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In the last few weeks I have had a number of conversations with artists and gallerists (using that term freely) about changes that are coming at us, each with its own velocity. Some are moving like a sea change, some are seismic. But the old forms are morphing, of that I am certain.
From pop up shows to self curated online exhibits to different distribution channels to alternative models (like gallerists Baang and Burne who describe the white box gallery experience as, “This is not what art should be. Why am I filled with dread and confusion when I should experience elation?” and are creating a different model) the old institutions are looking a bit rickety and outdated.
More evidence: Art historian and critic Raphael Rubenstein is the guest editor of the Brooklyn Rail’s ArtSeen section this month. Pointing to how a letter can be a powerful form of art sharing (which certainly was the case in the correspondence between Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo,) Rubinstein invited BR readers to use that form to participate in writing about art:
Perhaps the most important difference between a conventional exhibition review and a “letter review” is that a letter implies a response, or at least the hope for an answer; it is not the last word on a subject, but the opening of a dialogue. Lately, as an art critic it has, at times, seemed hard to know who you are writing for, hard to visualize the audience that is, you hope, engaged by your writing. And if you don’t know who your readers are, it’s hard to instigate a productive conversation with them. My desire with this experiment is to stress the necessary bond between writers and readers, and to encourage direct relationships between potential correspondents not via fleeting, truncated messages within a commercialized network of “friends” but through an altogether different kind of posting. As Paul Chan has recently observed (in a piece about his staging of Beckett’s Godot in New Orleans), “a voice that desires a reply sounds different than an echo that wants attention.”
What a great concept, and already the results of that invitation have been eye opening for me. Some were familiar figures, like David Rhodes writing to Philip Guston and Greg Lindquist to Robert Smithson. But Rhodes also wrote to the extraordinary Moira Dryer, a young artist who died in 1992 at the age of 34. Unknown to me previously, Dryer’s work now has me fascinated. And there are letters to living artists as well, like Sharon Butler‘s letter to Tamara Gonzales whose work is also very compelling.
More possibilites, more permutations. All good.
Here are a few letter samples:
I have admired Linda’s bravado and devotion to her artists and her gallery. I’m sorry to see her move on.
In an interview with Linda that appeared in the Santa Fe Reporter, she had this to say about her decision:
I’m worried about the world. Not just the artists or myself or our community, I’m worried about what’s going on in the world. I don’t represent that many artists on a full-time basis, and the ones I do have a few things in common: They’re brilliant, they’re resourceful and, of course, they’re really good artists, I think. So good things will happen for them. But I think the art world has changed a lot in the last few years, so it’s not what it used to be. The gallery used to be a vehicle for communication, and I love what I’ve learned from artists, what I’ve learned about art, what I’ve learned from people who love art and artists, and the conversation about the importance of art in culture and in life has been central to the gallery. But that’s changed a little bit.
I feel that art is a really, really important component of a good life and important to society. I think real artists are at the vanguard of society and that we learn about ourselves as a culture through art. How do we know cultures of the past? From the architecture and the sculpture and the music and poetry and paintings that remain. What is art teaching us now, and what will the future know about us and our culture and our time from the art that we’re producing? What I’ve noticed is that it’s gotten to be really chic to be involved in the arts. It’s attracting a wider and wider array of people, some whose passion for what they do is deep and profound, and some for whom it’s a whim and a game. And that goes for the art that’s being made, the people who are displaying or showing the art, and the people who are collecting it. It’s different than it was even 20 years ago. It used to be that one became an artist because one had passion for it. And people opened galleries out of love and respect for the work. And people collected for the same reasons.
We’ve lost, as a general group, lost the interest, willingness, ability to slow down and look at something and let it talk. There’s celebrity art, there’s expensive art that makes people salivate—some people—because of its price, because of its fame. Now, anyone can become an artist and anyone can open a gallery and anyone can be a collector. When I started, I didn’t know much, but I spent a lot of time asking, learning, looking, making mistakes and honing a point of view. I don’t think you can have a point of view about art without looking at a lot of art. And I don’t think you can look at a lot of art with a few visits to The Met or the Guggenheim or by taking one class in college.
There is a lot of heart in these words. Good luck to Linda in whatever form her art loving continues.
My Facebook friend Agni Zotis sent me a notice for this event, the Unaffordable Art Fair. Here’s the copy from the event’s FB page:
Several years ago, my friend took a collector to Julian Schnabel’s home in Montauk with $10,000 ready to spend right there and then. Mr. Schnabel responded, “What do you want from me? A postage stamp?” I respected that man, that larger-than-life artist ever since.
