Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer Break

In reality, the gallery is gearing back up again (there really is no such thing as "closed in August"), but we're gonna try to make the most of the last two weeks of summer, so blogging will resume after Labor day.

Note: Although I highly recommend it, this book is not exactly light summer reading, but I've always thought this cover photo perfectly symbolized the unbridled joy of summer...a time to be adventurous, a little bit dumb, perhaps, but free and fearless.

Now get outside and play! (Just be sure and bring Band-Aids.)

Labels: break

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Identity Pride

This one seems simple to me. Over at Sully's, Andrew re-posts what must have struck some member of his Daily Beast team as a worthwhile question:

Lisa McInerney is happy to be Irish. This kindles Norm Geras' interest:

The question is this: how can one be proud or glad of one's identity without implying the judgement that 'your' people - Irish, Jews, Italians, whoever - are better than other people? Suppose you thought that the group you belonged to was worse than everyone else. How could you be glad to belong there? And if they were neither worse nor better but just different, what would be the source of your comparative feeling that belonging to this group was especially good?

That's the only rationale for pride? The implication that you are better than other people? I've never understood what it is about pride that implies a binary situation to people. What if you're proud because, against terrible odds, you managed to survive some threat to your very existence (yes, I suppose that could be viewed as making you better than other peoples who were made extinct, but...). What if you're proud because your nation, although not the most powerful or wealthiest in the world, has a rich history of art and culture that other people appreciate. What if you're proud because your nation stood up against the extreme pressure of other nations to join in a war that proved to be misguided? Pride is a multifaceted emotion.

It seems silly to reduce it to some all-or-nothing equation. Just because you're proud of what you have accomplished does not, to my mind, automatically imply you feel you're better than other people. Just that you're warmly pleased with your own contributions and/or results in this human marathon.

A more interesting question to me is what does it mean to feel shame about one's nation? Or even more interesting, a mixture of pride and shame.

I personally am quite proud to be an American. As that quintessentially proud Irishman, Bono, reportedly once said about my country, it has perhaps the best and worst of everything. But I've never been so proud as to be blind to America's faults.

I can't help but think this insistence on a binary approach to pride reveals a significant difference between progressive and conservative mind sets. I've always felt a bit bad for the "America: Love It or Leave It" crowd, pitying their inability to hold a more complex view of their nation in their heads. What's wrong with "America: Love It and Work to Improve It"?

Indeed, I find being blind to America's faults extremely lazy, if not un-patriotic. Asserting that you shouldn't participate in criticizing your own nation (i.e., participating in the ongoing work of forming an ever more perfect union) feels to me like the guy who insists he wants his lawn to look "wild" when he really just wants to have another beer and watch the game, rather than get up and push around the mower for an hour or so. But being "proud" of your unkempt yard isn't really fooling anyone. They can see it for what it really is.

A "comparative feeling that belonging to this group was especially good" doesn't to my mind suggest you're unable to appreciate why someone else would feel the same way about the group they belong to. And it's only by limiting one's thinking here to a lazy binary system that one could conclude it implies you look down on other people in any way that truly harms anyone. So long as you remain open to seeing your nation's faults, as well, a bit of pride is good and healthy.

Labels: Art and politics, identity

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Freedom From Choice Is What You Need :: Open Thread

A fascinating article by John Tierney appeared in The New York Times Magazine that discussed "decision fatigue": how the more decisions you're forced to make the worse you get at doing so. The article begins with the results of a study that revealed that what time of day prisoners appeared before a parole board had a huge impact on whether or not they were granted freedom. The earlier the parole board meeting was, the much great the chances were the judges would let the prisoner walk:
The judges’ erratic judgment was due to the occupational hazard of being, as George W. Bush once put it, “the decider.” The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

No wonder Bush let Cheney make so many of his executive decisions for him! :-p

In study after study, the article reveals how researchers have shown that 1) making many decisions wears down not only your energy level, but your will power; and 2) that poor people actually have a greater drain on their will power (due to lack of resources to choose more casually) and that results in a vicious cycle of behaviors that reinforce poverty.

Ironically (and one of the reasons dieting remains perhaps the single toughest will power challenge for people otherwise in control of their lives), the fastest cure for decision fatigue seems to be an injection of glucose:
[R]esearchers set out to test something called the Mardi Gras theory — the notion that you could build up willpower by first indulging yourself in pleasure, the way Mardi Gras feasters do just before the rigors of Lent. In place of a Fat Tuesday breakfast, the chefs in the lab at Florida State whipped up lusciously thick milkshakes for a group of subjects who were resting in between two laboratory tasks requiring willpower. Sure enough, the delicious shakes seemed to strengthen willpower by helping people perform better than expected on the next task. So far, so good. But the experiment also included a control group of people who were fed a tasteless concoction of low-fat dairy glop. It provided them with no pleasure, yet it produced similar improvements in self-control. The Mardi Gras theory looked wrong. Besides tragically removing an excuse for romping down the streets of New Orleans, the result was embarrassing for the researchers. Matthew Gailliot, the graduate student who ran the study, stood looking down at his shoes as he told [his professor, the renown social psychologist Roy F.] Baumeister about the fiasco.

Baumeister tried to be optimistic. Maybe the study wasn’t a failure. Something had happened, after all. Even the tasteless glop had done the job, but how? If it wasn’t the pleasure, could it be the calories? At first the idea seemed a bit daft. For decades, psychologists had been studying performance on mental tasks without worrying much about the results being affected by dairy-product consumption. They liked to envision the human mind as a computer, focusing on the way it processed information. In their eagerness to chart the human equivalent of the computer’s chips and circuits, most psychologists neglected one mundane but essential part of the machine: the power supply. The brain, like the rest of the body, derived energy from glucose, the simple sugar manufactured from all kinds of foods. To establish cause and effect, researchers at Baumeister’s lab tried refueling the brain in a series of experiments involving lemonade mixed either with sugar or with a diet sweetener. The sugary lemonade provided a burst of glucose, the effects of which could be observed right away in the lab; the sugarless variety tasted quite similar without providing the same burst of glucose. Again and again, the sugar restored willpower, but the artificial sweetener had no effect. The glucose would at least mitigate the ego depletion and sometimes completely reverse it. The restored willpower improved people’s self-control as well as the quality of their decisions: they resisted irrational bias when making choices, and when asked to make financial decisions, they were more likely to choose the better long-term strategy instead of going for a quick payoff. The ego-depletion effect was even demonstrated with dogs in two studies by Nathan DeWall at the University of Kentucky. After obeying sit and stay commands for 10 minutes, the dogs performed worse on self-control tests and were also more likely to make the dangerous decision to challenge another dog’s turf. But a dose of glucose restored their willpower.

