Friday, January 13, 2006

The Established Anti-Establisment

Yes, someone poured sour milk on my Lucky Charms this morning, but I have two reasons for the rant that follows: one is to set the record straight (or at least demonstrate why the record really needs a bit of expanding) and the other is to seek advice (like the very good advice I got regarding gallery websites a while back that led to what I feel are significant improvements to ours).

Echoing the earlier call by
Jerry Saltz for galleries to get some "attitude," Roberta Smith today sings the praises of "deviant or alternative galleries"...I'm beginning to suspect these two know each other ;-). And while I don't want to take anything away from the examples Roberta highlights, I will point out that the primary players within the majority of them are extraordinarily well connected within the art establishment, and more than one of them are what I'd call heavy-hitting movers and shakers (and were before they launched their "deviant" efforts).

Which isn't to suggest that they're insincere in any way, but to point out that these players are as involved with the "art-as-product orientation habitually ascribed to the Chelsea scene" Roberta decries, or more so, than a number of other, less-connected examples that I was very sorry to not see make her list. Of course, one defense for why these efforts were chosen over others could be that in addtion to bucking the trend, they also show "better" art (but, of course, that's debatable), OR one could argue that change needn't come from outside the system necessarily, but if the point is to focus on galleries trying to "brake their ascent to establishment status by interrupting the flow of monthly shows and finished objects," here are three few examples of excellent New York-based efforts in galleries run by folks who haven't already ascended (yes, a few in Roberta's list fall in this category, but some clearly don't):

  1. First and foremost is the highly innovative programming at Parker's Box. From their Summer Shorts series to their multi-location International Art Market, which "turn[ed] the tables on galleries representing artists, in order to have a number of artists “represent” their galleries through specific projects presented together under the same conditions and in similar spaces" (btw, called this event "a genuine alternative to [Chelsea gallery's] increasingly homogenized sheen, trading high stakes for high spirits and collectibility for down home community."), director Alun Williams continuously shakes-up what it means to run a commercial gallery.
  2. Cinders continues to redefine what a gallery can be as well. This article on summarizes some of their innovations.
  3. Noted in the article on Cinders is another program that continuously went out on a limb, eventually becoming totally virtual: Open Ground. One of their last physical exhibitions was a collaboration with Berlin's Galerie Scherer8 called Williamsburg Wedding, which was the very spirit of what Roberta termed "art as a process and a mind-set rather than a product."

And there are others. And not only in New York. Artist-run spaces like Lump in Raleigh, NC, or Soil in Seattle are absolute hotbeds of energy and creativity. I could go on, but...

Let me switch gears now though. As Roberta admits at the end of her article, there's a paradox of sorts involved here. If anyone is interested in combatting the "art-as-product orientation" of the scene, one would assume it's the artists themselves, but

But even the folks at [Lower East Side alternative gallery] Reena Spaulings admit that their artists want big careers and that they were impressed by the activities of deliberate, rather than accidental art dealers while participating in the Liste art fair in Basel, Switzerland, last spring. At [the "the intellectually inclined new collective gallery"] Orchard, an invitation from Extra City, a fair starting in Antwerp, Belgium, is under consideration.

So the trick seems to be operating a gallery that takes advantage of the systems in place that can generate "big careers" but not become an end unto itself (i.e., not turn the art into a "product"). As we prepare to join the circus in Chelsea (for a host of reasons, but definitely including to help our artists reach a wider audience), I'm curious about which elements of the "art as product" side of the system are most objectionable to artists, critics, curators, collectors and even dealers? I mean everyone will say it's a bad thing, but what--specifically--about it is "bad"? What I'm looking for mostly are warning signs that I can recognize and try to combat should we find ourselves heading more that direction.


Blogger Edna said...

more demands (i.e. quasi-commissions) directly from collectors via waiting lists, work sold before it leaves the studio (fucks w/head in big way), pressure to keep making the same stuff.

most artists want big careers. most galleries want big successes. bigger = sacrifice

1/13/2006 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

By generate "big careers", if that means asstute business practices-that's not a bad thing. bigger = sacrifice, maybe, dosen't have to be bad either. Set a standard you can live with and keep to it.

