Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Selling Solo vs. Working with a Gallery

As a few folks noted in the previous thread, I was quoted in an article Sunday about an artist who has had a good deal of commercial success outside the gallery system but is now entering it. This decision raises a wide range of questions, none the least of which is why an artist would choose to share the profits of their labor with a dealer. Indeed, from the comments on a recent Bad at Sports post by Lisa Boyle (who recently closed her eponymous gallery in Chicago), I was beginning to wonder how many artists not only resented the gallery system but actually wished it ill. Here's a gem from among them:
It’s not the chicken and the egg. No Art– No Art dealer. It’s that simple. If they’re not making money off you — they don’t give a fuck about you. 50% is inequitable. The fucking Mob doesn’t take 50%.
I might, after a few cocktails recently, have been heard to note in response that your dealer probably doesn't come to your studio and break both your legs if your exhibition doesn't sell out... but I'm sure that was only a misinterpretation of my actual words. And it's irrelevant to boot. My thoughts on why the 50/50 split is both equitable and, should an artist's work sell well, negotiable can be found here.

But I'm being a bit disingenuous (I've been trying to work in that "dealer doesn't come to your studio" line since reading that comment). I'm fully aware of the advantages of working with a gallery over selling your work on your own, I understand that those advantages are well worth sharing the proceeds for some artists and not for others, and I know both that dealers are a relatively new part of the art-as-commerce equation and that innovations like the Internet are making it easier for those artists for whom the advantages are not worth it to find a market on their own.


These issues all came up in the Sunday article, which is actually a column in the
New York Times Magazine by Rob Walker called Consumed. In this week's column Mr. Walker discusses the case of artist Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), who at age 33 has been selling his work quite readily and even has his own store in Tokyo, but has, until now, not worked within the gallery system:
KAWS...has been taken on by the Gering & López Gallery in New York, where he’ll have a show this November. He will also exhibit a batch of paintings at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Miami in September and will have another solo exhibition early next year at Honor Fraser in Los Angeles. Sandra Gering, of Gering & López Gallery, had not heard of Donnelly before another artist she works with included him in a group show last summer, but she is clearly smitten with Donnelly’s bright, clean, slightly off-kilter canvases that often riff on pop-culture figures like the Smurfs or the Simpsons. And she figures there’s another market for his work. “I think it needs to get out there in the art world,” she says.

It seems odd that someone already making a good living as an artist is only now being introduced to “the art world,” but Donnelly’s story may say something about the different ways creative work can acquire value these days. He studied painting and majored in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and during the 1990s he gained a certain underground notoriety for removing ads from Manhattan bus shelters and altering them — often adding a slightly disturbing skull-like image, with X’s for eyes — and then putting them back. Visits to Japan brought him into contact with a subculture of hustling young creators blurring the lines between design, art and business, and in 1999 he began producing plastic, toylike versions of his characters in addition to collaborating on products with companies like the skateboard brand DC Shoes and the fashion line Comme des Garçons. He gradually built a clientele for his paintings on his own, and images of his work traveled widely online.

This history led John Jay, the executive creative director at the ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, to note that “[P]eople don’t always understand you don’t have to have a gallery to sell to international stars anymore.”

I'm not entirely sure I understand that quote to be honest. Who is selling what here? If Mr. Jay means that an artist doesn't have to have a gallery to be an international star anymore, I'd agree. I suspect, however, he actually means "to sell the artist," which might be good topic for another thread.
[UPDATE: I worked it out...he means to sell one's art to celebrities. Sorry for being so dense.]

Mr. Walker and I talked for a while by phone while he was researching the piece. He had happened upon the blog and saw the threads in which we've hashed out the issues related to artist-gallerist relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and was highly impressed that he approached the topic with a very open mind (i..e, unlike some other non-art writers I've been interviewed by, he didn't have his mind made up already about how evil dealers are and call just fishing for gotcha quotes). I thought his presentation of our conversation was fair:
Edward Winkleman, owner of the Winkleman Gallery in New York, offers a slightly different take. At edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com, he offers thoughtful observations and practical advice about overprotective gallerists, studio-visit strategies and the like. While the Internet is helping a growing number of artists get noticed, he says, most upstart artists still prefer to rely on a gallerist to connect with appropriate consumers (collectors). And Donnelly’s reputation-building and connection-making is pretty much what Winkleman advises many of his readers to do; he just did it in a different context — one in which selling your creativity is part of the job.

So why bother with galleries at all? Winkleman notes that it remains much harder for artists who operate outside the art-world structure to end up in museum collections, which is still seen as “the quintessential validation” by many.
I did want to elaborate on those thoughts here a bit though. First, I have discussed before my ideas on how artists can effectively sell their art outside the gallery system here.

Second, after some more time to think about this I would prefer to say that although the Internet is helping more and more artists sell their work outside the gallery system, some artists still prefer to work with a gallerist. More than that, I honestly feel that the path to museum validation need not remain via the gallery system, and so that raison d'etre for galleries isn't the end all.


What I think a gallery still does well is provide additional market opportunities beyond what an artist might find on their own and help raise prices, as evidenced by Donnelly's working with Gering & López...
And surely a new market is part of the equation. Gering has been introducing Donnelly’s work to her clients since last summer, and “we’ve sold every painting we’ve brought into the gallery,” she says. The November show will consist of new sculptures (including 33 bronzed, painted renditions of his own head) and paintings; the works will be priced at $25,000 and up.
...and, perhaps most importantly, provide a context in which not only solo exhibitions can garner press but an artist's work can be supported against bad press or misunderstandings on the part of the public. The program at most contemporary art galleries is an ongoing dialog about what's important in today's art world. Within that context, an artist can perhaps afford to take some risks that wouldn't make sense without an exhibition space dedicated to their latest ideas, get feedback on them, and return the studio to hammer them out. I'm not sure that's as possible in museums or other exhibition spaces as it is in many galleries. Yes, I know, the general meme is that galleries are often worse because they'll only exhibit what they know they can sell. I think that describes a small percentage of the galleries most of us would consider good ones though.

In summary then, I feel the advantages (today at least, and not considering the personal relationship an artist might have with any given dealer) of working with a gallery include:
  • Greater chance at receiving significant critical response
  • Bigger market than any artist might be able to get on their own
  • Context for solo exhibitions
  • Ongoing dialog that supports their work
  • Greater likelihood of entering museum collections
The disadvantages (again leaving out inter-personal relationship issues) include:
  • Getting the g*ddam gallery to work with you in the first place
  • Sharing the proceeds of sales
  • Being locked into a less-than-desirable situation possibly
  • Being ripped off possibly
  • Having your work misrepresented possibly
I understand that this issue is likely to generate some passionate responses. Truly I do. That's why I'm happy the comments are still moderated. If you feel the need to compare what I do with what the mafia does, I can tell you right now, I won't publish your comment. There are more honest ways to discuss the disadvantages of working with a gallery than that. With that caveat, though, I'll open the comment thread.

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62 Comments:

Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Is it possible to say today that galleries actually have more "power" than museums?

8/05/2008 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not sure they're in competition for power, but rather working together more (which may be its own problem).

But as the goal is certainly not for artwork to remain in a gallery, I think museums still have more power. In terms of "is having work seen in a gallery approaching 'the quintessential validation'," I'd argue no. Dealers still scramble like hell to get work into museums.

8/05/2008 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

Also, a community, a like-minded system of support can encourage good art making. It can also make it conventional and dull.

8/05/2008 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I was thinking/wondering if it helps to have a running start , so to speak, to get into commercial galleries, whereas in the past it might have been more common to find a way into commercial galleries through showing at non-profit spaces and group shows. So my question is how do you find a gallery that is developing new talent? Do galleries go looking for artists anymore, did they ever, or has the balance (market) tipped in their favor? Does a gallery ever decide that bringing in new artists would help the gallery? i agree it's easier to build a dialog with an audience within the gallery system with solo shows- and then it makes sense to see a summation i.e. retrospective in a museum but then i am wondering how there is a prevalence of project spaces for emerging artists in museums now...

