Thursday, July 31, 2008

Speed Reading : Zipping Through Art Exhibitions vs. Pausing for Reflection : Open Thread

Jonathan Jones touches on something in a recent entry on his Guardian blog that I've wondered about more and more over the years. In a world moving ever more quickly, what's the impact on art viewers of the breakneck speed with which our newspaper-based art criticism is provided:
Newspaper reviewing is obsessed with the first night, the opening, the new thing. Well, we are called newspapers after all, not oldspapers. But the pressure on critics to get - in the case of visual art - the first view of an exhibition can arguably be counter-productive. It means that reviewers have not had time to weigh second thoughts, and that readers have almost certainly not seen the exhibition before they read the review. The review therefore influences your own encounter. I'm not objecting to this but I do think it might be interesting sometimes to look at exhibitions later in their run, with the benefit of reflection, and in conversation with readers who have also seen it.
Ask any dealer in New York where they most wish a review of their current exhibition to appear, and most will say the New York Times. Why? Because reviews in that publication will most immediately impact the numbers of people coming through to see the show. Having been lucky enough to have a few of our exhibitions reviewed in the Times, I can say that in most instances the writer not only took their time with the exhibition, but often came back for a second viewing and/or followed up with questions about the exhibition before publishing their review. Also, perhaps 85% of the time we've received a NYTimes review, it has come in the last or penultimate week of the exhibition.

For exhibitions in major museums, however, the NYT's review usually comes out before the show opens to the public. And so Jones' two concerns (enough time to weigh one's thoughts and the influence of a review on viewers' subsequent encounter) would seem to be worth considering. The second one, actually, is easy enough to dismiss in my opinion. If you prefer to see exhibitions before reading reviews you can most likely work that one out for yourself. Jones' first concern though strikes me as more important.

The New York Times has on occassion handled this with what I think is exquisite respect for both its readers and culture's importance to the city. Holland Cotter once followed up his initial review of the Met's show "The Age of Rembrandt" with a viewer's guide piece (including an interactive map) and another piece on other places in the city to view Dutch masterworks. It was a truly wonderful example of a newspaper giving ample time and space to a major exhibition. Of course, not all exhibitions are necessarily worthy of so many inches of the Arts section, but it set the standard and other papers can't argue they don't know how to do better.

Thinking about this more, though, I have to wonder how much of what gets dismissed as a one-liner in contemporary art is sold short via hurried reflection. Take Jones' own example used to illustrate his point. After some reflection on Martin Creed's "Work No. 850," currently being performed at the Tate in London ("a relay of sprinters in the long, neoclassical central hall of the Millbank museum. The runners start near the entrance of the building and run the length of the marble floor, fast') , he went from finding it "amusing and diverting" to later concluding that it is "absolutely beautiful."

A couple of weeks [after first viewing it] I found myself contemplating Barnett Newman's painting Onement (I) (1948) in Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art. This is the first ever painting in which Newman depicted the straight vertical line or "zip" that became his graphic signature. It is a great work of art, and the ultimate source of all minimalism. Newman had the audacity to just paint a thin red line on a canvas he'd saturated dark purplish-brown. The line becomes prophetic, authoritative, the essence of rhetoric. Only humans can make a straight line: there are no straight lines in nature.

I found myself thinking of Creed's Work No. 850. I realised that, too, is essentially a drawing of a straight line: a line made by human bodies. Creed reveals something basic and essential about art, that it starts with a human body moving and a human mind imagining a line.

The difference in what Jones readers would have taken away from an initial review, when he found the piece merely "diverting" to when he had had the time to connect the dots and see more of what Creed was drawing from (pun intended), is night and day in my opinion. Don't readers deserve a bit more of this in their art criticism? I know with arts coverage plummeting around the country that this is much less likely to happen, but then again, perhaps such approaches would make arts coverage more popular and drive in more revenue for the daily publications.

Consider this an open thread on the advantages and disadvantages of newspaper art criticism.
See Image of Martin Creed's Work No. 850 at

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Investing in Yourself

Tuesday's Aside, a weekly post in which I will try to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

Jon wrote:
Say an emerging artist comes by some money (donation, sale of work, inheritance, Apple shares, ...). In your opinion, what are smart ways to use this to further an art career?

Like many emerging artists, since finishing my MFA a year ago I've been struggling to get my work presented (it didn't help that I moved cities). On the flip side, I've managed to save up a five figure pot. I've had a bewildering range of opinions about how to leverage this to help my career, including:

1) Rent an exhibition space - I've heard that dealers frown on "vanity exhibitions". Is this true? If not, any recommended venues?

2) Rent a storefront in the LES for several months, install a group show there.

3) Make a single large/expensive work - someone with a presentation space will be more likely to want to show it, and when shown it will make more of a splash.

4) Hole up in the studio for six months, make new work, its all about the work.

5) Make a book and send copies to a wide range of dealers and institutions.

6) Keep it in savings for when you really need it!

I don't have training in business, and I'm feeling a bit stuck.
More than usual in this column, today I should note that all of this advice is terribly generic. Depending on each artist's specific situation, some of my responses may not be your best avenue.

My immediate response to your overarching question is to note that nothing has really changed in terms of how you should go about advancing your career as an artist. In other words, I would still recommend, now that you have a financial cushion, doing the same things you should if you were working a 40-hour/week day job. Combined, those things fall into two major categories: 1) make the best work you can make and 2) network, mostly with other artists and curators.

Having said that, with a financial cushion you can perhaps do both of those in ways you couldn't before. The very first thing I would recommend you do with the new found free time the money affords you, though, is to clarify for yourself exactly what your personal goals are. Some of your numbered ideas seem to compete or cut across each other. If you don't want to be a gallerist, I wouldn't recommend playing at being one, for example, even temporarily. Depending on how you manage it, it can send a very different signal to the art world than you intend. Most of the artists-turned-dealers I know who do a good job at it, ended up doing less of their art in order to do so. Even those who only did so only temporarily will often find networking conversations turn to their space, when they would rather talk about their art (as some artists seem to mistake any exhibition space as an opportunity for them personally, and some curators or writers may use the diversion to avoid opening the door to discussing your work).

