Thursday, June 24, 2010

Not Even Nominated | The Politics of Being Selected | Open Thread

Sorry for the silence yesterday...had to fly to Miami (because it's just not HOT enough in New York!!!)...and to make matters worse, I get back to New York just to learn that once again, I have been snubbed by the power brokers who select the Top 200 Collectors of the World over at ArtNews. I mean, Bambino and I bought more art last year than perhaps any other year in our lives...what do we have to do to make the list???

Seriously, though, every year the list comes out I try to imagine what it must feel like for the collectors who fall in the upper echelon of the field. Are they notified ahead of time? Do they anxiously scan the list and then, not finding their names, think perhaps it was simply mis-alphabetized? Do they call Milton Esterow and demand to know who they have to sleep with to finally see their name in the Summer issue?

I am, of course, projecting what it feels like from a gallery's point of view when the question is getting one of your artists into a prestigious museum group exhibition or securing a spot at that choice art fair. Further, I understand that this is not all that different from how artists awaiting news on grants and exhibition opportunities feel. So in one sense, it's comforting to think that everyone participating in the art world shares this same just-open-the-d*mn-envelope-already anxiety at some point or other.

The politics of such selection processes remains the part of the art world I find most obnoxious, to be totally honest, but the more experience I get, the more I realize it's not quite what it seems from the outside. While many of us (especially those of us with a weakness for trashy spy novels) tend to assume there's some vast conspiracy behind our being overlooked at times or an arch rival on the committee determined to rain down ruin on your head, the truth is generally far less intriguing. Having been in the position from time to time to help select among the ocean of applicants for some event, I've never once seen naked politics actually work. I've seen it attempted, but...most such committees have a series of checks and balances in place to maneuver around such efforts.

So what does it mean, though, when you're convinced an honor should be yours but the committee doesn't see it the same way? This is where networking plays an important role. Now I know that networking might strike some as a euphemism for "politics," but it can also be thought of as merely "education" (introducing the decision makers to the merit of your efforts so that when your application comes before them again, they're able to make a much more informed choice).

Oh...who am I kidding? It boils down to good old fashioned "sucking up."

Er...uh...I mean, nothing succeeds like success. Perhaps the least painful way to campaign for your desired reward is to ensure the decision makers are (casually, of course) aware of your triumphs. The best way to secure those triumphs, is, as always, to educate yourself and to work your ass off. When that doesn't get your name on the list, well, there's always muffin baskets and full page "For your consideration..." ads.

Consider this an open thread on the politics of selection processes.

Labels: art collecting, open thread, selection process


Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

Ed, are you blatantly saying we should all lick asses?

6/24/2010 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well, like I always do, what I'm trying to say is educate yourself and work your ass off...

if that doesn't work, though, just understand that others out there ARE licking asses...

what path you take is of course up to you.

6/24/2010 10:23:00 AM  
Anonymous JP said...

I've always loved art world conspiracy stories.
The only people who get into shows are the people who have the right gallery, know the juror/curator, and went to the same middle school as (insert person).

I believe that business/psych wonks call it availability bias.

6/24/2010 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

One thing that does NOT make a "chooser" want to choose you is an attitude that you've been unjustly passed over or discriminated against. Sometimes your suspicions are projected and become a reality. Don't go into it giving off an "I know they'd never in a million years pick me, but here's my application anyway" vibe because people pick up on that.

What is "availability bias"? Does that just mean already being on someone's radar helps?

6/24/2010 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally I'm always skeptical of those "Top- whatever" lists, especially when they involve the word "Best", such as "Best cities/schools..."
More often than not, their analysis and the specific criteria they choose for coming up with the rankings are highly debatable and less than rigorous. Even when it's something more numbers based like the "Top Collector" list, what kind of numbers are we talking about-- dollars spent, number of items purchased, do they take into account art sold, and how do they get all of these numbers, anyway, without holes like swiss cheese???