8/05/2008 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Well of course an artist can show and sell in venues outside of big city galleries—just as an actor can perform at a summer playhouse instead of on Broadway or an educator can tutor privately instead of working as a tenured professor at a university.

Many do. And many actually derive great satisfaction and earn a living from those more modest situations. But the ones with greater ambition (and, let’s be honest, greater vision and/or talent) want bigger venues for bigger successes. For visual artists, creative work can acquire value in alternative ways—especially because Open Studios and the Internet have opened up visibility and entrepreneurial opportunities—but galleries remain the conventional means to visibility and success. That makes sense to me: artists make the art, galleries place it.

As for sharing the proceeds of the sale, I’m not giving up half my earning to the gallery; the gallery doubles my prices (and then some; damned discounts) so that we can each earn what we need. Let’s stop thinking that the gallery is taking something away from us and start thinking about the artist/gallery relationship as a business relationship that's good for both parties.

But I wish we would stop talking about “galleries” as a monolithic entity. Just as there are artists at all levels of experience and success, there are emerging galleries and established galleries, and those at all the levels in between. In cities small and large.

And I wish we would stop thinking about the artist/gallery relationship as an us versus them, or a good versus evil situation. With a few exceptions—and How’s My Dealing (.blogspot.com) does a good service in providing a New York forum—gallerists are in this business because they are as passionate about art as artists are.

But I do think that artists can and should take an active role in promoting themselves before they get the gallery representation—and continue in various ways once they are involved with a gallery. This is a business in which to stand still is to fall backward.

P.S. So, Ed, that wasn’t you I saw walking out of the Buona Fortuna social club with Joey (“The Easel”) Cavalletto over in New Jersey?

8/05/2008 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Charles Browning said...

Donnelly did a great job of marketing and branding himself wherever he could. If you have the time, personality, and energy to do that - great. Most of us don't. I can think of others who have worked without a gallery and then returned to after they got tired of the marketing work. (Deb Kass comes to mind)

While most galleries will choose the artist to fit their program first, it can only help you to get a gallery if you already have a market for your work. (Donna's "running start") Any way that you can build context for your work - group shows, non-profits, a shop in Tokyo - is going to help.

I liked Donnelly's closing remark in the original article about wanting to show the work so people could experience it in person. But I also value the gallerist's roll as "party host" who smoothly introduces your work to the right guests.

8/05/2008 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Jonathan T. D. Neil said...

Is not another possible advantage to working with a gallery that it frees the artist to focus on his or her art rather than having to deal with the day-to-day chore that comes with greasing the wheels of commerce?--i.e. marketing, catering to collectors, curators & critics, and all of the logistics that go into circulating works of art, either in actual or image form?

8/05/2008 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Jonathan said, the gallery takes over one of the really big hats an artist would have to wear without the gallery - marketing, sales, promotion (to some extent). After working with some ultra rich people, I am very happy to earmark 50% of sales to someone else to deal with them.

Overlooking the importance of having a really good support system, not all work is served by being viewed on the internet or in spur of the moment locales. Clean, professional spaces almost without exception make work look better.
ml

8/05/2008 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

With some thought towards Jonathan's question about the gallery's role in freeing the artist:

Increasingly I have found that people with little collecting experience in contemporary art expect studio visits as something that should be easily available to them. I have seen private studio visit tours, and have to say that even while these artists are with a galleries, it is not the work that I want to take people to see. It may simply be a matter of the eye that has chosen them, but I do wonder about this.

A lot of people want to do a studio visit simply in order to say they have been to the sacred interior, and to learn something, and there are artists like Chuck Close who are willing to play this role. But it takes a huge effort on the artist's part to entertain them, let alone the personality that flourishes there or withstands it.

8/05/2008 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

Two other important features of the gallery system are the structure of art galleries and the way that dealers manage the relationship between art and the secondary market.

In Olav Velthuis's Talking Prices, he describes how, structurally, gallerists separate art and commerce, for instance by hiding the office in the back. This structure helps, he says, because the "scarce references to commerce transport people into a radically different environment, where utilitarian notions of value are temporarily suspended, and, when it comes to prices, different laws are at work." A good tactic for selling goods which have no direct utilitarian value. And really hard to achieve on the web, in the studio, or on the street!

Velthuis also writes that dealers describe their job as "placing art" into a collection rather than "selling art" on an open market. The goal is to keep art off the secondary market, controlling the biography of the work - with long term price (and other) benefits for both artist and dealer. Dealers have many opportunities to leverage their relationships with collectors to control the biography of a work. This is much harder if you are selling solo.

I'm just paraphrasing Velthuis, so if you just left the Buona Fortuna social club, don't shoot the messenger :-) (great book, btw)...

8/05/2008 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The program at most contemporary art galleries is an ongoing dialog about what's important in today's art world. Within that context, an artist can perhaps afford to take some risks that wouldn't make sense without an exhibition space dedicated to their latest ideas, get feedback on them, and return the studio to hammer them out"

Isn't that what crit groups are for? Ed, I know you've talked about this aspect of the dealer/artist relationship before, but I've never experienced it and don't think I want to. Dealers are not our professors, and to me, it would seem a little condescending if my dealer gave me a critique on the work. I think that would diminish the professionalism that should be a basic part of the relationship. I like to maintain a bit of a distance between the dealer and myself. They don't have to be our best friend or our personal confidant. Sure, it's great if you like them and get along well with them, but we're in business together, not married.

By the way, I think there are many more advantages to working with a gallery than disadvantages, it's just on this particular point, I don't agree that that is part of what a gallery should do for an artist.

Another point - Maybe this is implied under one of the other benefits you listed, but Ed, you didn't mention art fairs. Visibility and exposure at art fairs are a HUGE advantage to showing with a gallery.

Oriane

8/05/2008 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have seen private studio visit tours, and have to say that even while these artists are with a galleries, it is not the work that I want to take people to see."

Catherine, you seem to be saying that artists who have studio visits, with a few exceptions, are not good artists. Just like Joanne said about galleries, there are all kinds of studio visits (casual ones arranged between peers, private ones set up by dealers, multiple studio tours set up by organizations) so it seems almost meaningless to generalize and make a broad statement about the kind of artist that does "studio visits".

Oriane

8/05/2008 03:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the artist/gallery subject regarding sales: if an artist has a show and nothing sells (regardless of the 50/50 split)...is this a problem for the gallery? Is someone at "fault" in this situation? Is the artist to blame for making work that won't sell? Is the gallery to blame for shaking the Collector Tree hard enough? I'm curious to hear what you think, Edward...

8/05/2008 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Isn't that what crit groups are for? Ed, I know you've talked about this aspect of the dealer/artist relationship before, but I've never experienced it and don't think I want to. Dealers are not our professors

I didn't mean to imply the dialog was restricted to one between the artists and dealer, actually.

It's a more open dialog between dealer, artists, collectors, curators, writers, etc. etc. in my opinion. The gallery is the forum for it.

I find it somewhat surprising that mentioning a "dialog" would even suggest spectres of professors, to be quite honest.

if an artist has a show and nothing sells (regardless of the 50/50 split)...is this a problem for the gallery? Is someone at "fault" in this situation?

First, yes, it is potentially a problem for the gallery, but some galleries factor in a number of exhibitions for which sales might not be likely into their budgets because that's part of their mission. So it's hard to generalize as to when it's a problem and when it's by design. Sometimes the most unlikely piece will sell to someone.

If the goal was to sell and that doesn't happen, then, yes, it poses a problem for the gallery...the rent and utility bills do come due.

No one is necessarily "at fault" for this in my opinion, although the responsibility for trying to sell the work does fall to the dealer. Does that mean an artist should point fingers at their dealer if the work doesn't sell? It depends. Even Leo Castelli couldn't sell everything (despite mythical tales to the contrary). Some work is just not right for certain markets. Dealers who try anyway should be thanked for trying in my opinion. They do have every motivation in the world to sell the work.

