Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Making it Past 30: An Inspirational Case Study

The perceptions vary widely depending on who you're talking with.

In the past few days alone, I've listened to ageism tales from an artist in their 50s and protests of cheap shots against young artists from an artist in their 20s. I know we've been all over this topic here, but just in case anyone out there thinks I'm full of sh*t when I say "don't give up; you can make it," there's a hope-inspiring capsule profile of the artist Mark Bradford on New York magazine's site you should read first:
In six years, Mark Bradford, 45, has gone from being a self-proclaimed “beauty operator” at his mother’s beauty shop in South Los Angeles to navigating the tangled, lucrative weave that is the international art scene. Last week saw the opening of his solo show at the Whitney, “Neither New nor Correct,” featuring paintings of excavated billboards, posters, and other signage found in his Leimert Park neighborhood in L.A.
I met Mark at the ARCO art fair back in 2002, just as his fortunes had seriously begun to turn. The curator who introduced us said, "Watch him. He's an amazing artist. He's going places." That was an understatement. He received the Bucksbaum Award in 2006, and today he shows with one of my very favorite galleries in the world, Sikkema Jenkins, where his paintings sell for as much as a cool quarter of a million dollars (I know that's not that much in Pounds or Euros, but still...).

According to NYMag, Mark had his set-backs along the way:
In 2003, Bradford shows at the Whitney Altria space—his first attempt at his “new vocabulary.” Times critic Roberta Smith and others aren’t enthused. “I knew when I was putting it up that it wasn’t there,” he says. “After that review, I’d show up to give a lecture and there would be two people.” He gets passed over for the 2004 Whitney Biennial.
But he kept pushing and, perhaps more importantly, took some risks:
"Eungie Joo was the curator of the show ‘Bounce’ [at Redcat gallery], and she suggested I work big, but I said, ‘Yeah, but that’s expensive.’ Then she bought the canvas for me, so I said, ‘Aiight.’ She put her money where her mouth was, didn’t she?” “Bounce” includes Los Moscos—one of Bradford’s paintings in the 2006 Whitney Biennial.
Mind you, at 45 now, Mark was 40 years old when I met him in 2002, just starting to get recognition and obviously still willing to push his work to new extremes. I know I've reported that some collectors will make a face when you tell them an artist is over 31, but there's one sure corrective for that: telling them the artist received the Bucksbaum Award.

Don't give up!

Labels: ageism, art careers


Blogger Mark said...

I can't believe your writing about the age thing today! I was thinking about it myself, ok, what am I thinking now???

I approached a university gallery space with some suggestions for an exhibit, the director is a friend. After several back and forth emails he said, Your work is fine, but your a middle aged white guy, you need an angle.

Aaahhh!! I understand where he's coming from and the pressure he has to push diversity but WTF!

And Bradford is a very nice man too.

10/03/2007 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

ok, what am I thinking now???

I'm sensing something about a cheeseburger or perhaps a steak omlette. :-)

And Bradford is a very nice man too.

Yes, he's a prince!

10/03/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

On the one hand, I love stories like these. I know I've mentioned him on, I think, the only other comment I've ever made here, but William Kentridge only burst onto the scene when he was in his early 40s as well, and his success is paramount.

But on the other hand, I sometimes get upset when these narratives are given as base samples. Most of us won't "make it" on this level, even if we do keep plugging well into our 50s (60s, 70s), and the only thing more boring than someone with a mid-life crisis due to perceived failure is: a visual Artist with a mid-life crisis due to perceived failure (ha).

Of course we should keep making work. And at some point in our lives, we should all try for this kind of commercial success, if for no other reason than it increases dialogue and adds to the discourse (my time is coming: my wife and are talking about the big move to New York in the next year or two...). But if you will only feel successful when you have a solo at the Whitney and win the Bucksbaum Award, not only might your work suffer for it, but the cards are not in your favor, and you are most likely destined for disappointment.