As for taking advantage of the windfall for making the best work you can make, I think some of your ideas are solid. In particular #4. Ultimately it IS all about the work. I would support #3 only if you have a good idea for such. In other words, don't go big just because you think big will get you attention. Big, expensive flops are panned all the time.

Although I would argue that self-promotion goes hand-in-glove with networking, how effective #5 might be depends highly on who specifically you send it to, how well it is designed to promote your work, and whether you're ready to capitalize on such an investment in a big way (i.e., do you have enough work to justify a book?). Catalogs can be impressive in certain contexts, there is no doubt, but if a dealer or curator isn't inclined to be interested in the work, the world's best catalog isn't likely to change that.

The best generic advice I can offer with regards to using your free time to network AND make your best work is to apply to longer-term residencies. Artists can return from a residency with important new contacts, a fresh approach to their work, and even completed projects that increase their likelihood of breaking through to an exhibition with that particular curator or dealer. Many artists can't afford the time off from their day jobs to attend the longer-term residencies, but I've talked with artists who have had significant breakthroughs during them or met a new circle of like-minded fans of their work who can open doors for them moving forward.

If living in another place, far from your friends and studio, isn't that attractive, though, the other thing you might consider is investing in your studio. Renovate in order to make working easier for yourself. Racks or new lighting or some new audio equipment, anything that frees you from current restraints and makes holing up there more enjoyable. Again, it's all about the work.

But you're asking a dealer, which may not lead you to the best advice on this particular question. Folks, other ideas (other than buying one of your own works from you, that is)?


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cultural Equity: In Search of an Equal Playing Field in Arts Funding, Open Thread

In a post on Political Correctness recently, I noted I believe that for the playing field to be truly equal the practice of political correctness needs to end. I focused specifically on the social interactions aspect of PC-dom, what I consider pseudo-politeness, but there's another side to it as well, a side that approximates Affirmative Action. We see that practice reflected in the debate about how best to dole out available public funding for the arts.

A difference of opinion on whether that practice is appropriate is playing itself out in New York City at the moment, as reported by the New York Times:
[A] coalition of arts organizations in New York City called the Cultural Equity Group [proposed] to city officials [that] $15 million in the city budget ... go to so-called culturally specific organizations, serving blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and American Indians. The money — to be used for things like programs and administrative support — would be separate from financing awarded by city agencies, like the Cultural Affairs Department.

That agency’s grant panels do not use culturally specific criteria when awarding money. For fiscal year 2009, which began July 1, the panels awarded 862 program grants, a total of $26.5 million. According to the department, organizations that said in their mission statements that they explicitly served “a community of color” accounted for 22 percent of the applicant pool and received 22 percent of the dollars.


“The competition for funding does not take into account the issues of the communities we serve — the soaring high school dropout rate, the foster care kids, the people facing re-entry from prison,” said Laurie A. Cumbo, another Cultural Equity Group leader.


Still, the Cultural Equity Group’s quest has reignited a lively debate in the arts world about just what cultural equity means.

Kate D. Levin, the cultural affairs commissioner, said that in her agency’s experience a group’s mission statement — as opposed to leaders, staff and board — most reliably captures what it does and who it serves.

“Our new funding process supports 25 percent more groups with significantly more dollars than in the past,” she said. “We’ve opened up a system that was previously unresponsive to need or demand, and we’re more equitable and transparent than ever before. Naturally anytime there’s change, there’s a debate."

As I had noted in the previous post, I feel that the notion that some sunny day everyone will like or accept (or even appreciate) the differences of everyone else is an unrealistic goal. The most practical thing you can work toward is equal opportunity.

Still, I understand that all else being equal, some arts organizations will go under. And I understand that some arts organizations are still truly at a disadvantage socially:
At a recent meeting [Cultural Equity Group] members spoke of the difficulty of luring minority board members from elite organizations, securing bank loans in struggling neighborhoods and encouraging poor people to donate money to support the arts. Even success can hurt these centers, as the artists they have helped start go to bigger, wealthier places. At times, group members said, they had to cut back on programming or hours of operation, and staff members often do without things like health insurance.
I'll admit to thinking sometimes that Darwin was right. The strongest survive. That's just how it is. And that's perhaps not fair, but what's fairness got to do with it? Then I stop to think that the arts are supposed to reflect our best selves. Not our most Machiavellian selves. Not our most Darwinian selves. But the very best that we can be.

Perhaps that's too romantic a notion. Perhaps even in the arts, only the strongest should survive. Some seem to suggest that's the case:
Government and foundation support dries up in tough times, [Michael M. Kaiser, the president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington] said, so turning to the city is not as useful a long-term strategy as gaining development expertise.

“I am talking about good marketing skills, getting people excited about your work, a disciplined fund-raising,” he said.
It's hard to argue with that. But even the examples of success in doing so that one could point to had a bit of fortune on their side:
What is a level playing field?” asked Patricia Cruz, executive director of Harlem Stage. “All arts organizations are in trouble now. This issue needs to be quantified: How many organizations run by or serving people of color are out there and how many have perished? We feel it in terms of the organizations that are struggling so intensely, but if a fact-based analysis finds what people know intuitively, then you can address this.”

Ms. Cruz said she thought the Cultural Affairs Department had done a good job in reaching out to all kinds of groups and making its financing process more transparent.

“The Cultural Equity Group is doing exactly what we did 30 years ago,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, chairwoman of the New York State Council on the Arts. Ms. Campbell was the executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem from 1977 to 1987 and served as the New York City cultural affairs commissioner from 1987 to 1991. She recalled how demands for more diversity led to city governments, foundations and corporations providing dollars and technical assistance for nonwhite cultural organizations.

