Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Politics of Recommendations : Open Thread

It seems an obvious and simple enough thing to do as a dealer or curator. You receive a submission or do a studio visit and are asked, once you note that the work isn't quite right for you, to suggest other galleries or commercial opportunities that might be right for the artist.

Even when this is obvious, though (meaning you can clearly identify which segment of the market the work falls within and know which galleries are specializing in that segment), most dealers and curators preface any suggestions with one of two common caveats. "I'm not sure they're actually looking to increase their roster." or "You might not want to tell them that I said you should approach them."

The first one of those is usually simply true (although it might be an attempt to prepare the artist for a rejection)...few galleries will broadcast the fact that they're looking for a new artist of a particular flavor, per se (although they may inadvertently send telltale signals). They are, after all, in competition with other galleries and, because it can be assumed they feel they can sell said flavor or benefit from it otherwise, that kind of information is best kept to oneself.

The second one is one I've frequently noted, usually to be met with a quizzical look. "You're telling me to believe that you know this gallery is a good one for me to approach, but that I can't drop your name?"

Well, yes. That is what I'm saying.

The reason is that even if I suspect a gallery is looking to beef up this or that part of their program (because I would in their position), the first thought that most dealers have when another dealer recommends an artist to them is "If they're so great, why aren't you working with them, eh? What's the matter with them?" Even when it's obvious that you don't specialize in the type of work that artist makes, unless you know the other dealer and their program very well, they'll tend to be skeptical.

Moreover, most dealers don't like to be put on the spot like that, just in case the recommending dealer had it wrong. Essentially, if a dealer ends up feeling that a colleague wasted their time by sending over an artist who insists that their work is right for your gallery (and why shouldn't they insist? they have it on good authority), it can lead to resentments between dealers. It's a much more comfortable conversation if there's not the added pressure of working through the recommending dealer's opinions or endorsements.


So what do I suggest? You've had a conversation with a dealer who says "Great work...just not right for us." You want to maximize the visit and think it's a good opportunity to ask for a recommendation. Perhaps the best approach (meaning you'll get the most helpful advice) is to eliminate the potential awkwardness of having the dealer go out on a limb by asking them to suggest who they should approach. Instead, turn it around and ask what they think your chances might be with Gallery A, B or C. Make sure these are feasible options if you want real advice (in other words, as I always say, do your homework first).

For example, in response to an artist asking "What do you think about Gallery B?" I'm much more comfortable offering a bit of insider info, such as "Well, Gallery B might be a good fit, and I've heard they're doing studio visits with a lot of new artists," than I am with declarations such as "You should approach Gallery B."

But that's me...what has worked for you an artist or as a dealer in this situation?

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19 Comments:

Blogger Iris said...

you should call this post 'the art of recommendation', seriously, your next book should be titled 'the art of art dealing'. your point makes sense to me, but it's an emotional moment for an artist, even if you tell them their art is great what we hear is the rejection, and we may act silly at that time (putting you on the spot like that is silly).

6/08/2010 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

"what has worked for you an artist or as a dealer in this situation?"

Short answer from this artist- NOTHING.

but off the self-pity train; your advice seems reasonable enough. I wish their was more to it or something a little more concrete.

I'm convinced a large part of this tamping things down, or hesitancy to full-fledged recommendations is both the large amount of qualified artists out there trying to fit in the few small slots and the slow economy contributing to anxiety.

Maybe even this quickfix need from the internet age also leaves some dealers and gallerists out there reluctant to consider taking long-term development chances with "un-tested" (unrepresented, and unconfirmed by academic cannon) artists.

6/08/2010 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I wish their was more to it or something a little more concrete.

Well, sure, but there is no "one size fits all" solution to any of this...the details matter and can't be summarized for every artist in a blog post.

I'm not sure the situations was much different during the boom, though. Most of my thinking on this comes from the response of other dealers to recommendations I had made during the boom.

As for dealers unwilling to take long-term development chances with un-tested artists, that (if true...I'm not so sure, but...) might be more connected to the recession. The sense I get from talking to dealers and collectors is that two things are still selling: big brand name artists and works that fall in the category of being fresh, most frequently discussed in terms of "I've never seen anything like that before" (which, admittedly is very difficult given the global spectrum of the art work that's viewable).

6/08/2010 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Few galleries will broadcast the fact that they're looking for a new artist of a particular flavor, per se (although they may inadvertently send telltale signals)."

Would you please tell us what those telltale signals are?