I know you are not equating artistic success with this kind of success, Edward; I think you'll agree with all of the above. But I had to type it anyhow - I personally try to steer clear of the American Dream as imputed on to Artists and their Success. It can not only devalue What and Why I make, but set me up for whatever the Contemporary Art version of a red Corvette is, in about 15 years (a Warhol?)....

10/03/2007 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Very nice and inspiring! And i think he will be featured on Art 21 this time around, no?

Mark, a UNIVERSITY gallery complained you are too old? Okay, this is getting outa hand.

10/03/2007 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger That Broad said...

I don't even think the problem is age as much as it is a reflection of the extremes in the economy - you either get to be a superstar or you struggle, with seemingly no middle ground for earning a sustainable income as an artist. The youth craze, as others have mentioned here, is simply an extension of our other forms of media and entertainment. I'm sure, however, on close inspection, it would be clear that the highest earners in the art market are either over 45 or dead. And of course, kudos to Mr. Bradford, although I would be remiss and very un-Broad-like if I didn't point out that he is a man (we all have our agendas, afterall)!

10/03/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Most of us won't "make it" on this level, even if we do keep plugging well into our 50s (60s, 70s), and the only thing more boring than someone with a mid-life crisis due to perceived failure is: a visual Artist with a mid-life crisis due to perceived failure (ha).

Regardless of our fields, most of us won't have this kind of success regardless of how old we are. It's rare.

I guess the main point of this post is the idea that set-backs are not always an indication that you're on the wrong track. They're part of most careers, even truly exceptional ones.

he is a man

two words spring to mind: Marilyn Minter. :-)

10/03/2007 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger That Broad said...


10/03/2007 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

I recently decided to take 1972 off of my resume.

Also, I've been considering lying.

Finally, do I need to take a class in how to get a big outgoing personality?

10/03/2007 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could easily shave five years off my age, and possibly ten. But as a woman I would feel like a sellout to the societal forces that tell me that without youth, I have nothing to offer. That offends me on a political level. If I were a man I might not feel so conflicted about it.

Ed, you mentioned collectors who make a face when told the artist is over 31. 31!!! Were you exagerating or is this actually the case? And, other than this point, are these collectors who you take seriously, who you think are supporting the arts for good reasons, people you enjoy working with? Or are they total phony keeping up with jonses wannabe on the scene poseurs?

anon artist

10/03/2007 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Were you exagerating or is this actually the case

Slight exaggeration, but not that far off.

Generally such folks are speculating.

10/03/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a woman who decided a few years ago to take graduation dates off my resume, as well as some of my earlier exhibition experience.

I was told I look about 10 years younger than I am, and I plan to play it for all it's worth.

If a curator or a collector has a bias, that's their problem. In the end, it's about the work: if they like what they see and a glance at my resume is going to make the difference between being chosen and being left behind, I will play that game.

10/03/2007 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I personally think that women come into their own, in terms of power, after their childbearing years are behind them. Thatcher, Albright, Pelosi, Hillary. My wife, too. Once upon a time I was the dominant partner. Now she kicks my ass.

I think -- for what it's worth -- all artists are better when they mature.

In addition to noting that Mark Bradford is a man, I'd point out that's he's black, dealing with "urban" issues. That gives him way more cachet in the art world than pretty much anyone.

10/03/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

When I saw Mark Bradford's art for the first time in a solo at Sikkemin-whatever (can't spell the gallery) in 2003 (or 2004?), I immediately went "Wow!". And that tells something because painting is the least of my favorite medium, but what fascinated me is the fact that it's not exactly or entirely painting. I don't know how to call it, collage (?), mixte-media (?), but I was also very wowed by the couple works at Whitney these days where you can see that's it's all made from scraped posters, so there's an original technique there, but mostly I love how these pictures stand ambiguously between abstract and non-abstract. I definitely plan to buy the book.