Tierney points out the bad news that this reveals for dieters:

The discoveries about glucose help explain why dieting is a uniquely difficult test of self-control — and why even people with phenomenally strong willpower in the rest of their lives can have such a hard time losing weight. They start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower. As their willpower weakens late in the day, they need to replenish it. But to resupply that energy, they need to give the body glucose. They’re trapped in a nutritional catch-22:

1. In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.

2. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.

Obviously, the more you succeed (whether in the corporate world, or an art career, or simply in raising a family to thrive), the more decisions you're faced with. Even if you're not all that successful, but simply trying to become so, the decisions you're forced to make keep piling up. I used to think the stress I feel was coming from the weight the possible results of my decisions (what if I'm choosing incorrectly??). This article suggests the stress is also from the process of just making decisions themselves, regardless of whether the consequences would really be so dire:
[One study] was conducted at German car dealerships, where customers ordered options for their new sedans. The car buyers — and these were real customers spending their own money — had to choose, for instance, among 4 styles of gearshift knobs, 13 kinds of wheel rims, 25 configurations of the engine and gearbox and a palette of 56 colors for the interior.

As they started picking features, customers would carefully weigh the choices, but as decision fatigue set in, they would start settling for whatever the default option was. And the more tough choices they encountered early in the process — like going through those 56 colors to choose the precise shade of gray or brown — the quicker people became fatigued and settled for the path of least resistance by taking the default option. By manipulating the order of the car buyers’ choices, the researchers found that the customers would end up settling for different kinds of options, and the average difference totaled more than 1,500 euros per car (about $2,000 at the time). Whether the customers paid a little extra for fancy wheel rims or a lot extra for a more powerful engine depended on when the choice was offered and how much willpower was left in the customer.

This is potentially evil science, but I totally understand the impulse to choose default. There are days when, quite frankly, I'm tempted to just let a Magic 8 Ball make my late afternoon decisions for me.

Most fascinating--and this probably plays a role in the much touted findings that intense computer use actually rewires one's brain, making it more difficult to concentrate (kind of the same feeling you have when you simply can't choose anymore)--is how access to the internet actually increases your risk of decision fatigue:
We have no way of knowing how much our ancestors exercised self-control in the days before BlackBerrys and social psychologists, but it seems likely that many of them were under less ego-depleting strain. When there were fewer decisions, there was less decision fatigue. Today we feel overwhelmed because there are so many choices. Your body may have dutifully reported to work on time, but your mind can escape at any instant. A typical computer user looks at more than three dozen Web sites a day and gets fatigued by the continual decision making — whether to keep working on a project, check out TMZ, follow a link to YouTube or buy something on Amazon.
I recall periods of my life when there were fewer choices to be made (when I lived in other countries and my shopping or entertainment and/or Internet options were much more limited). I do recall reading more (something I can't do if mentally exhausted), writing more (yes, I know, I write too much now), and generally feeling more creative. Fewer decisions actually led to better decisions, more consistently.

What that all means may be entirely moot. I can attempt to limit my minor decision-making needs (by following Einstein's example, perhaps, and always wearing the exact same outfit every day), but I really can't see the number of choices I'll need to make over the next decade or so, at least, becoming fewer. Quite the opposite.

Speaking of Einstein, though, I saw this quote by him the other day that may just hold a viable key to dealing with the increasing mountain of decisions:
“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”
I'm not sure why it is, but wonderment (choosing to view the things around you as miracles) seems to work in much the same way a jolt of glucose does to restore the power and will to keep on deciding. Consider this an open thread on making better decisions.

Labels: decision making, open thread

Monday, August 15, 2011

All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Ads on MTV

A while ago Murat and I noticed a Transatlantic difference about monsters.

The US, we concluded after a multi-week Netflix scarefest, seems obsessed with vampires (Twilight, True Blood, Fright Night, etc.), while the UK seems more obsessed with zombies (28 Days, Shawn of the Dead, etc.). All of which suggested to me that what we Yanks fear most is sex, and what the Brits fear most is civil unruliness. But, well, that's not exactly my point here.

Rather, I thought of this disparity again when listening to and reading comments on what drove the looting hordes of youth in the UK to smash windows and take what they clearly hadn't exchanged cash for. Phrases like "scum," "copycat cretins," "pure criminality" etc. kept cropping up. The common thread being terms suggesting people who had started off as human but ended up mindlessly evil and violent. Something more like, well, a zombie.

Even worse than the popular diagnoses were proposed solutions like this:
Don't pander to them. Use police snatch squads, grab them, and if they are not born in the UK then deport them. If they are then off they go to join the british army in Afganistan to be used as IED detectors and dummy targets, to be fair that is all they are worth to any society!
To my ear, this comment approaches Cameron et al.'s eviction solution in tone if not severity. Moreover, putting people already willing to break into shops out on the streets (and therefore even more on the fringe of society and desperate) doesn't exactly sound like a recipe for ending looting to me, but...

I understand full well that the looting made no sense to the average (meaning, employed) London adult. And in that way, the head shaking understandably led to "us" versus "them" declarations. They are animals. They are worthless scum. What else could they be? I would never do that.

More accurately, though, the looters are...there's no escaping it...products of their culture.

Not only were many observers quick to point out that children of immigrants were few and far between among the rioters (meaning that the looters were mostly children of British parents, despite the mainly xenophobic proposals for reparation), but as Mike notes in a truly staggering analysis over at Critical Press [h/t ondine], children are very, very receptive...they will learn what society teaches them:

Rampaging through the communities they grew up in, they take out their frustration at a lack of occupation or engagement on the shops and businesses that provide employment in their area, they smash-and-grab the luxury items which are supposedly the fruit of all the social climbing, work and effort our society enshrines. Their generation’s grand gesture of disobedience is straight-up Western-style consumer-capitalism, pure and uncut, direct from the amygdala. Take whatever you can get your hands on for yourself and trash the commons with impunity. They are not inhuman, they are not confused, they are not wrong – they’re us, except they’re doing it here and with no sense of irony. Protest 2.0, London-style.

