Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Thorny Authoritarian Issue : Open Thread

Two recent blog posts raise the issue of the role of "the authority" in the art world.

First is a response by my Art World Salon colleague András Szántó to the ArtPrize announcement (an effort that includes a huge cash award based on the popularity of artwork made for just that goal, and something we also discussed here back on Monday). In outlining what bothers him about the award that, András noted:
It is, I think, a measure of our confused relationship with art if we believe that the general public is better equipped to judge the work of artists than professional juries or peers. Would we pick heart surgeons this way? Architects? Firemen?
[Sidebar: There's is an interesting response to the post by ArtPrize creator Rick DeVos in the comments there that I recommend reading.]

András' sentiment, however, seems (initially at least) to have been challenged by a recent post across the pond by The Guardian's Jonathan Jones:
The strangest fantasy about art in the 21st century is that of the "power" of so-called art world players. If there's one thing I did NOT think about when I first started to write art criticism in the 1990s, it was accumulating power. Surely that's also the last thing art students think about when they are becoming artists.

And yet, when the outside world talks about contemporary art, it is almost always in terms of power. It honestly seems that all the excitement, all the popularity art generates – so much more electric than the buzz about, say, books – is really about a cult of power and the powerful. Where does it come from, this strange distortion of cultural life?

My theory is that art in our largely liberal and democratic age has become an outlet for dark fantasies of domination. It must be this, because sometimes it is precisely the most liberal types who are most impressed by the myth of "power in the art world". Denying themselves the least hint of authoritarian sentiment when it comes to politics, it is as if these well-intentioned folk indulge an atavistic urge to worship power when they celebrate this or that art dealer or museum director.
OK, so parsing this somewhat myself, I can see that Jones isn't arguing we shouldn't have authorities judging art so much as we shouldn't elevate them to star status for doing so, and he goes on to write...
I wish people would choose some place other than the art gallery to satiate their dark appetites. Why not go all woozy about stern chefs or really nasty fashion designers, and leave the mystery and delicacy of art alone?
[which echoes many of the sentiments offered in response to the art-based reality TV show ideas also discussed in Monday's post] perhaps he actually sides with András.

I fully appreciate the absurdity of the idea that what's popular should automatically be seen as representing "quality," and I strongly advocate for creating an environment in which artists are encouraged to create truly better art. Still, the unfortunate message I think many outside the art world may take away from both the sentiments above is that the masses are there to revere Art, and not to dare to approach anything as offensive to those in power as a sense of ownership.

Perhaps that's OK. Perhaps a sense of ownership should come only after an investment of time and study, and it's the role of those who have done so already to perpetuate the importance of that process. Otherwise we may end up with offerings like "The Cougar" being all that survives to represent our collective culture to future generations.

Consider this an open thread on the role of authoritarianism in the art world.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cultural Healing and the De-Priviatization of the Imagination

John Reeves, who runs Lawrence, Kansas's nonprofit arts space, the Lawrence Percolator, was kind enough to email me about the efforts of writer, social activist, and consultant Arlene Goldbard, whose blog has been focused recently on the notion that a sustainable economic recovery demands what she terms a "cultural recovery" project:
[A] project to build and sustain a coalition of artists, cultural organizations and their allies in other realms of social action, education and organizing. They would join to promote the democratic interest in culture, including democratic cultural policies and substantial public investment in community development, education and community service through the arts. Its centerpiece would be [not up yet], an online center for information and organizing. While it would be home to a full range of initiatives to bring attention and resources to culture’s mobilizing power, its first targeted initiative would be a campaign to create a substantial, sustained public-sector investment in community service programs employing artists and cultural organizations as part of national recovery, WPA2.

We have just released a discussion paper that lays out the need, the idea and how it would unfold if indeed its birth is viable. We are asking people to read and consider the paper, and if they feel so moved, to lend their voices as endorsers of the idea, taking part in its implementation. Click here and follow the link to download the discussion paper. And let me know what you think!

As I have been pondering the need for cultural recovery, I’ve had that slightly unnerving experience of seeing it everywhere, but not knowing if others do too—”The Emperor’s New Clothes” in reverse. Just reading the paper becomes a little uncanny. Yesterday’s New York Times included two page-16 stories: one about college students unlocking the mysteries of their own families by collecting oral histories of their parents’ immigration, learning through stories what they’d never before understood; and another about unemployed workers using their time to make art.

Last week, Arlene pointed her readers to an article in The Nation by Jeff Chang on "The Creativity Stimulus." I have to admit to being somewhat allergic to the rallying cries for group efforts when it comes to creativity, knowing how utterly individual most creative types generally are (images of cats being herded come to mind), but I was intrigued by this idea that Chang noted:
For decades, the de facto policy has been to confuse the culture industry with the source of creativity and largely to abandon the production, promotion, distribution and enjoyment of arts and culture to the dictates of the boom/bust marketplace. The result has been the spread of "lifestyle economies" that are merely new forms of monoculturalism and the rise of an environment increasingly antithetical to creativity. A wave of deregulation in the culture industry has consolidated distribution channels and destroyed local scenes, locked away sources of inspiration behind fences of "rights management" and copyright and favored a "blockbuster or die" approach that raises barriers to entry and creates diseconomies of scale. Call it the privatization of the imagination.
Even as I recognize the truth in this, however, I'm not quite sure what the long-term potential here is. Goldbard and Chang both seem to feel that it takes a grass roots movement approach --Chang: "Creativity can be a powerful form of organizing communities from the bottom up."

We've seen some impressive efforts in this approach recently, none the least of which is 21st Century Plowshare, whose Bed-Stuy Meadow project was exactly the sort of idea Chang and Goldbard say is the key. The New York Times explains:

When a woman set down a vision for her Brooklyn neighborhood on her blog last month, she did not know how popular it would become.

“The goal is to sow wildflower seeds on every single patch of abandoned soil,” Deborah Fisher, an artist who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, wrote on March 7.

“I want there to be so many wildflowers on the streets that the summer of 2009 is remembered very fondly by every single resident of the neighborhood. I want the continuity of the Meadow to be so strong that Google Earth is compelled to rephotograph Bed-Stuy.”

Her words, scattered to the blogosphere, fell on fertile soil, capturing the imagination of readers, about 75 of whom showed up on a rainy Saturday to take part in the Bed-Stuy Meadow project.

They planted wildflower seeds in every patch of untended land they could find — tree pits, cracks in sidewalks, bare patches around boarded-up brownstones and vacant lots — over a three-mile area.
You can learn more about the project here and here.

