Thursday, May 20, 2010

Artists Unite! (for the love of God, please unite already)

Over at Artworld Salon, Ossian Ward has summarized the controversy over the Tate's rendition of the arts festival "No Soul For Sale" (which first took place at the X-Initiative). Ossian writes:
For its tenth birthday weekend just gone, Tate Modern staged No Soul For Sale, a non-profit ‘Festival of Independents’, bringing 70 artists’ collectives, publishers and non-commercial spaces from all over the world to fill its Turbine Hall. Well, perhaps ‘inviting’ would be a more accurate word to use, rather than ‘bringing’, as each participant had to pay their own way, with resourceful galleries doing last minute fundraising events and even garage sales to afford their flights to London from as far and wide as Beijing, Rio and Melbourne. A necessarily scrappy and messy affair ensued, with many No Soul For Salers showing only what they’d been able to squeeze through hand luggage or the symbolically empty packages they’d sent ahead of themselves.

This perceived lack of financial support drew fire from an anonymous British group of artists and arts professionals, calling themselves Making A Living. In an open letter to Tate, widely emailed and posted online, they took umbrage with No Soul For Sale’s ‘romantic connotations of the soulful artist, who makes art from inner necessity without thought of recompense’ as well as the concomitant expectation that ‘we should expect to work for free and that it is acceptable to forego the right to be paid for our labour.’
There's some commentary over there that I encourage you to read. But this issue (one explored at #class) brings out the business owner in me like nothing else. The notion that offers of free space are somehow taking advantage of artists is an insult to those venues, in my opinion. But I've gone into excruciating detail about the costs of running a space that exhibits art I'd like to rant about the other aspect of this issue. In essence, despite my personal feelings on whether artists and organizations should be paid for such opportunities to reach a wider audience, I have to say AGAIN, that merely bellyaching about it WON'T change it. On AWS I wrote a comment that I want to present here as well:
The groups were invited, they understood there was no budget, and they agreed to participate. If that’s not acceptable, then they should have declined.

Indeed, had no one agreed to participate under those circumstances, then the Tate might have had to reconsider (hint, hint) either canceling the event or coughing up some cash, depending on how important the event was to the Tate and how embarrassing it would have been to have no one good take them up on the offer…but under these exact circumstances, I reject the notion that the Tate took advantage of anyone. Artists and artist groups who want to change the system have to take a stand…not merely take what they can get, moan about it later, and expect anyone to take them seriously.
The first time artists unite and say NO to such circumstances (and you'll have to unite, because if you don't and some other scabby artists seize the opportunity instead, you're essentially screwed twice), then and only then will anything change. So freaking unite already. Or stop's annoying and entirely ineffective.

Labels: art careers, artist community, artist opportunity


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! The title of your post gave me a good chuckle this morning. hearding cats, I tell you...

Was the anonymous British group one that was invited to the Tate affair, or just some random third party complaining for the sake of others? From your post, it kind of sounds like the latter, which is even more annoying than artists taking the scraps they can get and complaining about it later. After all, the Brits should have the easiest time getting there on their own funds.

5/20/2010 09:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reminded of a personal experience I had being invited to place work in a museum as a freshman in art school (eons ago)-- The museum was having a mardi gras party and asked a class of us students to make costumes based on their permanent collection for the party. Our teacher decided to squeeze the project in to the class schedule, and we all participated.

We were students, no on expected to get paid or even to gain much recognition, and also, it was as if the museum assigned an art project, not our idea of what to exhibit. I recall working some long hard hours after hours at the museum one evening to install our work... and at some point, my teacher suggested to the curator in charge of us that it might be nice if she ordered us some pizza, since we were all basically locked in and couldn't even leave to get some food.

They did, after prompting, feed us, but we were definitely getting this attitude from the curator that it was such a privilege for us to be there, and we really felt not very appreciated for what we were doing.

In short, we were glad to do it and saw it as a good or at least fun opportunity, but we didn't enjoy how the museum staff treated us after we had agreed to the project. I know afterward my teacher had a discussion with the class as to whether or not if it would be worth it to participate again, but I'm not sure what the conclusion was. We students were pretty ambivalent as to whether or not it had been a beneficial learning experience. In that case it had nothing to do with money, but the lack of appreciation for our contribution to their affair.