In Cairo, during the uprising, it was the Egyptian youth who linked arms to protect the Museum of Antiquities, the cultural heritage of their long and respected history. Here in London, if any of these kids have been to a museum, it was after being dragged there by force during a field trip (if their school still had the budget or in fact a subject which included things you’d find in a museum). While there, they glumly trudged the halls, occasionally looking over the dusty artefacts of the past with dull eyes. After all, with a smartphone that has wi-fi and full colour interactive gaming, with Twitter, with Facebook, with Bebo, Myspace, Blackberry Messenger and YouTube, how the hell is a museum supposed to hold a young person’s attention unless they’ve been taught to respect and cherish a slow offering up of knowledge and beauty directly proportionate to the attention one pays? These people have been marketed at since birth. They have been groomed in a manner more insidious than the tactics of the most hungry-eyed paedophile. Their sense of self, their very existence, has been mediated by the economy into which they have been prepped for entry.

From personalised ringtones to Celebrity Big Brother, every possible act of engagement or empowerment has been a commercial transaction for them. Every sub-culture becomes an economic sector. Anything they were taught was only on the syllabus because of its utility in the “knowledge economy”. Who needs to know history or facts when there’s Wikipedia? Who needs maths when there’s a calculator? Who needs handwriting and spelling when there’s Microsoft Office and spell check? Who needs music or art classes when there’s no demand in the marketplace for those skills? Or should I say skillz?

They have been raised as consumers, not as citizens. Consumers have gadgets. Consumers have the respect of business and government because their jealously guarded (and coveted) money is the closest thing they will ever possess to the keys to the kingdom. Even the university education which their parents received for free or for £1000 a year will now cost them £9000 a year if they can get into a university with what little useful knowledge the state allows them to have for their parents’ taxes. After all, don’t we need competition to deliver the best results to the consumer?

Given the opportunity to take to the streets, they come out in force as consumers, not citizens. Their protest is against their lack of spending power, their lack of a flatscreen television, the meddlesome need of government to extract taxation from them for services from which (if they reach their dotage) they will never benefit. They are the purest incarnation of our free market, consumer ideology. They are competing against the law for the best results a consumer can ever hope for, which is something for nothing. And they are winning. [all emphasis mine]

Indeed, the notion that what really fueled the rioters was an unbalanced consumerist culture was echoed in an article by Zoe Williams over at The Guardian:

Between these poles ["a generation with a false sense of entitlement, created by the victim culture fostered, and overall leniency displayed, by the criminal justice system" vs. "a natural human response to the brutality of poverty"] is a more pragmatic reading: this is what happens when people don't have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can't afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it. [Alex] Hiller [a marketing and consumer expert at Nottingham Business School], takes up this idea: "Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you're dealing with a lot of people who don't have the last two, that contract doesn't work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they're rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can't afford it."

The type of goods being looted seems peculiarly relevant: if they were going for bare necessities, I think one might incline towards sympathy. I could be wrong, but I don't get the impression that we're looking at people who are hungry. If they were going for more outlandish luxury, hitting Tiffany's and Gucci, they mighth seem more political, and thereby more respectable. Their achilles heel was in going for things they demonstrably want.
Things they have been programmed their entire lives to want, that is.

In his wildly popular book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," Robert Fulghum makes a compelling argument that good citizenship is the only thing really required to make democracy run well and, in general, a person a productive (presumably happy) member of society. Good citizens make for good neighbors, good soldiers, good politicians, good parents, etc., etc. If you internalize some simple tenets--that it's "good to share," "good to clean up your own mess," "good to put things back as you found them," "good to play fair,"and it's "bad to steal," "bad to hit people," "bad to hurt other people," etc. --you'll get along so much better with everyone else your entire life.

But when society's emphasis shifts from raising good citizens to instead raising good consumers, it can't be much of a surprise that good citizenship is a victim of that transition. But beyond that, trying to follow the "good citizen" path and adhering to the "best practices" for affecting change has been a bit of a joke as of late. As Mike notes, the context for the riots was one in which other means of expressing dissent have fallen on very deaf ears:
However did these young people acquire such a bizarre combination of hatred and brand loyalty? How indeed.

As for where this unexpected outpouring of violence came from, the establishment need only cast an eye over the recent past. The dissenters in this country has tried every possible way of reclaiming power. We marched against the invasion of Iraq in our millions. We marched, petitioned and protested against war, against spending cuts, against privatisation, against crony capitalism, against bank bailouts, against globalisation, against corporate tax cuts, against job losses, against pretty much everything we wanted stopped. Did it change a damn thing? Did it stop our government from doing whatever the hell they wanted? Hell no. We even voted against all the major parties in the last election and ended up getting two of them in power instead of none.

In response to the latest raft of austerity measures, students came out and protested for a cause, en masse. It got messy, but hey, nothing like this. Response? Jowly outrage and zero engagement with the demands of the vox populi.

So now, after every avenue has been explored by the public consciousness of this country in an effort to make itself heard, it has come to this. Every one of these thieving magpies on the streets of London tonight is carrying with them a piece of our collective humanity. The frustration at not being listened to, which is even worse than not being heard. The anger at a system that functions in isolation, unaccountable, unresponsive and fundamentally undemocratic. The loneliness of having no community, of families working ceaselessly to meet their obligations as the rising tide drowns everyone without a yacht. The cognitive dissonance of having a millionaire Prime Minister tell us we’re all in it together before flying off to an arms fair in the Arab Emirates as a sales rep for UK Plc, only to now come home early from his family holiday to decry violence.

This is simply the newest manifestation of a festering sore as old as the hills, as untended as a gangrenous limb. There will be other manifestations, make no mistake. If the response of the power structure is to entrench itself, to bring in draconian public order measures and to ignore the underlying root of the problem, this will happen again, only worse and worse as time goes on.
Many of the conversations I've had here about the London riots have lead to the question: Could the same thing happen here, in the US? Could gangs of disaffected, bored, unemployed teens take to the streets to proclaim their self-worth via the only means they're taught to believe they can prove it exists: wearing the right labels, having the right toys, etc? It's foolish to think that waves of what Mike terms "violent shopping" couldn't happen here.

