Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two Recessionary Shifts in Attitude: One Good, One Not so Much

As one of my all-time favorite blogosphere smack-downs goes: The plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but I've seen enough evidence of two seeming trends in the art world since the recession began in earnest that I wanted to mention them and see whether others have noticed the same thing or have a better understanding of why they seem to be happening now, more than expected or more noticeably than before.

The first is reports from arts-related benefits and charity events that expectations are being surpassed left and right. We've heard that some non-profit spaces and charities in New York and even from around the world have had their "best year ever" at benefits recently (this Paris-based event is simply the last to report raising much more money than they expected). When I think about why this might be the case I land on two possible reasons.

First is that while conspicuous consumption is suddenly bad form, conspicuous charity is undoubtedly always smiled upon and we've been programmed to spend on something...anything. Second is that perhaps it's easier now to make a compelling argument that the money is truly needed. Cutbacks in government funding or institutional grants are well known, so the non-profit spaces and charities truly do now depend upon the kindness of private citizens.

Whatever the reason, this is clearly heartening news. I don't doubt that it's not universally the case and certain spaces still need your help, though, so don't let your conspicuous charity competitive spirit wane at all (among the upcoming benefits in New York you should consider supporting is the 2009 Art in General Spring Benefit, March 31, 2009...feel free to add others to the comments section).

The other trend I've noticed (and had confirmed by other dealers) recently is a much more aggressive and, seemingly out of nowhere, clueless approach among unrepresented artists seeking gallery representation. Whereas we had been getting about 1-3 artists a month who clearly had no idea how best to approach a gallery either send us a package or email, now we're getting 1-3 a day calling us up and insisting we give them a show. And we're not the only gallery reporting this.

Recent classics include an artist who called and when I said that if he insisted on showing us his work, although I had noted we're not currently looking at new work, that he should email me jpgs (rather than just bring his work in), asked me how to spell "". (Did he even know what gallery he had called? I wondered). Another artist asked politely whether we were accepting submissions, to which I said not at the moment, which she wisely picked up on represented an opening and asked whether that meant we would be looking again in the future, to which I said yes, probably in a few months, to which she lost all credibility by asking, "Will you let me know when you are?" Mind you, I had no more information about this artist (or whether she's right for our gallery) than you now have and yet she expected me to take her number or email down and alert her to the fact that we were looking again? I politely (or so I tried to be) let her know the notice would be posted on our website when the policy changed.

Friends who own galleries have also reported a recent uptick in very clueless and surprisingly pushy approaches. It seems as if someone somewhere advised a large group of artists to simply call each gallery (any gallery) listed in Chelsea and not take "no" for an answer. Or maybe hard times are simply making certain people more desperate. I don't know. I'm here to tell them though that they're wasting their time (and my time) with such approaches. Recession or not, the way to get a gallery to consider your work has not changed. I've described in detail my best advice on how to approach a gallery here. It still very much applies. Don't make me any more grouchy than I am already, OK?

RELATED: Joanne Mattera recently offered some wonderfully solid and detailed advice on how NOT to approach a gallery.

Labels: art benefit, getting a gallery


Blogger Tom Hering said...

"... someone somewhere advised a large group of artists ..."

I didn't know anyone in our society cared about artists in such a general, personally disinterested way. How do I get on his or her list? :-)

3/19/2009 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Oly said...

I know this sounds harsh, but I wonder how many people who submit to NYC galleries and the like would be GLADLY taken on by one in Tampa, or Nashville, or Cleveland, or Atlanta. It seems that so many of these people have no idea how well their work would fit in in different cities-- but their blinders are only on "New York, NY."

Thanks for the service you're doing, Ed.

It helps my job be a bit easier.

See Mattera's blog for some of my experiences.


3/19/2009 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephen/Platform Gallery said...

They are coming out of the woodwork here too!

3/19/2009 11:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I can speak to the artist's anxiety a little. I'm not clueless enough to blindly approach new galleries like you describe, but I recently emailed two of my out-of-town galleries to "ask" when my next show was scheduled. (Basically, "ask" is in quotes because I know the shows weren't scheduled, but I wanted to plant the seed.)