1/13/2006 02:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with edna. What fucks with your head in an even bigger way is NO demands from collectors and no work leaving the studio. I'm sorry, but I think this whole professed desire to get away from "art as product" is a bit disingenuous and is usually expressed by artists who aren't very successful financially. I've been in both positions: not selling anything and, alternately, being pressured to produce more of the same popular stuff. Guess which one is worse? (I think it was Billie Holliday who once said, and I paraphrase, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better.")

Yes, that pressure to produce more of the same rather than challenging yourself to try something new can be uncomfortable, but if you're lucky enough to have that problem, it's much preferable to the alternative. Deal with it. As for those pesky commissions from collectors, if what they want doesn't fit with what you're working on now, if you feel that you would be compromising your vision or integrity, you can turn them down! I've done it!

I have artist friends who deliberately make unsaleable work, who intentionally work outside the marketplace, etc., but they tend to be the same people who weren't selling any work when they were making ostensibly saleable work.


1/13/2006 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I tend to agree with Oriane somewhat...the extreme of having a waiting list (i.e., where an artist feels like a factory [and not in the good Warholian way]) is definitely to be guarded against, but assuming a "big career" means being able to quit one's day jobs, I'm not sure how that happens without a waiting list, at least initially. It often takes a waitinng list to get an artist's prices up to where they can live off their art.

1/13/2006 02:18:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

Art has always been a product, and when it wasn't a product, the documentation of it was.

I guess the only concern I have is that once one "current" begins selling, suddenly many artists are doing very similar work. Grad schools seem to mass produce the clones. That too has been consistent historically.

My one reminder is that in every era of art history some of the best artists were not that successful financially. Money is not an indicator of quality. But it sure is nice to have.

1/13/2006 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Oriane, you sound like you are able to work well within the gallery structure, and that's great. But some people end up miserable once they are under that kind of pressure, and their work suffers. Your "deal with it" solution includes compromise, even if you feel like you're in total control, doesn't it?

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying one is better than the other across the board. I'm just stating that you can't have great financial success (in today's market) without sacrificing at least some of your freedom.

Ciao baby

1/13/2006 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

(without sacrificing at least some of your freedom.)
I don't know of any such perfection. If you can't afford to work in your studio, as in side job, that's also a sacrifice, in any market.

1/13/2006 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous burrito brother said...

I think the sticky definition here is 'art as product'. Basically any thing or things deemed art that is in the three dimensional world that one person offers to another person or establishment in exchange for money is in fact, a 'product'.
So the idea that there are galleries trying to "brake their ascent to establishment status by interrupting the flow of monthly shows and finished objects" is completely ridiculous.
In fact, most of the galleries that show what one could describe as 'anti-product' art have already obtained vast amounts of cash and 'insider status' from family, secondary market, or other endeavors and have the ability to show work that they don't need to sell in order to obtain things like food and heat. I work for one such gallerist on the upper east side. The other gallerists that show 'anti-product' art need to prepared to try to achieve said 'insider status' as quickly as possible in order to sell work to the elusive base of high-priced collectors. Unless you show artist that regularly appeal to 'the public' like a Tom Otterness, it's hard for 'anti-product' art to get an audience. Even painting has a relatively small audience and consumer base when you compare it to popular music and hollywood movies. So there's a lot of scratch-my-back-i'll-scratch yours. I don't mean to urinate any more on your breakfast, but that's the way things are. That's why I like Cinders gallery because the the artists are taking over the economy on their own - outside of the critic/collector stranglehold that exists in chelsea. i don't know if the work they show is that great or different, but it's a good step. To sum up, Roberta Smith is full of shit.