After all, "shopping" for its own sake is viewed as a good thing in the US. When we average Americans asked our leaders what we could do to help in the aftermath of 9/11, the message we heard was "go shopping." [With all fairness to former President Bush, he never actually said that in those exact terms, but he didn't correct the mis-attribution either]. By the time popular culture got a hold of the message, it had morphed into "shopping is a patriotic duty."

Fortunately, another, more rational meme is rising here, thanks in no small part to the wisdom of the quintessential American success story, one Warren Buffet. Apparently the wealth disparity in the US has become so extreme, it's embarrassing even those benefiting from it:

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Mr. Buffet argues for a more e pluribus unum approach to the economy:

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

The widespread hopeless he sees as the result of the current path will not be good for America, or for business. A bit of shared sacrifice can help stem that from happening.

Good citizenship has its rewards, for everyone.

Labels: economy, politics

Friday, August 12, 2011

Artists' Websites

I often lecture that there's no reason an artist shouldn't have a web presence in the age of blogger. When the discussion comes down to brass tacks, though, (i.e., what should an artist's website look like), I feel the priorities should be:
  1. Good, large images of the artwork
  2. See item #1
  3. Easy navigation (skip the bells and whistles)
  4. Good , easily found contact information
  5. A bio, a CV, a bibliography
  6. See item #1
Apparently I'm much easier to please on this front than some others, though. In response to a series of posts on why Restaurant websites suck so much, a web designer unleashed on artists over at Andrew Sullivan's:

From my perspective, as a web programmer, if you really want to see some reliably lousy websites, then look no further than those that artists (painters, sculptors and the like) put up for themselves. They may not have the "discoey" music gaudiness of some restaurant websites, but as far as everything one shouldn't do when making a website goes, they hit all the major notes:

Using a 10 different fonts on one web page? Check.

Having a bunch of broken links on the front page? Check.

Gaudy color schemes (you know, because the website is an "extension of their work")? Check.

Uploading image files that are way too large, thereby causing any visitor to the website to have to wait ten minutes for a page to come up because each work sample is 4 megabytes? Check.

Updating the website once every six years? Check.

Putting their personal Hotmail address on the front page of the website, thereby contributing to the world-wide junk mail scourge (and not to mention making themselves look like a hack)? Check.

Forgetting to pay their web hosting fees, so that half the time their website is "down for maintenance"? Check.

Oh, and this might be the worst ... taking their visitors' emails and including them in large, un-blind-copied show announcement emails? Great big check.

The list goes on, but aside from the bad aesthetic and bad internet manners, they're lousy as customers - a lot of micro-managing, obsessive-compulsive attention to every unimportant detail (I had a woman once call me and complain that a line break was 2 millimeters lower than where it should have been ... she was holding a ruler up to her computer screen), fickleness, and of course the lack of ability to pay for any of the work they've just demanded too much of your time for.

I learned these lessons long ago and don't service many artists anymore. Unless they pay in advance and have a day job.

"[S]he was holding a ruler up to her computer screen" ... priceless.

Again, though, what I personally want to see at an artist's website are good, large images of the work. Everything else comes a distant third.

Labels: artists websites

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dark Ages Horizon

Few things are hotter than the Renaissance these days, it seems. In seeking to diagnose what ails us, pols and critics alike are looking back to those days of flourishing individualism and artistic (not to mention financial) innovation.

Over at The Guardian, Jonathan Jones connects the dots between Michelangelo et al.'s masterworks and banking innovations by his patrons the Medici:
The Medici are among the most renowned art patrons in history, and with good reason. But here's a fascinating thing: they are also among the architects of the modern economy. They were the greatest bankers of their age, and the Medici bank pioneered crucial aspects of modern finance. They were "foreign exchange dealers" who enacted a "transfiguration of finance", points out the financial historian Niall Ferguson. When we look at Botticelli's Venus, we are looking at money.
Let's make a note of that, for future reference: Renaissance art = money.

Jones goes on, though, to explain what the Florentines seem eventually to have forgotten:
It's a strange irony that Renaissance Florence was built by capitalist innovation, but went out of its way to make money invisible in its art. Politics, not money, dominated this city's culture. The ultimate beneficiary of Medici patronage was Michelangelo, who shared both the Medici instinct for making money and the Medici determination to ignore it. His Moses really has loftier things than money in mind.

The absence of financial imagery in Florentine Renaissance art may even explain why the city went into cultural decline after 1529. The later Medicis completed the change from merchants to aristocrats and even royals. As they made themselves Dukes of Tuscany and intermarried with European royal families, the art and architecture of Florence gradually lost its edge. The moral might be that if money makes art, snobbish disdain for money can kill it.

I'd venture the reverse is true as well. Disdain for art (for nurturing a truly creative, independent spirit) can kill the wider cultural dialog that leads to economic advances as well. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The Renaissance is a hot button topic in the political realm as well, as the LA Times' Christopher Knight explains:

The economy is not what ails us today. No, what ails Americans is what Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and their artistic spawn have wrought in the culture, starting 500 years ago. The Renaissance has dragged us all down.

Tea party queen and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is convinced that America is sinking into tyranny. Why? In a remarkable profile of the candidate appearing in the Aug. 15 issue of the New Yorker magazine, the artistic flowering of the Italian Renaissance takes a beating for having done away with the god-fearing Dark Ages.

Or as Knight neatly summarizes, Bachmann subscribes to the notion that "the [Renaissance] artist made the ungodly error of putting humanity at the center of time and space." With the implied lesson being that should that not happened, should God have remained at the center of time and space, life would be better.

There's plenty of historical evidence adherents to such ideas need to ignore to not have their heads explode, none the least of which is how the Renaissance opened up the dialog that would permit Martin Luther to, you know, actually create Bachmann's family's religion. Not to mention, as Knight snarks:
Darn that Enlightenment! Next thing you know it will be birthing truly dangerous ideas, like secular democracy.
But let's circle back to Jones' observation. Not only did the Enlightenment birth secular democracy, it birthed what I will submit is an even more sacred institution in the eyes of Bachmann and her backers: modernized means of making money.

