Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Playing the System

Lord knows I'm not advocating this particular path, but I would like to submit it as evidence to those who will argue that artists are powerless to take charge of and/or change how things are done in today's art market. In an article in The Art Newspaper about how a group of rogue employees from a print publisher were hawking fake works of his on eBay (which is an interesting story in itself), the artist Banksy had the following to say:
“They say it’s better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody, but I don’t think that applies to art prints. If it turns out that limited editions have not been limited in edition then I sincerely apologise. This is particularly unfortunate for the people who buy my work to flip it for a quick profit on eBay, as I wouldn’t want to affect their mark-up.”
If I'm reading that correctly, Banksy may be the very first artist I've ever heard of who didn't resent collectors making a quick profit by flipping his work. When I first read that, I thought, OK, he's just being glib for the sake of sounding controversial. But then it dawned on me that perhaps he's being really brilliant.

As The Art Newspaper notes:
A few years ago, Banksy was a graffiti artist unknown to the mainstream art world. But his canny handling of the media has brought his work to the attention of a much wider audience; his anonymity has intrigued the public and helped feed the media interest. Consequently, prices for his work have soared. [...] This success has been achieved despite, or perhaps because, Banksy has bypassed the traditional route to art world success, moving directly from the primary market to auction sales, avoiding galleries which deal in secondary sales.
Of course, this newly forged route is not without its bumps:
One Banksy collector interviewed by The Art Newspaper says that he has no paperwork for many of his authentic prints by the artist. “You have to realise that people started buying Banksy when you could pick one up for £30; they didn’t keep the receipt or think about the provenance, it was not important to them at that time so there are a lot of prints knocking about that don’t have any provenance.”

There is also a problem with forged paintings. On 5 April, Christie’s withdrew two Banksy paintings from its South Kensington saleroom amid fears that they were fake. In an email sent to us at the time, Christie’s said: “[We] will not offer for sale any object that we know or we have reason to believe is inauthentic or counterfeit.”
But my point is that this supports my belief that ultimately the power remains in the hands (or creative minds) of the artist, regardless of how complex or intimidating any given market conditions may seem. By bucking the conventional wisdom and essentially endorsing (if not encouraging) unbridled profiteering by collectors from his work (among other things), he has shot up through the ranks of the most sought-after (read: wealthy) artists in the market.

Will Banksy collectors later regret the lax control over his editions, original paintings, and pricing increases? If I had to bet, I'd say "Yes, they probably will." But I don't have a crystal ball. At least he didn't accept the conventional wisdom about what was possible and how he had to play by others' rules.

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26 Comments:

Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

"But my point is that this supports my belief that ultimately the power remains in the hands (or creative minds) of the artist, regardless of how complex or intimidating any given market conditions may seem."

Ed,

I'm always wondering if this is your real view, or just a talking point [you are a dealer after all ;-)]. I guess I'm beginning to believe you are sincere . From that it follows that your posts on these topics have a great deal of inspirational value.

I think the idea of limited editions in the unlimited digital-enabled world is ridiculous. Every photographer should supply a CD along with whatever print they sell. If the print doesn't surpass what the average Joe could make of the CD, well, that's the photographer's problem. Photographers that freak out about having their digital images copied are, in my mind, living in a tortured vision of yesterday.

Banksy seems to be living in reality. That is refreshing.

9/25/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm always wondering if this is your real view, or just a talking point [you are a dealer after all ;-)].

In case this is not clear, I'll lay it all out:

I'm a dealer interested in working with artists, not against them. If things change, I'll evolve or perish like anyone else. I don't belief in artifically supporting a system past its relevancy or usefulness for the sake of ease or profit alone (that's awful for everyone involved and not eventually satisfying even if it works).

I don't know that all interesting innovations come from artists (a few galleries have spawned a few as well), but I do hear a good number of artists complain they are powerless to change what they don't like about the current system, and I find that defeatist and, quite frankly, annoying. If the current system is something you're happy to work within, great. If not, then freakin' change it. Just stop wasting your time (and everyone else's) bellyaching about it.

9/25/2007 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

"If not, then freakin' change it. Just stop wasting your time (and everyone else's) bellyaching about it."