8/05/2008 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger minimum said...

I feel like a gallery would represent some sort of quality control for the buyer. I'm not saying that only good artist have galleries and bad artist don't. More so that to someone who has interest, but not the time or art background, a gallery is good place to start collecting. Plus, I am 'good' at art not sales. God forbid I try to close a sale.

8/05/2008 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward-
Speaking of sales, do galleries help artists set prices?
Should we let them?
Once those prices are set for Gallery A, and the work doesn't sell, and you show the same work at Gallery B later, can you change the prices?

Maybe this is a subject for a later post...

8/05/2008 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

"Catherine, you seem to be saying that artists who have studio visits, with a few exceptions, are not good artists."

What!? "With few exceptions?" You are usually pretty clear about what you have read, Oriane, but you totally made that one up yourself.

I think I was pretty specific that I have seen "private studio visit tours" and that these were curated with a certain eye. This is a very limited field. People pay a rather small amount to tour guides to see the work of 4-5 artists in the course of a day. The work of the artists who were on the list was not what I would want to show people, and it did seem massageable for an easy market - let's call it tourism. And I'm writing this as someone who provides art tours.

I mention Chuck Close because he does it so often. He plays a big role in the museum world, and does a lot of fundraising events, he seems to enjoy the publicity of it in a way that few would. I have also heard someone boast that they had visited Serra's studio. Who wouldn't want to see that?

My main point is that a studio visit is very desirable even to the "uninitiated," and that people - tour guides - are definitely catering to this market. As someone who plays a very specific role in providing art tours herself, I find the immediate expectation of people with little viewing experience for a studio visit inappropriate. I don't think this always existed to this extent (video has a lot to do with creating the expectation), and as far as its potential, no one has even scratched the surface.

My intention is not to generalize, far from it, and I am sorry that you misread me. I see the studio visit as a very complicated issue, for those represented by galleries and for those who aren't, and raise this as an issue. For sure, one thing that the gallerist should be doing is maintaining a level of quality and managing the expectations surrounding the studio visit. And that is protecting the artist and her time.

Here is what qualifies things, for me: If I take the precious time out of an artist's day to bring a small group of people to their studio, I would only feel justified in doing so if I was sure that someone was going to buy. And to me, that feels like extortion.

This does not mean that studio visits are out, but it would have to be a developed situation in which some intimacy of knowledge had been earned, and the artist felt there was something there for them as well. Obviously not all artists would be interested - it is personal.

8/05/2008 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7 Possible Profiles

often we forget the art dealer, so busy is the public demanding of the artist what or who to be, including how to borrow money and how to use it! when i was in my late teens, i made some large 13 paintings and needed a place for them so i could travel. some woman came, took them all, and sold every one. she was a real estate agent. if i were to make her a character in a novel, say something of , there are certain rules i'd have laid down and perhaps these rules should/could define a potentially successful dealer. and once successful, the 50/50 split seems fine.


1.
the dealer has to be a bit like an artist -but the worst sort: that pushing outsider boastful type who does not understand the word 'insult'.

2.
the dealer should not be overly educated (in visual art) since this spoils the fun of his/her enthusiasm (*curators or curator-minded dealers are almost never good artdealers. they cancel out much too much of what could be there)

however, the dealer should have a good eye (for present -and future ("history")) and engender this trust in his/her 'other clients' -the ones to whom the thing is sold.


3.
all above demands the dealer should be aesthetically robust and highflying and not anemic and ridiculing of wayward ideas put to them.

3b.
this means the great dealer should always be open to diverse 'sources'.


4.
the great dealer is first and foremost a merchant by heart, a trader in spirit. since most art is 'real' objects anyways, this may seem to make sense (there's a 'product' to sell). however, it is a sore point, this paradox, this selling of art! and the great dealer devises a delicate line, refining this to suit his/her own style.

4b.
the dealer should be aware than though he/she is a merchant, the trade is in aesthetics i.e. useless stuff of beauty, which means ANYTHING may be sold -not just the craft-based! great dealers know this.


5.
lastly, back to 'love' through 'selling': the dealer should not only be a merchant but one who 'loves' art -ergo a lover and a fighter! a real dealer would always finds that piece, that artist, that style nobody else wants and a great dealer often would keep this piece for his/herself: real dealers often buy off works from his/her artists.

art-making is very easily plagued with insecurities, questions and suicidal thoughts when one fails -and one fails often. the great dealer eases this difficulty by showering love on the artist, being mad about the work, take them (the work) everywhere they can! the great dealer insist the artist leave everything to him/her in order (for the artist) to have time for studio and goodtimes of wine and cigarette talk with friends. the dealer should be willing to revel in such times with his/her artists from time to time.


HALF CASTA

8/05/2008 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Half Casta,

Joey ("The Easel") Cavalletto is going to follow your rules and become an art dealer. He likes how you think.

He's an outsider. He's boastful. He's not overly trained in art; in fact, he's not trained at all (though he did work briefly with a trainer in the ring.) He's a good merchant; he has sold quite a lot of stuff out the back of a truck. And he definitely goes for things other dealers don't go for; you should see his views of Palermo painted in velvet.

He's sure to be good at the selling, as he knows how to make an offer you can't refuse.

Got any paintings for him?

8/05/2008 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd be interested to hear what dealers who were once exhibiting artists have to say about the 50/50 split. People like Michael Jenkins or Becky Smith might have an interesting perspective to bring since they've spent time in both their "artist shoes" and "dealer shoes".

8/05/2008 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I dropped in this morning and saw this post while I drank my first cup of coffee. I refrained from responding, didn’t want to tinge the thread. There are so many points that require clarification or explanation that it would take all night to hash them out, so for the sake of brevity I’ll cut it short.

Art dealing is an expensive business. A good art dealer should earn their 50%, and use much of it to promote the artists in the stable. This includes beyond rent, mailings, cheap wine and plastic cups, advertising, catalogs, shipping, dressing well, ponying up to go to chi-chi social functions to mingle with the upper-crusties (bring some artists along) and possibly supporting artists during down-times. 50% is cheap if the dealer does the job, some ask for more.

Art is intrinsically valueless and priceless. In a way it’s a like a Ponzi scam, but in this case it’s legal. A good dealer should stand pat and hold the line, beyond placing the works in museums. After all, museums come in all different shapes and sizes (a friend recently begged off a gallery crawl to go to an opening at the Sex Museum). Just because a museum happens to acquire the work doesn’t mean they’ll keep it, but that’s another story.

Probably a better measure of a dealer’s efficacy would be auction prices. To folks who haven’t been in the business long, there’s always the problem of buyers remorse, or collectors coming back after decades expecting a 1,000% increase. A good dealer will handle this in a diplomatic way.

If you’d be satisfied selling work at dirt cheap prices, basically competing with Chinese or Korean art factories (Genuine oil paintings $29.95 gold leaf frame included), and establishing a reputation as a street hawker, then you might be able to sell your wares yourself off the back of a truck. Don’t expect to break out of the $500 price range (though I’ve heard rumors of people doing it).

A big part of the dealer’s job is to create an illusion of substance, not unlike a banker. Much of what appears superficially as successful dealing is managed through a gray market of backers, flippers, speculators, and premiums for collector/steerers that far exceed regular discounts. It’s not uncommon for art to be used as a decoy for money laundering or international cash transfer with out government oversight. A good dealer can navigate all this.

Finally, a good dealer should have charisma and lend an air of desirability to the artists in their stable. I’m sure we’ve all seen work that stinks but sells like hotcakes because a good dealer can sell kangaroo dandruff.

Meanwhile back to the studio, I’ve just received my latest shipment from an Australian veterinarian dermatologist.

8/06/2008 12:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I think I want to be in a position where I could enter any space I like and say "hey, honey, you're
getting 80 per cent if you let me show here". I just don't like the idea of being affiliated to a precise piece of architecture,
having to show in the same rooms over and over again (I'm more anti-architectural than anti-market).