As for myself, the reflection about art started since, hmm, about age 22 (before I was more into theatre and music), so whatever people say, I think your "career" starts when you start evolving a consciousness about artmaking. Though that doesn't diminush by any sense the power that someone can come up with by discovering their passion for art late in their life, I think it will show in your work if you have been reflecting about it for a long time before showing it.

Sometimes we forget that many great artists produced very few works (Vermeer), and by today standards where everything is about pushing production and rapid sales in art fairs, we might not be in the position to pull interest for artists who are just making sparse, intermittent works,
and who really develop their discourse slowly over the years, almost as if a pastime.

So that's another issue than age: how much you are willing to push things forward as "careerist", or does the artworld permits you to pause and present rarer pieces but that you've been reflecting about for a long time. Can you have an art career by the sides, so to speak.


Cedric Caspesyan

10/03/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Well, Louise Bourgeois is my hero. Ninety five and still kicking it.

I would disagree with That Broad (eek, feels weird to write those words) that either you make it big or you struggle. Since leaving my 9-5 job in 1998, I have been showing regularly and supporting myself as a studio artist, with the occasional teaching residency or workshop to make life a bit easier. I'm working hard, harder than I did when I was 25--and I'm about twice that now--but after a lifetime of pushing, pushing, pushing, finally the invitations to show, teach, collaborate and curate come in regularly.

The one bit of advice I'd offer to the conversation here is: Don't stop pushing, although at a certain point you can, you must, ease up on the accelerator. Take it from warp speed down to overdrive, or from overdrive to fourth gear.

I know the 25-year-old new MFAers are getting great opportunities, but every dealer I work with appreciates my experience and professional organization. You only get that through a life lived.

On different topic, but because it's so hilarious (hope it's OK to crosslink, Ed), I wrote in my blog about a group of artists in Providence, R.I., who made an apartment in a mall parking garage and lived there--rent free and under the radar--for four years. I heard the story on CNN yesterday.

My little post has links:

10/03/2007 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I heard about those artists and their apartment. I thought it was awesome.

Up north, above New York City, there's an enormous mall called the Palisades Center. It's mind-bogglingly huge. Not the biggest in the world, certainly, but still gigantic. It has a ferris wheel in it. It's monstrously ugly, too -- a paragon of modern mis-design, with shiny, slippery, echoing poured concrete slab floors, plenty of unreachable dust-catching pipes and wires near the distant ceilings, terrible escalators constantly needing repairs, and positively hilariously wasted spaces.

Every time I walk by these wasted spaces -- one whole section of one floor appears to be completely abandoned, and it's enough square footage to house a 747 -- I think, what this place needs is some artists. Imagine having a studio in this space! Multiple studios! It's be great!

A much smaller mall in Secaucus, NJ, Mill Creek, is in the process of emptying out. There are maybe two stores left. The story is that the company that owns it wants to convert it to an outdoor mall or something and is trying to push everyone out, but there are a couple of holdouts bravely displaying signs reading "WE'RE NOT LEAVING".

I thought it'd be great if, between its empty phase and the beginning of reconstruction, the space could be turned over to artists for studios. A huge number of artists could take over the stores and turn it into an ART MALL. For two weeks, maybe a month, artists could use the space freely. Make whatever. With a daily giant open studios tour. It'd be radical, dude.

I called and wrote to Deborah Stone suggesting this, but she never got back to me. No vision!

10/03/2007 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous henri said...

Stop it please - for all our sakes. Age or not, sex or not, most of us won't get into this rarefied, clubby group no matter what work is done, how beautiful we might be, or who we know. The odds of getting anywhere near this artist's success are about as good as winning the New York lottery. Our friend in the article managed to get to know a few well placed folks that could help him along the way. Lucky artist. The rest is media (the original article and the endless commentary on the art blogs,) collectors (protecting their investment) and connections (creating an investment) all helping to polish up a myth. In this case a middle aged man makes a career change and captures the art world's interest - hairdresser becomes auteur in 5 years. Is the work wonderful - head and shoulders above the average stuff - is it breaking new ground - what visual hunger does it satisfy? It doesn't matter - the mythology satisfies the need to believe. About all we can really do is create our own media myths, maybe one of them will resonate - no matter what our circumstances. Good Luck rollin' them bones baby!