Any system worth its stuff has some solid foundations. If it is something that doesn't appeal to a particular individual, attempting to make a change may seem a good option. But change is not an easy thing to make in an established system. It's not a sneaker ad here ("Just do it"). My sense is that a lot of reasonable and thoughtful analysis gets labeled as "belly aching" or "whining" or "cowardice." It follows that trying to find one's place in a system, or changing it, means withstanding a good deal of abuse along the way. My addition to your suggestion about artist-based-initivitives would be, "Just do it, try all sorts of different things, and don't let them make you feel bad when they accuse you of bellyaching." The fact is, Ed, the solution is not at all obvious. Most options will end up in failure. We can either paint on a false smile, or deal with reality and the disappointment it brings ... on the way to greatness, of course, can't lose site of that. To say, "then freakin' change it" is to imply that we who might not be satisfied are a bunch of imbeciles unable to solve an obvious problem.

Anyway, as you know, complaining about the problems of the art world makes for great blogging material, as well as for commercially successful art.

9/25/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

To say, "then freakin' change it" is to imply that we who might not be satisfied are a bunch of imbeciles unable to solve an obvious problem.

I wouldn't phrase it that way, but I would point out that no one ever said it would be easy or that every artist who wants the acclaim and wealth of the superstar artists deserves it just for wanting it. No one even said every sincere and modest artist working hard who would be happy just to be able to quit their day job deserves it. Saying it's possible to change things doesn't imply it's easy. I keep hearing folks say it's not possible though...hence the post.

9/25/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I think the big problem, Ed, is that as "creative" as many of the people who identify themselves as artists seem to be, ultimately they're not really all that creative. I include myself in this crowd, by the way -- very firmly, in fact.

I've tried so very hard, in many areas, to see that new thing, that new way, to change the paradigm, to flip the vision. I've ached to see that clear way of being different. And I've come up with nothing.

Then I read about Banksy gluing his creations on the walls of major museums and I think, "Hot damn! That's a GREAT IDEA!" Too bad someone's done it already.

That's what it comes down to: Being original is really, really hard. So instead people bellyache about the System. Because that's a lot easier than inventing a new way.

9/25/2007 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Yes, I just restated everything. I guess what I'm saying is, "We are the chorus and we agree. We agree, we agree, we agree."

[I'll send a drawing to first person who can tell me what I'm quoting there.]

9/25/2007 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Chris, not only is being original really hard, but the problem with being original is that the vast majority of people are trained to recognize the familiar and respond to it. True originality is frequently not recognized for a long, long time after it occurs.

One of the 'original' ways I attempted to sell my art when first moving here was to schlepp a table out to West Broadway on weekends and exhibit my drawings on it. I quickly discovered that the 'art' which sells well in this context is: 1) brightly colored digital prints of Picasso-esque knockoffs; 2) black and white photographs of typical NYC scenes, like street signs and the Empire state building; and 3) dog portraits.

I had a few people walk over to me and say, bemusedly, 'This is as good as the stuff that was in that gallery over there for $4000!' I would reply, 'Yes, indeedy! And you can get mine for only $40!'

They laughed and walked away.

9/25/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

As an artist who existed for 20 years mostly outside "the system", only recently dipping my toe into the water, I can say that part of the issue is that artists often have a finite amount of time and prefer to spend that time making art, rather than driving their work all over the country to show in university galleries and non-profits (or whatever your particular "alternative method" is).

I have great respect for Banksy, and, to a certain extent, for Damien Hirst for stretching the boundaries for artists, but, at least in the case of Banksy, his subversive methods of exposing his work evolved from a natural impetus that is intertwined with his philosophy of artmaking. It works for art that can be made quickly, but if you spend six months on a painting like I do, the only way you are going to get someone to spend decent money on it is if the piece has been validated by the system.

The other part concerns the personal aspirations of the artist. If you just want to make a living from your work, you can make prints, load up the van and drive from art festival to art festival. If your dream is to have a piece in MOMA's collection, then you better be playing the game.

9/25/2007 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Good point, Kate. If the 'original' method you use to promote your work is integral to the work, you can plow full steam ahead. If it isn't, often the alternative promotion takes up so much energy that it robs the work of the necessary vitality to make it worthy of attention.