But the moral of the story above is that the non-dealer artist still ended in a gallery. That doesn't prove anything.

I have to admit I was surprised the first time I heard gallery cuts were 50 (some 6 years ago).
I thought before that it something around 30 percent. If I'd start
a gallery (I'm pondering ideas), I would start with a slow rate just to get all the best artists first.
;-)

Cedric

8/06/2008 02:02:00 AM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

(Sorry for the lengthy post here--the topic touches on a lot of issues that I spend a lot of time thinking about...).

I feel that the gallery still represents a somewhat romanticized, notional 'gateway' into a world of prestige, class, and high society. Or rather, the world of culture and ideas and not of mere crass commerce. Can we not speak plainly and say that buying an artist's work off the rack (even a 'limited edition') feels somehow devalued--that it crosses the threshold into being a commodity, an object d'art? However deconstructed much contemporary art appears, the value is still on the sacred artistic object. The worst thing (?) to happen is for an artist's work to descend into commoditization--at least given the structure of the world of high culture/commerce.

Commoditization is the process by which a good is interchangeable with any other good within its category. Quoting Thomas Crow from Artforum (April 2008): "In very few cases does the term apply to the upper levels of a market, in which the best-placed consumers pride themselves on their personal relationships with the producers and even intimate acquaintance with their places of work." The dealer-artist-studio visit relationship, there. Paraphrasing: "commoditization...is to the advantage of neither the buyer nor seller of art, who share a common interest in the perceived incomparability of the product."
Also:
"Our modern notions of art and artist arose as certain exceptional talents fought their way free from guild restrictions in order to market that very freedom as a quality exceeding in value even the most precious materials."

While some might think of galleries as being the modern-day equivilant of restrictive guild systems, I'm not sure KAWS is the best example here of how artists can expect to forgo the gallery structure. What KAWS does as an artist is outside the range of how most artists (at least reading here, I'm guessing) conduct their practice. KAWS is, plainly, a one-trick pony, combining the cloying egotism of street-art/graffiti subculture with the production methods of Pop and design arts. He does one thing and one thing only, ad infinitum, in as many mass-mediums as possible. Context is not KAWS' metier, only abject production. One could say the same thing of Murakami, but face it: even if you pony up the bucks for one of the handbags, what you have at the end of the day is really a Louis Vuitton mass market product, not a Murakami 'original'. Murakami's art (and Boontje's or Hockney's or Fairey or even freakin Picasso's) are accessible to certain facets of the mass market in the form of trinkets, products, prints et al, but this IMO enters into another territory which is worthy of discussion but not this discussion.

The fact that KAWS entered the art world through the side door of 'design' culture is more a commentary on the crassness of the gallery system attaching itself to a winning ticket. The gallery doesn't have to do any work to introduce his work or build his market, because when you've seen one KAWS piece you've literally seen them all. Some might view this as putting him in the same category as Hockney or Warhol. I don't. And while credit is due to him and whatever he does to express himself and be successful at it, I can see very few artists who would be willing to stick to the same thing over and over again. Especially when you can walk into any underground toy store and buy innumerable KAWS products. But then again, it's that very repetition that makes it marketable, recognizable, and commodifiable.

But:

Would a gallery want such market saturation for its artists? All accounts seem to point to the contrary.

Would a gallery want their artists to do the exact same thing ad infinitum simply because it sells? Would the artist respect a gallery that instructed him/her to do so? Would they respect themselves?

I personally find the intermingling of art & design very interesting and a welcome, growing trend. My hopes are that it can actually help democratize the art collection market without minimizing the impact of anyone's cultural or economic bottom line.

And I think that galleries are the ones, as businesses with the right connections, to usher in and mentor this change.

As a final word of caution to entrepreneurial-spirited artists (to paraphrase Ed's comment in a previous post): unless you're more interested in being a shopkeeper than an artist, don't waste your time running a shop. Not until you're huge, anyway, and you get Marc Jacobs to handle it for you..

8/06/2008 02:33:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

No, I think working with a gallery is a good gig, as they say 'nice work if you can get it'... if it sells well that's great, and you get to add it to your portfolio, get reputation... Of course sometimes the relationship/deal doesn't turn out so great, but that really depends on the specific gallery/artist. In all it seems to me quite fair, but I never was represented by any so I'm not speaking from experience...

There is one more challenge though, that I would add to your list of 'disadvantages'. I wouldn't actually call it a disadvantage, just maybe a potential problem, and in fact can also be used in a positive way to benefit the artist as well (as it does many).

I would call it typecasting, for lack of any other definition. I mean a gallery expects the artist to present a coherent body of work. It can be a problem for some artists, who like to search and experiment and explore and change faster than what is expected of them. It's just very limiting, I think, to make 10 pieces that look similar to each other one after another. I always have themes that I come back to, there are repetitive elements, but not in a systematic way, more like a cyclic rhythm. Every new piece is a new exploration, a new conquest. Maybe I'm immature. When someone tells me what I should do and that I need to limit myself to one direction I screech inside. On the other hand, maybe I could actually grow from setting limits and focusing my attention. I suppose I'm not a great curator of myself either.

So, I am realizing now that I specified both a disadvantage and another advantage of working with a gallery: limiting the artist's free flow of creativity, and on the flip side, a gallery can help an artist focus their effort, a gallery can serve as a good curator for an artist's work, thereby aiding in their development.

Alrighty then... that's it for my ode to the gallery. The bottom line is that an artist has to create, it's not a choice for them. If they'll do it on the subway walls or sell in the streets, they'll do whatever they need to do. But art is not only limited to fine art, there is art in many things, there is art in commerce too, anything anyone does creatively in the world is an art. And everyone is creative, even not being creative is a way of being creative: one has created this specific way for themselves. In that sense, a gallery dealer is doing the exact same thing as an artist does. Everyone does this. How does this have anything to do with the topic of discussion? This just came to my mind thinking about the original post, about the 'us' and 'them' that's been mentioned. There really isn't such thing, at least not in this field, galleries and curators and critics and collectors are creating the artists and the art and are integral parts of it very simply put. As well as the general public and the visitor to an exhibit.

8/06/2008 06:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What!? "With few exceptions?" You are usually pretty clear about what you have read, Oriane, but you totally made that one up yourself. "

And, Catherine, I think you can make your point without the condescension. Since you are someone who expects people to be clear about they've read, please note that I said "with a few exceptions" not "with few exceptions" which has a different implication. I don't think I "totally made that one up" myself.

"I think I was pretty specific that I have seen "private studio visit tours" and that these were curated with a certain eye. This is a very limited field...And I'm writing this as someone who provides art tours."

Although you clarified in your second post, you weren't pretty specific in your original post about the distinctions between types of studio tours.

I don't want to go back and forth parsing each other's comments, but I don't need to be lectured to about how to read.

Oriane

8/06/2008 09:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But the moral of the story above is that the non-dealer artist still ended in a gallery."

Cedric,

The artist is still alive and in his 30s. I don't think we can say he's ended anywhere yet.

Ed, to address your comments,
"I didn't mean to imply the dialog was restricted to one between the artists and dealer, actually.

It's a more open dialog between dealer, artists, collectors, curators, writers, etc. etc. in my opinion. The gallery is the forum for it.

I find it somewhat surprising that mentioning a "dialog" would even suggest spectres of professors, to be quite honest."

You're right, there is an open dialog in that once something is displayed in public, anyone can see it, and have and express an opinion about it. But what I was trying to say (perhaps not well) was that all of that back and forth and experimenting and incorporating into the work other people's ideas and feedback should happen before the work goes into the gallery. Not that the work stops evolving and developing after that, but the professionalism I mentioned means that publicly, artist and dealer should stand behind the work as the best manifestation of the artist's concept and craft. Remember how you responded when people here had a dialog about Jen Dalton's bracelet piece? You were not happy to hear that dialog and you stuck to your belief that her work was successful because that is your job as her dealer and representative (and I'm sure you meant it sincerely or you wouldn't have shown the work in the first place). I'm not trying to stir up an old controversy, just giving an example of what I mean.