As Goldbard suggests, a centralized information source, such as, seems to be the best way to make the most of such efforts. I hate to admit that I think adding a celebrity to the mix would help it grow even faster, but I do.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jennifer Dalton in New York Magazine and TimeOut New York

A double dose of discerning responses to Jennifer Dalton's current exhibition, The Reappraisal, are out this week. First is Jerry Saltz's thoughtful Critic's Pick take at New York Magazine:
For The Reappraisal, Jennifer Dalton photographed everything in her home, then lined a gallery with shelves full of small plastic frames that tell you each item’s market value and what it is worth to her. The dress she bought for $35 is worth $100,000 to her because she wore it at her wedding; her sex toys and porn, bought for $20, are valued at $50 grand for personal reasons. Dalton’s encyclopedic index of her own life is a confession, a denial, folly, fantasy, and a wonderful visual-cerebral experience. Plus everything’s really for sale.
And then Jane Harris' wonderful contextualization of Jen's project in TimeOut New York:

With diligence and wit, Jennifer Dalton’s data-obsessed work explores class and gender disparities in the art world, usually from an autobiographical viewpoint. Like Mark Lombardi’s elaborate conspiracy maps and Danica Phelps’s daily activity logs, the information Dalton assembles is copious and detailed, involving long lists, pie charts and color-coded schemes to make sense of it all.

Her latest installation, The Reappraisal, revisits a 10-year-old work, The Appraisal, in which Christie’s auction house assessed the monetary value of the artist’s "estate." After Dalton tirelessly photographed and cataloged every object in her home, from pencils and cleaning supplies to family heirlooms, Christie’s assigned a sum total of a mere $11,290 in 1999. The artist’s estimate? $42,607. More humbling still is the fact that most of the discrepancy lay in the value of Dalton’s art.

A married homeowner and mother now, Dalton’s overall worth has predictably increased, as has the worth of her art. The Reappraisal makes these changes clear. Organized on 5" x 7" cards under images of each assessed item, the values Christie’s assigned then and now can be seen alongside the artist’s valuations. But there is a new, more nebulous factor structuring the work: emotional value.

Beginning with an unfinished artwork Dalton pegs at $500,000, and ending with an Ikea chair she says is worth $5, the 545 items between tell a story of personal attachment that defies monetary logic. Intriguing, funny and entirely subjective, the results remind us that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure: an adage, if ever there was one, for these trying times.—Jane Harris

The exhibition runs through May 9. I hope you'll stop in to see it!

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Cash (or at least Fame) for Your Art

Who'd have thunk it? Just as the world economy takes its worst turn since the Great Depression, opportunities for artists to make some serious dosh (or at least a widely televised splash) are seemingly abounding. Some efforts are a bit more appealing than others, mind you.

First comes news of the quarter of a million dollar prize being offered by Rick DeVos, grandson of both a co-founder of Amway and the founder of Prince Corporation, for the winner of his newly launched ArtPrize. As reports:
ArtPrize includes a $250,000 award for its winner, to be determined by a public vote. The second place prize will consist of $100,000 and the third place of $50,000. The remaining members of the top 10 will receive $7,000 each. The three winning artists must either donate their works to ArtPrize or create similar works that will then be given to the organization.

To enter, artists will submit proposals at, while venues of all kinds — parks, bank lobbies, businesses, and museums — in Grand Rapids will review the artists' proposals and choose ones to show in their spaces. The artists, if selected, will bring their work to Grand Rapids for 16 days this fall, Sept. 23 to Oct. 10. People who visit the show in person can sign up to vote. Voting will be conducted through cell phones, online, and via other digital media.
UPDATE: As astute reader Jason Lujan discovered (by actually doing what I had failed to and reading the Artprize application process guidlines), there is a $50.00 application fee for artists for this prize. Furthermore, what is meant by "negotiate a hosting agreement" with a participating venue could include a fee as well (it seems to be up to the venues, who also are asked to pay a $100 application fee).

Then there's news that SJP's artist competition may actually end up on Bravo after all (after a round of hoopla about this show a while back, lately there had been only crickets [I have been searching Bravo's site looking for news for a while]). Now it seems Bravo is serious enough about this show to post news of it on their blog at least:
AMERICAN ARTIST (working title)
Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Sarah Jessica Parker and her production company, Pretty Matches, will team with the Emmy-nominated Magical Elves ("Top Chef," "Project Runway") and Eli Holzman, to produce "American Artist" (wt), an hour long creative competition series among contemporary artists. "American Artist" will bring together twelve aspiring artists to compete for a gallery show, a cash prize and a sponsored national tour. In each episode, contestants will create unique works of art highlighting art's role in everyday life, while they compete and create in a range of disciplines including sculpture, painting, photography and industrial design (to name a few). In working beyond their preferred mediums, artists will have to adapt quickly to changes in order to succeed. Completed works of art will be appraised by a panel of top art world figures including fellow artists, gallerists, collectors, curators and critics. The finalists' work will be showcased in a nation-wide museum tour. "American Artist" is produced by Magical Elves and Pretty Matches for Bravo. Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alison Benson and Eli Holzman serve as executive producers.
Perhaps it's just having come off a lovely relaxing weekend, but this bit gave me a bout of uncontrollable giggles: ""American Artist" is produced by Magical Elves." If that's not your cup of tea, then I'm not sure this following offering will strike you as much better, but...I recently received the following via email (click to see larger):

It's not encouraging that the URL for that email ( is a Go Daddy placeholder, but $100,000 will pay at least two months' studio rent in New York. The Miami Herald dug a bit deeper and found:
During 13 episodes, undiscovered artists will live together and compete for to have their careers transformed. The series will include grueling art challenges and artistic tests in different styles, forms and mediums, but the grand prize of $100,000 may be worth all the trouble.
OK, so I have to admit that I would approach both those reality TV shows with a nearly insurmountable degree of suspicion. The idea that the sort of developed-for-drama challenges that make for good reality TV will also lead to good art seems unlikely, but...again, they are offering prizes. Your call.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Small Break

I'm all over the place the next few days. Well, perhaps not all over the place, but here and there for sure.

Tomorrow I'm delighted to be talking with a Senior Seminar class at Mass Arts in Boston. Invited by the artist/professor/blogger Joanne Mattera, I'm going to put to good use a number of posts we've hashed out here and discuss the "Ins and Outs of Working With a Commercial Gallery" (75% of which is devoted to getting into one). We're also going to check out the Shepard Fairey exhibition at the ICA and perhaps, time permitting, the Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese show at the MFA (I haven't told Joanne I'd like to squeeze that in if possible...surprise!!!).

The following day, Bambino and I are heading up to Montreal for three days of de-stressing. (It happens to be my birthday on Friday and this is my middle-aged treat to myself.) While there we are going to get together with author/collector/blogger Lisa Hunter, eat some sinfully rich French food, lazily stroll through the streets of Old Montreal, and I, at least, plan to spend some quality face time with a big fluffly pillow. Other recommendations for how to while the day away in Montreal are welcome.

Regular blogging will resume next Monday.


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Conscripted Fourth Estate

"In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism."

—Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man", in Guy, Josephine M., Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, IV, Oxford University Press, p. 255
Ahh, the good old new days. More and more it feels as if we have been abandoned rather than dominated by Journalism. I'm not talking only about how corporate media refuses to play its role in ensuring our democracy is healthy (How long did it take even the New York Times to offer their milquetoasty criticism of Obama's refusal to try the American war criminals who systematically injected torture-as-policy into our military? [Change you can pass off to the next administration, I guess.] Where are the other news outlets calling for prosecution?), but more about how those in power within the print industry are seemingly content to rearrange the deckchairs as the icy water rises up their pants legs.