9/25/2007 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If your dream is to have a piece in MOMA's collection, then you better be playing the game.

I disagree. Did Duchamp play the game or redefine it? Did Hirst? Both have work in MoMA's collection.

I understand the lack of interest in redefining the game. I'm not advocating every artist do it. I'm not arguing that every artist can.

My ONLY point is that it's not impossible to change the game. Given that it's not impossible, deciding not to try is a personal decision and not the art world's fault.

9/25/2007 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I would have to do more homework, but I bet there were some validating art world steps between the creation of those guy's work, and the acquisitions by MOMA.

Aside from places like Exit Art, there are few opportunities for amazing nobodies from nowheresville to get "discovered" without a gallery giving them a show or showing their work at some art fair.

Although I am not yet at a point where it even matters to me, I read everywhere that all these in-between steps have become more flexible, and people are talking about the possibilities of work going from studio directly to auction. I keep thinking about the possible ramifications of this, turning them around in my head.

I have experimented with the internet to promote my work, and continue to do so. I think there is great untapped potential there for artists who wish to play with it.

9/25/2007 04:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are mistaken.

Duchamp and Hirst played the game. Better than anyone else around them.

Go back to the books.

...

9/25/2007 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You say "played the game better than anyone else around them"...I say "redefined the game." I'm not sure there's a difference worth debating there, but don't let that stop you from flinging in some nebulous dissent, sealed with an insult, and nothing at all to substantiate either...

9/25/2007 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Duchamp played chess... ;)

9/25/2007 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No insult meant.

For example:

M. Duchamp staged and curated himself in shows and many of others (in and outside regular venues). He wrote and asked friends to write about him. He was an art dealer. He only dated powerful women and marriend into money.

Hirst curated himself and others in shows. YBA's were a close group "almost" self sufficient and self promoting. With their own artist-critics, teachers and intitutions.

and more.

....

9/25/2007 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Hirst curated himself and others in shows. YBA's were a close group "almost" self sufficient and self promoting. With their own artist-critics, teachers and intitutions.

Which is exactly what I mean by "redefined the game." He didn't wait until the establishment in London came asking him to join their game, but started a new game and made it seem even more interesting to the public than the game already in progress.

We seem to be defining the same actions with different terms, leaving me somewhat perplexed as to what you did mean by "Go back to the books."

9/25/2007 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Ed, had you seen this when you posted this morning?

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/art/news/story/0,,2176425,00.html

9/25/2007 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

One thing I often struggle with is reconciling the need for exposure to audiences, funding for larger projects, interaction with good critics and curators (all necessary and wonderful things that are just as important to artistic practice as they are to an arts career) with my utter lack of desire to play, or redefine, the game. I think Banksy's treating it like an art project is interesting, but I wouldn't want to go there myself, if for no other reason than it has little to do with my inquiry. I'd be keen to use connections like Hirst and Duchamp if I had them, but I don't, and I'm much more artist than careerist, thus have a hard time making them (being in Africa most of my adult life did not help)... Perhaps the day will come when I reach a tipping point and push for the right places and people, and I guess I hope I'll either be a full-time artist with the right resources before that's necessary, or that I won't have already reached my sell-by date. (I say the latter part with irony, in case it's not read that way -- Didn't you say 31, Edward? I'm dangerously close....)

9/26/2007 05:04:00 AM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

I've been considering if I should write this comment since I read this post because this applies to me in a very timely manner, and the reason I hesitated is I didn't want it seem like I was just doing it as promotion

The reason I say timely is I am working on an installation in a non-gallery space, it is completely site specific to the space and is dependent on the structure of the space. I have done this before and without a gallery I am responsible for promoting it, which I completely lack the connections to attract any press or for that matter collectors, so I give credit to gallerists for being able to do this.

I know of many attempts by artists at trying to operate outside the system, and most fail not because the work isn't as good as what galleries are selling, but because in the end they just are unable to get collectors to come. When it does happen, like in the case of Banksy, there is usually some press due to controversy.
As for me I am just not a very charming person, I don't say the "oh great" I say what's in little mind bubble, with old school NY sarcasm, I just can't play the smooze game, I tried, it primarily is too dis-honest, not to mention there's this look you get at openings when someone asks what you do and you say "I'm an artist" it's like you told them you have leprosy. I always wondered if Picasso were an emerging artist in todays art world would he get anywhere?