Oriane

8/06/2008 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kalmjames,

Now that you've spilled the beans, aren't you worried that other artists are going to muscle in on your turf? Years from now, instead of Warhol and Lichtenstein with the comics, people will be saying, "yeah, ok, Kalm was the first to use it, but Caspeyan really took kangaroo dandruff to the next level."

Oriane

8/06/2008 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

ahh, but you see Oriane, Jen has already me told that as ungraciously stated as many of the comments were (my main objection) that the exchange was indeed interesting for her to read. Kind of in the way watching a train wreck is interesting, and horrifying, perhaps, but interesting all the same.

Then again, I didn't mean to imply the feedback gathered in the gallery would have any direct impact on what the artist does (a good deal of negative feedback and actually reinforce one's ideas).

Rather, I meant to suggest that giving an artist room to take risks is an important part of the gallery context, in my opinion.

Your notion that "all of that back and forth and experimenting and incorporating into the work other people's ideas and feedback should happen before the work goes into the gallery" sounds like a rather dull gallery to me.

I like the idea that work can be risky even in the context of the gallery. Given the interactive nature of some of the work I'm interested in, that's pretty much required.

8/06/2008 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Rather, I meant to suggest that giving an artist room to take risks is an important part of the gallery context, in my opinion....Your notion that "all of that back and forth and experimenting and incorporating into the work other people's ideas and feedback should happen before the work goes into the gallery" sounds like a rather dull gallery to me...I like the idea that work can be risky even in the context of the gallery..."

We're basically in agreement. (Yay!) An artist would be lucky to have a dealer who believes that the gallery is a good place to take risks.

O

8/06/2008 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

This looks interesting...

On 5 and 6 June 2008 University of Groningen's Institute of Biography and the Groninger Museum organized a conference on art collecting: The Art Collector: Between Philanthropy and Self-Glorification . The Art Collecting Network has sprung from this conference; it aims to bring together collectors, artists, academics, museum employees, gallery owners and other people interested in research into art collecting.

Did anyone go to it?

8/06/2008 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I've said already on this blog that the illustrators were way ahead of the fine artists when it came to promoting their own work, and this KAWS fellow is a fine example of someone starting off with an illustrator's strategy and crossing over into the gallery system. He's not the first by a long shot. Interested parties might look up Kent Williams, Gary Baseman, or Mark Ryden for comparison.

Supposedly the gallery takes over the work of sales and promotion from the artist, but I've found that the artist has to put in the same work to get the gallery in the first place, which makes me wonder about the whole process. In fact, I find myself having to do a fair amount of advocacy on my own behalf to the some of the galleries already representing my work. It's a never-ending effort.

Marketing is not mysterious and I think a lot of artists could garner their own recognition in ways the traditional system hasn't seen yet. The open question is not whether it could work financially (it could), but whether we'd get the best art out of it. There are people who are great at making art and little else, and they are not going to be much good at self-promotion. But unfortunately this cuts them off equally from the contemporary gallery system that might suit such a person. On the other hand, the present system isn't elevating the best art anyway, so anything else is worth a try.

8/06/2008 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Apologies to Orianne.

Donna that is awesome. Stated goal of conference: "By emphasizing the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – the Golden Era of private collecting – the conference aims to inspire and provide examples for contemporary collecting."

I wonder what they came up with, and what kind of agendas were behind it? Wish I could have been there.

8/06/2008 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been both a gallery owner and (currently) an artist and played both parts, from my own experiences...

Every gallery's system is different, some take 50, some less, some more. Every gallery owner/owners is/are different as well, some do a great job at promoting the gallery and the artists they handle, others have a totally lazy approach and do almost nothing except open the doors (and some don't even follow their own hours and the door is locked most of the time.)

The best galleries all have one thing in common and that is Good Marketing. Regardless of regular buyers and collectors frequenting galleries, any gallery needs new buying blood to survive, especially when they've already saturated their (possibly shrinking) market of buyers. What is Good Marketing? Using every possible outlet that is affordable within the gallery budget to get feet in the door. That is going to be different as well for every gallery, as each budget will differ.

However, the bulk of galleries fail to do Good Marketing (most have no clue of what real marketing is) and the bulk of them do a disservice to their stable of artists when:

1. They fail to show at least one piece of art by each artist in the stable at least three times a year

2. They fail to communicate with ALL of their artists at least once every two months

3. They fail to have contractual agreements with the artist and rely on a "trust me" type of situation. (and this is a failure of the artists who have OK'd this situation as well.)

4. They carry any single artist longer than 2 years without having them in a group or solo show. (again, any artist staying in this situation has failed themselves.)

5. They promote "personal favorites" over other artists in their stable with no sales record to back their choices.

6. They show works with no possible chance of selling (NSF works, etc.) over and above more saleable artists.

...This list could go on and on, many artists here could add to it easily. The main and most frustrating point being that the bulk of galleries in the U.S. are not following any prior business models that are proven. Some are "hobbies" for the owners, some are tax write-offs, some are nothing more than showrooms for the artist/owner which are disguised as galleries for a group of artists.

As many of you know, it's damn hard getting into a gallery in the first place. What makes it such a disappointment is landing in one that has 3 or more of the above list's foibles and knowing you might have to stay instead of only plying your trade at Art Fairs or the internet.

And what of galleries that are on the internet as well? Do they offset the chances of an artist who is "competing" with them? Does anyone truly know what kind of figures could be tabulated for internet sales of galleries vs. those of artists?

As well, are there any substantiated figures for gallery sales overall? I have yet to find anything on the internet for sales figures on galleries (by city, by country, region, etc. or by time period) and it seems that most are reluctant to even discuss it. The only figures I've found are auction figures which do not by any means represent the world of gallery sales or the common household buyer of art.

8/06/2008 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Ed,
It’s funny that in your list of advantages you make five declarative statements:

“Greater chance at receiving significant critical response
Bigger market than any artist might be able to get on their own
Context for solo exhibitions
Ongoing dialog that supports their work
Greater likelihood of entering museum collections”

But for your disadvantages you leave wiggle room with “possibly”.

“Getting the g*ddam gallery to work with you in the first place
Sharing the proceeds of sales
Being locked into a less-than-desirable situation possibly
Being ripped off possibly
Having your work misrepresented possibly”

You might be overly sensitive, but I’d say all these should end with “possibly”.

anon 11:39 hits many of the nails on the head, marketing, marketing, marketing, location, location, location.

Saatchi On line has published their sales figures from the site, impressive.

Oriane, I’ve moved on to wallaby pubic hair.

8/06/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Ries said...

I work with a gallery for the same reason I deal with any other professional- because they have spent the time and money to become good at what they do.

I dont do my own concrete finishing or legal work, and similarly, I find that being a good gallery dealer is a skill that requires the right personality, and then several years (5 at a minimum) of practice and experience.

A good dealer (I know they hate that term, but its the most accurate, as far as I am concerned) is there every day, talking to the people who come in, learning his or her market.
They know the players, personally- the collectors, the critics, the curators, the art handlers, the framers, the non-profit board members, and so on.

They know who does good cheap printing. Who is worth advertising with. How to throw a decent opening, where to buy wine, and they have the mailing list that brings in the people you want.

They pay the rent, paint the walls, and unlock the doors regularly.

They create a buzz greater than a single artist- many times, someone will come to see a show of mine not because they know me, but because of the reputation of the gallery, or because they have seen other artists they like there.
They have a reputation that means when they call up a critic and recommend your show, they are listened to.

Theoretically, I could do all of these things myself- well, at least most of them. But it would be another full time job, in addition to the one or two I already have being an artist.
Although to do ALL of the things a gallery does, I would have to start a gallery- because if I am only promoting my own work, I lose the synergy and economies of scale a gallery does by having a dozen or two artists.

I have found it pays, not costs, to have a good gallery. But not all galleries are good.

8/06/2008 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger José said...