5/20/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

In that case it had nothing to do with money, but the lack of appreciation for our contribution to their affair.

Actually, it probably had everything to do with money. Where did your teacher expect the curator in charge to get the money to pay for the pizza late at night? It's not like there's a discretionary pile of cash sitting around they can dive into when something pops up.

The curator likely (at least that evening) had to pay for the pizza out of her own pocket. And knowing how little money many curators make, it probably was an unexpected inconvenience.

And the curator probably would have appreciated a private conversation with your teacher rather than being put on the spot like that in front of the students.

Your example actually highlights the expectations at the heart of this issue. Spaces, especially now, have extremely tight budgets. The assumption that some pizza is no big deal (let alone being told to order it) reflects a lack of understanding about how such budgets and their accounting works.

Maybe a space has no business inviting students to participate if they can't afford some pizza, but that's the sort of thing you work out ahead of time...not resent a curator for because, rightly (in my opinion) they can't hide the fact that they're somewhat put off for being unexpectedly treated like a waitress.

5/20/2010 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

I'm working on my manifesto between my job hours and other various projects, but when it's done the whole art world will step back take a deep breathe and say a collective "Wow, you're right!"

But, yeah, it is like herding cats. And I have to agree with Edward, sort of. Artists to have tendency to reach for a mile (kilometer) when given an inch (centimeter). The curator should not have been expected to pay for the pizzas, the class should've pooled their money and/or the teacher should've paid and not put the curator on the spot. Artist collectively need to know when to choose their battles and stay united til the end. We are so divided by media, motive, intention, and desire for individual fame to see the bigger picture.

5/20/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

I agree with Ed for the most part. Once you agree to take part, well, you've agreed. It's not taking advantage if you agree to participate.

BUT. The ethics that guide should be different for a commercial gallery and a publicly funded institution. The Tate has too much money not to ante up for a show. Crazy talk.

I do think that more artists should say no. Publicly embarrassing the Tate goes much further than complaining after 10K people see your work.

Artists need to gain more business skills and foresight. You get hungry, plan ahead. Ask if they'll pay for pizza before you are hungry.

5/20/2010 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Publicly embarrassing the Tate goes much further than complaining after 10K people see your work.

Well put!

5/20/2010 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

BUT, having just read "An Open Letter to Tate" I concur with the sentiment of frustration while still feeling this is not the right battle to choose.

It is, however, good that it has been pointed out and I believe that was the main intention and not some clarion call to quick and strong action.

If both political parties in London are fond of saying how strongly they support the arts, perhaps they should make better efforts at supporting smaller (less marketable, alterative) events rather than just big blockbuster shows. In other words- if the Tate can afford to pay perhaps they should, but they never offered from the beginning so this time around should not be expected too.

5/20/2010 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe a space has no business inviting students to participate if they can't afford some pizza, but that's the sort of thing you work out ahead of time..

Yea, that right there is probably a big part of the problem, especially for artists who maybe don't have as much experience in that kind of setting-- it is hard to know what the situation is going to be like ahead of time, which makes it rather difficult to work out the little details in advance, and for the artists to anticipate who might be responsible for what.
In my example, I don't think it was even clear that the students would be responsible for so much of the installation process. (and I do think the teacher pulled her aside, I just happen to notice those kinds of things more than most)
But you are right about one thing, the curator made it CRYSTAL clear that we were just a big burden. Which didn't sit very well for something we were invited to do, and put a lot of effort into for not as much gain as the artists likely got out of the recent Tate example...
a simple "We really appreciate your efforts" by the curator would have gone a long way towards making that a good experience instead of a sort of negative one, but then, in retrospect, she was probably an underling who was saddled with a job she didn't really want, so it probably was just a burden.

5/20/2010 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if one group of artists refuse collectively to participate in something out of principle there will always be a scabby (hehe) artist willing to do it. I'm not against spaces covering their costs to continue or even turning a little profit. I am against taking advantage of artists. For example real-estate agents and landlords. Artists know all to well how these scamps get together to push artists out farther and farther after the artsits have pioneered the neighborhood or a particular property and made it a cultural destination for the general public as well as (corporate) commercial vendors. There are never enough spaces to show in, never enough curators to organize these things. Calling for artists to band together is usually a miss because artists are for the most part lone wolves.