Where's the innovation? Where's the bold new vision and business model that will deliver the NEWS so badly needed to keep things in check? Those who've spent their lives working in print seem resigned to let it all fade away, which is looking inevitable, but that hardly excuses them from leaving the gaping holes that they are behind. Playing catch up with some sparkly new widget-laded website won't cut it, my must re-conceive and rebuild the models and channels so that they PAY your writers.

Otherwise, those with stories to be told will continue to turn to the unedited pajama media and, as far as I fall in that category, we'll all be the worse for it.

I can't keep track of how many requests I'm getting to review a book, or review a movie, or attend some function, or attend some opening not from an artist or arts writer who notes that they happen to like the blog (thanks, I do appreciate that, and am happy to attend or do what I can), but from non-art specific Public Relations firms who haven't the slightest clue who I am, what this blog is about, or who participates in the threads here. More alarming though are the news tidbits I get sent that truly should go to a journalist (which I am not) to be thoroughly investigated and then written about by the experts.

This growing trend suggests to me a serious void, a paucity of options for those who need to disseminate information. The fact that unedited online channels seem to be growing in popularity as print options are declining is a problem that should be resolved by the professional journalists!!! Get ahead of the curve, please.

Now I know there are bloggers who are also professional journalists and I appreciate (and even like) that that evolution is taking keeps the old guard at the fourth estate on their toes and brings some important, fresh voices to our attention. But the pressure I'm feeling (and I imagine others are too) to go see some movie, for example, that wasn't on my personal must-see list, on my day off (because I know how much hard work goes into making one and I know someone should discuss it [Bambino and I stopped just short of attending one this weekend]) is making me a tad bit resentful. I'm not the person your PR people should be approaching. I assume it's easy enough to ignore such requests, but that doesn't eliminate the sense that I've been conscripted because there aren't enough bodies to fill the demand.

Maybe I'm making too much of this. Perhaps PR firms have always cast their nets widely in seeking press for their clients, and it's no skin off their nose if I ignore their pitches. I can't help but feel, however, that they are actually doing what the press is failing to: scrambling to get out ahead of the curve as the industry evolves...whereas it feels as if too many people in management positions within the traditional press are so mesmerized by those two bright headlights speeding toward them that they can't understand they need to jump out of the way. Or, I suspect, they're too busy sending their resumes out to lobbying firms to care what happens to the industry. Something is amiss...there's a vacuum where the press leadership used to be and all kinds of nonsense is rushing in to fill it.


Friday, April 17, 2009

What We Need Now

If you live in New York, you've probably seen them in the windows of currently vacant store fronts or graffiti-splashed walls throughout downtown...large stickers in cheerful lettering encouraging passersby to "Enjoy Subprime Lending" (bloggy posted a photo of this one a while back) or "Enjoy Free Market" or "Enjoy Stimulus Package." (I've scoured the blogs and can't find who's responsible for the campaign, although plenty of people have written about it).

Well now comes another effort to cheer you up, should the economy have you down...a website designed to help you turn that Warhol you bought into quick cash: Cash For Your Warhol

We can help you sell your art fast. Our nationwide network of investors has helped lots of art collectors in situations like yours. They can often make you a written offer within hours of contacting us, regardless of economic conditions, and have your problems solved within days.
As reports:
It’s a joke, of course, the work of Boston-based prankster Geoff Hargadon, previously best-known for his parody of Christo and Jean-Claude’s The Gates, consisting of miniature, homemade versions of the duo’s iconic orange structures, a project that was covered in the New York Times and elsewhere (images are still available online at Hargadon describes “Cash for Your Warhol” as “part parody, part experiment, part commentary, part visual gag,” taking as its starting point the ubiquitous “Cash for Your House” signs that have popped up in recession-plagued neighborhoods. He had the signs manufactured by the same Texas-based company that makes the “Cash for Your House” signs, while the decidedly bare-bones website is “pretty much a cut/paste” from a "Cash for Your House" website.
I noted it when the downturn first began and I've witnessed it time and again in the gallery, the most effective means to get through these challenging times is humor.

Whenever things get a little too tense around our neck of the woods, I just show Bambino a funny animal video. His laughter is so infectious that it always cheers me up. Here's one that never fails to reduce him to a giggling puddle for some reason...and that in turn does the same for me.

Happy Friday (it's gonna be a beaut in NYC) everyone!


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Artist of the Week (04/16/09)

I've always been intrigued with the all-or-nothing approaches to painting, processes in which an artist can mentally and emotionally prepare as much as they want, but what ends up on canvas is always, at least in part, up to fortune. Pollock's action paintings were like this, as are works by more contemporary artists (think some of Karin Davie's work or even to some degree our own Joy Garnett [see also here]). That's not to say the end result must be any less thrilling for more measured approaches, but there is something exhilarating to seeing things come together when so much (well, at least in terms of paint, canvas, time, and preparation) was at stake.

Jeff Kessel's paintings combine both approaches: layers of carefully considered and executed decisions crowned with an all-or-nothing statement. As Goethe once said, "Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." Here's one of my faves among Jeff's recent paintings:

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 62" x 48". Image used with permission of the artist.

You can see this painting yourself, among a few others, in the group exhibition Jeff's currently in at Bortolami Gallery in Chelsea. It's a strong exhibition, even if the press release is a bit vague about what binds the work:
The contrasts and diversities between their works present current contemplations of line, texture and color that reconsider tenets of Modernism, Abstraction, and Expressionism.
Can I have more, Sir, please?

Then again, perhaps they feel the work speaks for itself. Here's another Kessel I really like:

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 40"x 34". Image used with permission of the artist.

The tension he generates by refusing the integrity of the actual plane of the canvas is what immediately greets you when you see one of Jeff's paintings from afar, but that's only the most obvious conflict. Each of these canvases contains a near epic series and layers of battles that are impossible to see in the small jpegs I have (so go see them up close in person at Bortolami) which then support the uppermost, often truly engrossing gestures:

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 28"x 34". Image used with permission of the artist.

Jeff is just getting started in his career (the Bortolami exhibition is his first in New York), but I suspect he's got quite a bright future ahead of him based on the strength of these early paintings. Some of them have already a quiet strength you'd expect in a much older painter.

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 24" x 24". Image used with permission of the artist.

The works in the group exhibition (save the one at the top) all have fairly allover dark palettes, but personally I respond a bit more to Jeff's paintings with more striking contrasts (not sure what that says about me, but...), such as these final two I'll leave you with.

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 66"x 60". Image used with permission of the artist.

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 72"x 66". Image used with permission of artist.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ronda Storms: Right-Wing Rebel in Search of a Cause

To our dear friends in Florida. Don't be distracted by the message, focus on the goals of the messenger. After all, that is why she's pulling this stunt, for the political attention it will bring her. The very least you can do is pay her some. and both report on a bill introduced by Florida state senator Ronda Storms that is so terribly transparent it would be hysterical if it wasn't playing off the economic fears of Floridians. She's calling to repeal a law that provides funding for art in new state-funded buildings (a half-percent, up to $100,000). Florida is facing a $3 billion deficit and clearly needs to make tough choices. Still, there's a hurricane of opportunism pushing this effort through the legislature.

