Author Archives: Joy Garnett
Continued from Part 1, posted on Thursday, Feb 10, 2011: “Making a Living as an Artist: With or Without a Dealer,” was organized and chaired by artist Sharon Louden, with the artist and writer Sharon Butler, artist, former gallery director, curator and current Director of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program Bill Carroll; artist, curator and current Dean of The New York Academy of Art Peter Drake; and New York dealer, blogger and author of How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery Ed Winkleman.
Sharon Louden: Once you’ve done your homework and figured out which galleries are appropriate for your work, how do you get their attention? Is it just about the work?
Ed Winkleman: Yes, it’s just about the work. Believe it or not. The best way to approach a gallery is through one of their artists, or through curators associated with that gallery. But it’s not just about finding the gallery that’s right for you, because the galleries also have to think in terms of balancing their programs.
Bill Carroll: Actually, it wasn’t just about the work. I wanted to know whether younger artists were real go-getters. Also, whether an older artist has a great reputation. And [things that matter]: teamwork, personalities, sharing strategies, collector lists, etc.
Sharon Butler: You need to get the gallery to notice you, not by sending them your work, but by creating a SCENE. By making your voice heard. Any effort you put into building the community will be rewarded. So: rather than trying to bust into someone else’s scene, make your own.
Peter Drake: Put yourself in the galleries’ shoes, behave professionally. Don’t send out “shot-gun” packages. It’s insulting. Do the research.
Sharon L: How do I do all these things? It’s too much! Teaching/working/self-promoting/developing community/working with my dealer: this is all under the umbrella of being an artist.
Sharon B: The key to having an active, creative life is to connect the things you want to do. Find the things you want to do, and do them.
Bill: I’m REALLY social — running a gallery was really about connecting the artists to the world. …Find ways to integrate the various creative things you do — it’s part of the deal.
Ed: Artists today have a HUGE advantage over previous generations because they can do much of these things at home, online, in their pajamas. … Regarding the idea of ‘artistic purity’ — being in your studio all the time — having a conversation about your art, that too is something artists really want, and it requires social skills.
Peter: Diversify what you do creatively. Any time your life changes, it will change your studio practice. You will need to adjust. Think of socially engaged models such as Hallwalls…
Sharon L: I’m going to talk about New York. Is New York City IT? What is your opinion about that?? And if you want a gallery in NY but live out of town, how do you do that? How do NY galleries deal with, or do they work with artists from out of town?
Ed: We work with two artists who actually live in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (laughter). The art world is decentralizing more and more. New York is not what it was just a few years ago. Take, for example, the VIP Art Fair — it was entirely online. 139 of some of the world’s major galleries participated. We connected with collectors in Italy and elsewhere. We normally wouldn’t have. In terms of the art marketplace, this change is coming like a tidal wave.
Bill: Okay, but Chelsea has over 300 galleries — where else can you find that? Soho at its height had only ~150 galleries. Artists must connect and make a name for themselves in their own locales and territory. If you do that, ultimately some New York gallery WILL want to show you.
Sharon B: I want to go back to on of Ed’s earlier comments about having a gallery’s artist refer you: you NEED to work with the community around you. Create an exchange, make connections with artist communities in other cities and towns, rather than badger galleries.
Peter: If you’re going to be part of a global community you have to be proactive.
Ed: I’m with Bill on loving NYC — but if you look at some of the larger galleries, they are opening up spaces in other cities. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Sharon Louden: What does “representation” mean these days?
Bill: When the art world was smaller, the relationships were much more personal. There were stipends. Dealers like Betty Parsons were situated somewhere between collectors and dealers [like patrons]. This is long over. As is the idea of a ‘life-long’ relationship.
Sharon L: That goes back to the idea of ‘parents’.
Ed: The stipend was an act of faith… also, there are so many galleries now, and so many of them run on a shoe-string budget. Forty or fifty years ago, this wasn’t the case. We have different models now.
Sharon L: What should the expectations be between artists and dealers?
Ed: That is a conversation you must have before you enter into the relationship. It’s really a case-by-case thing, depending on the artist an what kind of career they have.
Last night, shortly after the disappointment of Mubarak’s speech and many hours before today’s extraordinary news, Egypt’s pro-democracy protesters steeled themselves yet again in preparation for uncharted waters. I managed to tear myself away from my Eyptophile twitter stream and hop on the 6 train to the Upper East Side in order to attend CAA’s centennial gala party. Egypt was all that was in my mind. I was not in a party mood.
Inadvertently, the CAA gala, held at the Met’s ubiquitous party venue, The Temple of Dendur, added its own incongruous layer of dowdiness, grandeur and gloom. I guess the main problem was that aside from the full bar and a few bowls of nuts, there was absolutely no food. Not a shred. So for $35, exhausted and hungry scholars were permitted to stand around a crowded ruin and drink, until they were summarily dismissed at 9pm.