1/13/2006 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

A few characteristics of art as commerce;

gallerinas that specialize in wan smiles and smugness, That special snobbery perfected by the help of the wealthy.

gallerists who are impeccable dressers and coldy unapproachable.

eye-rolling of any kind.

terribly serious about everything, thick gooey coatings of BS delivered in absolute earnest. speaking in hushed tones.

shunning tourists.

elevating artists to god like status.

Oh, Ed, I was wondering, is Edna your alter-ego?

1/13/2006 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...


I feel the "art-as-product" issue depends on individual philosophy, success aside. Faced with the dilemma you present, I think both options are pretty unattractive. No artist worth his or her salt wants to be trapped in one mode, but neither do we want to be working full-time jobs and painting nights and weekends. (The latter being my present lot. Doh!)

Furthermore, I no longer want the "big career" that I once did (when I was eighteen and more naive). Increasingly, I feel there is a happy medium which allows for financial success - but not outright wealth - and limited renown. Surely this is enough, especially if you're the type of artist who views the work as the product, not yourself.

Admittedly, this rather monastic approach is not for everyone and is largely informed by my interest in ecology, conservation and sustainable living, but I do believe that future generations of artists will find themselves more at ease with the concept of the artist as tradesman rather than celebrity. It was that way for centuries and will likely be that way again...before long even.

1/13/2006 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

burrito brother,

Until your last line (which strikes me as somewhat gratuitous...and clearly not accurate, because like her or not, Smith is definitely one of the best critics out there), your comment was well considered. Please refrain from the sort of transgressive puncutation that last line represents doesn't add anything useful and will force me to shut down the comments.


1/13/2006 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

gallerists who are impeccable dressers

No fear of that anytime soon...if Bambino can't get me to stop dressing like a g*ddamn hillbilly, Chelsea certainly won't.

eye-rolling of any kind.

Obnoxious, yes, but I'm not sure how that's related to "art as product"

shunning tourists.

What? How is one supposed to have any fun if we can't shun tourists???

Just kidding...

Oh, Ed, I was wondering, is Edna your alter-ego?

I wish! She's awesome.

1/13/2006 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Mark, that's exactly what I'm saying - that it's not perfect either way. If you have to work a side job, you're sacrificing time and mental energy=bad. Not having production demands=good for the work and bad for the finances. If you're hot as shit and can't keep up with your collectors demands (desires?), you're sacrificing as well. It's a catch 22, everyone knows it and tries to function within it.

Your comment about anti-product galleries already having insider status is KEY. They are the biggest fucking posers of all. It's like the hippie children of wealthy parents burning their bras in college before getting a job on Wall Street.

Keep urinating,

1/13/2006 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

What I wasn't saying is that an overemphasis on selling makes galleries very snobby. It is a huge distraction to the oversensitive types who frequent such places.

I really think thats what she is talking about. Not the art, but the atmosphere of the gallery itself polluting the work and the choices being made.

1/13/2006 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"she" being Smith, right Tim?

That's a smart observation, and may be all Jerry was getting at as well.

1/13/2006 03:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edna -

I am occasionally miserable within the gallery structure too, but it's a matter of degree (i.e. I'm pretty sure I'd be more miserable outside it; that's not to say that the gallery system couldn't use some changes). Yes, there is compromise, but that is life. As long as we're working within the larger system of capitalism, we are to some degrees whoring ourselves and our work. We do lose our innocence once we enter the world of making a living, but I think that that's true in any field. I agree with burrito guy; the people who can afford to be above the ugly business of money are the ones who have a bunch of it.


1/13/2006 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

It's like the hippie children of wealthy parents burning their bras in college before getting a job on Wall Street.:) I could never associate a negative with bra burning. Is nothing sacred?

1/13/2006 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous burrito brother said...

...yeah, I didn't even read the article in question, so I shouldn't say that. But I do tend to clash with her interests. And since we are in a post-critical period where many voices supposedly hold equal value, I find it interesting that their words are valued just shy of Yahweh's when collectors are listening... but I guess that's just the machinations of the system (and the mindset of scared, uneducated collectors.) I mean, why are we SO desperate for alternative spaces, but not alternative critics?

p.s. - sorry about the expletive.