According to, Storms has said (of the art funding) "This is an example of fat. This is a luxury." and "Do I pay for art instead of paying for care for an abused kid?" It's hard to argue with that. (Although it does make one wonder whether Storms has actually sponsored legislation to strengthen care for abused kids. Anyone?)

But according to Artnet [citing the St. Petersburg Times]:
[T]his is something of a pretext: Storms has a long-time axe to grind with public art: she introduced a failed bill to repeal percent-for-art funding last year, and was decrying the use of public funds for artwork as far back as 2006, when she was a lowly county commissioner.

Indeed, Storms strikes me as the typical wedge issue politician who sees the culture war as her path to power and glory. Artnet explains:

She has supported legislation that makes marriage licenses more expensive for couples who don’t take a mandated "premarital education" course; mandates that women getting first trimester abortions be shown ultrasound images of their fetuses; prohibits the teaching of evolution in Florida schools; and allows "inspirational messages" -- prayer, that is -- in public schools.

Sadly, this time Storms tied her crusade against public funding for art to the public's fear of where the economy is heading (for a Flordian's take on how Storms tends to operate, see this commentator's insights here). Indeed, wherever you find wedge issues in Florida, you're likely to find Storms, it seems. She once infamously "objected to a library's display of books by homosexual authors during Gay and Lesbian Pride Month" because "whether we should have pride in homosexuality is a political perspective." (I suppose it is, but humans might also consider looking at it from, you know, a humanity perspective...but I digress.)

Back to arts funding, though. As one commenter on the Tampa Bay arts blog, Art Squeeze, wondered:
To paraphrase a friend, “doesn’t the omission of art from our public spaces constitute a form of child abuse also?”
I think that gives Ms. Storms' argument far too much credit, but I don't disagree with the sentiment.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rambling Thoughts on Film : The Resurgence of Narrative

I've seen two remarkable films lately and thought I'd use them to indulge myself here with a few thoughts on film, if you will. I've heard it said that film is the most pertinent medium of our era (with an unparalleled ability to effect the senses). And while I suspect it's simply a precursor to truly ensconcing media (think virtual reality installations), there's no doubt its widespread popularity is due in no small part to its ability to "take us away." Of course, folks once gathered around a radio for the same escapist purposes, but...

In as much as film is so utterly accessible that, more than any other other single medium, it grants access to people from wholly different cultures and spoken languages, though, it has had a rough passage into the ranks of widely appreciated "fine art." This paradox seems due in great part to the fact that whether through an aversion to having it seen as too much like mass culture offerings or simply an insistence that it was required to convey the vision of the artist, experimentation for its own sake and an aversion to the conventions of storytelling have been hallmarks of fine art offerings in film. I mean God help you if, when dabbling in more traditional narrative, there weren't enough tell-tale signs of your fine art status to more or less overshadow your narrative efforts. As a result, far too often, IMHO, such efforts convey nothing so much as an incipient refusal to tell a story well, denying the medium (at least in part) of its essence.

Lately, though, it's seemed to me that eschewing the traditional narrative is no longer a hard and fast rule for the fine art set. Quite the contrary, there seems to be a renewed interest in its potential.

A few high-profile precedents got us here. First was Barney's "major release" style stagings and length (albeit with hardly traditional narratives). Then Schnabel's more-or-less straight storytelling with just enough visual innovation and lushness to remind you you're not watching a Spielberg flick, but both of these filmmakers seemed, still, a bit too uncomfortable committing whole-hog to what I consider the inevitable "hybrid" that seamlessly blends both. Embracing narrative is a key here, I believe. At least until the next level is reached.

Enter Steve McQueen.

I'm sorry to do this to you, but it looks like today is your last chance to see McQueen's staggering effort, "
Hunger" at the IFC Center at West 4th and 6 Avenue. Visually stunning, as well staged as any action adventure film you'll ever see, and heart-achingly moving, this film is raw rage and human frailty as I've never seen them conveyed. The exchange between imprisoned IRA fighter Bobby Sands and the priest he tells he's going to lead a hunger strike to protest the British Government's refusal to bestow political status on him and his fellow IRA members behind bars is such an engrossing achievement, it's nearly impossible to believe McQueen pulled it off. I want to believe it was done through sophisticated editing, but all signs indicate that it was done through a spectacular feat of documented theater and daring. You don't have time to appreciate you're watching an "art film" as you do in too many other efforts in that category. You're as engaged on every level as you could possibly be. That is McQueen's triumph in "Hunger" and an indication to me that this is only the tip of the iceberg with regards to the potential power of the hybrid.

The other film that I thought represented a new achievement in embracing narrative came from a documentary filmmaker (not a fine artist, per se, but then again, I won't split hairs here having seen this) who recently debuted his first effort in fiction, a film called
"Tulpan." Sergei Dvortsevoy is a highly acclaimed Kazakh director who swept the international film festivals with his simple, but (in my opinion) simply flawless story of a herdsman who seeks a wife in the vast open steepe of an unrelenting Central Asian landscape. To call this region desolate is to employ absurd understatement (see this trailer). Admittedly, it's a bit hard for me to observe this film entirely objectively, as much of it looks like footage shot when Bambino and I traveled to the outer regions in Kyrgyzstan (the family in the film live in a yurt and eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and live in much the same lifestyle as people we visited), so I didn't absorb it all as entirely unexpected (the New York Times review said "the milieu and the characters will seem almost impossibly exotic.")

Still, the authenticity achievement in this film is beyond belief. I scoured it intensely looking for some anachronism, any anachronism (in either prop or gesture or even facial expression). I found none. And it's this flawless accuracy in telling the story of these people's lives that lifts this film above the throng of other such efforts. Again, as with "Hunger" it was this film's ability to transport you to this place so completely, such that you stopped feeling voyeuristic, despite the raw intimacy of being right there, in the the yurt, with this family and felt miraculously invisible in their midst.

More than that, though, in "Tulpan" (and I was in "Tulpan") I realized I had stopped being aware of the act of viewing at all. I was living with this family. It may have taken
Dvortsevoy's years of filming documentaries to make him a keen enough observer to pull this off, but he and McQueen also relied heavily on filming (rather than staging) actual events (in Hunger the actor truly loses a frightening amount of weight and in "Tulpan," well, as the New York Times put it, you see "a milestone in cinematic ovine obstetrics, [which] is both crucial to the story and a tour de force, the kind of thing a director like David Cronenberg or Takashi Miike would attempt only with prosthetics or other special effects. In “Tulpan” you see it for real, a perfectly ordinary event that is also something of a miracle"). (You simply must see that bit to believe it, even if you grew up on a farm, you won't believe he got that scene, with that actor, in that place, on film.)

I'm not sure that's not a weakness in both, to be honest--relying so heavily on actual events-- but then again, that's film's potential. In the right hands, under the right conditions, it can stun us with its truth. Consider this an open thread on the strengths and/or limitations of narrative in fine art film.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

How to Do Your Homework, Part II

Following up on Part I of our discussion of what it means to "do your homework" in researching which commercial art galleries to approach, in this part I wanted to share some thoughts for those artists who feel they have a strong sense of which galleries their work is a good match for but for any number of reasons can't seem to land in one.

