Monday, January 28, 2013

Displaying Prices in Art Galleries

In the context of an article exploring the need for more regulation of the art market, with a list of examples of questionable practices in the current system, New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kevin Flynn raise again the issue of galleries not posting prices of the work for sale in their spaces.

Part of me believes these journalists simply wanted to flesh out their main topic with as many examples of "problems" as possible. By that, I mean, I don't see why this is really a newsworthy "problem." In the 10+ years I've been in the art business, I have never once heard anyone complain unprompted about the lack of prices being posted other than journalists. In fact, Pogrebin and Flynn more or less concede there is no evidence of a public outraged by the status quo:
Many in the art world insist there is no need for further scrutiny of a market that prompts few consumer complaints and is vital to the New York economy. [...] Consumer affairs officials declined to be interviewed or to detail whether any galleries were cited last year for violating the pricing law. In the past the agency’s inspectors have focused on industries that draw the largest share of complaints, like home-improvement contracting.
I'm personally not a big fan of wasting taxpayers' money to enforce laws that no one is complaining about, especially when it's not even clear to me that the law is sound. Let's leave aside for the moment the aesthetic ramifications of having to post prices on the wall next to the artwork, and look at the inconsistencies/ambiguities of the law itself:
New York New York City Administrative Code(new) - Subchap. 2 - § 20-708 Display of Total Selling Price by Tag or Sign § 20-708 Display of total selling price by tag or sign.

All consumer commodities, sold, exposed for sale or offered for sale at retail except those items subject to section 20-708.1 of this code, shall have conspicuously displayed, at the point of exposure or offering for sale, the total selling price exclusive of tax by means of (a) a stamp, tag or label attached to the item or (b) by a sign at the point of display which indicates the item to which the price refers, provided that this information is plainly visible at the point of display for sale of the items so indicated. This section shall not apply to consumer commodities displayed in the window of the seller.
Why is it that the law does not apply to commodities displayed in the window?

I can imagine two obvious reasons retailers would object to having to put prices in their windows and lawmakers wouldn't make them. First would be because it would potentially dissuade potential buyers from even coming into the store, where (had they not suffered sticker shock on the street) they might learn from the sales staff how that item differs from similar, yet perhaps inferior, items the customer is familiar with or why that item is a good value at that price. Second, though, is that items in a window display (as opposed to those on a rack or shelf) are often placed within very carefully considered compositions designed to make a statement (this sweater will make you look playful on the ski slopes or this jacket looks good next to an antique globe of the world and will make you look scholarly or sophisticated). The careful composition of the window display could not communicate this as well if it had to incorporate price tags.

Similarly, the installation of art in a gallery is very carefully considered and is often, in and of itself, a part of the artist's expression. Formal relationships between works, as well as simply the space to consider the work on its own terms (and not as a commodity, even though it might be one in a larger context) are an important part of the art viewing experience. If the law doesn't require prices in the window of a retail space because of either of those reasons, can't the argument be made that it's inconsistent to require posted prices in a gallery where both reasons are an integral part of the very gallery concept?

Now, let me note that in our gallery we offer multiple copies of a full checklist with prices and thumbnail images at the desk for anyone who wants to take one with them as they view the show. We are attempting to comply with the spirit of the law (as well as to sell art), without interrupting the viewing experience for those who'd rather not have price tags hanging from the artwork or labels on the wall.

But I've never once felt put out in a gallery that doesn't have a price list (if I'm seriously interested, I'll ask what a work costs). Moreover, I don't tend to visit the sort of gallery that posts prices next to the work. So I'm personally not sure why this issue keeps coming up in the press. Perhaps...and I'm just wondering out loud here... it's because the lack of posted prices confirms some journalists' resentment that if you have to ask you can't afford it. From the Time's article:
Perhaps nothing illustrates the art market’s laissez-faire spirit better than the way galleries flout New York City’s “truth in pricing” law. It says items for sale, including art, must have a price tag conspicuously displayed. None of 10 galleries visited at random this month had posted prices, though a few smaller ones produced price lists when asked. At the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea a woman at the front desk seemed indignant when asked if she had a price list.
“I do not,” she said.
She was probably indignant because she knew you were asking only to make a point of asking.