1/13/2006 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hh -

I'm down with that goal - sustainable living, treading lightly on the earth's resources, etc. If I were after the big bucks, I wouldn't be an artist.

Actually, a lot of my work deals with money, but that's whole nother subject.


1/13/2006 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

why are we SO desperate for alternative spaces, but not alternative critics? that's an interesting question.

1/13/2006 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Burrito, you didn't read the article and then you admitted it? That's totally nuts, but funny.

I just reread it, and I like it. She put it all out there, plain as day - and it's accurate, in my opinion, except for the "braking of ascent" thing. If she's using Mary Boone as an example of this, I think she's off the mark. Perhaps she's confusing braking one's ascent with "trying to increase one's hip factor."

I'm not sure whether money or hipness is more valuable currency these days.


1/13/2006 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous burrito brother said...

People just get bored really easily these days....
And you've got to write about SOMETHING week after week, right?
Even Ed has a dud blog every once in a while.


1/13/2006 04:32:00 PM  
Anonymous juryduty said...

Please refrain from the sort of transgressive puncutation that last line represents doesn't add anything useful and will force me to shut down the comments.


Isn't this thread about the urgent need for gallerists to get some 'attitude'? (said with a smile)

1/13/2006 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

What I find interesting, in reference to the alternative critics, is that Jerry Saltz rightly laments the underrepresentation of women artists in our current conservative climate. But how many critics are women, besides Roberta? Fortunately we have the ever expanding world of blogs to add different voices to the mix and this one, I admit, is consistently one of my very favorite.

1/13/2006 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Tep said...

Are Flat Files idea an alternative to the whitebox gallery space? I was hoping Roberta would include it but she didn't (not even a Peirogi 2K mention). It seems a pretty cool way to intimately introduce people to fine art, and a good way to sell it - especially if its run co-op style, like the Matzo Files in Streitz Matzo factory (in the L.E.S.). Unfortunately, as often happens with artist co-op non-profit endevors, the Matzo Files imploded, due to too much weirdness resulting from clashing artists super strong egos.

1/13/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Anonymous tep said...

But how many critics are women, besides Roberta?
Just wait till the Sunday Times' Arts and Leisure section comes ou tomorrow. Mia Fineman has a very bright and sunny puff piece about Dana Schutz. Though I guess it's more of a style piece rather than critical. The Times A&L; section has beet kinda dropping the ball lately concerning cart criticism. Mostly style.

1/13/2006 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Yeah, there's no good cart criticism these days. Those f*ing carts.

Ed_, I forgot to thank you for the compliment!


1/13/2006 05:34:00 PM  
Anonymous tep said...

DOH! on Friday the 13th's = CART=ART

1/13/2006 05:41:00 PM  
Anonymous burrito brother said...

ok, I read the article and it's not too bad. a few annoying bits and yeah, these are all folks in the cool kids club. Ed's gallery should definitely be in there! And mine too!

p.s. - Ed I think you need to show my friend Derek Cote's work. He seems to be right up your alley.

1/13/2006 06:00:00 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

but what--specifically--about it is "bad"? What I'm looking for mostly are warning signs that I can recognize and try to combat should we find ourselves heading more that direction.

The only thing that might be "bad" that I can think of is the "flavor of the month" artists that have been oft described as the "MFA clones".

I've had a personal struggle over finding the right gallery that would "be good for my career" Like an actor choosing Independent films over the Hollywood blockbusters. The coops and non-profits were exciting and innovative and the clientele wanted to purchase things for $500. Love the alternative ideas for a breath of fresh air however, as Edna points out-the hip factor ain't all that.

The big career thing is real for me. I love that you have given your artists this great new Chelsea gallery and that you are cognizant of all that it implies. You've come this far, Ed, I think you can trust your gut.

