Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Influence of Location on Medium and Scale

Posting the advice links the other day prompted a new round of questions from artists, some in the threads (which I'm still working through and will try to get to) and some to my email (which I probably won't respond to because of time constraints and the fact that those answers won't reach as many potential people who might have them). One question that was included in a list on a thread, though, has been on my mind recently so I wanted to open up a discussion about it:
Should individual artists modify their sales and publicity strategies based on the nature of their work, their geography, and their stage of career? [emphasis mine]
There's a great deal to discuss regarding the influence of geography on artwork (and sales strategies), from the obvious (the light you get where you work or the forms in the landscape around you influence how you see the world) to the practical (the cost of studio space where you live influences how large you can afford to work), but one of the questions that comes up again and again in our gallery deals with medium choices (among the artists working in various media). In particular, as we've had a few exhibitions showcasing video from artists in Central Asia, the question of "why video" is frequently asked.

There are two reasons for this, in my opinion. First is that it's rather difficult and very expensive to get sculpture and paintings over here from the remote centers where artists live in Central Asia. Second is the sense among Westerners (including myself) that the dialog around sculpture and paintings throughout the region remains somewhat frozen in the concerns of Modernism (blame tends to fall to the Soviet art schools and lack of travel artists who grew up in the USSR had the means to afford themselves). As a result, few folks outside the region are all that interested in the paintings and sculpture being created there (a harsh opinion, no doubt, but I've heard it repeatedly). The video and photography, on the other hand...well, interest in the West only seems to grow and grow.

Getting back to strategies based on geography, then, add a third question: distribution. This is not such an issue when an artist's work sells for so much that shipping costs are negligible, but for emerging artists, it probably makes sense to exhibit/sell the larger, harder to ship work closer to the studio. Otherwise, you're losing far too much in shipping. This is not a hard-and-fast rule by any means (you can take a long-term view on your sales potential that justifies a higher percentage of proceeds gobbled up in shipping early on) and of course the collector buying work will pay to ship it from the gallery to their location, but it's often not possible to price work such that the cost of shipping from the studio to the gallery makes any business sense. I know this may sound like something a dealer should just take care of to many artists, but in this economic climate particularly, you're at a disadvantage in trying to find gallery representation if you're presenting this losing business proposition as a condition of working with you.

So what strategies can you work out if you're an emerging sculptor working in large bronzes, living in Iowa, but wanting to show in New York? One obvious choice is to build an exhibition in New York with one large piece that showcases the best of the larger work and use that to sell other work (via photos) that you don't ship until the collector buying them is involved to pay the shipping costs. (I can now hear some collectors asking..."HEY, why are we the fall guys for this scheme? I only buy art I can see first," which is undoubtedly a potential flaw in the plan, but the reality is the collector will pay for shipping one way or another...either openly as I'm describing or via raised prices in the retail price [and then still to ship to the work's final destination], so we might as well all work together to keep total costs down).

Another option is to bring the mountain to Mohamed. In other words, create a system whereby you (and/or your dealer) have interested collectors come to your studio. If you live somewhere hard to get to, it probably makes sense for you to do some research on comfy local hotels and/or other points of interest (local museums, events, concerts, great restaurants, etc.) to help tempt potential collectors to make the trek (your studio visit may only last an hour or two...what are they going to do with the rest of their time after having come all that way?). Playing travel agent may not be your lifelong ambition, but it's unquestionably better than losing your shirt on shipping.

On the flip side, if you live in some place where your studio rent is expensive, the likelihood is so is that of the apartments/homes of your potential collectors (meaning those 14' paintings you're cranking out by doing most of the work in your hallway probably won't find a home anywhere close to you). If your goal is to get into the collections of locals (always a great way to help promote your work, as it conscripts them into the cause), you have to consider what they can afford to install in their homes.

I'm realizing as I'm writing this, that I haven't actually answered the question...rather only blathered about a few paragraphs. Perhaps I don't understand the question. What issues dealing with geography and sales strategies are artists having to solve?