That support helped establish places like the Studio Museum in Harlem and El Museo del Barrio, now two examples of elite, robust institutions, Ms. Campbell said.
Indeed, in the case of the Studio Museum in Harlem and El Museo del Barrio, I assume the fortune that helped them become the stellar institutions they are today includes a good deal of hard, smart work, but also the fact that they represent minorities with large populations in New York and that they were able to remain in operation long enough to see their hard work eventually coincide with economic prosperity. For some other arts organizations, with smaller pools of potential supporters and the misfortune of existing in tougher times, even those organizations' paths to success may not be probable. Do we just let Darwinism run its course in such cases?
For now, the clock is ticking in places like Brownsville, East New York and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, [Laurie A.] Cumbo, of the African Diasporan arts museum, said.

“There’s no cultural outlet or release for the young people in these communities,” she said. “Get off the corners and go where? Get off the corners and do what?”
Consider this an open thread on arts funding and equal opportunity.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties

Despite the general rancor that flows between the left and right wings of the blogosphere, suggesting that partisanship is an insurmountable plague in this country, there have been a few issues over the past 8 years on which lefties and righties have felt the need to join forces to tell the US government that we, the people, still run the place. And those who abuse our trust will be held accountable.

Now is one of those times.

On August 8, 2008, the anniversary of the day Richard Nixon was force to resign as POTUS for breaking the nation's laws and abusing his power, bloggers from across the political spectrum will be highlighting how little impact that sad day in our history seems to have made on the current crop of Congresscritters and the resident of the White House.
That day illustrates how far we have fallen in this country in less than 35 years, as we now not only permit rampant presidential lawbreaking and a limitless surveillance state, but have a bipartisan political class that endorses it and even retroactively protects the lawbreakers.
The effort is being organized by the political action committee AccountabilityNowPAC, under the name of Strangebedfellows:
Strangebedfellows is a unique and diverse left--right coalition which has come together to put a stop to the eradication of civil liberties in America. Modeled on a similar group in Britain, the initial Strangebedfellows group encompasses Ron Paul supporters (, Rick Williams and Trevor Lyman), leading bloggers from the left (Glenn Greenwald of, Jane Hamsher of and many more who share the view that warrantless surveillance, telecom immunity and other such outrages of the lawless surveillance state MUST END—AND END NOW. Our group of Strangebedfellows is organizing a moneybomb on behalf of AccountabilityNowPAC, and we’re reaching out to friends and colleagues from across the political spectrum who believe in the Bill of Rights and freedom in America. So join us-- become a Strangebedfellow! Add your name and group to our list of backers, and enter your pledge today to donate to AccountabilityNowPAC. Let’s reverse these police state sellouts by our political leaders—FOREVER.
I'll be honest, I'm not big on Money Bomb efforts typically. I understand nothing grabs Congress' attention like money does, and sometimes freedom isn't exactly free, but it's often difficult to be sure where the money is going. In this instance though, Glen Greenwald explains in detail what the plans are:
This campaign, just in its incipient stages, has already been covered by numerous news outlets, including The Wall St. Journal, Politico, Wired, and numerous others. All of this is intended as just a start. We will spend the entire $350,000 already raised for the Blue America fund between now and November by targeting selected, vulnerable Democratic members of Congress who supported this FISA bill and who generally have enabled Bush radicalism.

The August 8 Money Bomb is intended to be used to fuel a long-term campaign and an enduring organization devoted to changing the behavior of the political class with regard to these issues. We intend to begin now actively recruiting and promoting credible primary challengers against the likes of Steny Hoyer and other key culprits; to target for defeat those members of Congress who continue to support policies of this sort, Democrat or Republican; and to find ways to affect the public discourse on these issues, which are jointly distorted and ignored by both the so-called "liberal Beltway establishment" and the crux of the Republican Party.

In fact, read Greenwald's entire column for a background on why this issue is so important. The Democrats many of us were so happy to elect in 2006 with hopes of undoing the damage the Bush Administration has been doing, have not only failed us, but perpetuated many of the abuses:

Since that overwhelming Democratic victory, this is what the Democratic-led Congress has done:

In the spirit of joining forces to highlight this effort, I'm co-posting about Strange Bedfellows with Franklin Einspruch of, with whom, if you read here or there often, you'll know that I frequently disagree. On this topic, however, we're perfectly in sync. Washington is not only out of touch with the public, they're out of touch with the Constitution. It's time to remind them they work for us, and we're not at all pleased with them amassing personal power at the expense of our privacy or civil liberties.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Trial of Comment Moderation and Posting Guidelines

I'm going to moderate the comments on a trial basis through the rest of the summer. I've always been opposed to moderating comments because I believe it's possible to set a tone and keep it more or less on track by responding to those going too far in real time. Currently I don't have the time to do so, unfortunately.

I've really only ever had one "rule" about comments around here and that has been that I won't tolerate comments that are so harsh or ad hominem that they discourage others from adding their thoughts. It's OK to be passionate, but when you've stopped talking about the issue or opinions and started making comments about the person, you're not contributing anything valuable to the conversation anyway, and so I've always thought such comments did more harm than good. Compared to some other blogs, I feel that's a fairly liberal threshold.

I'll admit to not having caught all the harsh or ad hominem comments over the years here. I know a few regulars here have been insulted and wondered why I let it stand. To them I'll apologize and note I hadn't always read each comment thoroughly.

I will for this trial run though. Like many other blogs, your comments will be emailed to me and I'll approve (or not) them for display. I suspect this will slow things down around here a bit (and for that reason, I suspect I'll regret this decision), but there is far too much disrespect in many of the comments lately. Commitment to an open dialog doesn't obligate one to suffer fools or their petty projections. So many extraordinary conversations happen in this place and I can't stand that a few selfish people are willing to hijack those threads for what seem to me bitter and sophmoric agendas. Even passionate opinions can be expressed with respect for others, and to be posted around here for the time being they will have to be.

I will note that anyone who is willing to use their name or a consistent psuedonym stands a much better chance of having a more passionate (i.e., harsher) comment approved than totally anonymous folks will. I understand why some folks wish to remain anonymous, but I don't feel they should be free to derail a thread or take cheap potshots at folks willing to sign their names to their opinions.