1/13/2006 06:00:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Specifically, it's bad because pots and pans are products and those types of things are made by, you know, those types of people, and were fine art to become too productized then you'd be just like them...shudder

/sarcasm ;)

It seems to me that what you should perhaps concern yourself with E, is not what might be the warning signs of overly productizing fine art, but rather if creating a cult of personality around an artist really distracts from the works themselves.

In this vein I am a bit stumped wrt waiting lists. Am I to understand that the best, or near best, case scenario for an artist is to become so popular that people will wait in line to purchase whatever s/he next puts to canvas no matter what it is? In my mind that should be a warning sign that the works are selling because the purchaser simply wants to either speculate in the value of the work or bathe in the reflected glow of owning a piece by that artist. These would seem (to me at least) to be the worst reasons for someone to own a piece; akin to needing the latest handbag or large screen TV.

1/13/2006 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I'm with Hungry.

I'd add that if we're putting it in a gallery, we're saying that, besides all the things we made it to be, it's also a product for sale. This is inescapable, in my view.

Until someone works out a better way for artists to connect solidly with interested, ready-to-buy collectors, the gallery system is what it is.

Gods bless everyone who doesn't need to sell to survive. I do, and if galleries are the best at selling, I need them to sell my work.

Anyone who needs to sell, who doesn't recognize this, isn't connected with reality, IMO.

1/13/2006 07:43:00 PM  
Anonymous tep said...

It's not just the need to survive that I want to sell (though it helps a great deal). I want to sell to disseminate my work so others can hopefully get something out if it.

1/13/2006 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


it's not like I can conjure up a waiting list out of thin air...what would you have me do about it when it does? Demand the artist make more work?

I understand why they're offensive (I find most of capitalism offensive actually), but I'm at a loss for what to do about the collectors out of wanting one?

1/13/2006 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Facilitating a waiting list is very different from saying, "I'm sorry, but I don't have anything to offer you right now." It creates a binding contract (even if it's just verbal) that collectors can use to bother the hell out of you for months until they get "one." And then of course they want it to be a "good one." This not only equates the work to a product, but it also infiltrates the artist's studio practice because the work, in a lot of cases, hasn't been made yet.

I think it's the dealer's job to protect the artist (their future; their privacy) at all costs, so that they can continue to make new and better work. Of course it's in the dealer's own interest to do this, too, because when you know someone's waiting (and waiting to judge the finished product) it changes the whole dynamic, for everyone.

Rather than altering the physical gallery space or the presentation of the work, maybe the relationship between dealer and artist is the one that needs revamping. Personally, I think the recent market boom has given both parties unrealistic expectations, and collectors have WAY too big a role in an artist's career. Really - someone has to put their foot down.


1/13/2006 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

I think the recent market boom has given both parties unrealistic expectations, and collectors have WAY too big a role in an artist's career. Really - someone has to put their foot down.

Amen, sister! I agree that dealers should be protective but, the buck stops at the artist. Artists should have the ability to recognize their limitations and tell the gallery and the collectors "what's up"

1/13/2006 11:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I appreciate your pro-artist POV, but there are other realities involved in protecting an artist you don't seem to be aware of:

Facilitating a waiting list is very different from saying, "I'm sorry, but I don't have anything to offer you right now."

Do you really think that line would end the discussion? What would you recommend when the collector says next, "Well, I've been supporting this gallery since your early days...I really can't believe you're giving me the bum's rush to the door now that I'm asking for this one litte favor in return, because that's most certainly what you're doing."

And that's gentle. A collector who has some power in the art world may not be anywhere near that polite. I've had some stomp on my head for much less than telling them they can't be guaranteed a spot on a waiting list before.

And I know it seems easy enough to tell that collector they stepped over the line and need to back-up, but remember that 1) buying art is a very emotional process some's a rare commodity and collectors get their hearts set on things, and 2) the dealer/collector relationship is not easily cultivated and not one it makes sense to destroy so easily. Sure there are points at which you have to say "enough" but insisting to be put on a waiting list (a very standard and everyday request) is not one of them.