My central assumption in offering this advice is that you understand the lay of the land pretty well. You're up to speed on the hierarchy of art galleries and have a fairly solid sense of why your quiet watercolors of seascapes wouldn't be a good match for the gallery focusing on bleeding edge new media work, or vice versa, for example. You've limited the galleries you wish to approach to about 10, based on confirmation from artists and curators you know that you're correct in targeting them. And you have a good sense that your work is neither too close to that of any artist already on their roster or would aesthetically or conceptually undermine the work of any artist they're working to build a market for.

What more can you do in terms of homework/research here to narrow down from 10 to say 5 which galleries
are the best ones to invest your efforts, money, and hopes in approaching and networking with?

I'll break these thoughts into 5 categories:

1. Looking for signs a gallery is looking to add to their roster.
2. Strengthening your "connections."
3. Asking straight out.
4. Remember it's a small world.
5. Patience.

Harsh Caveat
There is no amount of advice I can offer here for an artist whose work isn't strong enough for the commercial gallery system to be interested. I understand that there is a huge amount of self-doubt involved in creating artwork, and (having submitted short stories to publishers when I was much younger, none of which were ever published) I know there is a certain amount of not being the best judge of the quality of your own work that clouds being able to see how you compare with the others competing for those limited opportunities. But the simple fact remains that your art must be of a certain quality before any dealer is likely to be interested, and so I'd recommend (if you've been pounding the pavement for years with no success) that you take a few steps to get honest confirmation (again from artist friends and curators) that your work is as strong as it seems to you it is. We all know artists for whom success came relatively late in life (leaving us wondering how the hell the system didn't see how great they were years ago), so I'm not at all suggesting that lack of getting a gallery = bad art. Not always, anyway. But I do get a high enough volume of submissions by artists whose work I find so truly awful that I know I can't be wrong about all of them. Some of them are simply nowhere near ready to work with a gallery.

Assuming you have confirmation (if you felt you needed it) from artists and curators that your work is not only good but clearly within the realm of what commercial galleries will exhibit, though, here are some more detailed types of/approaches to homework you can do to narrow down which ones are best to approach.

1. Looking for signs a gallery on your list is looking to add to their roster. Besides checking their submission policy on their website (duh), keep an eye on the galleries you feel are a good match for indications they're expanding: a new location, a bigger gallery with a project space perhaps, a second branch in another city, a significant increase in the number of directors they have (one new director isn't that strong an indication of expansion, but two might be). All of this information is readily available on most galleries' websites (news items are common that broadcast expansions, new hires, etc.).

Reading their press releases regularly is a good source for such information. In addition to the tell-tale indication that they're broadening the stable--"pleased to announce our first solo exhibition with Artist X"--galleries will include tidbits about expansions and such in these announcements. Reading the art press (especially the more gossipy sources, like online magazines and blogs) for signs that galleries are letting a large number of artists go (which usually ends up being only a temporary reduction in the number of artists in a stable, regardless of the offered rationales) is another way to surmise a seachange is underfoot in their programming and that this represents an opportunity (if only somewhat down the road).

Finally, a restructuring of the gallery staff, such as the hiring of a hot director from another program or the inclusion of an acclaimed curator on the staff (to replace someone else, not to expand the total number of employees), suggests the owner saw the need to shake up the program somewhat. This may not mean much unless you have a pre-existing relationship with that hot director or curator, but it usually means a shift in the gallery's view of its identity and that means opportunity for some artist(s) (possibly you). Obviously, you'll want to learn as much about the curator or new director as you can to see if your interests align. Google is your friend.

2. Strengthening your "connections." I put "connections" in quotes here because obviously networking with the gallery staff and owner is a key part of getting them to pay attention to your work, but think a bit bigger here than just these interpersonal relationships. Target the wider world in which the gallery moves. If, for example, the gallery shares artists with another dealer in another city, see whether that entry point into the system is easier for you. The New York gallery you have your heart set on might enjoy the dialog they have with one in another city (smaller market), and if you can get into that "sister" gallery, it will improve your chances of working with the New York space. It is usually easier to make headway in those markets (and to be honest, if you're having trouble making connections in those markets, it suggests your chances in the more competitive markets won't be so good, so consider approaching galleries in smaller markets to get feedback on your submission approach and or work). Who knows, you might find a much better match in one of those markets and realize it worked out beautifully for you and that other dealer.

More than a sister gallery, though, you can strengthen your connection with your target gallery by moving in their circles in meaningful ways, such as donating artwork to benefits they chair or collaborating with artists they represent in other contexts. The more your paths cross, the more likely you'll find the opportunities to connect in ways that could open that door. I would keep the laws against stalking in mind here, and understand that dealers read this blog too (so being too obvious won't necessarily help you), but if you're truly a good match for this gallery the likelihood is your circles would overlap naturally anyway.

Asking straight out. This takes a particular tact to pull off well, but if you have a reasonable dialog with a gallery (you've been dancing around each other, perhaps had a studio visit or two) but you can't seem to move past the pleasantries, it can pay sometimes to ask them straight out whether they would work with you. As in all things in life, it's best to be prepared for the answer if you're going to ask, but eventually you have much less to lose by asking than you do by wondering what it might take. This question is much easier to ask via email, of course, but then it's much easier for the dealer to ignore that way as well, so you have to weigh that against the awkward silence that might follow asking face to face.

Usually, if you have a decent relationship with a gallery already, you can follow up a negative response to this question with "do you have any recommendations for which galleries might be a better match?" If you ask a dealer this during an opening or an art fair (when they're focused on other things), you might not get their best-thought-out response, but on a quiet day in the gallery or when seated next to each other at some function, it can be done with a light enough spirit to ensure you get good feedback and not make them want to cross the street if they see you coming a week later. As in all such professional exchanges, respecting their time and acknowledging that you value their opinion will go a long way toward getting you good feedback. As dealers they fully understand that it can be hard as an artist to find your way into a gallery. If they're ungracious in response to your respectful request (meaning you asked at the right time and place), you most likely didn't want to work with them anyway. Then again, to be clear, asking a dealer you barely know such a question isn't what I'm suggesting here.

4. Remember it's a small world.I got an email from an artist I've known a while who followed the advice I offer in #3. She asked what it would take for her to get a show in my gallery. Because we had had a studio visit and the opportunity to talk at length at a party once (and because I do admire her work), I responded very candidly that during our talk at the party she had scared me away with how she had dissed her previous gallery. I told her that I'm friends with that other gallery and I respect not only their program, but also their opinions and business practices. My hesitation in working with her was that she would 1) be high maintenance and 2) regardless of my efforts, end up talking about me at some party in the same fashion.

So here's the thing. Getting the ear of a dealer you'd want to work with at a party is an opportunity to sell yourself. Except for how she talked about her previous dealers, this artist had done just that, and fairly well, but that one segment of the conversation was what I remembered the most later. Despite what you may have heard, dealers are human. They like to defend their friends and will extrapolate what they see as unjust feedback about their friends into all kinds of nightmare scenarios for themselves should they work with you. The art world is yourself a favor and assess how the dealer you're talking with feels about your previous dealers or anyone else you're dishing before diving in too deep.