We New Yorkers know that the Upper East Side is not a particularly hospitable part of town in which to find oneself exhausted and hungry — not to mention tipsy — especially in the late evening. As we shoved off into the freezing night, pal and fellow blogger Charlotte Frost mentioned she hadn’t eaten since noon. Happily, I know the UES well enough, so I steered us to a favorite joint for nosh on Lexington where we supped on matzo ball soup cheek by jowl with local cab drivers:
Before leaving I did manage to take a few pictures. I was particularly intrigued by CAA members’ widely varying tastes in footwear:
Today’s well attended ARTspace panel, “Making a Living as an Artist: With or Without a Dealer,” was lively and informative as all get-out. Organized and chaired by artist Sharon Louden, it brought to bear the expertise of a number of New York City’s finest art mavens: the artist and writer Sharon Butler, whose well appointed blog Two Coats of Paint will be familiar to many readers here; artist, former gallery director, curator and current Director of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program Bill Carroll; artist, curator and current Dean of The New York Academy of Art Peter Drake; and New York dealer, inveterate blogger and author of How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery Ed Winkleman.
[Full disclosure: I am represented by Winkleman Gallery; Sharon Butler, a fellow painter, is the author of one of my favorite art blogs, where she recently wrote a thoughtful review of my last show; Sharon Louden -- well, Sharon is every artist's hero (she's been mine for quite some time); and Bill Carroll and Peter Drake aren't exactly chopped liver! Basically, there was no way I was going to miss this panel...]
Here is an encapsulation of the discussion (paraphrased) — I’ve divided it up into several posts:
Sharon Louden: Everyone here on the panel wears a number of different hats; some of them have been through many dips in the economy before. My interest in gathering you together here is to explore how artists themselves have the power to weather these dips, and the kinds of partnerships that might help that process.
Bill Carroll: It is very difficult to make a living as an artist. You need a fallback, as it really is like a lottery. During a downturn, having a gallery may even be irrelevent if they can’t sell your work. Interestingly, more galleries closed during the 90s downturn than in this recent one. Back then, the mid-career artists were hit hardest — that market completely died. One of our artists [at Charles Cowles Gallery] who was a sculptor turned entirely to public commissions and it changed his career in a very positive way. He still makes sculpture, but public commissions have since become an important part of what he does.
Ed Winkleman: I have two collectors who’ve been collecting art for 35 years. When the downturn hit in 2008 they said: we just don’t know the real price of anything right now, and we’re going to hold off buying until we can determine which prices have been inflated. So, one thing artists can do in response to such a situation is to put out a new body of work with lower prices — if you are a painter, you might create a new series of drawings, for example — and get those out and into the market, rather than having to lower the prices of your existing body of work.
Sharon Butler: As an artist I want to remind people — I think many people forget — that artists have a lot of skills. In the last downturn, I decided to go to graduate school. I managed to get a scholarship and a stipend, and I treated it like a residency.
Peter Drake: If you’re in this room you are already proactive — artists and creative people taking control of their lives. I think of Jeffrey Lew and Gordon Matta-Clark and what they did when they established 112 Green Street.…
Sharon L: Artists come to me and they ask: how do you get a dealer? But is having a dealer the answer? Is it key? Why is that perceived need there?
Sharon B: Having a dealer is only part of the puzzle of being an artist. Don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Even with gallery representation, you have to do things yourself. The reality is, THERE AREN’T ENOUGH GALLERIES to accommodate all the artists [and, it's intimated, not enough collectors - not enough demand].
Bill: You are ALWAYS responsible for your own career. A smaller gallery especially cannot be working on your career all the time. Most of the people I now who make a living off their work have several galleries — you need to look for galleries in other cities outside New York City.
Ed: There’s a sense you get, looking at submissions, that many artists think getting a gallery is an end-goal. Also, artists need to think in terms of working with a team — with their gallery. Especially during a downturn.
Bill: Many artists come into a gallery and think they’ve found parents (laughter).
Peter: There are many different “art worlds’… in any case it really is a partnership you enter into with your dealer. You have to adjust to make sure your partnership stays whole. You also have to help them extend their reach. To reciprocate, many dealers will ask their artists to curate shows.
To be continued… Part Two
One always wants to attend at least two panels that happen to coincide – it’s the unfortunate Law of Conferences. Come Wednesday I wanted to attend several sessions all happening at 12:30pm: “Modern Arab Art and Its Historical and Methodological Relationships to the Post-Colonial Context” exerted a certain kind of pull, but also Creative Capital’s “Risky Business” – do not ask if I entertained fantasies of cute non-profit arts professional nerds stripping down and dancing in their Tighty Whities (no, I did not).
The session that won out was the National Coalition Against Censorship‘s
“Policing the Sacred: Art, Censorship, and the Politics of Faith” – it did not disappoint. Chaired by critic and writer Eleanor Heartney, its unwavering tone was set by NCAC’s own Svetlana Mintcheva and artists Richard Kamler, Boryana Rossa, Shirin Neshat, and Shoja Azari. I correctly assumed that its context would necessarily have to be framed by the recent round of protests and discussions over The National Portrait Gallery’s removal in late November 2010 of David Wojnarowicz‘s 1987 unfinished video “Fire in My Belly,” an edited portion of which was included and rather innocuously installed in the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” While this session was obviously organized long beforehand, the recent firestorm over NPG’s decision to remove the video, still fresh in our minds, would lend it a particular immediacy.