6/08/2010 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

It's interesting that you say not to mention your name, Ed. I never thought about it this way; in fact, when I've asked for recommendations in the past (as in your post), it was precisely to try and get the "in" you're saying may work against an artist. I've never had someone recommend I contact a gallery that I hadn't already thought of. And all galleries I've worked with have come through recommendations from other artists or galleries (though, as I say this, I realize it was artists and galleries who I was actually working with at the time, rather than galleries who didn't want me, but were passing me off to someone else).

6/08/2010 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

EW, I'm still using the networking advice you gave awhile back, and nothing beats it.

You suggested, as I recall, getting introduced to gallerists and curators by a friend of your mother's that you meet at Passover. This has worked so well that I've started seeking out introductions from friends of other people's mothers too. At weddings, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, even funerals. Much better than art openings, and there's usually free food!

It's the best career advice I've ever gotten. Thanks again!

6/08/2010 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

While I sense your tongue is sort of planted in your cheek there, David...(and that's old advice from a few years ago if I recall correctly)...it remains the best I've ever seen.

It is a business of personal relationships after all...and, well, you can't beat free food. :-)

6/08/2010 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I asked for a recommendation once - decided never again.

I was invited to bring work to a gallery and meet with the owner. I thought it was going well - but then came: "Your work is strong, has merit, good resume... but its not right for us). I asked if he might recommend any galleries, and I could feel the tension rise and he didn't like my asking.

I don't ask anymore - I think an owner/dealer should have a heart and make a recommendation (if they feel they should), before the artist has to ask. Otherwise, best to be professional in the situation, and as Ed says, "eliminate potential awkwardness".

Sorry to post anon. but I'm in gallery search mode with a new body of work that is (honestly) "fresh."

6/08/2010 12:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Russ said...

This all sounds like the proverbial grasping for straws. Asking a gallerist who rejected you for a recommendation seems more than a tad desperate. Sorry for drifting off topic but sometimes I think the lower level of the art world thrives on desperation. Ie. my artist buddies revel in boring anecdotes s.a. the critic's signature in the exhibition guest book, the curator who inadvertantly looked at one's work on the way to neighbor's studio and gave a compliment and the arranged studio visit that did not quite pan out.

6/08/2010 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

I found that many emerging artists have little to no skill with tact and simple manners, perhaps because of the mythology of the art star cliche and the attached devil may cry attitude they think they need to have instead of the ability to just chat. It may also be because of constant let down after let down but each let down is a learning experience and not being able to gather information objectively can create pointless angst. During bushwick open studios. I invited dealers who I had been following (research) and had a dialog with, enough so that a studio visit was appropriate. Artists on my building floor (studios building) asked me how I had convinced them to visit me, and they mostly asked this with, as mentioned earlier, a tongue in cheek sort of way. I was relieved when artist Brian Kenny came by just to chat. I think a lot of artists sell themselves on the idea that curators and primary market art dealers are unapproachable because they don't all look at work that is rudely shoved it in their face which radiates a certain sense of entitlement or from someone they've never met even once. This for the most part was the discussion during #class. Bill said it best when he stated that these visits are a learning experience, whether it's from a dealer, a collector, an artist or someone with no understanding of visual language what so ever.
Conversation should be a cool dance, not a boxing match. This loss of communication might have something to do with your last blog topic "too-much-internet-can-ruin-your-ability...."

6/08/2010 02:41:00 PM  
OpenID thepurposeofart said...

Concerning the politics involved in recommendations, what percentage of artists do you think get their work shown based more upon their connections rather than the strength of their work? Of course the work will always be a huge factor itself, but I can't help but thinking that many artists have their work validated simply through other connections which are secondary or supplementary to the actual work.

This question shares the concerns you expressed a few posts back about collectors buying art for the identity of the artist rather than for the strength of the work alone. I still obviously believe in most cases the work has the final say, but I do know that there are many little art merit badges and feathers in the cap that can enhance how dealers and collectors view work and ultimately these issues always affect what people choose to promote and buy.

6/08/2010 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@russ said...

It was several years ago. I was so much younger then, I'm younger than that now. Asking for a reccom. didn't seem like grasping at all.

What was difficult, was there was research done. BTW, this was not a lower level gallery. There was correspondence with that gallery owner for 2 years, slides, press kit, career updates, etc. Each generating a handwritten response from the owner, always ending with "keep me updated." Then, after sending him an exhibition postcard from a good group show, a phone call, and offer of an appointment to come to the gallery, bring 6-10 paintings, a few drawings, and discuss possibilities.

The appointment went almost 2 1/2 hours. As I said, thought things went well - until he said "not for us at this time." It was unexpected and difficult to hear. It flashed through my mind that maybe I misjudged my work fitting w/the gallery, or misjudged the owner, hence the request.