10/03/2007 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Stop it please - for all our sakes. Age or not, sex or not, most of us won't get into this rarefied, clubby group no matter what work is done, how beautiful we might be, or who we know.

That's right. Most won't.

I don't doubt Mark had moments of wondering if he ever would as well, though.

I'm truly sorry if my boosterism is painful. It's who I am, though.

I'm sure folks can take from it what's helpful for them and ignore the rest. I try to balance out the tough love (which goes over even less well) with news of the rare exceptions. Both are realities.

10/03/2007 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Pardon me if this is a naive question, but how real is this age thing? What percentage of collectors are speculators?

Maybe I am ignorant about how this actually works, but it sounds like speculators are buying young artists because they are young, and therefore "hot," with the intent of flipping work fast, like real estate.

And I can see how this works with brownstones, but doing it with art seems really dicey, like a ponzi scheme. Most young artists, no matter how successful they get, can't sustain careers past a few shows because, like models, they age.

After a relatively short period of time (say 6 years, the time between Hot Artist is 25 and 31) someone is going to get left holding the bag, I mean painting. Or is there something I don't get, or are people really suckers like that?

And even if a lot of people are suckers like that, does it make sense to worry at all about it on the production end?

10/03/2007 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Fisher6000, once someone is in the system, there are (as henri noted) lots of people who will have a vested interested in keeping the artist's work in the spotlight.

10/03/2007 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know,,,but when I said the same things you "all" became furious.

In top of that, this not the first time!

Let's go back a few posts!

10/03/2007 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Interesting points, Fisher6000 and anonymous 3:39.

I would suggest that the art world is not as black and white as we sometimes (often? always?) make it out to be. Somethere between ultimate stardom and abject poverty is an enormous gray area in which most of us have our careers. And just to put it in perspective, it the same gray area in which most dealers, critics and curators have their careers--a reminder that there are many gradations of success.

10/03/2007 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous henri said...

Edward, I think we all appreciate your boosterism (it is part of your charm), but this particular article plays right into the mythology behind the creation of an art career. If we read it carefully it shows us that this sort of success is so much more than about the making of the work. Production of art objects is just a small facet of the complete media projection - and in this day and age the less an artist actually manufactures themselves the more successful they seem to be. The artist as a personality / autuer / CEO is more important to selling the narrative. What exactly was said about the quality or innovation of this artist's work in the article? The work was simply a McGuffin in this particular story of his success.
You have a gallery and it is a large part of your job to create just these sorts of myths for your buying public about the artists you represent. I have no doubt you believe in them, but I would bet you keep everyone's expectations grounded in the reality of these times - all the while whipping up a hopeful media storm discussing their every quirk and exploit - aside from their work. How much myth goes into that promotion? Age can work for or against you depending on the story you tell. For instance a 52 year old former soldier who fought in the first Iraq war has gone back to the front and come back to make installations, large photopieces and videos depicting the current shop of horrors that is going on today. OR a show of a 52 year old artist who has been slogging it out in Brooklyn studio for 30 odd years trying to make wonderful portraits of friends and neighbors. Which do you think would get the attention?
As a successful galleriest would you clue us in to how you go about creating these myths / naratives or is that giving away too much business insight? We understand that business practices are secrets, and it keeps you in business to hold on to those secrets, so we won't be upset if you pass. Still we're curious....
And to those of you who think you look 10 years younger than your chronology - you don't. Get over it - we still love you.

10/03/2007 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

And even if a lot of people are suckers like that, does it make sense to worry at all about it on the production end?

It is toxic to worry about it on the production end.