– de la Haba
The arts are a major economic driver, for everyone except artists. Artists are increasingly being called upon to support the economy by lowballing our work or with outright contributions for which we cannot claim fair market value. The benefit of exposure that is said to accompany these sacrifices is a myth; unique objects are not good products with which to generate buzz and, quite frankly, most professional artists refuse to participate in all but the most worthy causes due to unfavorable tax laws. We, the artists of the Unaffordable Art Fair, ask- How do you value art? Remember: you get what you pay for.
Get the facts:
“Artists now play a huge but mostly unrecognized role in the new American economy of the 21st century” – NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. http://www.nea.gov/news/news08/ArtistsinWorkforce.html
“Orthodox micro-economists dismiss concern for artists’ relatively low earnings given their high educational attainment as simply a case of market over-supply…. But vis-à-vis stimulus, artists turn economic orthodoxy on its head. Compared to most other groups of workers, artists are more apt to spend what they make rapidly and on other goods and services in the local economy…. [and] artists enhance product design, employee relations and marketing in many industries.”
“Section 1221(3) of the Code explicitly provides that artistic property is not a capital asset and, thus, not entitled to long-term capital gain treatment.” (Meaning artists cannot deduct fair market value for contributions of artwork.)
“Artists’ personal characteristics, in particular their average educational attainment, more closely resemble those of other professionals than other occupational groups. However, artists tend to experience labor market outcomes more adverse than those of most other professionals.”
“Most artists have relatively low incomes, even though the majority (62%) are college graduates and hold at least one additional paying job.” (1/3 reporting under 40k; another 1/3 reporting under 20k.)
So if you are in or near New York City this weekend, might be worth a visit:
THE UNAFFORDABLE ART FAIR
Coordinators: Gregory de la Haba & CJ Nye
HOURS: Friday, noon – 8:00pm & Saturday, noon – 6:00pm
COCKTAIL PARTY: Saturday, 6:00 – 9:00pm
New York Studio Gallery
154 Stanton Street at the corner of Suffolk, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10002
Subways: F, M, J, Z to Essex St-Delancey, V to 2nd Ave-Lower East Side
Agni Zotis, Bernard Klevickas, Billy the Artist, Carrie Villines, CJ Nye, Dalton Portella, Elizabeth Hendler, Erik Pye, Francesco Masci, Gregory de la Haba, Jim D’Amato, Jsun Laliberte, Juan Hinojosa, Lee Wells, Lina Puerta, Mat Szwajkos, Peter Fox, Piotr Shtyk, Robert Preston, Stephen Madden, Stephen Woods, Tara Misenheimer
Facebook page link here.
I just learned about Own Art from an article in the Telegraph.
Here’s an excerpt that explains the gist of the program:
Set up in 2004 by the Arts Council, Own Art enables people to take home a piece of contemporary art straight way but then pay for it in 10 monthly interest-free instalments, borrowing anything up to £2,000. So far the scheme has made over 14,500 loans to purchase art valued in excess of £11.6 million. “It’s a simple idea that works for artists, buyers and galleries,” says Mary-Alice Stack, development manager for Own Art. “From farmers to policemen, students to pensioners, we’re making it possible for everyone to buy original art for their homes.”
What an extraordinary marriage of practical and inspired. The article goes on to interview a number of people who took advantage of this offer, asking them how owning art has transformed their lives.
A few highlights from those interviews:
“It may sound a bit weird but getting into art has made me appreciate the beauty in things more. When I’m walking the dogs, for instance, I’ve realised that I now notice things like the colour of autumn leaves. It really makes you open your eyes.”
–Regan Hurle, 39, a worker at a car components factory
“We like having real art on the walls, not reproductions, but that doesn’t mean we’ve spent a huge amount of money. Our art is worth far more to us than its monetary value. We don’t put the art in a vault until the accountant comes round to value it or anything. We buy things with meaning. I really like the connection you get with the artists through their work.
“Andrew [our son] would tell his art teacher how we had a Hockney and a Hirst but they just thought he was making it up. It’s a common misconception that art is expensive and exclusive; that’s why the Own Art scheme is so good.”
–Mike and Susie Hughes. Mike, 54, is a health service manager and Susie, 46, is a retired dental nurse.
“I’m the son of an immigrant mill-worker, so I didn’t grow up in a house surrounded by art. I like the way art has shaped my house now, though. Our home feels warm, and so much of that is due to the art we have. The personality of the house has been dictated by what hangs on the wall. I love how it stimulates emotions and discussions. By bringing up my 14-year-old daughter Georgia in a house filled with paintings, I am hoping that she won’t feel intimidated by art.”