Hi Edward and readers,

I'm going to be pretty pragmatic here, even if I've never worked with a gallery.
Lets start with the fact that a gallery, with few exceptions, are a business. And a business exists to make money. Do most galleries do it well ? I think not. One of the reasons being the fact that some gallery owners know litle about art and just open a gallery because it's something that looks nice.
Then we have the galleries owned by people who like art and keep on pace with the trends and more important than that (because trends go by), they know how to recognize quality . They may invest in well known names, but they will give the chance to emerging artists not because of certain "connexions" but because of quality. Like I always say : quality sells (just take a look at the luxury market).
Working with a gallery that cares about its artists is a good thing in may aspects, I'm sure. It's a symbioses between the artist and the gallery and can be a relation that may open many doors.
I don't think that one needs to worry about if it's better to work with galleries or individually; in general terms. What one needs to do is to adjust the situation to what may be better at a certain time.
Of course that although quality should prevail, like I wrote before, unfortunately connexions still play an important role when entering galleries.

Kind regards,

José

8/06/2008 02:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

José:
+++And a business exists to make +++money.



I live in a place where all my life the best galleries were ones not about money. More like art centres.

The commercial galleries in my town, at least for a long while, were atrociously boring.

So I think I came up with a different perception of what a gallery can or cannot do. I never saw it of anyone's responsability but the artists to entice people into coming back to see them.


It's important to remember that this thread is set in New york, but there is a lot of other places in this world where the commercial galleries are not where you will find interesting art. And so the expression "a few exceptions" gets reversed.


Now I have to remember to bring kangaroo dandruffs in my next expedition to the everest.


Cedric

8/06/2008 07:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

... the rooms just keep getting bigger. Well, In Donnally's case, I'm sure. The Tokyo Store.

Wallaby fillet, raw, like horse, yum! The pubic hair, I don't know, what do you do with that?
c.p.

8/06/2008 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous dennisinLA said...

Considering these comments:

"a gallery that is developing new talent"

"But the ones with greater ambition (and, let’s be honest, greater vision and/or talent) want bigger venues for bigger successes."

"gallerists are in this business because they are as passionate about art as artists are."

"Art is intrinsically valueless....... In a way it’s a like a Ponzi scam, but in this case it’s legal.."

"On the other hand, the present system isn't elevating the best art anyway, so anything else is worth a try."

"quality sells (just take a look at the luxury market)."

There has perhaps a parallel in the advertising art world, in that we do not see wonderfully entertaining advertising much anymore. This is because the client has been catered to by committees of accountants, client services, and lawyers who now dictate via sales projections and have a "dialog" with their writers, art directors, and film directors as to specifically what the creative should (will) be.

Am I too much of an idealist to suggest that it's the "dialog" between all the parties that has been shaping art rather than the artist shaping it himself in a dialog with his subject matter? I don't understand why a gallerist can't sell such a powerful idea as the latter - except if he isn't really that good of a salesman or he can't find such artists, and therefore resorts to bending his roster of staff artisans to the wishes of his clients, as he sees them. I mean, if that is the case, art becomes merely another commodity for conspicuous consumption, does it not? a high-end product, like commissioned illustration for something to fit the decor or the size and pre-determined intent of an exhibition space and those on the mailing list. It's an old problem going back to the ceiling of a chapel. But it's modern precedents are perhaps clearest in Picasso and Dali. I wonder how much input and feedback these artists had to deal with, or did they just know how to adjust their output without input? I would imagine that with this mindset, an artist who sells fantastically without any input from the system, would be a gallerist's dream and mean effortless sales. But that's a rarity and there are thousands of galleries. So, logically, most of the art being produced is consumer dictated through the eyes and minds of first, the self-censoring artist and second, and more importantly, the business person who wishes to participate (force his will) in the creative process. With this going on, how can we tell anymore if what we are being presented in galleries is really the best work available? And this system feeds the museums?!

re: studio visits and tours

I wonder if a visit to Francis Bacon's slovenly studio or Giacometti's dusty denizen would have inspired sales? Do these tours mean that only artists who have the correct environment, suitable for sale support, will more likely get representation? And will there someday soon be a dialog here too about how one's studio should appeal to the visitors- perhaps, consultants dispensing advice on favorable studio etiquette? Friends, we are looking at a whole new industry!

8/07/2008 01:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering these comments:

"a gallery that is developing new talent"

"But the ones with greater ambition (and, let’s be honest, greater vision and/or talent) want bigger venues for bigger successes."

"gallerists are in this business because they are as passionate about art as artists are."

"Art is intrinsically valueless....... In a way it’s a like a Ponzi scam, but in this case it’s legal.."

"On the other hand, the present system isn't elevating the best art anyway, so anything else is worth a try."

"quality sells (just take a look at the luxury market)."

There has perhaps a parallel in the advertising art world, in that we do not see wonderfully entertaining advertising much anymore. This is because the client has been catered to by committees of accountants, client services, and lawyers who now dictate via sales projections and have a "dialog" with their writers, art directors, and film directors as to specifically what the creative should (will) be.

Am I too much of an idealist to suggest that it's the "dialog" between all the parties that has been shaping art rather than the artist shaping it himself in a dialog with his subject matter? I don't understand why a gallerist can't sell such a powerful idea as the latter - except if he isn't really that good of a salesman or he can't find such artists, and therefore resorts to bending his roster of staff artisans to the wishes of his clients, as he sees them. I mean, if that is the case, art becomes merely another commodity for conspicuous consumption, does it not? a high-end product, like commissioned illustration for something to fit the decor or the size and pre-determined intent of an exhibition space and those on the mailing list. It's an old problem going back to the ceiling of a chapel. But it's modern precedents are perhaps clearest in Picasso and Dali. I wonder how much input and feedback these artists had to deal with, or did they just know how to adjust their output without input? I would imagine that with this mindset, an artist who sells fantastically without any input from the system, would be a gallerist's dream and mean effortless sales. But that's a rarity and there are thousands of galleries. So, logically, most of the art being produced is consumer dictated through the eyes and minds of first, the self-censoring artist and second, and more importantly, the business person who wishes to participate (force his will) in the creative process. With this going on, how can we tell anymore if what we are being presented in galleries is really the best work available? And this system feeds the museums?!

re: studio visits and tours

I wonder if a visit to Francis Bacon's slovenly studio or Giacometti's dusty denizen would have inspired sales? Do these tours mean that only artists who have the correct environment, suitable for sale support, will more likely get representation? And will there someday soon be a dialog here too about how one's studio should appeal to the visitors- perhaps, consultants dispensing advice on favorable studio etiquette? Friends, we are looking at a whole new industry!

8/07/2008 02:00:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

No one has yet written about the history of “the studio vist” in any overarching way, but there is some significant history, most importantly here William Merrit Chase and the entire Tenth Street Studio Building, which included Bierstadt as well. These studios were highly staged venues for selling work in the refined atmosphere of high culture. There were not very many commercial galleries, and so for major artists the studio visit was really important. The first gallery to specialise in American Art was the Macbeth Gallery in 1892.

And there is of course Brancusi’s enshrined studio, a place where in real life he performed his folkloric ethnicity and photographed the play of light across his sculpture arrangements. He did not do very well in a European market, but exceedingly well in an American one - apart from his friendship with Duchamp I have a hunch we may have to give a visit to his studio some credit as well, as there were few other places to go.

I think it is wrong to confuse a discursive community with working by committee, but at the same time worthwhile to consider the difference between one thing and another as a site of contestation in this so-called age of complicity.

And c.p., thanks for getting my morning synapses going! It is ALWAYS too late, isn’t it?

8/07/2008 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Man Ray: 'While I do things to assure my daily bread, I have also worked at things all my life for which I have no hope for material profit. In fact, this is my real justification for living.'

Francis Picabia: 'What I am doing, as I have always done, is to paint for myself, and my work will never appeal to everybody.'

But here we have a debate about the best way to become rich and famous.