I arrived early and instinctively sat near the back – knee-jerk practice after years of attending boring panels and the need for easy and discrete egress – but there was no need. The conversation moved easily into the complexity and seriousness of the subject at hand. By the time I remembered to survey the room it was crammed – standing room only.
“Policing the Sacred” broached the most interesting age-old conundrum of art, religion and censorship. It asked that we examine the lines between hate speech, critique, parody, and appropriation of the sacred and its symbols by artists as well as by governments. Several factors were noted as being particularly relevant now:
- An upsurge of religious values since the fall of Communist regimes;
- Muslims under fire since 9/11;
- The Internet and increased mobility/accessibility of artists and images, across cultures and contexts.
The panel looked at some recent instances of artworks that have been censored in the name of religion, across a range of contexts and cultures, from democracies in the West where free speech rubs up against the manipulations of the religious right, to totalitarian theocracies that appropriate religious iconography as part of broader manipulative strategies of oppression. The range of viewpoints presented was broad, by dint of the array of experiences of the artists present, which ranged from fending off and negotiating small town USA reactionaries, to fleeing the deadly persecution of dictatorships in Iran and Russia.
In her introduction, Eleanor Heartney opened by referencing the Wojnarowicz incident, and then gave us a list of recent instances of censorship and/or desecration that reflect the increased sectarianism of our post-9/11 era:
- France’s prohibition against women wearing the hijab;
- The Swiss ban on minarets;
- Up-tick in the desecration of Jewish grave sites;
- Problems installing Nativities in public spaces in the US;
- Intolerance for satires of Christianity;
- The Danish cartoon flap;
The list goes on.
One recurring theme throughout history, and one that finds particular traction now according to Svetlana Mintcheva, is the rampant desire (of regimes, political manipulators, religios, etc.) to find images that “offend”, even when (usually) the offense is taken through wild misinterpretation.
For me, perhaps the most interesting set of exchanges occurred toward the end of the session as the artists aired their different personal feelings about “boundaries” (paraphrasing):
Shirin Neshat, after her pointed explication of her work as a challenge to the Iranian regime, asserted that she personally likes boundaries, and that she doesn’t think globalism as such promotes behaviors that respect them. Her example was the veil in muslim countries, and how we in the West tend to equate it rather simplistically with servitude and oppression of women. She notes: the West wants to imagine that this is one world with one set of values.
Shojah Azari erupted with (in reference to the outcry over the perceived desecration of books in Richard Kamler’s art): “I would like to burn all the books” (laughter). “I was raised an atheist, at war with religious orthodoxy…” He went on to describe the repeated incapacity of Westerners to accept the fact that he is both Iranian and atheist (post-9/11, assumptions run rampant).
Richard Kamler: “I’m not that into boundaries”. He notes: they change as we grow, and contexts shift. One needs to look at religious boundaries with respect in order to change them. For this task, our notion of boundaries must be fluid.
Boryana Rossa: Agrees with Shirin’s take on boundaries – they are important.
Svetlana Mintcheva: Policing the boundaries – we all have them. Interesting that most of the artists censored by the Catholic church are CATHOLICS (laughter). There’s something about Catholicism that makes Catholics want to go against it…. Hate speech laws are dangerous, because they could conceivably be used to silence people and to suppress dissent. Once you have such legislation, how do you control who controls it? Such a law – you would want it to serve certain purposes; but you have to imagine how it would be wielded in the hands of oppressors.
I got to the Hilton late and in a bit of a funk Wednesday morning while waiting for my favorite fool-proof blend of French roast Italian espresso to hit the brain. Just inside the door, about to climb onto the north escalator, I immediately bumped into a friend – we hugged, and I went on; once at the top of the escalator I bumped into another friend, this time ready for a brief conversation (caffeine infusing). Ten minutes later I bumped into yet another friend with whom I had some serious catching up to do. As we stood talking in the middle of the thoroughfare that is the Hilton’s 2nd floor lobby, we each caught the eye of other friends who then stopped to chat. Two of us, ostensibly strangers, suddenly remembered we’d had dinner together with some people about six years ago during the CAA conference in Atlanta – pleasant memory: much expensive wine had been imbibed that evening.
And so, in the twenty minutes or so that passed, two people chatting had fluctuated and morphed into various groups of three, four, then five, finally breaking off into twos before dispersing altogether. Temporary plans were done and undone, panel sessions suggested, meetings complained about, lunch plans cemented.
As I left, heading for the panel session I felt would be the perfect ice-breaker for the conference, I squeezed off a tweet – something about this conference blog with a link and the hashtag #CAA or #CAA2011. I thought about how twitter, more often than not, facilitates the online expression of what just happened in the Hilton lobby: people coming together, some strangers, some friends, exchanging information and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs: phone numbers, URLS, hugs. So here is a widget of all things #CAA. Please feel free to tag your own tweets as such where applicable, and thus contribute to this casual, ever-fluctuating group of acquaintances and friends.