With moderation in place, I'm re-opening last Thursday's post as well.

We'll see how this works.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Three Quick Notes

UPDATE 2: Comments (with moderation) are back open. See today's post for an explanation. There are two other places you can continue the major discussion started on this thread. One is at Catherine Spaeths' (link below) and the other is at Carol Diehl's blog.

Pressed for time today.

Note 1:

The comments around here have been so tame lately, that I thought I should direct you over to a very thoughtful interview Catherine Spaeth generously posted on her blog about our gallery. Catherine has a knack for very piercing questions that elicited some opinions I've only hinted at here.

Note 2:

Don't miss the fabulous New York Times article and cautionary tale Jori Finkel wrote about auctions on cruise ships:

It was only after Mr. Maldonado landed back in California that he did some research on his purchases. Including the buyer’s premium, he had paid $24,265 for a 1964 “Clown” print by Picasso. He found that Sotheby’s had sold the exact same print (also numbered 132 of 200) in London for about $6,150 in 2004.

In addition, he had paid $31,110 for a 1968 print, “Le Clown” by Picasso;, an online art database, showed it going for about $5,000.

Note 3:

One of the best discussions online I've read about the New Yorker Obamas cover controversy is on Art Fag City:
That [is] why the satire doesn’t really work - the image is not an outrageous over the top portrayal of how the right views Obama, it’s (as Tom has be saying) an illustration of their views.
Personally, I think it's always better to acknowledge a joke missed being funny with a faint guffaw than to treat it like it was something more significant than a joke. Cartoons can indeed be offensive, but they should ultimately be judged on whether they're succeeding as humor. In this case, I'd say "eh." Sullivan posted a funnier Obama joke, provided by the candidate's campaign the humorist Andy Borowitz [h/t Deborah]:
"A Christian, a Jew and Barack Obama are in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Barack Obama says, 'This joke isn't going to work because there's no Muslim in this boat.'"
Have a happy Thursday.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Political Correctness

Tuesday's Aside, a weekly post in which I will try to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

James Kalm writes:
With the up coming election season I’d be interested in your thoughts regarding politics/political correctness in the art world, and the practice of “black-balling” artists, critics and dealers regardless of their work, on the basis of their perceived political affiliations. Tyler Green has mentioned this, but for a community which stresses its tolerance, this seems to be a glaring example of hypocrisy at the very highest levels.
I would need some concrete examples of this practice to really weigh in on this. I don't recall Tyler's mention of it (anyone with a link?).

My personal take on political correctness is that it's an artificial construct that has benefits in the short run, but will outlast its usefulness and eventually become harmful. What I mean by that is shaming people into considering others' feelings (or at least keep their hurtful opinions silent) long enough for those others to gain some power socially is a good thing, but for everyone to truly be on an equal playing field, that pseudo-politeness eventually has to end. It's foolish to think you'll ever get everyone to like/accept each other. The only practical thing you can hope for is that people have equal opportunity and equal protection under the law and that with those protections they can fairly fend for themselves.

OK, so enough about my opinion, though. How does this spell itself out in the art world?

Clearly the art world is overwhelmingly progressive. I think that's why I'm comfortable in it. I also like to think the art world is predominantly open-minded too though. I agree wholeheartedly with James that as such, one should be able to expect that the art world is open-minded and tolerant as a rule, not just in certain leftist contexts. That means tolerating the right of people to have other political opinions and not denying them access to the inner sanctum because of their feelings.

I read a chapter of a book once about a study of tolerance among prospective social workers. It centered on a questionnaire that was designed to illustrate how even those of us who believe we're tolerant are actually harboring prejudices and that all such bias generally carries with it a sense that "but it's OK not to like those people, isn't it?"

The questionnaire asked whether the future social worker could objectively treat someone who was an alcoholic? A large percentage of candidates said yes. Then whether they could objectively treat someone who had had an abortion. The number of yes responses declined. What about someone who had been a prostitute? Someone who had physically hurt their children? Someone who had sexually abused children? Someone who was a racist? A member of the Ku Klux Klan? and so on. As you might guess, the numbers declined as the socially unacceptable behavior rose. The book continued to note, however, that all these people were in need of the social worker's professional help, whether or not they deserved his/her empathy.

Now I'm not suggesting that anyone should be expected to be objective about a member of the KKK. I'm simply noting that by not being such, you're not really "tolerant" in the broadest sense. Where you personally draw the line, of course, is up to you. But "tolerance" in its purest form suggests you live and let live. Clearly that then would mean you don't blackball someone because their political stand on this or that issue is different from yours. As the questionnaire was designed to show, however, that's a lot easier in theory than in practice.
Within the art community, there are those who seek acceptance for their expression but don't offer it uniformly in return, on both sides of the political spectrum. It's just that the left side is the majority and as such rules.

Having said that, though, representatives of the conservative argument in this country have gone out of their way to scapegoat the art community in the culture wars. So it's hard to turn the other cheek knowing they'll happily smack it as well. Within the arts community, though, there is, IMO, no excuse for not walking the walk with regards to open-mindedness and tolerance.

Again a few examples here would help me be more specific.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Things Still Being Only Whispered : History Repeating? Open Thread

New York Times art critic Roberta Smith may get the chance to recycle the following article she penned in 1992, if word on the street pans out:

Behind the summer lull, it's been a tense, tumultuous few months for contemporary-art galleries in New York City. As if enduring its own version of the London blitz, the art world seems to be holding its breath, waiting to see which galleries will still be operating when the dust settles and Labor Day is past.

Although some dealers say they think the art market is stabilizing and perhaps beginning a slow recovery, others are less optimistic. But all of the nearly dozen people interviewed tend to agree that galleries are having widespread difficulties as they struggle to bring 1980's overhead -- especially rents -- into line with the contracted art market of the 90's.

Recent months have brought more gallery closings, and certainly more rumors of closings, than any other summer in memory. At least six galleries have closed, most of them relative newcomers in SoHo that concentrated on showing younger or less established artists.