5. Patience. The other thing I told this artist was that from where I sat, her biggest roadblock was her lack of patience. Her work is somewhat challenging, and yet she expected sales to be immediate (that was her biggest criticism of the other gallery). Besides it taking longer to develop a market for more challenging work (because the potential audience is generally smaller), a lack of patience in getting what you want from a gallery will scare off dealers who know too well that it's gonna take a concerted effort for quite some time to get you there. This lack of patience, if you too have it (I do, so I empathize) is something you must try to keep in check when doing the more interpersonal kinds of homework. It took some artists we all know decades to get to that big gallery and receive the accolades they must have known were due them years ago. Had they burned bridges during that time, rather than build them, they might have never gotten there.

Whether it's fair or not that some artists seem to fall into success and others must toil for years to get theirs is irrelevant in this context. Being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time is an advantage in any industry. Dealers end up kicking themselves for not moving quickly enough to work with an artist all the time, so it's not as if they have all the power here. The essence of breaking through that situation where you're as ready as you can be, but the galleries just aren't biting, is to keep you ear to the ground for pending shifts in their programming, maintain a positive relationship with the gallery contacts you have, and in the meanwhile strengthen any connection with them that you can.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Art-Pocalypto 2012 Opens Tonight!

In addition to their individual solo exhibitions, which both open tonight, Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida have collaborated on an installation in the Schroeder Romero project space. All I can say, having seen it last night, is thank G-d our gallery is too small to have a project space ... I have seen the future, and it's freakin' butt ugly ... this piece is so-o-o-o wrong on so many levels... ... I'm still laughing1:


Art-Pocalypto 2012

April 10 - May 23, 2012

Opening Reception: Friday, April 10, 6-8pm

SchroRoWinkleFeuerBooneWildenRosenGosian Gallery is pleased to present “Art-Pocalypto 2012,” organized by guest curators Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida. This exhibition will be on view from April 10 – May 23, 2012. Since the gallery is one of the only outlets for contemporary art related products remaining in New York’s fabled Chelsea art district, we will be exhibiting artworks by whoever we want.

As everyone knows by now, artists have not been able to produce any new art since the crash of 2009 due to shortages of art supplies as well as basic necessities. Dalton and Powhida will therefore be exhibiting 8" x 10" printouts of our very large stable of artists' pre-crash greatest hits which will be laminated on-demand. Make our day and ask if they are archival, that word helps us remember what used to pass for problems back in the day.

This exhibition is organized around the theme of, fuck everyone, we are still here! Conceptual consistency - can you eat that? Can you shit in it and flush it down and make it go away? Can it keep the rain off you when you are sleeping? We didn't think so! So come on over and see how thin everyone's gotten!

Prints will be on sale for the low price of $500,000*. If we are lucky and supplies are available, we hope to be able to print in color. However, if we run out of fuel for the generator, the co-curators will make themselves available on selected Saturday hours to copy images by hand. Since child labor was decriminalized last year, we might even have the kids help out! You'd be surprised what they'll do for a cracker. Actually, by now you probably wouldn't.

And save the date! SchroRoWinkleFeuerBooneWildenRosenGosian Gallery will be exhibiting at ArtBaselMiamiDocumentaSiteSantaFeWhitneyBiennaleVeneziaNadaPulseScope this December. Don't believe the Mayan hype, civilization will go on - it better, we just paid our booth deposit!

SchroRoWinkleFeuerBooneWildenRosenGosian Gallery
Phone 212.630.0722

*This is $20 in Spring 2009 dollars.

1[h/t MAO for the motif].


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Artist(s) of the Week 04/09/09 (Pressed-for-Time Version)

As I suspected would, on occasion, be the case, I've been a bit too busy this week to organize permission to post images to offer a full-fledged "Artist of the Week," but that doesn't mean we can't still talk about art. In no particular order, here are four links to exhibitions up or opening this week in Chelsea by artists whose work has left a lingering impression on me.

Pablo Picasso (Gagosian Gallery, West 21st Street): Say what you will about the enigmatic man, Mr. Gagosian puts many museums to shame with the exhibitions he organizes. This world-class assembly of 1960-70's work by the Spanish master, curated by his biographer John Richardson, is a most generous gift to the art community and the city during these troubled time. This isn't my favorite period of Picasso's work (he was reportedly cranking the work out with an eye toward providing for his heirs and it's hard to separate that from the weaknesses of some of the peices), but as gallery viewing experiences go, this one is light years ahead.

Venske & Spänle (Margaret Thatcher Projects, West 25th Street): The sexy, playful, impossible-to-believe-they're-marble sculptures of Venske & Spänle delight me each time I see them. Cutting across the expectations of this classic medium, these pieces flow and bulge and ooze in ways that make you think that if this is, anything is possible. Don't miss their new animations that underscore the wonder of these works even more.

Dana Schutz (Zach Feuer, West 24th Street): Dana was an artist of the week back in 2005 where I noted I'm a big fan of the work. In her latest exhibition she proves to me again she's an important artist of her generation with some eye-opening innovations/statements about painting that I haven't been able to stop thinking about (even though I found the show just a bit more uneven than I was expecting). Just about everyone I've talked to about the show says Chess or Guitar Girl is their favorite. Chess is perhaps one of the most thought-provoking paintings I've seen in a long time.

William Powhida (Schroeder Romero, West 27th Street): Opening tomorrow night (with a slew of great shows all along the street, including that of our own Jennifer Dalton and including a joint Dalton-Powhida project space installation [more on that tomorrow]), Bill Powhida blends the the damned funniest narratives with most blistering critique of the contemporary art world you'll find anywhere. I've had a sneak peek at this exhibition, and I can tell you the man is pulling no punches. A stunningly insightful observer of how absurd this insular sub-culture we call the "art world" is, Powhida's painting in this show seems to have come up a nice notch as well. Don't miss it!


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"I've Seen the Future, and It Belongs to the Dead"

Two separate observers of the art market share the view that the art market's return to life will be led not by emerging contemporary art, but by big brand name dead artists. The fact that they disagree as to which dead artists will save the market is interesting though.

Artnet critic and man about town Charlie Finch predicts it will be "classic contemporary":
What this means for the art market is simple: a steep drop in prices for the work of younger blue chip artists awash in inventory both present and future, and an expanding universe of price appreciation for the limited set of artworks created by those gone by. [...] If the supply is limited and the art tied to a historical movement, dealers’ pockets should soon fill with devalued bucks which they in turn will reinvest in inventory. Let the boom begin!
Editor at large of The Art Newspaper Georgina Adams predicts the ghosts who will save us will have been dead a bit too long to qualify as "contemporary":
But now contemporary art is the most damaged sector of the market, and fields where connoisseurship is still important have come back centre stage. “Old Europe”, with its expertise and long collecting traditions, is suddenly looking stronger and stronger.
Personally, I think it's unwise to bet against the living. There has been an evolution in how quickly human history can change since the dawning of the mass interconnectivity brought on by the Internet and cable news. From the way the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union collapsed, the budget surplus the Clinton administration led us through became the unimaginable debt-legacy of the Bush administration and the Republican's "permanent majority" evaporated into thin air, to how supposedly "everything changed" one day in September nearly eight years ago, I've learned to stop underestimating how quickly world events can develop these days. The one thing all those unimaginably fast events had in common was that they were initiated and/or accelerated by people who believed in a different (and arguably for them "better") future.