Funny thing is instead of the chess comment in response to anonymous I was going to point out Hirst organizing the yba's into a show, but it's my understanding Hirst had Saatchi in the background, I could be wrong, I do know of The Lotus Group down in Miami eventually having success. Even Brooklyn 10 years ago was about an alternative way for artist to show, it actually seems like when SOHO* dissolved It's soul went to Brooklyn and its body went to Chelsea.

I want to make a point but am hesitant to do so because I don't want it to seem like an attack because I respect the person so keep that in mind
this person is a critic and has said things that in essence is what Ed has written about encouraging Artist to as he put "Take it back"
when I told this person I was doing an installation and opening it up to the public, he asked where it was, I told him it was in an apartment, and his response was "I don't go to shows that aren't in public spaces"
he did say go ahead and email the announcement, so maybe he caught the contradiction, but that is a good example of people acting within a system, and critics and collectors are people.

No insult intended Ed because I have come to respect you, you do sometime state the position of the system in examples of what collectors will and won't accept and what the relationship between artist and gallery should be,
one example that pops to mind is a comment you made about collectors not being likely to buy work from an artist that hops from one gallery to another regardless of how talented that artist is, or how good the work, if this is true, and this is a criticism of collectors, they're limiting an artist options as to how they manage their careers, and aren't exactly promoting an atmosphere of creation are they?. but something tells me if a collector sees something they want it doesn't matter where it is or what the artist is like, after all collectors are people.

I will refrain from a direct plug for my show but if anyone wants to know more there's a link to my website on my profile page and a valid email, feel free to contact me if you'd like.

*if anyone doesn't know where SOHO is, you are too young pick up a history book

9/26/2007 07:13:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nathaniel wrote:

I'm much more artist than careerist

More power to you! Most of the advice I offer on this topic is in response to artists who voice frustration with where their careers are. I'm in no way an advocate of every artist having to take that advice, however. If your work isn't compatible with redefining the game, screw the game, and focus on your work.

By the way Nathaniel, what are you doing in that image of you on your bio page? It looks as if you're about to electrocute yourself.

Perhaps the day will come when I reach a tipping point and push for the right places and people, and I guess I hope I'll either be a full-time artist with the right resources before that's necessary, or that I won't have already reached my sell-by date.

I totally empathize with that urgency and conflict. I wish the world were more like it was in the 1940s-1950s when an artist was lucky to have a gallery exhibition by their 45th birthday. I believe that would take the pressure off most artists to where they could really dive into their work and refine it before they had to concern themselves so much with their careers. The down side to that era though was that many artists lived in utter poverty to be able to focus on their work.

I'm not at all sure what the happy medium should be. Anyone?

9/26/2007 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"I don't go to shows that aren't in public spaces"

That critic would have missed an incredible list of important exhibitions then, none of least of which were held in the apartments of some of today's leading young gallerists. I'd look upon someone saying that with pity, actually. They're clearly not interesting in being there when history is being made. That being said, there are only so many hours in a day, so it's not fair to criticize someone who can't make it to every exhibition (yes, I'm covering my own ass here).

a comment you made about collectors not being likely to buy work from an artist that hops from one gallery to another regardless of how talented that artist is, or how good the work, if this is true, and this is a criticism of collectors, they're limiting an artist options as to how they manage their careers, and aren't exactly promoting an atmosphere of creation are they?.

I'm sorry if that was how that came out. I meant to say a gallery is less likely to want to work with an artist who hops from gallery to gallery. I didn't mean to say anything about the collectors' response to that.

I do know that many collectors want the artists they follow to have relatively stable gallery associations (for a number of reasons, none the least of which is so they can maximize their energies put into developing a relationship with that artist's gallery), but as long as the artist is trading up (i.e., going to a more powerful gallery), they're usually somewhat content, I believe.