In addition, more galleries than usual have moved over the summer, often lured by lower rents, smaller spaces or more central locations. In a seeming contradiction, some galleries have moved to buildings that other galleries had left: in the soft real-estate market, the new tenants negotiated lower rents. Other galleries have cut back on the amount of space they rent, reduced staff or scheduled fewer but longer-running exhibitions for the new season.

I stumbled upon that article in researching something else, but it literally might be applicable, virtually word for word, a year from now, if not sooner, according to things still being only whispered but rising in volume in Chelsea.

And on Bad at Sports, former Chicago dealer Lisa Boyle offers a very honest take on why she closed her 4-year-old space (although I took exception to her alluding to the influence of--among the obvious factors like the downturn in the economy, the strength of the Chicago market, and the impact of not getting into the right art fairs--"how all the successful galleries are connected in an incestuous web of nepotism and homosexual ego stroking"...I mean the "gay mafia" is not without its influence, but it hasn't stopped heterosexuals from running at least 8 of the top 10 art galleries in the country). Among the sentiments Lisa shared that rang true to me was this gem:
Making a life (if not a living) out of selling arbitrarily priced objects that no one needs is a very competitive venture. Not as easy as it looks. You have to want it. I mean really super bad. If you are going to create a successful system of supporting artists, connecting with institutions, and staying happy and successful as an art dealer, you have to want that more than a lot of other things. Like more than a paycheck, for example. More than every single Saturday for the rest of your natural born life. More than healthy exposure to the sun. You have to welcome payment in the form of some awkward social cache rather than in money, and you have to not mind being chained to a desk between four white walls for years, with the exception of those times you pack up your wares, like a traveling salesman, and take the show on the road. All of these things have to be fun and exciting to you. Additionally, should be armed with the knowledge that this span of time from start-up until you can comfortably travel the world attending all the most exclusive art parties will very likely stretch out longer than you or any one else expects.
Of course, by swapping out just a few nouns of place and the odd verb, this describes perfectly the plight of every artist out there.

OK, so what's really going on, though? Clearly the economy is bearish and predictions range from "the worst is yet to come" to it will remain this wobbly for yet another year, and yet, among the dealers I talk with in Chelsea two things seem to be consistent: traffic among middle-tier collectors is down, but folks are selling as much if not more than they were this time last year. "Big stuff is selling," is what you hear again and again. Indeed, word out of the most recent auctions in London confirm this:
The contemporary art market season has drawn to its close with a series of three consecutive evening auctions, which confirm that significant works by a broad list of fashionable artists are continuing to attract powerful bidding competition.
Indeed, galleries in London seem to be popping up like mushrooms. Every week it seems I get an email from a new one announcing their inaugural exhibition. Likewise for spaces on New York's Lower East Side ( lists 34 galleries open there now).

There is the arrival of the time-honored indication that the market is heading south, though: Gagosian is expanding his empire again. In her simply breathtaking profile of Larry, Sarah Douglas noted:
On a December evening, in the teeth of a financial gale that may yet blow away the art boom, Larry Gagosian opened his seventh gallery, a 700-square-metre space in Rome. Even as many of his competitors braced for a recession, Gagosian did what he has always done: he forged ahead. The Art Newspaper brooded on recession, quoting an unnamed former associate: "If this one really kicks in, he's sure to be opening yet more new spaces, in Moscow, India or China." As it happens, Gagosian had already made headway in Moscow, taking a temporary space there in October, and, a few weeks after Rome opened, New York magazine aired a rumour that he was scouting in China. Gagosian has become such a force, synonymous with the market itself, that this spurt of activity may indeed herald a downturn.
From where I sit in West, West Chelsea, things look more or less as I would expect them to given the housing bubble bursting and the Dow dropping the way it has. Then again, we started in a garage on a tough street in Brooklyn. The first full day after our inaugural opening reception, a reporter for a major New York newspaper walked in and introduced himself. "Wow," I thought, "This publicity thing will be much easier than I expected." But after establishing that I owned the joint, he asked if I could tell him anything about the person who had been murdered on the corner about 4:00 am the night before. In comparison to that, a bit of a downturn in the market is a factor we'll just do our best to deal with.

Consider this an open thread on the future of the art market in New York. Try to keep from descending into wildly unsubstantiated speculation if you can. :-)


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"The Shallow Curator" @ Winkleman Gallery, July 11 to August 15, 2008

The Shallow Curator
Summer group exhibition featuring work by Gisel Florez, George McCracken, the Spirit, and Kevin Zucker

Curated by Ivin Ballen and Christopher K. Ho

July 11 - August 15, 2008
Opens July 11 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present The Shallow Curator, a summer group exhibition with neither urgency nor depth. The exhibition skims the surface of art-making, buoyed by such concerns as an artist’s sense of style. It features projects by Gisel Florez, George McCracken, the Spirit, and Kevin Zucker. To counter the inevitable meaning that any juxtaposition of works engenders, The Shallow Curator accumulates weak links, none of which dominate and that, collectively, remain isolated intellectual cul-de-sacs.

Kevin Zucker produced The Shallow Painting, 2008, specifically for The Shallow Curator. Elaborating a previous series of paintings of standard metal shelving units, Zucker asked other participants in The Shallow Curator to contribute objects to place on the shelves.1 In this sense, the shelving units rhyme with the exhibition’s premise, and with the gallery in general: the three are vessels into which disparate objects are inserted, and hence given provisional unity.2

George McCracken, a painter turned designer, presents his Spring 2009 menswear collection, shortly available at Bergdorf Goodman. As The Shallow Curator coincides with the fashion industry’s market week, McCracken is meeting buyers at the gallery behind a Corbusier table accessorized with Eames aluminum chairs, all from Design Within Reach.3 The George McCracken Collection features natural materials, superior construction, and discreet colors.