Seriously, though, I can't fathom what would it do for those journalists to see prices posted next to the work on the walls. If the painting is $100,000 or $600,000 is there any greater likelihood that price is relevant to their personal viewing experience? If so, why?

If not, why are they making such a big deal out of them not being there? Again, if this practice prompted complaints to the government on a regular basis, perhaps I could see the Times' "exposé" serving some public good. As it is, though, it really seems much ado about nothing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Babies Just Come with the Scenery, Part II

In the middle of the road,
You see the darnest things.
Like fat cats driving around in jeeps through the city,
Wearing big diamond rings and silk suits.
Past corrugated tin shacks holed up with kids and
Man I don't mean a Hampstead nursery.
But when you own a big chunk of the bloody third world,
The babies just come with the scenery.

---"The Middle of the Road," The Pretenders
An artist commenting in another context, referencing the title of Part I of this topic, complained that "babies" here meant "artists" and took umbrage with the continual referencing of artists as immature or overly defensive players in the art world. I'll leave the irony of their heightened concern about that to others, but I will clarify that my reason for choosing that title (and indeed the entire quote from "The Middle of the Road") is to suggest that the upper tier of the contemporary art market--collectors, auction houses, and super dealers included--do indeed own the big chunk of the bloody third [emerging art] world in which the babies [up and coming players, including younger curators, collectors and even dealers, but, yes, mostly the emerging artists who will go on to create the artwork that will serve as our generation's legacy] do indeed come along with the [contemporary art market] scenery. They don't magically exist outside that scenery. Their top-tier world would quickly dry up if the bloody third[-tier] world wasn't continually pumping out new babies.

The types of nurseries they help create for those "babies" to be nurtured in is up to them, of course. But by signalling that the way the art dealer game is truly played is to forgo any gallery-based only seek out [i.e., poach] artists with proven to leave those emerging players essentially holed up in corrugated tin shacks. I'm not saying we're there yet, but things could easily end up there. On the other hand, to encourage a healthy middle-tier gallery system (mostly through a more mutually beneficial poaching practice, but we'll explore another idea below too) is to help facilitate the type of nurturing one associates with nurseries in London's tony and purportedly uber-enlightened neighborhood Hamstead.

OK, so that rhetoric is perhaps a bit too tortured, even for me (which I know is saying something). Let me put it more plainly: If the top-tier galleries get too obsessed with growing their empires, particularly by continuously poaching the top artists from mid-level galleries (and essentially training a new generation of art dealers that that is the way it's done), they will eventually kill off those mid-tier galleries in which the dealers do so much of the hard work of building the mid-careers of artists not yet of a blue chip status. In other words, they'll leave a gallery landscape akin to the corrugated tin shacks in the song. There will still be emerging artists and scrappy upstart galleries, but without the motivation to stick it out through the tough times (and inevitable downturns) that believing one day your investment will pay off provides, I can't see the middle-tier gallery system (which currently provides a highly structured support network for thousands of artits) remaining very healthy very long.

Now, as pessimistic as that may sound at first, let me say unequivocally that the top tier of the New York gallery world today is mostly populated by marvelously generous people who do indeed value the entire system and not only understand why, from a business point of view, a healthy middle tier and an energetic emerging tier are important, but genuinely seem to cherish this irrational industry. No one needs more proof of that, in my opinion, than to consider the heroic way the ADAA responded to Hurricane Sandy. The number of top-tier galleries, art fairs, and private collectors who donated to their relief fund was so heartwarming and impressive, it entirely counteracts the impression some people have of most big dealers and big collectors as blood-thirsty sharks. The grants they gave, in the early days of the clean-up, when many middle-tier galleries were so overwhelmed they couldn't tell you minute-to-minute whether or not they would make it, quite literally gave many dealers I know the strength (and encouragement) to go on.

But something has clearly changed in the gallery world as well. The time was when an art dealer in a solid emerging gallery could not only work hard to get into the middle tier, but envision themselves eventually making a nicely comfortable living in the top tier. It had happened again and again throughout history, we could see the blueprint, and it made sticking it out during the meager times provided the necessary encouragement to keep the faith. 