Probably case in point why you are not on the list, Ed-- not taking into consideration that with your visionary eye, one day all the artists in your collection become rich and famous and their value will SOAR from the purchase price you paid in 2009/10!


6/24/2010 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger William said...


Quick response. Jen and I just finished curating the Vox Populi 6 show. Of the 426 applicants, collectively we knew four of the artists. Unfortunately, none of them made it into the show based on our criteria, which was about choosing our favorite work, not necessarily the best work, although we hope it is good work. That's how we will be judged.

During the process we looked at some of the artist's statements (which actually never helped any of them sadly making me think they should be left blank if nothing specific can be said) but not the resumes. We don't know where they went to school, where they may shown, or any of those external factors. It was just whether or not the work captivated us in some way according to our shared subjectivity. It was really that simple.

Jen fretted maybe we wouldn't select enough Philadelphia based artists, but it turned out they were well represented. We also share the anxiety of having to tell our friends, "sorry, we didn't select your work for the show."

At this point, I've had my share of rejections from the survey shows and I understand how it feels. Each rejection helps me understand how and where my work fits in, and well, where it doesn't. Perhaps I've offended too many institutional curators, and I'll have to wait for the next wave whose choices I didn't question so pointedly.

At the end of this jurying process, I realize I'm much happier making my own work than selecting that of others. I don't envy the job of curators.

6/24/2010 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous JP said...

Oriane, look up Availability Heuristic on teh wikipedia.

It boils down to "if you can think of it easily, it must be important." The knee jerk stuff- College! Gallery! Location! Friends! must be the reason, instead that it didn't fit into the show or it wasn't your best work.

I worked with a juror who worried about too many trees in a show. If your work had trees in it, you were at a genuine disadvantage, but not if didn't have a gallery. She never once asked what school you went to either.

6/24/2010 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous brandon said...

Commenting to William's point, I had a close friend in his graduating year at Yale sit on the review panel of applicants. He went to bat for me hard when my slides came up. After the hard sell Mr. Crewdson said, Well what does he need us for then?

I was wait listed.

6/24/2010 06:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Used to be you just had to kiss ass. So now you have to lick it? Yuck.

6/24/2010 07:39:00 PM  
Anonymous elvis said...

To me, Art News collector issue reads like a society page thing and does not seem that bigga whup. Don't museum purchases, overall sales, and reviews mean more to a gallerist than a collector honor?
Does "top collector" designation help a gallery person much?

6/24/2010 09:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Ultimately, if you're going to hesitate to have me in your show, than I'm doing something wrong. My goal with art is to have the audience instantly grasp its value, or part of its value.

You can pity me all you want, I know I will get there (if I remain healthy).


Cedric CV

6/24/2010 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jen Dalton said...

I agree with most of what William said, but for me I'm not sure I'd say that as a juror I chose my "favorite" work. As we went through the hundreds of submissions (hate that word!) we saw that a lot of the work that we liked had interesting relationships with each other, and a show started to coalesce out of that energy and those relationships that we started to really like, as a show. Then we had to exclude some other good work because it didn't fit that show. It was hard work and I hope we did a good job. I, too, am glad I am not a curator.

6/24/2010 10:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

As a gallerist, do you ever look at lists such as this and say, hmmm the market is moving towards Spanish Old masters so then that is what we'll bias the gallery towards this year(or Spanish old masters! - we'll be counter-intuitive and offer more exposure towards Postwar art and catch the next wave...)

Does your programming reflect your current clients appreciations or does it follow your "heart" or your extrapolation of historical perspectives or does it take into considerations lists like this one that show trends in art acquisitions? Or is it what you hint at, that selections are based upon what one already knows?

(selection criteria)

6/25/2010 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Whooo Ed on Morning Edition!

6/25/2010 07:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Oy, I hadn't realized that the voque was to be really international (tran-state) and to claim more then one city as your home residence~ are we becoming nomads again?

6/25/2010 07:47:00 AM  

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