Photographer Gisel Florez’s Exquisite Taste (Olive) and Exquisite Taste (Bruno), both 2007, depict dogs chewing up handbags and clothing. In a moment of savagery, the otherwise domestic pets critique their own recent devolution into accessories as well as heighten the products’ desirability by destroying them and rendering them inaccessible.4 These works, of Florez’s own, form the basis on which firms and magazines hire her as a product photographer.5

Channeling John McCracken6, the Spirit created a slightly smaller, less expensive “Art Within Reach” version of a slab piece.7 Made to rest against a vertical surface, John McCracken, 2008, is available is various colors and finishes, and can be reconfigured for any collector’s living room.8 The Spirit, a Nevada resident, is also known as Jackie Cohen.

The Shallow Curator culls from fine art, design, and fashion as well as (albeit lightly) from the spiritual realm. If there is an argument at all, it is to reconsider the disinterested—or “shallow”—eye of modernism through the prism of elite consumerism, not in order to critique it but to expand it. This prism uniquely joins the quality that only lots of money can buy, and the levity and ludic possibility that befits, and perhaps reflects upon, the summer gallery season.


1. Zucker is a former teacher of McCracken; neither is Native American.

2. Just as Zucker juxtaposes three distinct spatial registers—real, digital, perspectival—he holds in tension the printed and painterly mark. In contrast, Florez conflates actual and representational space, where the photos double a moment in reality; further, the digital printing process masquerades as darkroom printing.

3. McCracken’s table and chairs are identical to those used by a gallery that Zucker has worked with in the past. The desks in Winkleman Gallery’s office were a gift from another gallery with which Zucker has worked.

4. McCracken uses photography to promote his clothes, which will soon be featured in BG Magazine. Florez uses clothing as props for her photographs, which will soon be featured in V Magazine. Florez has never shot McCracken’s line.

5. Both Florez and McCracken are at the edge of the fashion industry. The former’s photographs are almost advertisements—they generate subsequent commissions—and the latter, at only his second collection, is still emerging. Fittingly, Winkleman Gallery is on Chelsea’s outer edges, in a building that now favors tenants in the fashion industry over galleries.

6. McCracken shares a last name with George McCracken; both are from the Bay Area.

7. In this sense, the artist’s relinquishing of control over subject matter in Zucker’s The Shallow Painting to other participants in The Shallow Curator is structurally analogous to the Spirit’s downplaying of originality.

8. If Florez’s ad works are unlimited, McCracken’s limited editions, and Zucker’s originals from series, the Spirit’s work is a limited edition forgery.

For more information, please contact Ed Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or

Gisel Florez, Exquisite Taste (Olive), 2007, Archival Inkjet Print, 21” x 28”, Edition of 10


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Overprotective Gallerists

Tuesday's Aside, a weekly post in which I will try to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

Anonymous wrote:
Over the last several years I have been working with a young contemporary art gallery that I have a lot of respect for. Over time, she revealed how she frowned upon the other galleries with which I had built relationships. She felt the shows would reflect directly on her reputation and the reputation of her gallery. Eventually, she encouraged/instructed me to end all relationships with these other galleries. The dealer promised to be my sole representative and vigorously promote my work to “bigger” named galleries and museums. Thus allowing her name not to be soiled by the artist she shows.

Long story short this never came to fruition and pushing my work into more “luxurious” markets was more trouble than it was worth to her. Now, I feel abandoned all together. I need to start cultivating relationships with other galleries but still feel this weight to ask permission from the dealer before moving forward because she is the only gallery I have at the moment. She generally wants me to succeed and have a great career. But, once I take on a show with other galleries not in the proper circle, she starts to feel insecure and lets me know I have made horrible decisions and that I shouldn’t have taken on the show in the first place. I approach each situation with extreme patience because I feel she is learning everyday, as am I.

Is it common for dealers to determine for their artists where they show & who they show with? I feel her ego is more of a priority than my career at this point. If this situation is growing pains for a young professional artist….I’m happy to tread these waters as best I know how and be patient. Deep down, I want this relationship to work for me and her….but, feeling very frustrated at the moment.

Any feedback you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
Personally, I'm very impressed with your insights on this. You seem to have carefully considered all angles and still express respect for the dealer. She's lucky to be working with you.

The first question I would ask you in this situation Anonymous is how long has it been since you ended the relationship with your other galleries. You state that "pushing my work into more 'luxurious' markets was more trouble than it was worth to her." Is that based on her telling you so or a conclusion you've reached after too much time passing by? I ask because you indicate that you and the gallerist are both young and learning, suggesting to me it hasn't been that much time yet.

The following is not an assessment of your gallerist, per se. There is not enough information for me to conclude this applies to her (in fact, your first paragraph could be read to suggest this is not the case). Still, there can be a tendency among some dealers to be very protective of the markets they feel they've built. By that I mean a dealer takes on an unknown artist and through a considerable investment of time, money, and reputation generates interest in his/her work. Once that hard work is done then, other galleries in other cities become interested (smelling easy money now that there's a proven market and a reputation). Unless the first gallerist can see an advantage for themselves in their artists working with one of those other galleries (i.e., the association would reflect well upon them, they might get access to artists the other gallery represents, etc.), they might resent these other galleries profiting from their hard work.

The notion that other galleries' reputations will "soil" your gallerist's reputation is hard to judge without more information (How "bad" were those other galleries? Would any of them be admitted to the same level of art fair as your current gallery is? Would any of them be admitted as members to the same associations?). In general, I think there's a chance your gallerist might be overthinking this. Again, the details here would make a difference in my opinion.

As much as people love to pick on NADA galleries, I do have to say that the core belief that binds the members (that it's better to work together to increase the size of the market than to try to protect your little slice of it) is something I truly believe in. Also, galleries struggling to build their reputations today might just break through into the upper echelon tomorrow, so unless your other dealers were just awful, I feel your primary dealer might profit from being a bit more patient with those relationships you had built.

Long story short, unless your gallery is placing all your work into excellent collections and you have a waiting list, the truth is she could probably use some help in building your market. I understand the urge to protect her investment, but she might benefit much more down the road by increasing the pie, so to speak, than hovering over the current-sized slice of it.