8/07/2008 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

David said: But here we have a debate about the best way to become rich and famous.

Why do we have to polarize? It's not about "having no hope for material profit versus being rich and famous. But I don't think it's too much to expect to earn a living from what we have been trained to do.

Fame and fortune are the result of lucky breaks and whom you know, your sex, your age, your appearance, and a mix of other tangibles and intangibles, whereas earning a living is the result of plugging, pushing, keeping at it--in the studio and in the world. The dialog in this thread is about whether artists go it alone or align with a gallery.

There's an interesting
disjunct in many of the posts in this thread (and in the responses from artists who post here in general). The idea of being rich and famous carries a taint, but at the same time, everyone wants to know how to get a gallery.

8/08/2008 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Joanne said: 'But I don't think it's too much to expect to earn a living from what we have been trained to do.'

I'd stop at the word living. The Man Ray quote alluded to this with 'While I do things to assure my daily bread...'. However, that's not his justification for living. What made his life worthwhile was the things he did for himself, with no hope of material profit. As it turns out, that's also what made him famous. (Lucky him!)

Regardless of where and how you're selling, making work with the primary aim of selling it means making work that meets the demands of those you're selling to. You have one eye on potential buyers all the time, and the work suffers accordingly. Where's your justification for living in that?

Yeah, call me a naive romantic, but I'm very dubious about 'professionalism' in artists. I reckon you need to have both eyes on making the best work possible, regardless of whether it will appeal to anyone else (pace Picabia).

Joanne also said: 'The idea of being rich and famous carries a taint, but at the same time, everyone wants to know how to get a gallery.'

Funnily enough, I dropped my gallery a few months ago. One of the reasons for this is that I'm not interested in pushing up my prices and selling to collectors, and I didn't think this fair to the gallery (who do have bills to pay after all). A part-time job assures me my daily bread.

I'm not advocating this for anyone else however. You've got to do what works for you. All I want to do is point out is that there are alternatives to selling solo and selling through a gallery, and they don't necessarily involve public funding.

Of course, in 30 years, when I'm marginalised and bitter and all my mates aren't, I may think differently.

8/08/2008 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

David,

Nowhere did I suggest that material success means making work specifically for the marketplace. The idea is to find the galleries that respond to your work, the galleries in turn finding (or having) the clients who respond to the work. A lid for every pot.

But if you choose a different path that works for you, that's fine, too.

8/08/2008 10:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Caspesyan said...

Some artists will only make great art when they are in a position of survival and necessity, others will only make great art once they have solved out any obstacle to their security and freedom.

It also much depend of the type of art you wish to make and your potential audience (clientele). Experimental music artists for the most parts had day jobs because there was no way selling their albums could provide them with the necessary everyday income. What could have been their other option? Doing pop music on the side? That's tentative, but say they really really despised pop music and began to make experimental music for this reason?


Believe it or not, it is still possible in visual arts to make works that don't sell easily
because it doesn't fit well within the current canons and trends of the contemporary. Suggesting to some of these artists to think of their art as a business would be nonsensical to them. Sometimes the only option is: the money's gotta come from somewhere else.

Many great artists got rewarded after 15 to 20 years of hard non-selling works for exactly the reason that they would not have changed anything to their art in the hope that it would sell.

If you can manage to make both sellable art and non-sellable, or even better, all-sellable art, than that's fantastic, but then that really depends of your audience. Some artists are not interested in the chit-chats with the rich and famous. They are earning for an intellectual dialog.
Sometimes that dialog interweave very well with the market, other times it must involve counter-acting the market.


Cheers,

Cedric

8/09/2008 01:11:00 AM  
Blogger ..... said...

a note on the 50 - 50 split. (here 40 - 60 is more usual) but the top galleristas and galleritarettes can screw the artist down to 80 - 20 but with a promise to return more actual income to the artist through higher prices than could be achieved elsewhere.

The problem here is with the occasional 'culls' of these dealerships. An 'underperforming' artist can be left with terribly high prices and little chance of getting them without the golden touch of the gallerista

8/09/2008 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

It's not about getting rich and famous, it's about survival. In some places (like where this blog is starting), a small income will barely pay the rent, not to mention pay the bills, food, and artist materials.

Another reason is it takes a very special kind of artist to completely not give a hoot about how the public perceive their work, and whether anybody understands them. Selling is a way of feeling validated. Even so called "rich and famous" artists would become severely depressed when they felt they were misinterpreted. Art is, after all, a form of communication, not just a secluded ceremony made in secret, isolated one-man locations, never meant to see the light of day. The goal is, for most artists, getting recognition, communicating with the 'outside world', unless the art is only a form of therapy for the artist, in that case they don't really need it exposed to anyone at all.

8/09/2008 01:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you don't have a plan for yourself you'll be a part of someone else's."
Anonymous

"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas."
Linus Pauling

All good ideas arrive by chance.
Max Ernst

I am interested in ideas, not merely visual products. Duchamp

I think as an artist you have to reinvent yourself every day.
Damien Hirst

Artists are like everybody else.
Damien Hirst

"Never compare your inside with somebody else's outside."
Hugh Macleod

I'd asked around 10 or 15 people for suggestions. Finally one lady friend asked the right question, 'Well, what do you love most?' That's how I started painting money.
Andy Warhol

There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite.
Paul Gauguin

"Your idea doesn't have to be big.  It just has to be yours alone.  The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.  The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea.  The more people click with your idea, the more it will change the world."
Hugh Macleod

"Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong."
 Wilde

"The moment you think you understand a work of art, it's dead for you."
Oscar Wilde

The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.
Salvador Dali

"Question how much freedom your path affords you.  Be utterly ruthless abut it.  It's your freedom that will get you to where you want to go."
Hugh Macleod

"A dream can be nurtured over years and years and then flourish rapidly…Be patient.  It will happen to you.  Sooner or later life will get weary of beating you and holding the door shut on you and then it will let you in and throw a real party!"
Lester Brown

What I really like is minimum effort for maximum effect.
Damien Hirst

I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.
Vincent Van Gogh

"That is true wisdom to know how to alter one's mind when occasion demands it."
Terence

Lack of charisma can be fatal.
Jenny Holzer

The most interesting part of my life is of no concern to the public.
Winslow Homer

Character is power; it makes friends, draws patronage and support and opens the way to wealth, honor and happiness.
John Howe

"No man was ever great by imitation."
Samuel Johnson

"The wisest men follow their own direction."
Euripides

Democracy with its semi-civilization sincerely cherishes junk. The artist's power should be spiritual. But the power of the majority is material. When these worlds meet occasionally, it is pure coincidence.
Paul Klee

He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise.
Paul Klee

"To paint a fine picture is more important than to sell it."
Edward Jewell

"Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on."
Samuel Butler

"We learn the ropes of life by untying its knots."
Jean Toomer

"The more you know the less you need to show."
Anonymous

"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion."
Camus

"Men have become the tools of their tools."
 Thoreau

"True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist."
Einstein

"The only thing worse than a man you can't control is a man you can."
Margo Kaufman

"Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do.  The   less control you will have.  The more bullshit you will have to swallow.  The less joy it will bring.  Know this and plan accordingly."
Hugh Macleod

"What we anticipate seldom occurs but what we least expect generally happens."
Disraeli

"Always do right.  This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
Twain

"Always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than the operating manual."
Terry Pratchett 

"A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep."
Veron Howar

"My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure."
Ashleigh Brilliant

"Next week a doctor with a flashlight will show us where sales projections come from."
Scott Adams

I believe in advertisement and media completely. My art and my personal life are based in it.
Koons

I love the gallery, the arena of representation. It's a commercial world, and morality is based generally around economics, and that's taking place in the art gallery.
Koons

I believe that my art gets across the point that I'm in this morality theater trying to help the underdog, and I'm speaking socially here, showing concern and making psychological and philosophical statements for the underdog.
Koons

"When the client moans and sighs
Make his logo twice the size.
If he still should prove refractory,
Show a picture of his factory.
Only in the greatest cases
Should you show the clients' faces."
D. Olgilvy 1983

Painters are not in any way unsociable through pride, but either because they find few pursuits equal to painting, or in order not to corrupt themselves with the useless conversation of idle people, and debase the intellect from the lofty imaginations in which they are always absorbed.
Michelangelo

Every good painter paints what he is.
Jackson Pollock

My life is full of mistakes. They're like pebbles that make a good road.
Beatrice Wood

"If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun."
 Katherine Hepburn

"Friends applaud. The comedy is over."
Beethoven's last words

8/09/2008 05:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

A quote is a quote is a quote?