Your comment sounds Smarmy. Well, let us know how its working for you sometime, when you invest energy and time - schlep your work to the city, up an elevator to a gallery and have it not work out.

Sorry to know you're "looking DOWN at the lower level of the art world that thrives on desperation."
Gee, you must be famous.

6/08/2010 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@5:10:00 ananon,
Did the upper level dealer offer advice and recommendations regarding other galleries?

Are the visual arts the only field where getting a foot in the door and keeping a place in the game is extremely difficult?

Is the career boost from pedigree and connections, like an MFA from Yale and Whitney studio program residency, unique to the visual arts?

Did someone put a gun to your head and force you to become an artist?

6/08/2010 06:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

@Anon5:10 & Anon6:23,

5:10 I feel for you, and I mean that sincerely. Though I've never had quite that close of a call I know enough to know that it sucks bigtime.
Frigging tease it seems. And its easy on their end but hard as hell on the artists' end.

6:23 Art is different than a job. I could get an MBA and find a job somewhere and not feel emotionally defeated if I didn't. It's much less personal. Lately I don't see long-term development mattering to galleries anymore just academic pedigree, which (maybe it needs to be said) might seem fresh, cutting-edge, and whatever but is lacking meaning and wisdom.

"Did someone put a gun to your head and force you to become an artist?" -I find that a tired and repulsive phrase. Many of us are artists because we know this is what we were meant to do.

6/08/2010 08:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Russ said...

Hey Anon 5:10,
I also belong to the club of folks who have experienced courtship and rejection. I suspect that club is not too exclusive. No, I'm not famous, but then I did not go into meat-cutting for fame, just glamour.

Mr. Klevicas,
I gently disagree with your assertion that art differs that much from other jobs. In this economy, an MBA who is not intensely, even passionately involved with work might well join the legions of the unemployed.


I admire artists, especially ones that are under the radar and like all sorts of visual work. However I'm not sure their struggles, while entirely under appreciated, are unique. I still think that hitting up the rejecting gallerist for recommendations+leads is not a good idea.

6/09/2010 12:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anon. 6:23pm
No advice or recommendations were made by the owner.

Getting a foot in the door only gets you a foot injury. You either get through the door or you don't.

Pedigree and connections - career boost? Did you read the 5:10 post? Maybe you should ask Ed.

Did someone put a gun to my head and force me to be an artist? I'd answer, but I know ED would delete my comment.

My 12:58 and 5:10 posts were meant as nothing more than contribution to the content of this post and blog. There's no wallowing in self-pity or sympathy seeking with either of the posts. Just THE FACTS of what happened to me one time, maybe it helps others a little, maybe not.

How about you share something "on topic" from your own experience.

@russ - I agree about not asking for recommendations. As I said, I only asked that one time.

6/09/2010 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Bernard 8:05pm

Thank you and I agree.

@russ 12:47 said: Mr. Klevicas,
I gently disagree with your assertion that art differs that much from other jobs. In this economy, an MBA who is not intensely, even passionately involved with work might well join the legions of the unemployed.

The MBA shows up for work, does their job, and gets a paycheck for it. THAT is the difference.

If you want some enlightenment on how art differs from other jobs - ask an MBA how to make it in the art world.

6/09/2010 04:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Franz said...

Anon 4:58
I suppose lots of deserving artists cannot earn much from their art, while more than a few mediocre MBAs do ok financialy. (I also reckon that most people choose or get sucked into art with the knowledge that it ain't gonna be easy.) I'm slow to pick up on your point about asking an MBA about making it in the art world. Are you suggesting an MBA would be clueless about the art world? If yes, then the MBA might reply, "ask an artist how to manage a corporation?" Jeff Koons could provide answers about manuevering both worlds even though I'm pretty sure he didn't have an MBA when he traded commodities.

6/10/2010 01:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Franz.

Not suggesting MBA's aren't bright and capable. The ones I know are.

MBA wouldn't necessarily be clueless about the art world either - many have knowledge of - some buy/collect art.

Just meant the MBA would probably agree that the art world is different (than other careers/occupations) and more difficult to make a living at. If this isn't true, then there would be more artists making a living from their art, not having to keep a day job, and less of these kinds of topics on blog.

This isn't to imply that MBA's, engineers, tradesman, lawyers, or other career paths don't experience a kind of difficulty (finding employment) at times. But it still comes back to "employment", which isn't available to artists in the same way.

6/10/2010 11:41:00 AM  

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