Yet, even this assertion requires ignoring other historical evidence. As Stephen Greenblatt recently described in a brilliant piece he penned for The New Yorker (paywall), modern ideas about art and humanity were birthed well before the Renaissance:
Lucretius, who was born about a century before Christ, was emphatically not our contemporary. He thought that worms were spontaneously generated from wet soil, that earthquakes were the result of winds caught in underground caverns, that the sun circled the earth. But, at its heart, “On the Nature of Things” persuasively laid out what seemed to be a strikingly modern understanding of the world. Every page reflected a core scientific vision—a vision of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe—imbued with a poet’s sense of wonder. Wonder did not depend on the dream of an afterlife; in Lucretius, it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. And this recognition was the basis for the way he thought we should live—not in fear of the gods but in pursuit of pleasure, in avoidance of pain.
Fortunately, after being lost for centuries, Lucretius' poem was discovered in 1417 (yes, the dawn of the Enlightenment) by a monk named Poggius Florentinus (or Poggio the Florentine). As Stephen Greenblatt explains:
Even a quick glance at the first few pages of the manuscript would have convinced Poggio that he had discovered something remarkable. What he could not have grasped, without carefully reading through the work, was that he was unleashing something that threatened the whole structure of his intellectual universe. To people haunted by images of the bleeding Christ, gripped by a terror of Hell, and obsessed with escaping the purgatorial fires of the afterlife, Lucretius offered a vision of divine indifference. [emphasis mine]
So Bachmann needs to blame Lucretius for the pending, godless tyranny that that threatens us. Only, again, that would also indict the political system that produced his mind know, Democracy. Leaving serious questions to my mind about what Bachmann truly believes in.

Labels: Art and politics, renaissance

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stepping Outside Yourself || Open Thread

I probably don't have time this morning to do this topic justice, so I'll just attempt to initiate a conversation I assume may require a fair bit of additional research on my part to even begin to grasp its parameters.

In a conversation with Jennifer Dalton last week (whose new exhibition opens our season in September!), we agreed that what still widely passes as the "universal" in fine art contexts in the West is in fact predominantly Euro-centric and paternalistic. Moreover, when folks argue that this or that work isn't "universal" enough for them to really appreciate it, what they most frequently mean is that it strays too far from their own private worldview, not really that the vast majority of the rest of the world can't easily access it. (This remains one of the biggest challenges to a truly global art market, by the way....ideas that seem universal to many of us in the West seem highly alien to collectors in the East and vice versa.)

This notion of our self-centric definition of the "universal" struck me again while reading a review of a few books on a topic that has captured my imagination since the Leslie Thornton exhibition we had last January: the concept of animals as "other." The review, titled "The Question of the Animal" and written by Matthew Calarco, begins:
It is becoming increasingly clear that much of what goes by the name of posthumanist theory is (paradoxically) grounded on a stubborn and dogmatic form of anthropocentrism.
OK, so in the case of viewing animals as "other," I'm not quite sure we could explore that from anything other than an anthropocentric point of view (what's the alternative, attempting to view animals as "other" from a plant-centric point of view?), but I digress. Calarco's complaint centers on one of the assumed goals of posthumanist theory, moving beyond the notion that we humans are the center of the universe:
Yet in the wake of [posthumanism's] disruption and decentering of the human, there does not seem to have been any concerted effort on the part of posthumanist theorists to rethink either the ethico-political status of animals or dominant ideas concerning the various modes of relation that obtain between animals and human beings.
OK, so all of this begins to get a bit heady, but I sincerely think it's fascinating and potentially very important. And when it comes to important issues I don't understand, I generally turn to artists to help me make sense of it. So I was both interested and a bit repulsed to read about a project by French artists Marion Laval-Jeantet & Benoît Mangin. From Regine over at We Make Money Not Art:
The French artistic duo has been exploring trans-species relationships and the questioning of scientific methods and tools for 20 years now. This time their work involved injecting Marion Laval-Jeantet with horse blood plasma. Over the course of several months, the artist prepared her body by allowing to be injected with horse immunoglobulins, the glycoproteins that circulate in the blood serum, and which, for example, can function as antibodies in immune response. The artist called the process "mithridatization", after Mithridates VI of Pontus who cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same.

In February 2011, having progressively built up her tolerance to the foreign animal bodies, she was injected with horse blood plasma containing the entire spectrum of foreign immunoglobulins, without falling into anaphylactic shock, an acute multi-system allergic reaction.

Horse immunoglobulins by-passed the defensive mechanisms of her own human immune system, entered her blood stream to bond with the proteins of her own body and, as a result of this synthesis, have an effect on all major body functions, impacting even the nervous system, so that the artist, during and in the weeks after the performance, experienced not only alterations in her physiological rhythm but also of her consciousness. "I had the feeling of being extra-human," explained the artist. "I was not in my usual body. I was hyper-powerful, hyper-sensitive, hyper-nervous and very diffident. The emotionalism of an herbivore. I could not sleep. I probably felt a bit like a horse.'
I appreciate that Marion is aware enough to say she "probably" felt a bit like a horse (although, skeptic that I am, I suspect what she really felt was simply a new sensation as her body more subtlety adjusted to the alien blood). Still, this piece did help me open my mind to what it might really mean to step outside our anthropocentric selves. I'm not sure I like it (the notion, not the piece) mind you, and I'm not sure that what I experience as the "universal" ever really needs to be outside the "human" experience (although I'm utterly fascinated with posthumanist ideas).

Consider this an open thread on the idea of stepping outside yourself with an eye toward a wider understanding of the "universal."

Labels: animals, open thread

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hang the DJ

Exactly one week before the riots started in London, I was enjoying a very peaceful and picture perfect afternoon in the garden of friends who live just on the fringe of where some of the most senseless violence has taken place there. My friends' neighborhood is charming in the same way that you'll find very nice pockets just a few blocks away from rather dicey neighborhoods in New York. Most everyone living in this part of London are people of relatively limited means, separated by degrees that probably seem insignificant to the super wealthy and powerful.

My friends are fine, if, as one noted, a bit "nonplussed." This violence seems to have sprung up from nowhere. Speculation on the cause (and few think the violence outside Tottenham is even remotely related to the man the police shot there) runs from most of it being simply teenage summer boredom run amok to perhaps small-time organized crime taking advantage of the situation, but as one friend noted, even that would point to deeper social problems.