A good example of how that no longer seems as likely, though, was recently provided by Christopher D'Amelio, who, in explaining why he closed his eponymous gallery to join the behemoth David Zwirner gallery, perfectly described the prevailing sense of the path to the top tier:

“If you’re a mid-sized, respected gallery, even a highly respected mid-sized gallery,” Mr. D’Amelio said, “you’re always at this precipice. To get to the other side can be hard. You don’t want to slip off. To get into art fairs can be hard, to function financially can be hard, to deal with something like Hurricane Sandy can be hard, to deal with so many things can be hard. And we do it, but I was going to build a slow bridge to the other side,” and reach a more comfortable place, when “suddenly I had an opportunity to open my wings and soar over that divide, and I’m about to land on the other side.”
Of course, Mr. D'Amelio noted he still believed he could build that slow bridge, but his willingness to close the highly regarded space with his name on the door and work in one with someone else's name on the door suggests to me a sense of skepticism it would definitely happen.

And it bears repeating what Christopher said: at the mid level, most galleries are always on the precipice. To grow into the top tier requires constant reinvestment, which means constant risk and the sleepless nights that go with that. (I've noted many times that the dealers I know who closed their spaces look nearly 10 years younger when I see them 6 months later.)

OK, though, so what can done about this threat to the middle of the gallery system?

Mind you, I'm not even convinced the middle tier of the market is important to preserve for its own sake. My larger concern, quite frankly, is with the system's ability to nurture (i.e., support and encourage) the artists who've made an initially impressive splash but now find it's harder to get to the next level than they had anticipated and face years of self-doubt and seemingly being taken for granted by the art world. Currently much of that nurturing work falls to the middle of the gallery system. Take it out of the equation and, well, I'm not convinced we'll have as robust an art community as we currently enjoy.

Two quick ideas

Poaching has always been a part of the art gallery landscape, so it's not like that represents some horrible new business practice that's wrecking the gentility of the industry. Perhaps, though, the top galleries who are seemingly now more aggressively poaching from their mid-tier colleagues could do more to ensure a transition period of access to some of the work or otherwise recognize they're financially crippling the mid-tier gallery they're poaching from. Some simply won't care, but others have a keener sense of their own struggles during that time in their career and can empathize with the situation they're placing the mid-tier galleries in. 

Artists who decide to leave a mid-tier gallery, also empathizing with the dealer they're leaving, can make access to the work a part of their conditions for representation by the new, larger gallery. I know this happens already in many cases, but if it were more formally and widely considered "the way it's done," it could alleviate a great deal of the pain of losing one's top artist.

Art Fairs play a critical role in this as well. As Christopher D'Amelio notes, to get into the right fairs (the ones that will help you grow your gallery by helping you reach a new set of collectors) is hard. Staying in them can be even harder. Understanding what it is you need to change in order to claw your way into one is often freaking impossible.

Now I say what follows because most of the important fairs' selection committees are comprised (in part at least) of top-tier galleries, who have the power to help (or not) the middle-tier galleries who would like to participate in them. As much as the fairs will say the selection committee focuses only on the quality of the proposals, everyone knows there's a huge degree of politics involved in who gets into which fair. All of which is simply human nature, I know, but what I think the fairs can do for the galleries who get rejected, especially given the considerable cost of their application fees, is provide some feedback on the failed proposals. Even basic common sense feedback, such as, "this artist is out of place in this context" or "your booth concept is confusing/busy/overhung/" or "we really liked this proposal but couldn't find room for it, but please do apply again next year" or even "unless you seriously overhaul the bulk of your program you shouldn't waste your time applying to this fair again" could go a long way toward educating mid-tier dealers on what they should focus their time doing to eventually get in, or convince them to stop trying.

Now I know many committee members feel that much of what one needs to do to get in the right fairs should be obvious (to anyone who deserves to be in Fair X, anyway), but constructive feedback from the committee (and again, the fee to apply is often not insignificant) would send the signal that the top tier is encouraging the middle tier to keep working at it and/or help them understand when it's pointless to keep spending money on certain objectives.