9/26/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Joe G sez:
As for me I am just not a very charming person, I don't say the "oh great" I say what's in little mind bubble, with old school NY sarcasm, I just can't play the smooze game, I tried, it primarily is too dis-honest, not to mention there's this look you get at openings when someone asks what you do and you say "I'm an artist" it's like you told them you have leprosy. I always wondered if Picasso were an emerging artist in todays art world would he get anywhere?

I don't think "schmoozing" is a dishonest game and I don't think saying what's in the little thought bubble is such a bad thing. I'm actually really, really bad at not saying whatever pops into my head and I'm usually pretty sure I come off as an obnoxious asshole (much like I do in blog comments). And yet I've met people in the art world who seem to like me. And I have yet to have anyone look at me like I have leprosy when I say I'm an artist, and let me tell you: I don't look like an artist. I look like a big fat hairy lawnmowing World of Warcraft playing soccer coaching suburban dad. If anyone was going to get leper looks in Chelsea, it'd be me.

Maybe I'm just really oblivious. Probably.

Anyway, my point is, schmoozing, as some people call it, is not necessarily about being dishonest. It's just about meeting people. And some people will be like-minded souls and some people won't be and some will totally mystify you with how much they despise you and others will blow you away with how nice they are to you. Schmoozing is about being honest and true to yourself and seeing who doesn't run away screaming, and then making friends.

Having just read Picasso's biography, I think I can say without hesitation that he'd have been just as successful today as he was a hundred years ago. Because he didn't just sit around passively hoping someone would show up and buy his work; he forged partnerships with art dealers, he met as many artists as he could, he worked every contact he made, and he painted like a madman. And after all of that, he didn't achieve real success until he was well into his forties.

You seem, Joseph, like you're really trying to work and find ways of showing your work. Success may come to you yet.

9/26/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

Edward: If your work isn't compatible with redefining the game, screw the game, and focus on your work.

Yeh; there are still people out there who want to foster that, who have gained from focusing on what is important to them, and then nurture other creators to do the same. William Kentridge, I know as a former local Joburger, mentors dozens of artists per year and is continually helping them on their way. It may be naive, but I believe that, despite the fact that I am not likely to become a Kentridge, it'll be ok, and what I do is important enough.

Edward: By the way Nathaniel, what are you doing in that image of you on your bio page? It looks as if you're about to electrocute yourself.

Ha. Not more than a short burst of 5 volts at 2 amps ... yet.

Actually, I'm scanning water lilies for this show in Johannesburg this past January.

Edward: I wish the world were more like it was in the 1940s-1950s .... The down side to that era though was that many artists lived in utter poverty to be able to focus on their work.

I feel pretty privileged to be able to live in relative comfort (and eternal debt) for now, even whilst having more time for my work than most; but yes, there are some negatives to the commercially-driven art world, as discussed at length on your blog, I believe...

9/26/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Judging by the photo, Nathaniel, maybe you'd like water polo better than the art world game.

9/26/2007 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Ed said: I'm sorry if that was how that came out. I meant to say a gallery is less likely to want to work with an artist who hops from gallery to gallery.

My mistake I went through and checked and that is what you wrote, and it is pretty clear.
but galleries are people too..;)

Ed said: That critic would have missed an incredible list of important exhibitions then, none of least of which were held in the apartments of some of today's leading young gallerists.

I'm pretty sure he did go to a lot of those shows, I guess as he became more reputable he became more set in his ways

Chis said: And I have yet to have anyone look at me like I have leprosy when I say I'm an artist

I'm not saying everyone looks at me that way, I'm not talking in social context, more networking, and I know that part of the art world game on the part of dealers, or collectors, is not letting on to an artist whether they think their work is good, or how good they think it is, that's just basic barter in any type of commerce.

but you know "A Nod is as good as a Wink to a blind man"

Ed said: The down side to that era though was that many artists lived in utter poverty to be able to focus on their work.

and today is different how? :)

9/26/2007 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joseph said: "and today is different how?"

Today, while living in poverty and dedicating ourselves to our art in the hopes that, one day, our work will pay off, we can read about those kids who sell out their entire MFA show, get put in the Whitney Biennial, and get snatched up by a great gallery before they graduate.

9/27/2007 08:15:00 AM  

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