Cultivating a Cult of Personality (or Not) : Open Thread
The question is, how often does a work sell on the strength of an artist’s personality alone? “Most collectors are unaffected by artists’ personalities,” says [Mary] Boone. “They only care about the art.” But Donald Baechler has observed just the opposite. Through his friendship with such collectors of his art as Yoko Ono, Baechler has been bumping up against celebrity ever since his paintings of dripping ice-cream cones and long-stemmed roses hit the market in the early 1980s. “I met George Condo then, and it seemed to me people were taken with him before they were with the paintings. Everyone was charmed by him. [The sculptor] Walter De Maria, on the other hand, was notorious for not showing up at his openings. It was always a puzzle how he got to be so famous without bothering to be there.”
While Yablonsky ponders through a series of possible sources for star power (arrogance, charm, provocation, oddness, sex appeal, etc.), the one thread I saw running through most of the examples she sighted was a true interest in other people, a generosity of time for them:
Warhol was one of the past century’s most charismatic figures, a bewigged enigma who attracted crowds of the curious and paparazzi wherever he went. He galvanized not just artists and musicians but collectors and socialites, and his influence has only grown over time. Yet he spoke in monosyllables and revealed very little of himself. Like Koons, he disarmed through flattery, although in a different way. “Despite his fame,” says Colacello, “Andy would still ask for advice—should he use this wallpaper or not?—and he was accessible. You weren’t going to run into Jasper Johns or Cy Twombly in a nightclub. And even if you did, you wouldn’t hear, ‘Oh, hi! You should come up to the Factory and be on the cover of Interview.’”Of course, there are plenty of people turned off by the notion of the cult of personality in the art world--as it often is seen as supplanting the art---and indeed, New Museum Director Lisa Phillips voiced this sentiment when she argued in the article that
[A]n artist’s importance is determined by his or her work alone. “That’s what will survive over time,” she points out. “Dan Flavin had zero charisma, but he was a great artist. Russell Crowe, the actor, is not charismatic, but his fame attracts a crowd. They’re different things.”The part of the article I found most interesting was that dealing with what Yablonsky termed "inverse magnetism," the notion that the more distant or inaccessible an artist or dealer is, the more others want to be near him or her. A high-profile art critic in New York once admitted that he was oddly attracted to a gallery in which they very consciously (if not down right rudely) ignored him whenever he entered. It was liberating in a way, he noted. Of course, this disposition probably only attracts people to you when what you're offering in terms of art is still of high quality. Otherwise, I suspect, folks are more than happy to leave you to your inaccessible self.
In the end, I suspect, it's best to excentuate whatever it is you naturally have going for you without trying to be something you're not. Yes, there's a bit of theater in it all (even the Marlene Dietrich's of the art world are guilty on that count) and yes, I would advise worrying much more about your studio practice or solid sales and marketing efforts than crafting some persona, but within an industry full to the brim of strong personalities, making yours work for you is simply part of the terrain. Consider this an open thread on the perils and/or pleasures of the cult of personality in the fine art world.