I don't expect this to be a popular idea among committee members or art fair organizers who know providing feedback opens up countless hours of arguments from rejected applicants, but perhaps something as simple as a checklist ranking (from one to five) the committee's impression of, say,
The quality of the art proposed :    1----5
The quality of the booth concept : 1----5
The gallery is ready for this fair :    1----5
etc. (this could be fleshed out a bit, I know)

and the crystal clear declaration that neither the committee nor the organizers will discuss the rankings -- and perhaps give each applicant the option to not receive the rankings if their proposal is rejected -- will at least help the middle-tier dealer gain a better picture of where they stand in the eyes of that fair's committee. No information at all, which is what they currently receive, is more discouraging than an honest appraisal of one's application. 

It's probably even more important for constructive feedback when a gallery who was once admitted into a fair is rejected for a subsequent edition. Again, the fair committees are predominantly the domain of the top tier galleries. This provides them a simple way of helping the middle tier via their experience and expertise. And again, the rejected gallery shelled out a chunk of change to apply, so it's not like this is charity.


OK, so obviously I'm enjoying musing on this topic, but this post is long enough at this point. I think I'll give more thought (and ask around among dealer friends) to a few other ideas, and share them in Part III.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Babies Just Come with the Scenery

In the middle of the road,
You see the darnest things.
Like fat cats driving around in jeeps through the city,
Wearing big diamond rings and silk suits.
Past corrugated tin shacks holed up with kids and
Man I don't mean a Hampstead nursery.
But when you own a big chunk of the bloody third world,
The babies just come with the scenery.

---"The Middle of the Road," The Pretenders
Ahh, what one sees from the middle.

While the top of the international contemporary art market moves from boom to boom, seemingly unstoppable, and the newcomers multiply so quickly there soon won't be a dumpling shop left in the Lower East Side, the middle of the art market is, by all accounts, feeling the squeeze. Why this is remains somewhat debatable, but when the debate reaches the tabloids, as it did in London this past weekend, well, it becomes a bit difficult to keep ignoring it. From the Daily Mirror (not exactly the first London paper one thinks of for breaking art news), we get the rich people are destroying the market argument:
Oligarchs and other super-rich investors are 'bulk buying' new art and destroying the middle market for artists, a panel of experts claimed yesterday.

And they said a new 'Premier League' of art galleries and buyers fuelled by new wealth money was emerging, leaving smaller galleries and artists fighting for crumbs.

Multi-billionaires such as Mexican magnate Carlos Slim and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich have so much money that they need to exercise little judgement when buying art.

Instead they can purchase the work of any promising young artists for high prices and gamble on one or two of them becoming a success.

But the 'spray and pray' approach to buying art among the super-rich has out-priced traditional middle-market art buyers like doctors and lawyers.

The knock-on effect is being felt by smaller galleries and the artists they represent, where interest from traditional middle income investors has waned.
Now I'll be the first to tell you that many of the middle-tiered galleries I know are indeed having a tough go of it at the moment. And among the reasons they "think" that is the case is indeed the decreasing number of doctors and lawyers (compared with half a decade ago) who are still collecting. But there are other explanations for it as well.