Believe me, dealers are often putting up with so much more pressure than the artists will ever know about. From both sides: art collectors and bill collectors.

1/13/2006 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

It's a brave new world. At the moment, for reasons to boring to explain, there is a greater influx of money pursuing artworks than at any time before in history. (FYI, I read Mr. hedgefund raised a half a billion dollars…sheesh) It's like power, absolute power corrupts absolutely. As a result I think people, artists and gallerists (we used to call them 'dealers' but the dope peddlers put a taint on that) are being pulled from several sides at once.

Frankly, it is probably less a problem for the gallerists, business is business and an ephemeral one at that. But, for the artist, especially a young artist, it presents a more difficult set of problems. Regardless of success or the lack of it, I think that the truth is that making art is a difficult process. You can't have the job unless you're in the union and/or You can't get in the union unless you have the job. (Hollywood) The point is there are always obstructions, diversions pulling one from your true path. These occur regardless of success. Successful artists just trade one diversion for another.

As far as the alternative galleries go, I think most everyone here sees it for what it is, another angle in the business of marketing.
I think the real issue is, that there is just not enough really good art being made (we don't have to agree on what 'really good' means, that's the gift of pluralism). Part of the exhibition process allows artists a venue to exhibit what they have done, to get real world feedback which completes the artist-art-spectator loop. If the work sells, that's great but maybe a good reaction from ones peers is worth a lot more. In a lot of ways I think this is one of the primary functions of a gallery, the commerce part is a necessity to keep it all going.

Last night I made the rounds. I saw a bunch of stuff in Chelsea including a lot of very well dressed, possibly fashionable, folks in the hoity-toity galleries. The art was so-so. My friend and I then drifted over to the westside story on 27th. Right off the bat, I'll say the art was only so-so too, but the energy was really terrific. There was a real sense of activity and community, which to my mind at least, is a heck of a lot more interesting that how long someone's 'waiting list' is. Sorry for such a long post, but I drank a lot of Campari and had a great time. Just like the good old days.

1/13/2006 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

I would never suggest destroying the dealer/collector relationship. I suggested making it clear where your ultimate loyalty is and being willing to lose a sale if necessary. I'm not advocating being rude, just firm.

The fact that a gallery has to keep the lights on is a real concern, but I will implode if I accept that as justification for creating an environment in which artists are corroded by collector's desires. I know that buying art is emotional (I might not just have an artist's POV, despite the impression I've obviously given) but not all galleries use the waiting list. They make offers when work is available. Yes, it's political, and people do favors for each other, but it's not simply the supply and demand you describe. Annoying people are removed from mailing lists every day, their calls go straight to voice mail and they do occasionally get a f*ck you right to their face. OK, maybe you can't do this when a gallery is starting out, but you can certainly attempt to set a tone in which the dealer decides who gets what rather than the other way around.

I was thinking about Roberta's article, and ruminating on what it is that is changing and what needs to change. My comment wasn't meant to provoke a debate about what it takes to stay in business. I was just trying to set up a scenario in which the artist is respected again, as a part of a dialog - rather than as hip, or connected, or a graduate of wherever, or the maker of a product that people want. I think some of the collectors that dealers bend over backwards for are some of the most rotten people I've ever met, and I'm sad that they rule the game, that's all.

Maybe I've totally lost it, but I really think there's some way to make it better. The art on 27th Street last night looked like the kind of art that needs to change from the inside out.


1/14/2006 12:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Laurence said...

I think waiting lists are awesome. I wish more artists had them. I also think that artists with no waiting lists tend to be bitter and use the notion of "art as product" as a way to put down artists who are more successful and sell more work. The reality is that a successful artist tends to be so busy trying to push their work forward that they rarely have time to worry about what's "wrong with the system". Conversely, artists who have more time on their hands seem to have no limit to the amount of energy they can devote to figuring out what is wrong with the "current" system. Critics, not unlike unsuccessful artists, are also always trying to figure out what is wrong with the "current" system. They both reach, irritating and hypocritical conclusions, and are buzzkills.