The truth of the matter is I don't know exactly what will spark a resurgence in the living contemporary art market (though I'm not convinced a boom there requires either excessive conspicuous consumption or any of the other postmortem explanations we're seeing for the one that ended last fact I'm not convinced a "boom," per se, is required as much as an education-led expansion into a broader market of informed collectors among those currently not prioritizing art among their steady purchases).

Indeed, I think this particular market didn't crash, but rather merely froze. Most dealers I talk to (mostly my colleagues in the emerging art market) report a slight thaw since January. Whether that's enough to prevent what Mr. Finch described as "the expectation ...that galleries would quietly close for the summer and fold, and just not reopen in September" or not remains to be seen, of course. But if I had to bet on artists (and dealers) of eras gone by or those who believe in the future of art, I'd keep doing what I'm doing and put my money on the living. There aren't going to be too many unimaginably quickly evolving developments among our dearly departed.


Monday, April 06, 2009

How to Do Your Homework, Part I

A while back a reader asked what I mean when I say the first part of getting a commercial gallery is "doing your homework." How do you go about learning what market your artwork fits into and once you do, how do you learn which galleries are both a good match and willing to discuss the possibility of working with you?

I had always thought this advice was sound, but after that question I realize that it's easy for me to say "do your homework"--- and then point to that advice if someone approaches a gallery that isn't right for them ("they didn't do their homework")---but how helpful is that advice really? What leads up to a gallery offering the feedback that "your work isn't right for our program" and how can you minimize your chances of receiving it?

I think it makes sense to break this discussion into two parts: 1) general homework/research for those just starting off looking to work with a gallery and 2) more detailed advice for those artists who have a good sense of which galleries their work fits in but for any number of reasons can't seem to crack the door on one in the market they most want to sell in. Because of time limitations, I'll discuss only the first part today and will delve into the second later. As with all such posts, these observations are from my limited point of view and I encourage those with other experiences to please add comments.

General Homework
One of the themes I'll hit on again and again in this section is you need to have a support network of artists and curators you can ask for advice and information. If there's an essential "first step" I would recommend, this is it. Many of the things I say to do below require having access to people who are more tapped in than you are. With that caveat, however, there are to my mind four basic elements in doing your "general homework" in finding a gallery.

1. Determine whether your work even belongs in the commercial end of things: Many artists who want commercial galleries are conflicted about what is commonly discussed (at least in many art schools) as the corrupting or irrelevant influences of the commercial art market. Personally, I have no qualms about artists who eschew the art fact, I find it highly impressive if done for the right reasons. I know many artists who like to think that way about their work, though, who will just as happily sell work if it doesn't cost them anything personally. (I think of a certain neo-Marxist who attacked me at a panel discussion for being the source of all ill in the art world because I'm a commercial art dealer only to confess over vodka that he too had sold work and liked doing so.) All of which is my long-winded way of saying start off doing a bit of soul-searching. I don't agree that the commercial side of the art world is automatically corrupting. Too many amazing artists were all too happy to work within it and/or work to improve it. Still, there's no reason to assume you need a commercial gallery just because you're an artist. You may not. It should be something you choose because it fits in with your vision of your career.

2. Learn about the art market hierarchy: I'm quite frankly surprised how many artists who want galleries are unaware of the structure of the commercial art gallery system. ("Why shouldn't that blue chip gallery at least look at my fresh-out-of-art-school body of work?") Professionals in other industries make it their business to understand which companies seek out which type of colleagues, but so many artists seem to think every gallery is like every other one. Here are the facts, though. There is a hierarchy. And the further up the food chain a gallery is, the more difficult it will be for entirely unknown artists (those with no important museum exhibitions or major press under their belt) to get into them.

As an artist, you can determine where a gallery fits within the hierarchy by a few easy-to-access-via-the-Internet bits of information:
  • Are they members of any art dealers associations? If so, which ones?
  • Which art fairs do they participate in (yes, you need to research the heirarchy of fairs as well for this information to be valuable)?
  • Do the artists they work with have museum exhibitions on their bios (yes, part of doing your homework is reading through them for clues)?
  • Do their artists get high-profile or lots of press?
Again, the take-away piece of information here is that galleries further up the food chain (getting into better fairs, getting more press, in more prestigious gallery associations) are generally more difficult to get a foot in the door of. Compare notes with your artist friends about where you feel Gallery X fits in the pecking order. Scope out the entire landscape of galleries so you feel you can order them all more or less (or at least any you would approach). There's no reason not to shoot for the top and work your way down, but have an understanding of who is where before you begin.

3. Learn as much as you can about what work like yours sells for: This can be the rudest of all awakenings for unknown artists, but it's really rather simple. In the art market, your artwork is worth what collectors are willing to pay for it. The better known you become, the more it's able to impress/amaze them, the better a bibliography or exhibition record you have, the more money they're willing to part with to acquire it.

Begin finding this out by asking your artists friends. Ask those who make work like yours what theirs sells for. Keep in mind whether or not you have a similar exhibition record and bibliography (just because Chuck Close is your friend, doesn't mean your work should sell for what his does). Or, if you're really good friends, ask them what they feel your work would sell for in Gallery X.

One of the questions a dealer you finally get over to your studio or to talk with you about your work is likely to ask you is what your work sells for, so you really want to be prepared here in order to assure them you're ready to work with a gallery.

If you've done your homework here, you can say you feel it needs to be priced at $X. If you have sold work tell them what it sold for, but also in what context it sold. If you've never sold a piece (or if you've only ever sold to friends or family members who were only too happy to help you pay studio rent), say you'd appreciate their advice or recommendations on that. They may not have time, but generally they'll be forthright about what they feel it could sell for. (Don't misinterpret their willingness to share this information with a willingness to exhibit your work at this point though.)

If your work is considerably less expensive than most of the work shown in a gallery, it might be more difficult to get a show there (selling out your entire show might not cover their overhead). Research what the work they show sells for. If they don't put out a price list, ask around or check auction records where applicable. Art fairs are a good place to get a sense of what work costs in any given gallery. You may not want to ask yourself if you'll later (not at a fair please!!!) present yourself as an artist interested in working with them, but conscript your friends in finding out. Then again, I don't think it's that big a deal. Art fairs are about broadcasting such information in most instances.

4. Learn as much as you can about what type of work the galleries you plan to approach exhibit: This is the hardest part of the general homework. It takes time. But it's time well spent, if only in how it is likely to garner you the most useful feedback, even if it takes a while to find the right match. Casting your net too widely, without knowing whether a gallery shows work like yours, results in an artificial degree of rejection feedback. You might be the best photographer in the world, for example, but the swift way in which a gallery devoted to painting shows you the door may lead you to doubt that.

Begin, again, by asking your artist/curator friends which of the hundreds of galleries out there they feel might be interested in your work. Narrow it down before you move on to the more detailed homework to avoid wasting your time and discouraging yourself. Once you have a short list (I'd recommend whittling it down to about 10 to start), then begin the real research.