5/20/2010 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But you are right about one thing, the curator made it CRYSTAL clear that we were just a big burden.

How and what "one thing" am I right about? I never said the curator thought you were a burden...don't push that assessment onto me. All I have to go by is your description, which, I will note, includes a fair bit of expectations that were never promised. Where did those expectations come from?

5/20/2010 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Calling for artists to band together is usually a miss because artists are for the most part lone wolves.

So what's the option then?

5/20/2010 01:38:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Man I am really procrastinating today.

Tate Modern: Maybe someday artists really will unionize and go on occasional strikes. Then the museums will be able to put on shows of edgy “scab” art, complete with angry gangs of coolishly dressed picketers that you have to push past to get into the building.

The pizza incident: I am imagining a version of Blade Runner in which the test question is: You’re a curator in a museum and a group of students come in to work on a project. They say they are hungry. What do you do?

5/20/2010 01:56:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

@Anon 10:34 - You sound like you were a real a stick in the mud when you were a freshman. I mean "mardi gras party" + "costumes" + young, horny boys and girls and you are complaining? I'll bet everyone else remembers it differently. Oh to be young again.

5/20/2010 02:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

So what's the option then?
maybe we could take a page from the sports playbook ...harness the concept of vicariously

Don't know where this concept may lead, but how is it that an athlete can get funding to train for four years to compete in an event where to the victor (only 3 of them mind you), they can claim an ephemeral prize which will be held for but a moment? Why will sponsors back such an effort where the only touch stone is somebodies vicarious celebration of bragging rights? (mes excuses for being very extreme to make the point.)

Maybe art needs to leverage the power of that human capacity, the vicarious experience.

Maybe the focus of art has to wander a bit back onto the art viewers experience? People in this town are going through emotional upheavals because their team (none own a part of the business mind you) just might, just maybe cross your fingers, win another game in the playoffs does sports do that? How does it become center stage by sharing that stage?

Maybe art needs to become seasonal like fashion or the whatever playoffs? Maybe the option is outside how we currently define art?

I think we as part of the art community do too much infighting without realizing we are all part of the same profession. Sure this is just naive meanderings of a romantic artist, but when I look at any other 'market' that is currently successful in this epoch, I think we are somehow missing the boat big time. I know art has always struggled with this dilemma of respect and perceived value, but somehow I think it need not if it would look around at its audience.

5/20/2010 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I haven't read the Art World Salon stuff, but I agree that accepting an invitation, knowing what is and is not offered, then complaining about it after you have been included in a show AT THE TATE is childish. You get an offer like that, you maybe decide to not take that trip you were planning, not to buy a new TV, whatever, because you want to show at the Tate and yes, have 10K people see your work.

It's a little like being invited to a wedding somewhere. Who can afford flying off to someplace for a weekend? Well, you decide how important it is you and whether you can spare the resources. Being in the Tate? PRETTY DAMN IMPORTANT.

And whiny former art school freshman: I'm assuming you got class credit for this project and you got to say (and put on your resume) that you did a project/installation FOR A MUSEUM as an 18 year old (or whatever). Now, you could have been working in your studio, studying for a test, writing a paper late into the night and you would have had to pay for your own pizza.

The entitlement that some artists assume is astonishing and gives the rest of us a bad name.

5/20/2010 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

And whatever happened to resourcefulness? Let's say you're invited to show your work at the Tate but you really can't afford to go and/or to ship your work. How about approaching some local business and saying, if you sponsor my trip, when I come back I will install a show of Tate-curated work in your showroom/ executive offices/equivalent? It's like a matching grant; you're handed an opportunity but you have to use ingenuity to make it work. And yes, it's unfair that some people will have no problem paying their way while others can't afford it. Yep, life is unfair. Deal with it.

5/20/2010 03:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Artists need to gain more business skills and foresight."

Ha, right. And investment bankers need to gain more ethics. And the dodo needs to gain more will to survive.