One is the it's not really even about art argument. This one is perhaps best illustrated by the story the arts press apparently can't get enough of. I could quote here the details from a dozen or so sources, but for the sheer depth of it, I'll quote Eric Konigsberg's retelling of the story from his epic new article on Larry Gagosian. This explanation begins with a particular type of collector epitomized perhaps by ...
Ronald Perelman, the corporate raider, who sued Gagosian in September in part over “secret contract provisions” that the dealer had attached to a $4 million as yet uncreated Koons sculpture titled Popeye—stipulations that Perelman felt would make it difficult for him to resell the work. [...] Perelman may well be an important collector, possessed, as his friends claim, of “a great eye” and a list of cultural institutions that have benefited from his charitable and brand-burnishing write-offs, but he is above all a money person. His collection is an investment vehicle, an “art fund,” actually, within an umbrella company that also owns large stakes in the biotechnology, gaming, and financial-services industries. Perelman claims in the complaint that he agreed to purchase the Koons from Gagosian in May 2010, but before he even took possession decided he wanted to exchange it for a major painting, and to receive credit for more than the $4 million he’d paid for it—essentially flipping the work and hoping to turn a profit, assuming its value had risen while he waited for Koons to finish making it. When Gagosian told Perelman that he had little incentive to take the sculpture back because he had promised Koons 80 percent of any profit from a resale before the piece was actually finished, Perelman apparently felt he’d been had.
It's Perelman's assumption that the work, even before it had been finished, should have appreciated in value (i.e, thinking of art as one does commodities futures), that points back to how the middle of the market is being left behind in all this. We, humble art dealers in the middle of the market, are clearly not even in the same industry as those we like to think we'll catch up to some day. How cute it must seem to collectors in that stratosphere when a middle-tiered dealer who finally gains an audience insists on discussing the aesthetic values of a work, when it's clear they can't tell a FAB Spread from a Buying Hedge.

Then there's the shift in the artist-dealer model argument. Again, I'll point you to Eric's article for a nice summary of how this one works:
The [Leo] Castelli model was to get the best young artists and nurture their careers without pushing their prices too high too quickly. The Gagosian model is to ratchet up their prices, encourage them to produce as much as possible (there has been less risk, with a burgeoning global economy, in flooding the market; there is a need, as new constituencies present themselves among Russian oligarchs and Qatari sultans, to feed the collecting beast), and keep artists, collectors, and estates away from his competition—“to make a market,” in the words of someone who knew both men, who adds: “Leo wouldn’t have done well in the current era—the money is too tempting—and Larry wouldn’t have done well in the Castelli era.”
Many of the dealers in the middle I know, though, are still committed to the Castelli model. And indeed, this may explain why they're being squeezed. When Gagosian or others in his realm can consistently come along and poach the middle-tier galleries' best-selling artists, the long-term benefit potential of the Castelli model begins to fade. The Castelli model (find an undiscovered artist, invest heavily in promoting their work, and then share in the rewards when their market takes off) relies on an act of faith--that the artist will stick around--so that the initial investment will indeed reap rewards one day. 

But we've seen nearly rampant poaching in New York over the past few years, involving almost always the top-selling artist from a middle-tier gallery. The most immediate impact of that is it leaves that middle-tier gallery scrambling for the income that had supported the rest of their often more-risk-taking programs.

And I've heard it from those in other industries that, well, if this is how the game is being played now, you're a fool not to play it that way. Don't moan about it, jump in with the sharks. But with art, in particular, that too comes with problems. If all those who wish to become successful art dealers use Gagosian as the standard model, we would see a stop to any risk-taking at all. As artist Mark Kostabi once said about Larry Gagosian "He doesn’t want to be the first person to discover major talent. He wants to be the second." If all dealers follow that lead, then who will discover the next major talents?

Moreover, rampant poaching introduces a lack of stability in the middle-tiered galleries and an element of distrust. Gallerists who were once the fiercest of champions for all their artists, begin to take measures to protect themselves instead, once their top artists decide to move to a top-tier gallery. The nurturing environment that the middle of the market once represented suffers as a consequence. And that's self-perpetuating. If a rising artist in a middle-tier gallery senses a new distance from their dealers (who's responding to having had their top artist poached), that rising artist feels less motivation to remain loyal as well.

So what to do about this unfortunate turn of events for the middle-tier galleries, and more importantly the nurturing component of the overall gallery system? 

One model out there that I think merits consideration (and is already seen in a few places around New York) is where a bluer chip gallery either opens (often under a different name) a new emerging gallery or takes an emerging gallery under its wings, letting the younger dealer take some risks in the program without as much financial risk as being out there on their own. This "farm league" model perhaps isn't for everyone (dealers are notoriously independent people), but it has the advantage of preserving a safe, commercial place to let artists (and dealers) experiment more. 