How you discuss that with her sounds like it will be tricky, though.

You ask "Is it common for dealers to determine for their artists where they show & who they show with?" It is common for dealers to have opinions about other galleries and their reputations, and they owe it to their artists to share their insights. But I wouldn't go so far as to say it's up to them to "determine" where and who they show with. If they can get you into a bigger gallery than you can on your own, by all means, take advantage of that. If they can't get you into a bigger gallery, though, they should IMO limit their advice to just that: advice.
"Instructing" you on where to show might be more acceptable if your dealer was very well established, but from your description it sounds as if she's still coming along as a gallerist and so is perhaps, again, overthinking the repercussions of your working with other galleries she does not see as "good enough."

I would recommend inviting her to lunch or for coffee. Some neutral location outside the gallery or your studio. This invitation alone will tell her you wish to discuss something and you're serious about it, so don't say more than that before you meet. Let her mind wander, in order to give her time to reflect on what her position on your relationship is.

Once you're both relaxed, I would then say something like, "I am very happy working with you. I have a great deal of respect for you and the gallery and believe great things are in store for us all. I wanted to talk with you though about other galleries. I know you've asked me to be patient and I feel I have been, but unless you have some other galleries you believe will be willing to work with me in the near future, I feel I need to find some places in other cities to exhibit as well. I understand your concerns about how the reputations of other galleries can reflect upon you, and I'll certainly take that into account, but it's important to me that I take advantage of where I am at this point in my career."

You're likely to hear a replay of her promise to "vigorously promote [your] work to “bigger” named galleries," and I'm sure she'll be sincere. But you might ask her to compromise with you until that time. Let you work as well to find one other gallery in another city. You'll promise to discuss it with her before signing anything, but you would hope she'd understand why you're interested in branching out beyond the one location and how anxious you are to expand your audience.
Emphasize that you've learned from her about what to look for in another gallery (whether true or not) and that you're confident her advice will lead you to better decisions as you move forward.

I wouldn't offer this advice if you hadn't stated that "Deep down, I want this relationship to work for me and her." I'd suggest you be a bit more assertive, actually. But if this is a gallery you're happy to be associated with and you feel a bit of patience on your end will pay off, then this gentler approach might just do the trick.

Good luck.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why is Everyone So Afraid of Beauty? Open Thread

In honor of Independence day, I thought I'd throw out a topic sure to cause some fire works. I'll remind folks that while passion is fine and, in careful contexts, encouraged, boorish behavior directed at specific individuals who comment here or their art is off limits and will result in your comment being ruthlessly deleted without explanation or apology.

And with that nanny-state introduction, let's get the ball rolling with a comment Donna left on the Studio Visit Strategies thread:
here's how to get the art world to come clamoring to your studio... you say out loud in a mocking/taunting voice- why all the pointless, craftless, work that makes you think- how did they get in this show? that is long on the dialectic and short on something to look at? why is everyone so afraid of craft? because craft involves history and the fervor with which the art world avoids embracing history is like when you put a cat in a bath and all the fleas mob its head...
The knee-jerk conceptualism-loving art viewer in me wants to dismiss this question out of hand: "It's not that anyone is afraid of craft so much as no longer as impressed by craft alone as they once may have been. In an age with a bounty of photo realistic painters and technology-guided sculptors making work so convincing you can't imagine improving upon an age with more sensitive abstractionists cranking out more personal interpretations than there are days in one's life to see them an age where the line between craft as "craft" and craft in the service of "fine art" has blurred to the point of being nearly can anyone expect craft unto itself to be seen as important as it once had been?"

Once I get all that out of my system, though, I slow down and think about the subject again. Does there exist a fear of "craft"? There is no doubt that craft took a backseat for many during the 60's and 70's, and I suspect that led to skepticism about craft-based work that may linger in certain quarters today, but from Grayson Perry to Josiah McElheny, from Oliver Herring (at least his earlier knitting works) to Louise Bourgeois, traditional craft is a serious part of the dialog.

But I suspect Louise Bourgeois' sewing-based sculptures are not what some people mean by "craft." What some people mean is craft employed toward the end of traditional ideals of beauty. Why is everyone so afraid of Beauty? is how I interpret that original question after some reflection.

The knee-jerk conceptualism-loving art viewer in me wants to dismiss this question out of hand: "It's not that anyone is afraid of beauty so much as no longer as impressed by the more traditional ideas about beauty as they once may have been. In an age in which, via globalization, we're being exposed to more and more images of people and places where our Western sense of beauty is perhaps seen as too sterile or contrived or an age of air-brushing, plastic surgery, Disneyfied Times Square, Second Life, and an age in which heroes disappoint like clockwork, McMansions and Trump towers pass as luxury, and even the oceans are now polluted with continent sized island of plastic can anyone expect "beauty" unto itself to be seen as synonymous with "truth" as it once had been and thus as relevant?"

Once I get all that out of my system, though, I slow down and think about the subject again. Does there exist a fear of "beauty"? In so much as beauty equals truth, perhaps there exists a healthy skepticism of that idea, yes.

Consider this an open thread.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday's Aside : Studio Visit Strategies

Tuesday's Aside, a weekly post in which I will do my damnedest to answer your questions. In order to keep each Tuesday's thread on topic, I'll ask that you post any additional questions on the original thread (even though it will fall off the main page, I'll be emailed each time a new comment is added there and so, thus, will be monitoring continuously).

Ollie wrote:
Are there protocols you could suggest with regard to inviting a gallerist or curator to my studio for a studio visit. Is it inappropriate for me to do the asking?

As a somewhat known artist smack in the middle of “emerging” and mid-career I have always found this incredibly awkward even when I am reasonably certain that the invitee is familiar with my work. However, I am now beginning to think I have nothing to lose.