Everywhere I went in London at the end of July, cabbies and waiters and friends were commenting on how many bloody tourists had descended on the city this summer. "It's the weakening of the pound," one cabbie told me. "They had been staying away because it had been too expensive, but now they're flocking over." Indeed, the biggest fear before this weekend was that you might be trampled to death by the morning hordes of camera-wielding tourists rushing to gain entry to Buckingham Palace before the queue got too long.

"We will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain's streets and make them safe for the law-abiding," Prime Minister David Cameron has said in Downing Street, returning from his holiday to manage the riots. My first thought upon reading that was "I would have phrased that a bit more specifically." To truly make them safe for the law-abiding might require some serious social re-engineering.

The threat of violence is no stranger to everyday life in London. I was just a little over a week ago riding the train from Charing Cross, alone, in the middle of the afternoon, when three largish drunken lads coming from a football match (at which their team had lost) sat down around me and began provoking a reaction, commenting on anything they could to get a rise out me. I played it fearless if clueless, "What's wrong with such and such? I don't understand." Eventually, after they declared American Football nothing more than "Rugby for girls" or "Rugby for guys too afraid to get hurt" and American baseball as "Rounders for girls," I asked "And so, what is Cricket?" One boasted, "A man's game!" Which caused them all to laugh and the moment was diffused. We wished each other well as I departed at my stop. But as my friend confirmed when I later recounted the encounter, it could have just as easily gone the other way.

Not that we in the US (where a Giants fan was severely beaten) have any room to talk. Terrible violence is never far from the surface here either.

Which brings me back to Cameron's promise. I suspect to meaningfully restore order will require looking below the surface. Looking more closely at the deeper social problems.
Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
Not that I have so much empathy with the rioters that I think they shouldn't feel the full force of the law coming down hard on their heads, mind you. It's just that something cultural has connected the dots between London and Bristol and Birmingham and Liverpool and (just this morning I read on Facebook) Chalk Farm...I mean really? Riots in Chalk Farm? What are they protesting for, more espresso???.

One thing seems clear. Something cultural has encouraged the copycats to risk arrest. Yes, that urge can be tamped down by more police presence, but it can't be erased. For Cameron to deliver on his promise will require understanding that "everything possible" probably means reconsidering the severity of their
austerity measures approach in the emerging context of more and more social unrest.

Not that any reasonable student of history couldn't have predicted this, mind you.

Labels: politics, UK

Monday, August 08, 2011

Things That Make Me Happy

It's already playing in Europe...come on US cinemas...get it over here!

Labels: dance, Film

Friday, August 05, 2011

A Small Clarification for the Record

I'm quoted in an article by Helen Stoilas in The Art Newspaper on the lobbying underway in the US Congress to push for droit de suite to become federal law:

Dealers also oppose the measure. [...] Others argue that the tax is inconsistent. Although some 50 countries have a resale tax, they adhere to different rules. The EU states follow a sliding scale of 4% to 0.25%, capped at €12,500. Australia allows a flat, uncapped royalty of 5%, but exempts the first resale of the work. “It will just lead collectors to resell their art in other jurisdictions,” said dealer Edward Winkleman.

Feder calls this claim “an old canard. That was also said in the 1990s, and was an argument used by the auction houses when they adopted droit de suite in the UK. Far from business fleeing…UK auctions have increased and [are now] a very vibrant market.” But the debate in Britain has reignited as the country nears the 2012 deadline when it must extend droit de suite to cover artists' heirs or estates up to 70 years after their death.

I fully understand how articles are assembled from various quotes and the impossible deadlines that most writers are working under these days, and I understand that there's nothing particularly damning about the way my quote is presented here, but given that I am on record (in The Art Newspaper itself no less), as supporting droit de suite in the US, and given the way this quote makes it sound as if I don't support it, I'd like to print the full quote I emailed to Helen when she asked me to comment on the lobbying effort:
There are reasons to oppose droit de suite; with the two most convincing being that it will just lead collectors to resell their art in other jurisdictions, and it is perhaps an over-engineered response to the myth of the starving artist. But the lack of resale rights in the US has led to all manner of resentments, especially among artists, who often sacrifice a great deal to achieve a level of financial success in their careers. Perhaps even worse than such resentments, though, are the convoluted, covert practices (such as secret black lists) used to try to discourage the selling practices that droit de suite would make much more welcome in the eyes of artists.
I think it's more than fair to argue that what I offered is not a "convincing" reason to oppose droit de suite, but it's not accurate to present my quote out of context such that it presents my opinion as opposite what it actually is.

Other than that, I enjoyed the article.

Labels: commentary, resale right

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Sotheby's Lockout: An American Story

Two headlines caught my attention on Artinfo:
  • Sotheby's Art Handlers Take to Picket Lines After Dramatic Weekend Lockout Inflames Negotiations

  • Sotheby's Claims Record First Half, Citing Growth of the Asian Market
On the surface, this juxtaposition would seem to tell just another story of the ever-increasing disparity between the rich and poor, the powerful and the less powerful. But I think it's actually more of a portrait of what's both wrong and right with America.

On one side is an international conglomerate raking in the dough:
Sotheby's, the only publicly traded auction house, announced its best first half in history this afternoon. The company has had a record total of $3.4 billion in consolidated sales for the six months ending June 30, which includes both auction proceeds and private sales. Net income increased $127.2 million and $129.7 million respectively for the three- and six-month periods ended June 30.

On the call this afternoon to discuss second quarter and first half earnings, Sotheby's president and CEO Bill Ruprecht attributed the great results to tremendous growth in private sales, increased demand from the Chinese market, and exceptional tallies at their recent London auctions. The London contemporary evening sale on June 29 brought in over $174 million in one evening. [emphasis mine]
On the other hand, the blue-collar workers at this international conglomerate who haven't had a contract for over a month (but had been trying to negotiate a new one and had kept working anyway), were told last weekend not to bother coming to work until they can agree to the conglomerate's current terms. In other words, the conglomerate was done negotiating:

Sotheby's will bring in temporary replacement workers for the duration of the lockout, during which union employees will be unable to work or collect paychecks. "They think it's going to put pressure on us to accept the proposal," Jason Ide, president of Teamsters Local 814 and a former art handler himself, told ARTINFO. But the Teamsters have no plans to accept the agreement. According to Ide, the list of concessions is similar to that which Sotheby's has been advocating for the duration of negotiations, including the long-term reduction of senior union workers and a shortened workweek.