With all the contraction and shriveling, my fear was getting forgotten about, then left out. So I figure if I can get on the schedule (even a year or more from now), at least I know that I'm not completely invisible...

3/19/2009 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Benefits - I just attended an auction here in LA for a museum in the region and it was embarrassing for the organizers, for the artists. The vast majority of the lots had no bid.

I'm glad to hear this is not the case in NY.

3/19/2009 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

I see this kind of attitude outside of the art world with people graduating from University - expecting to be hired and paid well above their peers with more capability and experience right out of school.

Also find that many have never received honest frank criticism or feedback, so are not prepared for it and usually do not know how to handle it. (I noticed a shift around 1998 from "what can I do for you" to "what can you do for me" in hiring)

I only mention this, because this sounds very much like the interview and hiring experience in my industry amongst professionals right out of school.

3/19/2009 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

I need to soften my comments - this market is downright scary for everyone - people are, frankly, terrified of losing their income. And of course, people just starting out are more vulnerable than others in such waters - and my heart goes out to them, though I will agree that overselling yourself is rarely the answer.

Well I really hope that in a few months, we will see the economy show some signs of life (I think we see some signs now of an end to the decline). Perhaps then things will start settling down.

I wonder how our culture will change?

3/19/2009 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger eageageag said...

Why the recession is not good for artists

3/19/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger J. Wesley Brown said...

Hi Ed,

I just posted an interview with a local photographer who recently got major gallery representation on her experience with the whole process. I linked to your posts on the matter:

3/19/2009 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

This whole discussion makes me want to vomit. Artists grovelling for shows? Where is their pride? Gallerists baiting artists into groveling for shows? The opportunity for abuse is obvious, and happens.

Any artist or gallerist worth anything would rely on word of mouth (friends helping friends) and the time honored "studio" visit.

Don't have a studio? Hey kids, guess what! Many artists work out of their home! If looking at work in someone's kitchen over a glass of wine or beer makes you uncomfortable, grow the f up.

ok that felt good. How was it for you?

3/19/2009 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

Your post today is priceless!

I wish all my friends could read it.
I'll send the link to my facebook

precious lines

3/19/2009 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for the shout out, Ed.

If one good thing comes out of this downturn it will be that the dialog between and among artists, dealers, collectors and critics is more open than ever. Relatedly, I'm seeing more cross pollination: dealers blogging, artists writing about art, critics curatng, etc.

I am troubled by the uptick in auctions, though. Even good causes encourage collectors to bypass the galleries and buy "direct"--IF they are buying at all--at insultingly low rices. There's nothing worse for an artist to give the work away and then find they can't even give it away.

3/20/2009 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Hi Joanne - this is why if I would ever sell art form my small collection, I would consign it to the gallery I bought it from - or at least approach the gallery.

Charity auctions, I cannot see helping artists, galleries or existing collectors. The NYT's article predicting the continued survival of Gagosian is because of just such issues - people would rather have a private discreet sale of work, rather than the current economic times taint a piece of work, their collection or the artists. And for all the controversy surrounding him - discreet sales are his forte!

3/20/2009 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger donna said...

Thanks Ed and Joanne, what seems like common sense and consideration sometimes needs to be stated clearly. Regarding the non-profits, I'm glad that benefits are doing well- I've been at some that were cringeworthily (how's that for a neologism) unsuccessful.

I'm sure you've covered this somewhere, Ed- the artists (at least at my stage, emerging) are giving work away, the collectors are getting it at prices below what galleries charge (often far below.) I get asked to give work to auctions on a regular basis and have to decide which to donate to. It's uncomfortable, like deciding which homeless person to give to- do you give to all, or none? And if some, why?

I wonder how other artists feel about it- there's an element of exploitation there. If only they'd change the tax code so at least artists could write off the value of the work rather than just the materials.

3/20/2009 12:53:00 PM  

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