5/20/2010 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

Serendipitously, perhaps, I was reintroduced to the Artist Pension Trust just before reading your post. The two made me think - maybe we need a union...? Or is there one I don't know about?

5/20/2010 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

"Tate Modern staged No Soul For Sale, a non-profit ‘Festival of Independents’, bringing 70 artists’ collectives, publishers and non-commercial spaces from all over the world to fill its Turbine Hall."

Instead of complaining about this, which I agree is counterproductive, think of it as a mental exercise. Suppose you could manage to scrape up the money to make it to London, maybe even find someone to stay with. (a la attending a friends wedding) Suppose you couldn't afford to ship anything that wouldn't fit in your luggage. What would you do?

I recall at one of last years art fairs here in NYC, there was an artists collective that filled their booth with art they made here from stuff they found on the street, or borrowed.

So someone who has a spot in the Tate Turbine Hall could view it as an opportunity to make an impression within the given circumstances which everyone shared. Given the general responses to the situation, such an effort would have few competitors and have a chance of achieving a degree of success and notoriety.

Just showing up is half the battle.

5/20/2010 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Ok, the TATE thing and the PIZZA deal are 2 different moral problems. In the TATE context, artists are getting a chance to exhibit in a world reknowned museum. That's the payment: a free pass to exhibit at the TATE. If you can't pull it off, don't come.
You're lucky that they simply decide to let this happen, but ultimately this isn't doing anything for the TATE, it's all an opportunity to YOU the artist.

The PIZZA deal is different. The students were promoting the museum collection. They were working for a museum party, freely. The museum offered to hire students, probably in hope to save money from hiring professional designers. That the museum didn't even think of buying PIZZA (which in the cinema world, is widely accepted as the cheapest way to feed a whole crew, this or a pile of chicken wings or general tao chicken) sounds to me like that museum is very badly managed. It's a flagrant bypass at curtesy and it's upsetting to read a defense for institutional cheapness here. In fact, in institutions there is ALWAYS a budget for imprevisible needs, like paying a restaurant to a well-known artist in visit. The curator
will simply get his or her money back from that pot. But simply the fact that they didn't thought of this in advance means "where's the logistic director?". I mean, gosh, your goddamn Mardi Gras happening tomorrow!!

Cedric C

5/20/2010 07:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work for a non-profit. We put all of our agreements with artists in writing. It is clearly spelled out what we as the exhibiting venue will provide and what we expect from the artists. We have the artists sign this agreement.

Does it make a difference in expectations? NO! Apparently none of our printed material is read, even if it is signed. There are always artists who are dumbfounded, insulted, and feel cheated when they are asked for the fees they have already agreed to pay. No matter how much you explain where the money is going (this is a common question from the artists) there is this belief that a gallery is all profit and no overhead. And more to the point, their fees do not cover the entire cost of putting on an exhibition.

Artist seem to have some fantasy about a gallery (commercial and non-profit alike) doing everything for them and all they have to do is show up to the flashing cameras and media interviews. That is, if they show up to the opening at all.

5/20/2010 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Leonard said...

If you cant afford to stay somewhere then sleep in the space during the day as a performance piece and roam the city at night. That might get your point across

But seriously, The opportunity is worth having enough for the artists to find the money surely? If Tate Modern had the choice to either invite me and not pay or not invite me at all, I hope they would invite me even though I would have to beg steal and borrow to get there and only be able to show my smallest pieces. For all those who unite to protest that they don't get a free lunch there will be plenty who work hard and get it for themselves.

I'm not against uniting but this issue doesn't warrant it.

5/20/2010 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I'm not sure I see that much difference between the two examples other than the importance of the institution. I think that the reaction individuals have to the costume project for the Mardi Gras is a good indicator of who is and who isn't suited to a creative lifestyle.

I know young people who would think it would be a cool thing to do and make something out of it. On the other side, the complainers exhibit a lack of enthusiasm for both the process and opportunity to participate which in all odds, won't change as they get older.