I'll be thinking about other models and offer some thoughts on those in a follow-up post.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Working Out the Kinks

As I like to do each holiday season, I recently picked up a classic from my youth and re-read it for the sheer pleasure of doing so. This year it was Robert L. Stevenson's Treasure Island ... mostly because the copy I own slides nicely into my coat pocket and, well, like most romantic nerds, I have a fondness for all things pirate related. But more than that, I hold a lasting fascination for the extraordinary history and, especially, the engineering of large ships.

I mean that in the broadest sense, mind you. I can no more explain the difference between "tiller lashing" and the "mizzen shrouds" than I can speak Swahili, but the mere fact that there's such an extensive, detailed and colorful vocabulary for seafaring business captures my imagination. More than that, though, is the simply astounding human effort it obviously required, through countless years of trial and error (and countless human lives lost), to reach the level of nautical know-how we had by the time Long John Silver and his mutinous crew set out from Bristol on the Hispaniola to find the buried treasure on that faraway island.

Not only were such large ships highly expensive ventures, the building of which required lots of space and years of skillful precision (and too often only so that a single navigational misstep in shallow rocky waters...or more famously, iceberg-infested open seas... would send the entire enterprise unceremoniously to the ocean's floor), but up to today, the continuously perfected best practices and optimization (inside and out) of the ships themselves over time is a testament to the determination of humans to explore this world. Maximizing every square inch above and below deck, the innovations of storage and survival essentials, to say nothing of the experience it takes to understand what tools and supplies are important to bring for the voyage out and the return home... it's a staggering, accumulative accomplishment.

Consider the humble beginnings from which the likes of, oh say, the QEII began. This is the passage from Treasure Island where the young Jim Hawkins finds the half-mad, marooned Ben Gunn's hidden boat:
I dropped into the hollow, lifted the side of the tent, and there was Ben Gunn's boat--homemade if ever anything was home-made; a rude, lopsided framework of tough wood, and stretched upon that a covering of goatskin, with the hair inside. 

I had not then seen a coracle, such as the ancient Britons made, but I have seen one since, and I can give no fairer idea of Ben Gunn's boat that by saying it was like the first and worst coracle ever made by man. But the great advantage of the coracle it certainly possessed, for it was exceedingly light and portable.
How many revisions to this ancient design did humans make over the centuries? How many fatal errors resulted in earlier "accomplishments" being scrapped and new ones being demanded?

I thought of this while watching this extraordinary video of life upon the International Space Station. Give it a few's so beyond fascinating:

Here we humans are again, in a vessel that will surely be viewed as "rude" and "lopsided" by our descendants as Ben Gunn's coracle was to Jim Hawkins. But isn't it marvelous? How brave must one be, knowing the dangers, to take a rocket up to this tin can floating miles above the earth? All in service of working out the kinks. All in service of perfecting the model through trial and error. 

It's wondrous...that's all.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Opening Today! Michael Waugh's "Offenses Against One's Self" at Winkleman Gallery, 3-5 PM

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to announce the post-Sandy reconstruction is complete, and all the galleries on 27th Street are re-opening Saturday, January 12, with a special afternoon reception from 3-5 PM. We will re-open with a new solo exhibition of work by Michael Waugh in collaboration with Schroeder Romero. The exhibition we had just opened one day before the hurricane hit, a solo exhibition by Yevgeniy Fiks, has been rescheduled for February 15-March 16, 2013.


For Immediate Release                                                                                                           January 4, 2013
Michael Waugh
Offenses Against One's Self
In collaboration with Schroeder Romero

January 12 - February 9, 2013
Opens Saturday, Jan 12, 3:00-5:00 PM

Winkleman Gallery, in collaboration with Schroeder Romero, is pleased to present Offenses Against One's Self, a solo exhibition of new work by New York artist Michael Waugh. The exhibition includes labor-intensive, micrographic drawings in which line upon line of delicately handwritten text comprise a series of evocative landscapes and portraits. Also included are equally labor-intensive sculpture and video that utilize related texts, including documentation of an eight-hour performance-reading. Waugh will stage a similar non-stop reading on February 1, 2013, starting at 10:30 AM and continuing without break until 6:30 PM.