Great list, though!!

Let me try one?

"This quote shouldn't be here, and you shouldn't be reading it"

Traduction:
"do not ever let anyone have to tell you that you should go out and discover the world by yourself"

Cedric Caspesyan

8/11/2008 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

some bloggers think Kaws was underground but that showing in a gallery is mainstream

what ya think?

8/11/2008 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If one notices the combination of quotes I posted, one will see they are not just quotes, but taken together, handle the theme of this blog.

Here's another pertinent one from a current interview at.....

http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/scobie/scobie8-5-08.asp

....which weighs heavily on the ideas around the directions art has taken under the current system.....from Chuck Close:
CC: I think that is because though we grew up in the ‘60s we really are of the ‘70s, and unlike the artists of the ‘60s, who are superstars, or of the artists of the ‘80s, who were superstars, the ‘70s were very pluralistic and nothing dominated. None of us were superstars, so the spotlight wasn’t on us and we didn’t have to mature, and I think that gave us legs. I think that is what kept us going, no matter what ways the winds were blowing in the art world. We had our own trajectory, our own path, our own set of issues.

IS: I think it is hard to be a young artist, especially for the women, and the pressure to be fashionably relevant. . .

CC: Horrible. There were no beautiful women in the art world. There was nothing glamorous about the art world. The fact that supermodels would come to an art opening was unheard of. The whole mingling of art and fashion is the worst thing that could ever happen.

8/11/2008 11:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Creating art as an avocation is almost always a mistake. By its very nature, art is not an avocation.

Bill Harper

8/12/2008 01:50:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I don't get it. What's Chuck's point exactly? That worshiping beautiful people is morally bankrupt? Shallow? Beside the point?

I'd like to see him expand on that, otherwise it seems like standard scripture.

Or was chuck being ironic?

Where are the supermodels though? Europe? China? Basil?

I have never seen a supermodel at an opening. Cleelbrities tend to go to events with othr celebrities.

One time I saw Gwyneth Paltrow without makeup. and I saw Parker Posey playing with a kid.
I mean, I don't see many "hot chicks" or whatever. I think most of them are clubbing and stuff - a lot more rewarding in a way, less agrivation. Then they move to the suburbs. Which is another thing - even artists like having an outdoor siesta on a nice hammock, hot chick or no. Do siestas ruin the art world or only hot chicks?

8/12/2008 02:06:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Joanne, nowhere did I suggest that you did suggest such a thing.

If your gallery means you (here I mean 'you' in a general sense) don't have to worry about being a professional (maintaining lists of clients and a catalogue of your work and all that dreary stuff) and can concentrate exclusively on making whatever work you like, that's great.

8/12/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Despite a strong showing by one anonymous, another anonymous is winning the quote war with the Bill Harper one.

Art is not an avocation. It is a minor occupation. Dedicate yourself to it!

8/12/2008 08:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Exhibition News said...

It really is quite an issue regards selling solo or via an exhibition. I personally think it really depends on the size of the business involved and ones cash flow.
Certainly I prefer to sell solo but sometimes I sell through exhibitions.

8/12/2008 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The artist who's message is pleasing has a fortunate fate. The artist whose message is other than pleasing must deal with censorship and have an income other than sales of his art.

The first artist is often very pleased with the system. (the rich have options, however, and can go solo.) The latter artist is usually not very pleased with the system.

Which all points to the facts that, the only thing the truly self-contained artist needs from people is income. And what the other-directed artist needs is acceptance.

8/13/2008 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous here again. If you'd like to learn more about how big time artists go solo, and galleries sucumb to the auction block, see:


http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/polsky/polsky8-27-08.asp

8/28/2008 01:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could say that my gallery experience was terrific, and that my gallery was entitled to the 50% that I would have been happy to share. Instead I found that I was expected to commit to sharing half of all my sales with someone who did absolutely nothing (not even sending an email earlier than 2 days before the show) but give me one exhibition in two years.

I noticed, however, that the gallery did diligently work to promote and sell the few artists whose markets it had successfully developed during its first foray with the art fairs, before my addition to its stable. I also noticed that everyone except these favored few received the same treatment (or lack thereof) that I received.

I appreciate the economic reality that necessitated the gallery’s focus. But I wish that the gallery conversely appreciated mine, which it did not. Instead, I agreed to commit myself exclusively for two years (and was expected to even longer, as the gallery had the chutzpah to tell me when I had a show somewhere else) to someone who did absolutely nothing.

It’s obvious, Ed, that you do an amazing job promoting all of the artists you take on (after what appears to be long and careful consideration), and you are entitled to everything that you work hard to earn. But not all galleries do, and when evaluating the merits and drawbacks of “going solo,” the variations in dealer quality, and the effect on the artist’s career, must be factored into the equation.

2/04/2009 11:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anna Porter said...

Ed, it comes down to this. If the gallery is actively promoting and selling your work and it is working, then 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Yes 50% is an outrageous amount to have to pay. But if the gallery is well-located so that it has great foot traffic, actively promotes its artists both in the gallery and online, is staffed with knowledgeable customer-friendly people who actually do try to sell art, understands and represent their artists honestly and well, then I believe it is definitely worth it. Expensive but worth it.

However, I would suggest that you check up on your gallery from time to time to make sure that once the honeymoon has worn off, they really are doing a good job of trying to promote and sell your art.

Case in point: I visited an art gallery recently where I walked into the gallery, looked at every painting there, re-visited two or three painting three or four times and the person behind the desk did not get up to greet me, did not say one word to me, or about any of the art that I was looking at. In short I (and everyone else who came in the door) were invisible. I thought to myself “I would not want my art hanging in this gallery. No one is trying to sell it. No one is trying to engage the customers. No one is home. Period.”

I found out later through careful questioning that the gallery owner was “in the back” selling famous prints over the telephone to out-of-state customers, which is what made the “bread and butter” for the gallery. No one was trying to sell the local artists’ works that were hanging on the gallery walls. The “in the front” person might as well have been “in the back” too.

I walked ½ block down the street into another gallery. I looked at three paintings and turned my attention to a sculpture in the center of the gallery. Immediately a friendly, smiling gallery representative approached me to give me some information about the artist. There was no high pressure sales pitch, just some friendly information. That made me want to ask her some questions about some of the other paintings and artists. You get the picture. Which gallery would you rather have representing you?

I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your gallery homework before you decide on one. I really felt like Gallery #1 was doing a great disservice to the local artists whose works were hanging on its walls. Walls do not sell paintings. People sell paintings. So make sure that your gallery has someone “in the front” who is knowledgeable, courteous and likes people. Someone who actually will greet potential customers and try to get a conversation going around your work. Someone who is motivated to do so in order to get paid.

8/31/2012 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

What if a gallery buys your art, presents it on their site, but does not mark it up that much?Then when an auction house request the art for their catalog & auction, their reserve or opening bid is less than what the gallery bought the work for. All this knowing the work has gradually been going up in price and auctions via the artist own online sales & auctions over the past 5 years? This has been happening to my art. I even have people at a major West Coast Museum buying from me when they found my online auctions, yet this gallery, does not mark my work up. Is it because they want to appear to be buying the artist work for less, thus keeping the artists prices from getting out of their reach? I've worked with this gallery for 5 years, but ended it because I could not get a decent answer. Thanks for the great information here. Steven Chandler

9/25/2012 12:58:00 AM  

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