1/14/2006 04:10:00 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

I agree, Laurence- a waiting list is a dream come true, I'm not against them wholly. If you're that hot, then you are confident and humming in the studio and production shouldn't be a problem. I get the business side of satisfying loyal collectors (even first time buyers) and the juggling act a dealer does to keep things going (not in great detail but, I get the gist) As an artist, I do strive to produce to the best of my ability and I will not let a so-so piece go out of my studio. I just don't ever want the creative process to suffer under that pressure. Of course, everyone handles pressure differently. That's where the relationship with your dealer comes in-there needs to be good communication and understanding about where to set the limit. I read that Jenny Saville makes 6 paintings a year, period.

Selling art is one of the toughest businesses out there-I do respect those who want to take the adventure with us :0)

1/14/2006 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Edward's addressing precisely the thing I need the dealer for. I'd rip your teeth out if you told a collector they didn't get a place on a waiting list, if I were that artist. Collecting collectors, drumming up demand, handling 31 delicious flavors of stress associated with it - it's got to be 3 full time jobs in and of itself.

Until something comes along that gets the job done better in some way, we need it. Badly.

1/14/2006 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...



1/14/2006 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

the thing is, both sides are right.

We are dealing with this exact situation right now, and keeping the pressure away from the artist is indeed a I'm very happy to take on (for many reasons), but still...

But my concern goes deeper than waiting lists...I've seen galleries I loved lean toward an increasingly commercial program. I think there's a combination of burnout, familial pressures, artist pressure, etc. that go into it, but it's a shame all the that point you might as well flog pots and pans, as crionna says.

1/14/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...

Wait! No, I just can't agree.

I do have a career and I don't feel at all bitter, but I'm just not sure when the artmaking stops (or is interrupted) and the product making begins. At what point is it sold? Technically, it's sold as a blank canvas, or as raw material, or as a possibility of something, right? Perhaps that's OK, I just think there's something unattractive (and couterintuitive) about it.

I guess I'm more philosophical about this sort of thing than most. I was never impressed by money, only longevity and real invention.

Maybe I'm an alien.

I love you all, especially Edward_

1/14/2006 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

edna said:
"...but I'm just not sure when the artmaking stops (or is interrupted) and the product making begins" A sane remark. There is something odd surrounding a discussion of "waiting lists" among artists. For gallerists it might be just a part of doing business but for an artist I feel it has the potential to divert the focus as edna implies. It is a two edged sword, some attention, a solid response to the work, can be empowering to an artist and in this respect, even a 'waiting list', might turn out to be beneficial. Ultimately, it might be a matter of maturity, having found a resolution within the work itself which is resilient to pressure.

1/14/2006 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

At some point or other I decided it was wasted energy to intensively attempt to shape the way my work was being received, and maybe this is why I don't terribly object to its being dealt with also as product.

I've got an entire universe of associations and motivations behind everything I do. No one else is ever going to see or appreciate all of that -- they'll get a glimpse at best -- and I've made my peace with it.

What they will do is read their own associations into the work, they will or won't be motivated to develop their own ideas about why it works or doesn't, and they will or won't be motivated to bring it into their lives.

The trick is, you've got to keep a mental distance from this product aspect, to keep it from influencing what you do.

The sum total of all the museums, cathedrals and auction houses in the world will never be able to contain everything made by all of us. Most of it's headed for a decades-in-the-future episode of Antiques Roadshow. When the guy with the ponytail gives the old lady an estimate of its cash value, it only affirms that whatever else we ever thought about it, it's also a product.

I / we work our lives out through this stuff-making thing we do. I'll be doing it until I drop dead. Doing as much as possible means not needing to do anything else to keep the lights on and the paint flowing.

Absent government-sponsored artist subsidies, I don't see how to do that without the concept of 'product' somehow being associated with the work. Regrettable to be sure, but a fact of life, IMO.