You must be asked to do studio visits all the time. Does this bother you and does your response depend upon your knowledge and possible interest in the artist’s work or do you consider it the equivalent of a cold call or someone sending you slides, only more presumptuous.
My initial reaction to this topic is that the same best practices apply here as for finding a gallery to work with. It's become part of my standard shtick lecture to note that the single best way to get gallery representation is to make artwork so compelling the art world beats a path to your door. If that's not working out for you, though, then consider what I feel is the second best way (and from there I go into the recommendations I outlined here).

Those recommendations boil down to three points:
  1. Research your market (Learn which galleries are more likely to be interested in your work. It's flat wrong to assume they all will. Doing this will also prevent you from being artificially discouraged. By that I mean specifically, the response from a gallery which doesn't exhibit the kind of work you make may not be a valid indication of the interest in the work you make to so many other galleries, so why subject yourself to that rejection?)
  2. Make initial contact in a casual way. That is, don't introduce yourself by announcing you want the gallery to show your work. (Although I don't say this, per se, in my talks, the main reason to avoid making your initial contact all about what you want is it can convey you'll be perhaps difficult to work with...that you're desperate and self-centered. The second reason is that by being more casual and perhaps even generous with your appreciation of the space/person you're approaching [and if you can't honestly be generous, why are you approaching them anyway?] you will stand out from many other artists who seem desperate when you get to step three.)
  3. Finally, when the time seems right, combine something personable with a direct request to show your work. (The same thinking applies here as in step 2. If you make it all about you, you'll seem desperate. The truth of the matter is, all else being equal [meaning the person you're approaching knows nothing more about you than the fact that you're yet another artist who wants a piece of their limited time], so much of getting a gallerist/curator/collector to relax their defense mechanisms [and believe me they need them, because they're approached constantly] is to demonstrate you understand their time is valuable.)
OK, but that's specific to interest in representation. In many respects a studio visit is much more casual. In one respect, though, it's still a large thing to ask...and that respect is time/travel. I was recently asked at a talk if an artist can expect New York curators/dealers to visit their studio in Coney Island. I answered, honestly, that yes, anywhere in the 5 boroughs is reasonable, but the further you are from where the curator/dealer lives/works, the more consideration you might extend to make it easier for them. I outlined several studio visit "best practices" a while back. I babble on for quite some time there, but to this present point, I suggested:
[Be] sure to consider the environment of your studio when arranging your visits (likewise, respect for the visitor's schedule is an important consideration, because not showing it pretty much damns your chances of developing a good relationship from the get-go). If you don't have air conditioning, or if your work is better seen in daylight, or if the neighborhood is a bit scary after dark, do take those things into consideration and let your visitor know when the optimal time of day is or what to expect if that's not convenient. Sometimes there's nothing you can do about the conditions, but surprises like boiling studios, glaring reflections from windows, or being harassed on the way to or from a visit impact the visitor's impressions, right or wrong, of your work. Just be aware of it.

Suggestions: I've had artists offer to meet me in their car at a subway station or arrange early morning visits if they don't have AC. Comfort is a consideration. Neglecting it pretty much guarantees your visitor won't give your work their full attention. Also, if it's hot or visitors must climb a number of flights to get to your studio, have a cold beverage ready and let them relax a few moments if they show signs they might need to. Again, you want their full attention when the discussion turns to your work.

[is it "done" to blockquote yourself?"]
But I'm jumping ahead. Ollie's question was specific to requesting the studio visit: "does your response depend upon your knowledge and possible interest in the artist’s work ...."

Yes, my response heavily depends on my knowledge and possible interest in the artist's work. It also depends, quite honestly, on how much I like that artist. I have done studio visits with artists whose work I assumed I wouldn't like (because of limited exposure) simply because they were great to talk with in the gallery/parties, etc., and on a few occasions I have been very happily surprised with what I found in their studio. I know some folks get upset when I seem to be suggesting it's all about networking or that they should suck up to the dealer/curator, but the truth is if I don't like you personally, I'll be much less willing to visit your studio even if I know the work is good. As a producer friend of mine notes that they say in Hollywood about high-maintenance actors, regardless of how talented: "Life is too Short." I'm sorry if that's not the answer folks want to hear...I'm just being truthful.

Being even more truthful, my interest will definitely increase if I know the artist's work is widely respected. This translates into the practical advice: strike while the iron is hot. If you want a dealer or curator to visit your studio, approach them right after your work was highlighted positively in a review of a group exhibition, or you received an award, or some other high-profile event that they will have noticed. It's tricky as to whether directing them to your good news will backfire or not...depends on how you do it.

I'd expect you'll have more luck with an extreme approach, actually. Either don't mention it (the cool, modest [fingers crossed they noticed] approach) or play it up (the, "Since my NYTimes review, there's been steady interest in coming over to my studio, but I was hoping you could come over first" approach). Which will work best for you will honestly depend upon your personality. I've seen the play it up approach fail miserably, even though it seems the better, more direct of the two. It can take a good dose of convincing charm to pull it off. Whatever you do, avoid the middle approach..."Well, I got this review...and, well I was thinking perhaps because of that you might want to come over...."

Ollie concludes by asking "do you consider it the equivalent of a cold call or someone sending you slides, only more presumptuous."

It truly depends. I don't consider it all presumptuous of the artists I consider friendly. This may be different for other dealers/curators, but I will go visit a studio just because I like the artist, regardless of whether I know I like the work. (I tend not to waste someone's time if I know there's no way I'll ever show the work, unless they're direct about just wanting some feedback...which happens...and again, I'll do if I like the artist.)

But what if there's no time to befriend the dealer/curator. What then?

Here's the tough love answer: I do consider it the equivalent of a cold call to ask a dealer or curator you don't know to visit your studio. I generally have to reserve three hours for the average studio visit (including travel time), and, well, do the math on that when you know dozens of artists might invite me in any given month. I try to have four visits with artists I don't know well a month as it is, and that's hard for me these days (in fact, I'm not doing any more for the rest of the summer because of a pending deadline). I used to do a lot more. And so the cold call response is highly likely.

But, as you say, what have you got to lose? The worst anyone will say is "no." All the advice above may not change that, either.