Labels: gallery locations, selling art, studio practice


Blogger Donna Dodson said...

One question that came to my mind reading this was how to get the fish on the hook? In other words, as a sculptor, living outside of NYC, how do I shop my work around to get a show in NYC or another city without having to rely on digital images, color photos or small scale models of my work?

2/05/2009 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Oh, go ahead and blather all you want.

Shipping, shipping, I'm painting out bubble wrap impressions on 2 paintings just returned from exhibit.

I've always shipped at my own expense and most of the time the gallery covers the return, Fedex is the most reasonably priced. Fine art shippers like USart average $400 FOB, so a whole show could ship for under $1000 (and they won't overnight in a darkened parking lot at a cheap hotel). So for most painting and mid-sized work shipping shouldn't be too daunting within the country. Canada and Mexico, prices near double w/lots of paperwork.

These prices are even cheaper than renting a van and driving it yourself, although the large sculpture example is a different ball game-expensive proposition all around.

The shipping elephant, will it sell in the current economy? Let's make a deal!

2/05/2009 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

To add to the "mountain to Mohamed" strategy...
A few of my friends who are all interested in moving outside of the five boroughs came up with an idea for a shared studio space just for studio visits and special geographical needs. For instance, if we have one 500 sq. ft. space in Manhattan or Brooklyn that we schedule as a sort of time share. The shared cost is so minimal and way less complicated than most other options. Plus the responsibilities are shared. Also if you're (the artist) only there for a couple of days to have people over to see work, you can probably crash there in the mean time.
That's all it got.

2/05/2009 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Ed, I'm not sure what geographical issues the commenter/questioner has, but I have some experience with a regional issue that I haven't seen addressed here. I know most people are strategizing on the assumption that if you live far outside of NY, you try to build up your local or regional resume (shows, collections) before tackling NY. It sometimes works in the opposite direction. When I lived in San Francisco and before I had been in any shows or had any collectors to speak of (maybe there were a couple of low-profile group shows) a NY dealer bought a small group of works from me and started showing me in group shows and art fairs. Before that, I couldn't get my foot in the door in the SF gallery scene, even though I had gone to school there and knew a lot of people. Having a NY dealer confer value on the work, and confidence in me, made all the difference locally, and I got into one of the best SF galleries where I had 3 solo shows. But even then, about half of my sales to important Bay Area collectors came through the NY dealer. Although I have never had a solo show with the NY gallery, they continue to take my work to art fairs (and sell it!) In a major metropolitan area in the US, outside of NY, there will always be collectors who prefer to buy work from a NY dealer (even if they have to pay more money there for the same work) rather than locally. It could be called the "second city" syndrome.

Don't just follow any one person's instructions on how to build your career. Keep your eyes open for unlikely opportunities.

ps Aaron, that's a great idea.

2/05/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, thank you for tackling a couple of my questions. I think Aaron and Oriane touched on two aspects of dealing with the complications/implications of geography. I thank them for their comments.

I’ll try to answer your (Ed’s) question: “What issues dealing with geography and sales strategies are artists having to solve?”. Well artists want to cost-effectively and productively promote and sell their work irrespective of geography or medium. You’ve already touched on it in terms of shipping work and arranging studio visits. But I was considering the question more in terms of selling work with or without a gallery. Even if artists are having substantive responses from galleries, there is still, presumably, plenty of art to sell, and the problem of selling art with or without gallery representation still exists.

How does an artist create a sales strategy that appropriately publicizes their work?

Are there any examples that you are familiar with where emerging artists publicized their work in interesting or novel ways to increase visibility, sell their work, and secure gallery representation?

2/05/2009 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I know this post deals with navigating the promotional aspects of art careers from outside large art communities. But I am interested in the affect living in different regions affect the work itself, especially in more conservative areas.

The fact that my geographical circumstance may affect how those in certain positions who can benefit my career (those both at home and elsewhere)regard or disregard the work is something I cannot change, and leads to a road of paranoia and despair which I refuse to go down. BUT, I can examine/control how this affects the work itself, and find strategies that benefit the practice irregardless of geography.