Fortunately, most galleries if not all that you want to approach will have websites with lots of images of the artwork they exhibit. An easy first step in determining whether your work will fit into their program is whether or not you like the majority of the other work they show. If you don't, then it's probably best to cross them off your list. If you do, then move on to the second step: Is what you do too close to what someone already in the program is doing and/or does what you do conceptually or aesthetically conflict with what someone else in the program is already doing. For (a lame, but simple) example, if an artist in the program is arguing that identity art is dead and you make identity art, the odds are not good the gallery will want to undercut all the work they've done to build a market for that other artist by exhibiting your work. A third step here is to see if your work fills in any gaps in their program. As Sara Jo Romero says in Darcy Bhandari and Melber's book Art/Work, many gallery programs are built like a color wheel. To quote myself summarizing her on this idea: "You have connections between the artists that mimic the relationship of complementary colors and those that are more akin to the relationship of colors next to each other, both formally and conceptually. It may not be immediately obvious how artist A makes sense in the same program as artist B until you see how one completes a segment of the same wheel."

So in doing your homework, look not only at a single artist whose work seems a good match for yours, but look at the entire roster and see whether you, er, "complete," the program. Is there some element of their dedication to new media art, such as not enough work dealing with the aesthetics of digitally generated images for (another lame, but succinct) example, that they're a bit weak on that your work would strengthen?

Once you're closer to thinking a gallery is a good match, you'll want to check the bibliographies and resumes of their artists. Track down and actually read some of the reviews, learn what the rest of the art world thinks are their shortcomings and/or strengths (not only of the individual artists but the gallery as a whole as well). Scour the Internet for gossip and/or press about the gallery. If you learn the gallery will be participating in an art fair you can attend, go see their booth. If you see an artist they exhibit will have a show in a gallery or museum near you, definitely check it out. Information is power here.

Finally, and this can't be overemphasized...visit a gallery you wish to exhibit in before approaching them. This is, in my opinion, an essential part of your homework. Know what it feels like in that space, how big it is, how high the ceilings are, whether your 2-ton bronze sculpture will fit up the narrow staircase to their third-floor space. I know all the arguments about the time and money it takes to do this, but it gives you a great deal of useful information and an edge over those artists also approaching them who never take this step.

I do expect this will generate as many questions as I've tried to answer, and by all means please add what homework you've done that was helpful in your own search.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

New Compound Edition by Rory Donaldson

Compound Editions is very pleased to announce the release of our third multiple, SQVENICEWATER08, by New York-based Scottish artist Rory Donaldson. Blending the languages of painting and photography, Donaldson creates stunning C-print images through a digital process that stretches out the original photograph’s four corners. The central image of each piece is identifiable only upon close inspection (see detail of SQVENICEWATER08 below). What greets the viewer from a distance looks to be large blocks of solid color, referencing perhaps color-field painting. As art critic John Haber recently put it:
"[Donaldson's photographs] put color-field painting through its paces. Each divides neatly into four rectangles, in unnervingly close or contrasting colors. For a second, I mistook them for separate acrylic panels, but the effect is more striking once one engages them as photographs. Forget Ad Reinhardt, Clement Greenberg, and pure painting, they seem to boast, with just a bit of arrogance. This is what a new century's technology can do."

---John Haber,, May 27, 2008
Detail of center of image:

Rory Donaldson



14" x 11"
Edition of 100, plus 10 APs.

$100.00 each (unmounted)

Email us at compoundeditions [at] gmail . com for more information or visit the Compound Editions blog.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Jennifer Dalton @ Winkleman Gallery, April 3 - May 9, 2009

PLEASE NOTE: The opening reception for this exhibition is APRIL 10 (NEXT FRIDAY). Not tonight. Despite the show being open to the public starting today. There will be another announcement next week explaining this further.


Jennifer Dalton
The Reappraisal

April 3 – May 9, 2009
Opening: Friday, April 10, 6-8 PM
Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 11-6 PM

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present “The Reappraisal,” our fourth solo exhibition by New York artist Jennifer Dalton. In 1999 Dalton presented her project “The Appraisal” at Chelsea’s Steffany Martz Gallery. At that time, Dalton was 31 years old and living a typical graduate student lifestyle, having been one until just the previous year. Presented in the project space of the gallery, this was her first solo exhibition in New York.

Inspired by her "day job" at Christie's auction house where she cataloged the desirable possessions of its clients, in "The Appraisal" Dalton photographed, described and self-appraised every item in the small apartment she shared with her then-boyfriend, including the furniture she had scavenged from the street, the paintings and sculptures she had made in her living room/art studio, and the artworks she had acquired through trades with her artist friends. She then hired Christie's to conduct an official appraisal of her "estate" and compared her appraisal with their professional version to humbling effect. Finally, as part of the project, she sold a cross-section of her belongings on the auction website eBay, in an attempt to find the true value of each object.

Ten years later the boyfriend is a husband and Dalton qualifies as a homeowner, a mom, and a not-entirely-reluctant member of the bourgeois class. How does her lifestyle stack up against 2009's recently acquired values of austerity, anti-materialism and green living? Has she become a yuppie? Viewers of the exhibition can decide for themselves, appraising her economic footprint* and the accouterments of her trajectory into middle age.

In "The Reappraisal," everything in the house Dalton shares with her husband and four-year-old son is for sale, provided would-be collectors are willing to pay the price arrived at through her family's level of attachment to a particular object. Every household item—from graduate student paintings to the cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink to the planter in the back yard—has been photographed and appraised by both her and, again, Christie’s auction house. Presented in simple frames on rows of industrial shelving, like volumes in a library, each photograph and description has been color-coded by object type and placed in order by Dalton’s level of attachment to it, and thus by what she calls "Your Price."

Each object actually has three values attached to it: What Dalton thinks the item might be worth to other people; what Christie's thinks the item is worth based on their expertise; and "Your Price," the price at which it can be purchased through the exhibition. "Your Price" ranges from $500,000 on the high end for irreplaceable tchotchkes passed down through her family to minus $5, meaning Dalton will give you $5 if you come to her house and take it away. More than a follow-up to the project Dalton first did 10 years ago, "The Reappraisal" is a meditation on materialism, growing up, and the extent to which we can properly judge ourselves and each other by the contents of our bookshelves, refrigerators and medicine cabinets.


Jennifer Dalton received her BFA from UCLA and her M.F.A. from the Pratt Institute in New York. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, including in: "Wall Rockets: Contemporary Artists and Ed Ruscha," curated by Lisa Dennison, Flag Art Foundation, NYC; "Attention to Detail," curated by Chuck Close, Flag Art Foundation, NYC; "Made in America," curated by Janet Phelps, Peel Gallery, Houston, TX; "Air Kissing: An Exhibition of Contemporary Art About the Art World," curated by Sasha Archibald, Arcadia University Art Gallery, Glenside, PA; and "The Cult of Personality: Portraits of Mass Culture," Carriage Trade, NYC and Galerie Erna Hécey, Brussels, Belgium. Her work has been reviewed in Artforum, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Art Review, Art + Auction, ArtNews, and Art in America, among other publications.

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