Diana Phillips, a spokesperson for Sotheby's, said the auction house had been negotiating "in good faith" and called the terms of the contract "attractive." "This was not an outcome Sotheby's wanted," she told ARTINFO via e-mail. She said that other unions representing employees of Sotheby's had agreed to the same terms in previous contract negotiations.

I don't have any information about the stickler points in the negotiations, but Sotheby's is clearly concerned with keeping its staffing costs under control:
While there was an increase in revenues over the first half of 2010, there was also a rise in expenses for the company. A major uptick in these expenses came from accrued hiring costs and increased compensation, according to Ruprecht. There has been a surge of salary outlays, especially in Asia where the company is experiencing large amounts of growth.
Now one could snark that record sales apparently aren't enough to keep up with the costs of their world domination goals. But with the unemployment numbers what they are, and the fact that this business is actually creating jobs, they deserve some credit.

And, yet,
this being America, we all love a good underdog story. And a good American underdog story it is that Julia Halperin reports via interviews with the art handlers of Sotheby's, a fabulous intermix of high culture and humble beginnings, of pride and unexpected expertise. Here's the set up:

Throughout negotiations, Ide has argued that union workers offer a level of expertise and experience unmatched by non-union workers. ARTINFO stopped by Sotheby's to find out a bit more about the experience and expertise of the art handlers on the picket line, many of whom say they have spent more time around multimillion-dollar artwork than most auction specialists.

The ranks of the protesters run the gamut, from part-time artists to a third-generation art handler. Five of the union members took a break from the picket line to chat with ARTINFO about their place in the art world, and their favorite — and most harrying — tales from the job.

You can read all the interviews; but here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Julian Tysch, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, 6 years union member

How would you characterize the art handler's place in the art world?
Essential. Our hands are literally responsible for maintaining some of the most important works of art in the world.

What's the most memorable story you have from your career as an art handler?
I'm humbled to work with self-trained, self-taught art experts. I've seen a specialist in 19th-century painting ask our handler whether he thought the paining was a real Bouguereau or not. Plus, a lot of the people who work here are artists themselves.

What is your favorite artwork you've ever handled?
Probably John Chamberlains. They're huge, massive, and heavy. Most people couldn't even tell when a Chamberlain is damaged because they look so beat up already.
Sim Jones, The Bronx, 42 years, art handler at Sotheby's

How would you characterize the art handler's place in the art world?
Significant, and that's putting it mildly. After experts speak to a client, they have to come into the building. After it gets into the building, that's where we come in — we handle their art. You treat it almost like a living person because what you realize is the art itself is a one-time affair. You see it one time, and that's it. So you handle it as such.

How do you think art handlers are perceived in the art world?
I think we're the unsung heroes. That's my take on it. At Sotheby's, when the exhibition is on the floor, when you walk in, you see the exhibition. How it got there, no one has an idea. The art handlers have to come together with the experts to figure out how to set the exhibition up — what goes with what, does this piece lend itself to the one next to it, the lighting. Just simple things like putting a plinth under a piece — does it enhance it? That's what we do.

Rene Vega, New Jersey, art handler for 17 years

How would you characterize the art handler's place in the art world?

Right up there with an expert. Second to an expert, it goes right to the art handler. I think art handlers, to the clientele, not necessarily the employee, are very important. Outside of Sotheby's, we're doing the installation for the clients, not Sotheby's. We're going to their Park Avenue apartment, we're going to their Westbury estate, we're going to Greenwich. We're one on one with the actual client who spent the $100 million to buy the Picasso "Boy with a Pipe" — it's the art handlers who are hanging the artwork.

What's the most memorable story from your career as an art handler?
I guess when "Boy with a Pipe" broke the record for most expensive painting sold at auction a few years back. I hung that painting 15 times, and then there are the other art handlers who unframed, framed, and unframed the painting. The experts know about it, but they don't actually handle it.
Let's hope the two sides can agree to terms soon and everyone can go back to work.

Labels: art handlers, art market, art world, politics

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Quote of the Day

Q: What's your favorite place to see art?
A: In people's homes.

--From an interview with creative director and co-founder of GREY AREA, Kyle DeWoody

Labels: quote of the day

Monday, August 01, 2011

Galleries 3.0 || Open Thread

I would take credit for noticing this myself, but the truth is someone else beat me to it.

Yesterday in his always entertaining and often insightfully aggregated email newsletter of recent art press (no link, I'm afraid), Belgian super-collector and all-around great guy Alain Servais assembled the flurry of recent articles about what ails the current gallery model and what's being done by dealers (very systematically and professionally, perhaps for the first time in history) to address shifts in collectors' buying patterns and a more global market.
First came the sobering report written by Dr. Clare McAndrew and funded by the Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art (Cinoa), a non-profit dealers’ federation. Charlotte Burns of The Art Newsletter wrote about McAndrew's report recently:
The traditional gallery model is in decline, according to a new report by the non-profit dealers’ federation Cinoa (Con­féd­ération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art), which found that fair-led and online business is taking over as the main source of revenue.

Gallery visits are declining as the art market expands to new international centres served better by art fairs or electronic media.

“We do much more business at the fairs than at the gallery—no question,” said Dominique Lévy, the co-director of L&M gallery.

András Szántó, consultant and contributing editor to The Art Newspaper, said: “The fairs have done very well in exploiting a structural weakness of the gallery system—it is inchoate and based on local markets.” With the withdrawal of those markets during the downturn “the overall weight has shifted to clients who don’t live where you work—so you service them through art fairs,” said dealer David Zwirner.
OK, so I have a minor quibble with the headline of this article, which makes it look as if Cinoa, rather than my pal András Szántó concluded the gallery system is "structurally weak" (that phrase never appears in the actual report). The point seems supported by the report itself, but it is discussed therein in less apocalyptic terms :
News headlines and front page articles do not reflect the reality that art and antique dealers today account for fifty percent of global art world sales. This important group of dealers consists largely of discreet, low profile individuals and small businesses preferring to focus on finding great art to match with the right client rather than publishing high flying sales prices. Clare McAndrew’s study, the first of its kind, explores the essential role of art and antiques dealers within the art market and as a consequence society as a whole. It offers insight into how and why the art dealing profession is changing, and what this means for the trade as well as collectors, as for the culture as a whole.