I do think that where you live has a huge affect on work for econimic and social reasons. Locating just how it does is fascinating to me. Also, to what degree has the internet negated the consequences of geography?

2/05/2009 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

++the sense among Westerners
++(including myself) that the ++dialog around sculpture and +++paintings throughout the +++(Centre Asia) region remains somewhat +++frozen in the concerns ++of Modernism

Wow. Ouch. This article didn't need a throw-up judgment like this. I hope all of Central Asia reads this and respond. With visual impact.

As for the issue, I recommend artists making heavy art to move and make works within the city of their next exhibit, or hire a truck driver.

Half of video art doesn't belong in galleries. If youre doing what's basically a short film, send it to a festival. They have comfortable ad soundproof rooms fit to your work. Don't cram it in a white space with bad reverb, stupid wood benches, and annoying extraneous conditions (paint smell, light and noise from offices, etc..). Only use the gallery for video art if it has a purpose to be there (multi-channel works, etc..).

Besides, Youtube will kill video art.

Cedric Caspesyan

2/05/2009 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Wow. Ouch. This article didn't need a throw-up judgment like this. I hope all of Central Asia reads this and respond. With visual impact.

It's an opinion I've heard many times to explain why sculpture and painting from the region isn't being as celebrated over here as the video and photography from the region (and I heard it first from Central Asian artists, as well as Western curators). No offense is meant.

Youtube will kill video art.

The Rist show that just closed at MoMA suggests not.

Are there any examples that you are familiar with where emerging artists publicized their work in interesting or novel ways to increase visibility, sell their work, and secure gallery representation?

Banksy comes to mind.

2/05/2009 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I have participated in an arrangement such as Aaron suggested, and it can work very well.

I have also written grants that allowed me to sublet a large studio in Manhattan for a month, and arrange studio visits for that period of time.

The only thing that has actually worked is a commitment to visit NY every two to three months to maintain relationships that are already established. There seems to be no substitute for reminding people that you exist, and having a piece in one show often leads to another.

I also invested in a large trailer, and have driven my work all over the country to build up my resume, showing at universities and non-profits...when you are young and a 2 day road trip still sounds like an adventure, this is a way to get started until you get to the point where people start shipping your work for you.

2/05/2009 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Youtube will kill video art.

+++The Rist show that just closed ++at MoMA suggests not.

But that's not just video art. That's an installation.

If Rist was a new artist, she would have a hard time promoting the relevancy of I'm Not The Girl... if she was doing it through art spaces.

Rist is already showing on Youtube. She doesn't really have a choice, if she wants to make sure people remember her.


Cedric Casp

2/05/2009 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous claire said...

There are a number of art websites that host images and allow artists to gain exposure/sell work online. The best free hosting site with a social networking aspect to it is A better site for viewing work, although it requires a subscription, is There are also the artist's file at Artists Space, the Drawing Center, White columns, etc. These sites provide links to an artist's own website, and my experience has been that the exposure does lead to opportunities for group shows. I haven't wanted to sell any work online, though, because (in my strategy for managing the business of art outside NYC)I feel I should hold on to the best pieces in each series for the possibility of a solo show. I work in series, and each series seems to me a cohesive whole. Selling off individual works before achieving a "real" show seems like shooting myself in one foot. But not selling work at all is shooting myself in the other.

2/05/2009 04:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Youtube will kill video art?" Someone sounds bitter. Video art is not going away any time soon.

2/06/2009 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger max mulhern said...

I bought a boat and am transforming that into a sculpture/ cave painting based on Rimbaud's "Bateau Ivre" or the boat that says "I". I have found places in big coastal cities to tie up the boat and will soon begin to invite people down to the boat to see "my work". I found a particularly good spot in Long Island city last summer. I hope that the downturn will keep developers away for awhile yet.
Dear Edward,
Would you, in theory, consider doing a boat visit?

2/12/2009 07:26:00 AM  

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