The exhibition’s title, Offenses Against One's Self, is taken from the title of an essay written in 1785 by British philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham, in which he argued for the elimination of laws that limited same-sex relations in his era. It's an ironic title, given that this exhibition's most present subject matter is capitalism -- specifically text from Adam Smith's book The Wealth of Nations. Smith's book has been used to argue for the elimination of laws limiting capitalism and for promoting a libertarian, greed-is-good ethos. In this show's context—amid images of shipwrecks, mass shootings, lynchings, and model-perfect young men—greed, becomes the "offense against one's self." Smith's other major work, also utilized in this show, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, engages with social responsibility—a concept seemingly at odds with the notion that entrepreneurial greed could be good.
Michael Waugh, Maintaining Capital (The Wealth of Nations, part 18), 2012, ink on Mylar, 28 x 22 inches. Courtesy of Schroeder Romero, New York.
Waugh's work has always been fueled by such contradictions. Formally, his work is simple, even elegant—terms not often used to describe highly political work. The drawings are classically beautiful and representational. The sculpture falls into that most conservative category of object (utilitarian), while the video appears to fall into another straightforward category (documentary). All the work takes conservative forms to ridiculous extremes. The first video in the show, for example, offers a single, eight-hour long shot—virtually impossible to watch in its entirety in a gallery context. While the second video, entitled The Invisible Hands, uses the incidental sound of a rowing machine to guide the editing of a months-long process of oarmaking and physical training, reducing the process into a frantic eight minutes that end in failure.

Viewed as a whole, the work in this exhibition implies a narrative; an aggressive narrative in which facts are ignored in deference to dogma and structure, a narrative in which the everincreasing volume of hard-learned truths remain always on the verge of overwhelming us. A final contradiction may be that Waugh's work itself does not overwhelm. The drawing, video, and sculpture sit as testament to the thousands of hours of labor invested by the artist. The traces of his efforts remain always on the surface—forestalling the inundation of information and pointing out the solution that we always knew existed: hard work.

Michael Waugh earned his graduate degree in painting from New York University in 2000; but he also has degrees in writing from Texas State University and history from the University of Texas. These three distinct disciplines come together in his work—in narratives that play out across his richly detailed drawings and performance-based projects. Throughout his practice, Waugh forges unexpected, satirical comparisons between topics, such as the fall of the Roman empire with art world excess or the privatization of social security with dog breeding. His work has been exhibited at Winkleman Gallery (NY), Schroeder Romero Gallery (NY), Ronald Feldman Gallery (NY), Diverse Works (Houston), El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Havana), the Arkansas Art Center (Little Rock), The University of Connecticut (Storrs), and the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art (AR), among others. He has received awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, The Marie Walsh Sharp Space Program, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundadtion.

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212-643-3152 or

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

What You Can Do

Back in the first week after Hurricane Sandy, when the destruction it caused among the Chelsea galleries was beginning to become clear to the art community at large, we received a huge outpouring of requests from people around the world asking how they could help. I can't begin to tell you how important that was to us at the time. What we were dealing with on the ground was surreal, and the emails and phone calls of support and encouragement literally were often all that kept us from sitting down in a sobbing heap and giving up.

Also at the time, many people were trying (quite generously) to come up with ways they could help organize a fundraising event with our artists or some other means of putting their time and effort into helping. As kind as those offers were, though, during those first weeks, when we had no electricity, nor access to our records and such, all we could think about were the emergency measures we had to take and all the water-logged things we had to keep dragging up out of the basement to lay out, dry out, have examined, and triage. So please forgive us if you had made such a kind offer, but adding one new project to our day was simply not physically or mentally possible at that time.

But now there is something you can do.

I can't speak for the other galleries on the block, but, despite reopening in a few days, there's still a fair ways to go before we're entirely back to normal. I suspect the same is true for any gallery that sustained the kind of damage and disruption we did. And so, if you're so inclined, what you can do now is stop by and visit the galleries on 27th Street! We've all had facelifts, so to speak, and all the galleries on 27th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues are re-opening this Saturday, January 12, with a special afternoon reception from 3-5 PM.