1/14/2006 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Respectfully, and I do appreciate that the conversation has taken its own direction, but I think you all missed the point of the article. It may be because you are all too close to see what she was alluding to.

When the commercial side of art is over-emphasized the adventurousness of the work suffers, choices are made based on suitability for collection. Which becomes the rationale for making decisions from a place of fear and safety.

The white box has become the location where this fearful culture has taken root. It is not inherent in the empty space, but is a viral meme reinforced by collectors who think this is where art is found, and go along with the bad choices.

Smith was highlighting work that had a few things in common. The main one being an indistinct edge i.e. no frame. Another one, an interest in reacting to a specific place. These are both qualities that would make most dealers quake. 'No collector will want that in their home' they will think, and reject it before any collector has even seen it. We call this a self-fulfilling prophecy, since collectors look to dealers for guidance and approbation. It becomes a self-reinforcing loop.

So, it is incumbent on dealers to be brave and set a good example to collectors to look for work that is uncompromising and unafraid of not selling.

You know, that's leadership. You don't have to lead, but someone will, and then you'll be playing catch up or retiring early.

Smith is hardly the canary in the mine, but she is charged with checking the canary every day and bringing us the news. Go read it again.

1/14/2006 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...


I know that you can't conjure a waiting list out of thin air (although if you could I'm sure you'd be quite in demand by many artists;). And no, I'm not saying that you should turn away business. Probably this is just a case of me being a bit out of the loop wrt the art world you live in.

My point was that it seemed like you were asking yourself how to "keep it real" and I'm not sure it's totally possible in the world you have to inhabit. Once you accept that, then you can do what you need to do to get good artists, move their careers forward AND ensure that they keep it real, which will allow you to do the same, most of the time... IMVHO, once people start buying works from an artist, rather than specific works that speak to them, you're selling either stuff that the buyer hopes will appreciate or stuff that the buyer hopes will make him seem cool. Howl is that "about the work"?

That you care at all is a testament to why you're well-liked and respected. Don't worry, we'll let you know if you go all Bud Fox on us ;)

1/14/2006 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I've highlighted some of Tim's points, not as a criticism of his viewpoint, but rather as a place to start.
When the commercial side of art is over-emphasized the adventurousness of the work suffers, choices are made based on suitability for collection. Which becomes the rationale for making decisions from a place of fear and safety.

This is not as clear cut a point as it seems. If we are speaking about an artist over emphasizing the commercial side, then the work will assume the flavor of the commercial, this may be a detriment to the work or may inform its content. If we are referring to a gallery, making a decision based only upon the 'suitability for collection' then I would tend to agree. However, depending on the artwork this may or may not make much of a difference.

The white box has become the location where this fearful culture has taken root. It is not inherent in the empty space, but is a viral meme reinforced by collectors who think this is where art is found, and go along with the bad choices.

A little history on the white box. I think the first true white box space could be attributed to James Turrell, first in his studio in Ocean Park, CA and next at UCLA (the 'white room', circa 1970) The idea was picked up by the galleries and filtered down to the present day. In 1972(+/-), I saw an exhibition of Jasper Johns at Leo Castelli in the uptown brownstone gallery which still had wainscoting like a normal apartment.

I think the remark "reinforced by collectors who think this is where art is found" is pejorative, the collectors are going where they are told the art is. Just because it is in a white box does not create a fearful culture. To the contrary the white box is essentially a neutral environment, admittedly capable of possessing the trappings of an imposing power structure, but this is only true if it is actually reinforced by the gallery personnel. The truth of the matter is that some gallery personnel are rude jerks (a phrase I can say in public ;-) to gallery visitors and this is the root of the 'fearful culture' not the white box.

Regarding artwork "formats", this is really a non issue. The only thing that matters is the quality of the work, regardless of the format (or medium) In the current culture, work which exhibits modes of inaccessibility, is, in most cases, just a precursor to a future commodity object.

The real issue is always the quality of the work, something not always easily deduced but never the less the only issue that matters in the end.

1/15/2006 12:01:00 AM  

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