other demographic is insulting to the organization offering the opportunity.

Oh, I know, there are often "political" considerations that can affect such selections, but their existence is no excuse for not submitting a proposal that takes them into account and overcomes them. Most of the time, it's not as if you didn't know they were there.

Excellence is your best defense against any such political considerations, always. Rising to the challenge and submitting the most excellent proposal you possibly can will always be the right approach. It's taken me a few stumbles myself to come to that conclusion, but I know it's correct. Even should the selection committee not be convinced, you'll make an impression. It will register with them. More importantly, you'll elevate your own game through the process.

The more time I spend in the art world, the more I'm convinced: there's only one thing worth striving for and that's excellence. If Italy's architects focussed on that, they wouldn't have time to build Italy's new institutions...they'd be too busy filling the demand for their work in all four corners of the world.


Anonymous Martin said...

Edward - I would really like to believe (and did for a long time) that all an artist needs to do is to concentrate on making his/her work and if it is good enough that artist will be recognized.

Most artists, in my experience, move to NY not because it is the best place to be to make their best work but because that is where one needs to be to make the contacts necessary in order to better increase chances of receiving fellowships, grants, NYC gallery represention, residencies elsewhere, and national exposure.

All of your gallery's artists, with the exception of one, live in NY. Is that because they overwhelmingly submitted the best proposals or were there other factors in considering them for representation? How did you come to represent the Nashville artist?

Maybe you don't receive many applications from artists elsewhere or as a Brooklyn gallery you've chosen to focus on Brooklyn artists? If the latter is true how will that change with your move to Chelsea? If you haven't received many applications from elsewhere and think that a move to Chelsea would increase the gallery's visibilty and viability how does that jibe with your idea that it doesn't matter where you are, only the focus on excellence? Will a Chelsea move make the gallery more "excellent"?

I cringe whenever I read or hear undoubtedly well-meaning gallerists and critics advise artists to "just focus on the work". Some of your own previous Aunt Edna style posts have contradicted that advice.

There are many more excellent artists struggling in obscurity than mediocre artists showing successfully.

9/10/2005 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


For the record, this is my personal blog, and although I link to the gallery and discuss it tangentially, I won't answer questions concerning my artists individually or why I chose this or that one to represent. There are privacy issues, as I'm sure you can appreciate, and that's where I'll draw the line with regard to sharing my experiences as a dealer.

The Aunt Edna advice offered so far has been sincere, but always I believe qualified as somewhat generic in nature. In other words, there's no one way to become a successful artist, regardless of how you measure that. Much of what you report as making you cringe is only understandable if you had interepreted the offered advice as absolute.

I cringe whenever I read or hear undoubtedly well-meaning gallerists and critics advise artists to "just focus on the work". Some of your own previous Aunt Edna style posts have contradicted that advice.

"Focusing on the work" remains good advice in the context I offered it initially (i.e., as opposed to changing one's area of exploration to match current fashions). I don't recall that it was ever recommended as a fool-proof path. I don't recall ever saying it doesn't matter where you are either, as if there were any guarantees in any of this that the world will beat a path to your door if you're good enough (although Henry Darger's story suggests they will, most folks want the acclaim while they're living). In fact, the very first bit of advice I offered for getting one's foot in the door of the NYC scene (arguably still the most powerful in the world) was to build a support network of NYC artists. I know plenty of artists from other parts of the world who do leads to their hearing about opportunities here.

There are many more excellent artists struggling in obscurity than mediocre artists showing successfully.

I don't mean this to sound discouraging, but here's where my years in the hard-nosed world of political blogging kicks in: prove that assertion. You're dismissing advice based on this conclusion of yours, but for that to be truly valuable to other people, you should back it up with empirical evidence.

9/10/2005 06:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward, you make an amazing response here. Martin is having what seems like an emotional reaction to the unfairness of it all. All artists, dealers, curators, writers (even Jerry Saltz) can relate to feeling left out at some time or other, feeling overlooked. However, it remains true that it is always about the work. Always. All you can ever do to fight your feelings of being neglected or misapprehended are to get back in the studio. That is it. Keep the dream alive. There is always hope when you are hard at work in the studio.

Martin, you can't expect that living in Richmond and having a complaint-oriented blog will be the key to your success. You are obviously tuned in to a lot of what goes on in the NY artworld - why is it that you think you should have a place there if you are unwilling to really participate? (Aside from reading publications and visiting every once in a while.) It is much harder and more frustrating for the many thousands of artists who actually live in NY, see shows and attend openings regularly, than it is for you. Maybe you don't have to live in NY to have a career, but even being in NY, in the so-called game, knowing people, living there for years, and making great work doesn't guarantee anything. It's an endurance test, really. And if you are losing your faith in the ideal of making good work, then you should let go of the dream. There are too many artists competing for too few spots. If you no longer believe in the worth of what you are doing, then do all the artists a favor who keep the dream alive, keep their complaints to themselves, and bust their asses at all costs, and drop out.

Your ire at Edward seems misguided. He may be the only dealer in the world who is actually devoting time to publicly helping artists with frank advice. We are all lucky to have a small window on the way one dealer thinks. You should be thanking him and not whining.

9/11/2005 12:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Anonymous - I have absolutely no ire towards E. Winkleman. None.

I have also NEVER said that anything is more important than making the work and I've certainly lost none of my faith in "the ideal of making good work".

Yes, my comment here was an emotional reaction to the unfairness if it all.

I do appreciate your intelligent and frank criticism of how I sometimes come across, but I don't think of my blog as complaint-oriented. I think of it is an open and uncensored expression of an artist's (and commenters) hopes and frustrations.

Edward - I have to go now but I'll get back later.

9/11/2005 11:46:00 AM  

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