–Tassadat Hussein, 37, a human rights barrister
“I don’t really go on holidays, partly because it’s hard to find someone to take care of all the animals, but also because I’d rather buy a piece of art. Buying art is still a luxury although the scheme does make it easier. I like buying work from local artists since I feel more of a connection with them.”
–David Pike, 53, pig farmer
If there is a program like this in the United States, I’m not aware of it. Would this be feasible in this country? Not sure, but worth looking into further.
I have been a life long advocate for the importance of original art in daily life. Of course that is a position that is nothing short of self serving, but it is also based on a very distinct experience from my own childhood. My parents were suburban middle class people who grew up on farms in rural Utah during the Depression. Once they moved to the Bay Area, their cultural exposure expanded to include the symphony, opera, ballet and theatre. But their participation in the visual arts was strictly museum fare. Contemporary, gallery-oriented art was a beast of a different color, so to speak. The edginess, occasional nudity and “in your face” imagery just didn’t appeal to their lingering Victorian sensibilities.
Three original paintings hung on the wall in our home, purchased by my mother before I was born. When examined with a trained eye, these small landscapes are ordinary and rather forgettable. But when I was a child, these paintings loomed LARGE in my consciousness. I memorized every square inch, examining the scumbling on the right, the heavy impasto to the left. Those paintings made me feel like there was something special about my family.
So anyone who is advocating for the buying of art is a good guy, right? After reading an article in last week’s New York Times Home & Garden section, I have conflicting responses to that question.
This piece, Easing the Pain of Collecting, features Jen Bekman, an entrepreneur who has successfully created an online photography gallery selling low cost photographs in various sizes. Her primary proposition was that most people feel intimidated by galleries and don’t know how to find, select and purchase quality artwork.
But flipping through a Pottery Barn catalog, Ms. Bekman had another realization. Even though she had often longed to buy art, she had never bought anything from a gallery.
“I didn’t know how to, I was completely intimidated,” she said. “The only opportunities I saw for people like me,” she said, were the mass-produced stock pieces sold by places like Pottery Barn.
What she wanted, it turned out, was not just to produce a show but to change the way art is sold and collected.
Ms. Bekman immersed herself in the online world of art, did as much research as she could about the way traditional galleries functioned, and began reaching out to emerging photographers whose work caught her eye.
Today Ms. Bekman has relationships with hundreds of artists and photographers, represents 18 of them, employs a staff of four, and feels connected, she said, to every one of the 40 or so pieces on the walls in her apartment, like the large, provocative photograph of a woman brushing her hair given to her by Benjamin Donaldson, a photographer she represents. On March 15 her gallery will celebrate its fifth anniversary, and last week 20×200 shipped its 6,500th print.
The placement of this article in the Home & Garden weekly section rather than the Arts page is in itself an indication of how the Times is positioning Bekman’s venture. My issue is not stealth art elitist snobbery but a concern about the Pottery Barn-inspired business model approach to art. Outside the wealthy jetset world of art fairs, investment frenzy and fancy galleries (which do feel exclusionary and intimidating to most of us), what are the options? Is Bekman’s low-cost, non-threatening decorative orientation to “original” art the fallback position? Like a lot of art makers, I long to find easier ways for people to have a deep connection with art work on a personal basis. Neither approach seems to fill that requirement.
Curators extraordinaire Kate Fleming and Nancy Hoffmeier came to my studio this week to choose work for my next show*. Kate shared a comment with me that she heard from another artist: “Over the years I’ve watched people coming to my shows, and it seems to me that a person has to have strong self love if they are going to purchase a work of art for themselves. Buying art, it’s a curious act.”
It IS a curious act. I too have noticed how differently people react when they find a piece of art they connect with. Some are very clear, and the only question they may ask is, Do you have a payment plan? Others just can’t quite make the leap. They hesitate and hold back, usually leaving empty handed.
I don’t think the difference is financial. Many of those hesitators have no problem spending the cost of a painting for one night’s meal or for an article of clothing. And many of my art clients who buy over and over again are not well heeled. The difference may be a strong sense of self care and self love. Meals and clothing don’t call up questions of personal worthiness since they are, categorically, “essentials”. But art. That’s pleasure for your self and soul. Some people have a hard time believing they deserve it.
I hope my patrons feel the way I do: I have never regretted any of my art purchases. And over the years, I have made plenty. (This is not meant to sound self righteous or self-serving–for an artist, having lots of art around is a categorical essential! For those who might be interested, most of my art collection is posted on Slow Painters.)
That’s the curious act part. Now the taking leave. I will be out of town until October 2 and will resume my postings at that time.
*For my friends in the Boston/Cambridge area, I will be showing at 38 Cameron Gallery, October through mid-December. An artist reception is scheduled for Friday, October 19, 6-9pm.