This economic study offers a brief historical review of the art dealing profession, and then continues with an emphasis on the current art market and proposes what might be in store for the future. It examines how dealers’ businesses have been affected and changed due to the current economic condition and the rise of new technologies. The study highlights the challenges dealers face from competitors and a range of key competitive advantages such as expertise, services and recourse. In order to conduct her analysis, Dr. McAndrew’s research included examining spending trends, motivations, and the interaction with dealers from the perspective of both sellers and buyers.
Clearly, there are challenges ahead for galleries. Especially smaller and newer ones. Artinfo's Shane Ferro looked at the report and noted how the economics of the gallery system parallel the economics of the US, if not the entire world:
Just because the old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood art dealer continues to play an important role does not mean small-name gallerists will not be affected by the shift in the market towards a more global perspective. The report postulates that art dealers accounted for just over half of the art sales for 2010 (meaning the other half took place through auction houses). This group includes a total of 375,000 dealers, but McAndrews's study "affirms that 2 to 5% of them represent half the turnover of the gallery sector." Just 7,500-20,000 dealers are bringing in a combined total of $10 billion per year — an average of just under $1 million each. That leaves an average of under $30,000 each for the vast majority of galleries.
This disparity is nothing new to those of us at the emerging end of the primary art market, but what exactly is to be done about it (if anything) remains a topic of constant debate among my gallerist friends. Dr. McAndrew, writing in The Art Newspaper herself, discussed both, the differences between buying art in a gallery versus buying from auction houses or at a fair:
While the auction houses have gained relative market power over the past 20 years, the survey highlighted key areas where dealers still maintain a competitive edge.

Unlike the more diversified auction houses, dealers often specialise in a few tightly defined fields where they have a high level of expertise. Due to this specialisation, their business models are highly dependent on the successful sale of a small number of works and hence are subject to considerable risk. However, specialisation also brings a number of competitive advantages: dealers often have access to works from more sources and can therefore offer better quality stock and more choice than the auction houses. Many dealers also claim to offer better protection and fuller and more legally binding guarantees. They can also be better value than auction houses as they often take smaller commissions.

The discretion of dealers was also singled out as a key advantage: buyers can avoid revealing how much they spent, which is sometimes unavoidable at auction. For sellers at auction, although the reserve price can protect their bottom line, if a painting is “burned” the negative effect on its future value can be long-lasting. Dealers, on the other hand, can protect buyers from unwanted publicity and only show works privately.

Expensive, infrequent purchases such as art can be stressful for buyers, and dealers can offer a much less pressured environment compared with an auction room where emotional and competitive tensions are high. With a dealer, collectors have more time to consider a purchase and make thoughtful decisions. Many dealers also offer the possibility of trialling, returning items or reselling them in future. Finally, dealers are generally more concerned with building long-term relationships with their clients.

The research found that the main complaints when buying or selling via a dealer were about pricing and perceived value; pushiness, and a lack of transparency.
McAndrew goes on to discuss how galleries do/can deal with the shifting landscape, including closing up their public shop and dealing privately or turning to online channels. Driving a big part of this is unquestionably the rise of the art fair:

Another key factor driving dealers away from traditional retail premises is the increasingly “event-driven” nature of the art market. Fairs have become a vital part of many dealers’ livelihoods, giving them access to international buyers. They are seen as a crucial way for dealers to collaborate in the face of increasing competition from auction houses, creating some of the same “one-room” excitement and competitive energy as an auction.

Many dealers felt that the cost of running a gallery (in addition to frequent travelling and attending fairs) was not justified by sales made through this channel, with some reporting revenue from this source as low as 5% of total sales. Some also felt that buyers’ loyalties were shifting from dealers to fairs, and that these events have become the focus for sales.

OK, but if you're a gallerist or thinking about becoming one and you still believe that the context of a brick-and-mortar space is important for the artists you wish to work with, where can you turn for mo' better ideas on how to run your business?

Impressively, more established galleries are trying to help.

First comes news of a new program at Amsterdam's de Appel specifically for aspiring art dealers. [Full disclosure: I've learned through Julia Halperin's article on the program over at Artinfo that my book is required reading for this Murat would say...wahoo!]. The program is the brainchild of four international galleries: gb agency, Paris; Hollybush Gardens, London; Jan Mot, Brussels; and Raster, Warsaw. These four formed a collaboration (hint, hint) called The Fair Gallery. Perhaps the most inspired part of "The Gallerist Programme" (at least in terms of making aspiring dealers want to take it) is that it "culminates in a final assignment in the form of a booth presentation at Liste in Basel 2013."

Of course, the notion that top prize seems to be participation in a fair (i.e., part of the perceived problem) is ironic...but as I was quoted as saying in the article, I wish such a systemic approach of knowledge transfer had been available to me before I dived in (and made all the mistakes I've made).

Speaking of knowledge transfer, though, another impressive effort on the part of dealers to share their experience is coming up three-day event in Barcelona this September.

TALKING GALLERIES, the first international meeting for gallery directors, will be held in Barcelona on September the 19th, 20th and 21st 2011. It aims to offer a meeting place for industry professionals that goes above and beyond the commercial side of the art market to focus on exploring and debating central issues of common interest.

Conceived as an annual event, TALKING GALLERIES will function as an open platform to foster thought and debate around the world of galleries. In its first edition, TALKING GALLERIES brings together twenty-five speakers from eleven different countries, including the major art capitals in the world.

Located in the Auditorium of the Barcelona Contemporary Art Museum (MACBA), this three-day event will gather leading international gallerists to discuss current issues, share experiences and draw up strategies for the future. Curators, collectors, art critics, directors of museums and other art institutions will give their point of view as invited speakers in the scheduled debates and conferences.

The program looks fantastic, and the line-up of speakers is world-class. The event is focused specifically on defining "the new role of the gallerist in the art world."

Consider this an open thread on what gallerists can/should do to address the changing landscape. And it pains me to have to note this, but I do so from experience: Please note comments taking cheap shots at dealers or the gallery system will not be posted. Real ideas that address the real challenges are all welcome.

Labels: art galleries, art market, global