10/03/2007 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Very few if any sucessful, artists, actors, musicians, politicians, entrepreneurs, name your field, have made it without hard work, self promotion, hard work, some luck, and a lot of work. No matter the circumstances of Bradford's sucess, he's bustin' it now.

My wife always adds a few years then people say, wow, you look great!

10/03/2007 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

An encouraging as hell post -- thanks Edward!!! B

10/03/2007 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

The last artist who had a life persona as worth investigating as their art was probably Warhol. Right? Not? Whatever biographical elements, there is not much artist these days with the true aura to become a star, and outside the hermetic artworld very few people know about contemporary art, so there shouldn't really be envy there to be part of such limited success.

Warhol was everywhere. These days he'd be on the net and probably talking to everyone. Most artists are hiding, it's an ivory tower pattern that I don't quite understand. Same things happen with cinema people, while musicians have a way stronger social presence..

I mean what is the visual arts equivalent to myspace???

This is probably it. Years ago I started at Talkback (Artforum) thinking that was going to be it,
but that forum merely soon made me face my geekness pretty quick.

If you want to be a star, be there with the people. Or be a George Clooney, somebody that everyone else is lusting on and admired as artist because of it.


Cedric Caspesyan

10/03/2007 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Cedric! I beg to disagree. My persona is every bit as worthy of investigation as my art, and certainly more worthy than Warhol's, that poseur. And I have no problem stating my age in public: I am twenty-nine, and always shall be. Hmph.

10/03/2007 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"you can see that's it's all made from scraped posters, so there's an original technique there,"

Chigirie, Japanese Torn Paper Collage art is the Japanese art of tearing paper to create a collage, it's also known as painting with paper.

I coined the term "Chigirie" BTW - and I made significant contributions to pastiche in various mediums - and I'll be doing some more ambitious work if I can find a sponsor for my zerox machine (rental?)

10/04/2007 04:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's refreshing that Bradford, despite being in currently valorized demographics, has the goods. You don't need wall texts to get it.


10/04/2007 09:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Valorized Demographics? Because he's californian? Because he's black? Oh come on, I didn't even know the man was black until about now. What is the valorized demographics of having Rudolf Stingel, Robert Smithson and Richard Tuttle full retros shown in a row at Whitney?

We're in 2007, it's about time that we something else than white men in their 40's stuff in our museums, isn't it?

Cedric Caspesyan

10/04/2007 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those guys were around before sentimental values replaced aesthetic ones in art. They are white men who began their careers before that demo required a gimmick (read mark's first post). They also have powerful vested interests (henri 2:45). A photo of Mark Bradford has accompanied this post since I've been looking at it.
I knew what he looked like before I saw his work. His work knocks my socks off.


10/04/2007 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>Those guys were around before >>>>sentimental values replaced >>>aesthetic ones in art.

Hmmm..for me aesthetics are always somewhat invested by sentimentality. But that's a whole other issue.

Cedric Caspesyan

10/04/2007 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Now you're just teasing, Cedric.

And I can't resist going back to a closed-off tread. It's not whether Chelsea's the biggest centre or one of five. It's that no-one is looking to any particular place, not like Paris in the early 20th century or New York in the mid. Everyone's doing their own thing.

No-one I know pays any particular attention to Chelsea. We've got our own thing going on.

10/05/2007 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger sharon said...


If 31 is the age curators make a face at, then I'm doomed--after years of practising art I finally graduated with my degree at that age last year!

I'm constantly stressed out about the "young sensation" and yet, I am young. I suppose it's the novelty of those fresh out of the gate--but I fully believe I couldn't have been capable then of what I'm doing now as an artist.

While there are a few who are truly gifted early on, I look to those whose careers took off later-- Eva Hesse, Kiki Smith, and this gentleman. They all had to work hard to get where they are, and they inspire me far more than any young kid with a niche and clever schtik.

Thanks for posting!

10/25/2007 02:02:00 PM  
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2/11/2008 11:53:00 AM  

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