The art community has been nothing short of heroic in response to the hurricane, especially the Art Dealers Association of America and the generous collectors and galleries who contributed to their relief fund (we won't ever be able to thank them all enough for their kindness), but now, what would really buoy our spirits is to see your smiling faces again! Seriously. The weather is supposed to be virtually spring-like on Saturday, and we would love to see you. 

Also, and I don't know any other dealer crass enough to say this, but I will...and this goes for any of the galleries impacted by the hurricane, if you're a collector and have had your eye on a work in some gallery, now would be a good time to look at it again and consider adding it to your collection. Even if you decide to keep thinking about it, though, just having you stop by and say hello would make them very happy, I'm sure. 



Wednesday, January 02, 2013

In Memoriam: Gary Bachman 1956-2012

While we were in Miami for the fairs last month, I was shocked and saddened to learn that artist Gary Bachman had suddenly passed away at the age of 56. I mostly knew Gary socially (he was part of a CalArts grads contingent that we intersect with), but he was a bit soft spoken and so I never got to know him all that well. But just knowing him a little I can tell you straightaway that Gary was among the sweetest people you will ever meet in the art world. Moreover, he and his artwork embodied a wry wit that personally I feel the art world could use a great deal more of than we're currently treated to. In short, he was one of the good guys; smart, funny, kind and so very likeable.

Gary was included in a large group exhibition at our gallery last year. The show, "Loughelton Revisited" looked back at a gallery that began in the heyday of the East Village, a time when CalArts grads were shaking things up quite a bit in New York. Gary's work in the show garnered special mention in the review by (then) Newsweek's Blake Gopnik:
At Winkleman Gallery, the artist and former gallerist Barbara Broughel has organized a show called "Loughelton Revisited," which gathers together work that was shown (or could have been shown) at her own Loughelton Gallery, once a highlight of the now-defunct East Village art scene. The works are from the 1980s, and include pieces by a number of now-famous names, including Richard Prince (under the pseudonym John Dogg), Polly Apfelbaum and John Baldessari – whose "Studio," from 1988, is today's Daily Pic. The strange thing about that piece, like nearly every object in the show, is that it looks like it could have been made yesterday – which argues either for Broughel's farsighted vision as a dealer, or for the stagnation of artmaking today.
Maybe my favorite work in the show is Gary Bachman's (unphotogenic) "One Pound Prop", from 1986. It is a little house-of-cards cube whose four sides are lead plates, three inches by three, that each weigh one quarter pound. And of course the whole thing's a knock-off and take-down of Richard Serra's macho "One Ton Prop," which was the same piece, made the same year, only chest-high and 2,000 times heavier. And here's a nice detail: Bachman's object exists in an edition of 2,000, so the total heft of his work matches Serra's.
The Star Ledger published an obituary for Gary last month:
Gary E. Bachman, 56, passed away suddenly on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. [...] Born in Summit, N.J., Gary lived in Westfield, N.J., before moving to Brooklyn. He graduated from Westfield High School, the University of Hartford and the California Institute of the Arts. He was an artist and a theatrical Teamster, working for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 817. He is survived by his beloved companion, Deborah Kammer; his daughter, Jett Bachman, and her mother, Susan Silas; his parents, Kenneth and Dorothy Bachman; his brother, Kenneth Bachman, and his sister, Karen Bachman. He is also survived by his close cousins, Valerie MacFie (Rich), Marcia Malcolm, Uma Malcolm and Robert Malcolm.
There's a part of me that can't not discuss the pity it was that Gary never became a huge art star during his life. He was such a nice guy, his work was smart, and he had mad talent. What essential element(s) was(were) missing in his particular case is beyond me. Even after all this time, I don't actually understand why some artists become more popular during their lives than others equally as seems to be quite the craps shoot. Perhaps, in part, it's as simple as how much you want it or fight for it. While I knew him, Gary was never the type to monopolize a dealer's time at a party or bombard them with requests for studio visits. Like his work, he exhibited a soft confidence which made him, again, very likeable, if perhaps seemingly not too bothered about all that career stuff.  I don't know.

I do know his passing saddened a great number of people and he will be sorely missed.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Bachman.