5/20/2010 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Artists DO unite over all kinds of issues--co-op galleries (some with the longest and most storied histories are here in NY); women underrepresented in the art world (Guerrilla Girls, WAC); AIDS (Visual Aids); etc. The problem is that there are so many institutions, organizations and individuals who think artists' time is not worth much--and many artists who feel the same way--that it's not possible for everyone to unite about everything all the time.

@ Anonymous 8:11: If you think so little of artists, as your comments clearly suggest, may I suggest you find a job where you would have the pleasure of working with bankers or lawyers who will read your printed material. Also, why is it again that you are asking artists to pay to show in your organization? If you're a non-profit, why aren't YOU working at securing the grants that would cover the costs of an exhibition so that the artists who have been working at their end--making art--can exhibit it?

@Ed: If you ever decide to change the name of your blog, may I suggest "Can of Worms"? ; -)

5/21/2010 12:44:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

Asking artists to unite is like asking the world to be united.

The most selfish people I know are artists, gallerists running up very close. Yet it is up to you, and who'd say no to the Tate? I happened to have just turned down an offer for a Symposium in Egypt: no money and no time to get organized. If I had just one of the two I would definitely have said yes, but no-one (even the Tate) can expect you to give up your life momentarily for free.
Unless, of course, art is your life.

5/21/2010 06:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Anonymous 8:11 @ Joanne Mattera:

Our non-profit exhibition venue is prepared to accept your tax deductible contribution to underwrite the fees that may not be alliviated by the grants we get. Your generous contribution will help to relive the artists we show of any financial obligations.

However, since I do not believe that this is the proper venue to solicit contributions. If Mr. Winkelman agrees to post this, I will be glad, with your permission, to have you added to our mailing list - we maintain both e-mail and snail mail.

5/21/2010 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I have to say that, the non-profit art centres that I know of, only suggest artists to become a member of the gallery, but do no require exhibition fees. They "pay" artists a very small amount (500 to 1000 or a percentage of your material costs) to help finance the project. That's government-funded art centre for you. But I'm in Canada.

Paying to exhibit sounds more like a vanita gallery, which I have nothing against, but it's not the same thing. Maybe in New York art centres are different because space is expensve there.


5/21/2010 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

@Anonymous 8:11:

So it's not enough that you hit up your artists to pay for their own shows. Now you're asking me, also an artist, to give you money. Notice the pattern here? Next you'll be holding an auction and asking even more artists for donations to fund your projects.

I suggest you look to funding sources with actual funds.

5/21/2010 11:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks like Joanne Mattera won't support the artists SHE claims to love so much.

Joanne, if you really love artists, you would give them more than lip service and suggestions to look somewhere else for money. You would actually help with real support they actually need. Buy something from them Joanne or give them a grant so they can make some art without having to dilute their talents and time.

If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem. joanne, you are part of the problem.

5/22/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous 9:46:00...consider this your one warning.

You don't know what Joanne buys or doesn't buy, and you're not furthering the dialog with you speculative accusations...limit your comments to what you do know please or I'll stop approving your comments.

5/22/2010 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cedric C:

I believe the fee paid to artists exhibiting at art centers in Canada is $1400. I think the fee is known as a CARFAC fee.

5/22/2010 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Ed.

Anon, I believe I know who you are, and we have been down this road before (I recognize your writing style). Over and out.

5/22/2010 11:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I was all set to kick some anon ass, but Ed jumped in first. And clearly Joanne can defend herself.

Another thing:

Sometimes you can get (some of) what you want by asking for it, directly and respectfully, rather than sniping about it after the fact. I was in a large, group exhibition at a university museum in the greater bay area. I was one of a few artists who were asked to do a "teaching residency" for 3 hours in the galleries, and $ was not mentioned in the invitation. I wrote to the curator and said I would love to participate, was honored to be asked, etc., but that driving there and back, plus the actual work time would take essentially a whole day and that I believed artists should be paid for their time (I wasn't asking to be paid to have my work in the show). The curator wrote back, very apologetic, and said, of course, you're right, and found some $ to offer as an honorarium. I did the gig, got paid, she got educated, everybody happy. This was a private school, and the museum was obviously fairly well-funded, which isn't always the case, but it doesn't hurt to ask, to communicate your concerns ahead of time, in a nice way.

5/23/2010 03:02:00 PM  

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