8.30.2010

Marketing Mondays: Let’s Talk Prices

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At Art Basel Miami a few years ago, I walked into a booth that had placed two framed Helen Frankenthaler watercolors side by side. I don’t remember them exactly, but they were similar abstractions--lyrical and quite beautiful. Both were no more than 22 x 30 inches, and framed similarly with ornate frames. One was priced $250,000; the other, $450,000.
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I asked about the price difference. The dealer looked at me as if I had just rolled off a turnip truck. And only because I stood there for an answer did he deign to respond. “The dates,” he said condescendingly. OK, so the more expensive one was older and presumably rarer, therefore—oh, is that a turnip in my pocket?—it cost $200,000 more. For most of us this is not personally useful information, but it does underscore the fact that pricing can be based on all kinds of criteria.

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I have talked around this topic but not discussed it directly because the variables are so great. But since every artist thinks about pricing, here goes. This post will raise more questions than it answers. If you’re thinking about how to price your work, these are the questions you have to ask:

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What is the status of the artist?

An established artist can sell her work for higher prices than an emerging artist can. While there are exceptions (the fresh-out-of-art-school art star), typically an artist and her gallery manage prices upward over time because of a good reputation, which is built on years of solid work, good critical response, many exhibitions, and regular sales. I’ve had students see a small work in a high-end commercial gallery with a price of, say, $5000 and then want to put that price on their own student/emerging work. Nice try, but see what emerging artists are asking at the non-profits and at emerging galleries. That’s a better gauge. Indeed, checking out prices in this way is quite helpful for artists at all career levels.

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What is the status of the gallery?

An artist showing in a certain big white box with frosted glass windows on 24th Street in West Chelsea will see his work sell for way more than an artist who is showing at, say, the Garry Legosian Gallery in East Podunk. Artists and dealers find their own level. Emerging galleries show emerging artists; mid-level galleries show mid-level artists; and the blue chips show the artists with the big-ass careers. It may not be fair, but that’s the fact.

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What is the price range a gallery’s clientele is willing to pay?

Art prices--like couture, celebrity, and high-end cars--are all about what the market will bear. Status sells. The bigger your name, the bigger the gallery’s name, the higher the price range.

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Is the work going to be shown at a commercial gallery? A co-op gallery? A non-profit space? An open studio? A private sale out of the studio?

Every venue has its particular commission structure. A commercial gallery will take 50% of the sale price, which means, typically, that the price is doubled (and then some) from what you and the dealer need to earn. Non-profits, in keeping with their mission, may take less. When you make a private sale, you make your own price and keep it all. But if you are represented by a gallery, it’s not kosher to sell out of your studio without sharing in the commission.

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(Everybody asks this question: What about if you have a gallery in one city but live and work in another? That depends on the arrangement you have made with your gallery. Generally speaking, if your gallery is in Portland, Oregon, but you live and work in Portland, Maine--an extreme example--I think you can probably keep the sale, especially if it's an Open Studio and you have done all the work and PR for your event. But nothing is black and white. If you're enjoying the visibility of an national ad that the gallery has bought and paid for, or have been recently reviewed nationally for a show you had at that gallery, then quite possibly sales may occur as a result of that visibility. Talk to your dealer. And never undercut the gallery’s retail price.)

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What’s the discount situation at the venue where you’ll be selling?

It’s not unusual for a dealer to allow a 10% “courtesy” to a regular client. Some aggressive clients, taking advantage of the current financial climate, request discounts of 30 or 40 percent. (I have undying love for the dealer who reminded a particularly wealthy but sharp-penciled client, “You know, my artists depend on these sales to pay their mortgage or health insurance, to pay for their dental work, even to buy food. I can’t give you a 30% discount.”)

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Are you working with a gallery for the first time?

Let them suggest pricing. They are in the business of selling, and their goal is to sell your work. They might ask you to price low for the first show. As they establish a client base for you, they’ll raise the prices. If you’re uncomfortable with the numbers they’re suggesting, talk about it with them. Perhaps you can compromise. Or perhaps you can create a small group of paintings at that lower price. I’m not suggesting you sell out; find a way to work with a gallery that wants to work with you. You can, of course, say no.

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Are your prices uniform throughout the country?

A New York City gallery wanted to raise the price of my small paintings to a point that would have been prohibitive for galleries in other parts of the country that show and sell my work. I said No. The New York gallery declined to show the work. I don’t regret my decision. My paintings continued to sell well at the original price. In fact, counter intuitively during this bad economy, I raised the prices 20% at the beginning of the year and they’re still selling. But I had to do it in a way that felt right to me.

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Some additional pricing thoughts:

. Art made with expensive materials needs to be priced higher

. Work that takes a long time to make, or that requires many assistants, needs to be priced higher
. Smaller work tends to sell for less than larger work, but there are always exceptions: especially at the blue-chip level

. Better to build up your prices gradually over time. You’ll establish your client base
. You can go up in price but you can’t go down. What are you, Loehmans?
. Don’t put a gigantic price tag on it just because you really don’t want it to sell. That’s a classic art-school ploy. Mark it NFS (Not for Sale). In most commercial galleries, though, NFS won’t fly because the work there is most definitely for sale
. Work on paper tends to have lower prices than paintings. I don’t make the rules, just sharing conventional wisdom. Once you get to be Louise Bourgeois or Picasso, you can change those rules for yourself
. If you feel like your guts are being ripped out because you’re letting your work go for too little, don’t sell it for that price. Or if it's a particular piece you don't want to let go, don't let it go
. In a down economy you may be better off with smaller work, or work on paper, or multiples, all of which tend to sell for lower prices
. Multiples open a whole other avenue of discussion, one that should be discussed by someone who knows the photography and print markets. From my limited perspective, I see that with multiples—and that would be photography and prints--there are not only many copies of the same image but different sizes; different materials and processes; different situations under which the prints are made; limited and open editions; giclees and inkjet prints, intaglios and mass-market lithos. If I were looking to gain some insight into pricing, price work, I would make a point of visiting a print or photo fair.
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One last thought: If your work consistently has the lowest price in the room, or the highest, you might want to assess your price structure—or the venue in which you’re showing.
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What are YOU thinking about prices?
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8.27.2010

The Big Five-Oh-Oh

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I've blogging since June 2006, and this is a milestone: my 500th post. In the first few months I didn't blog with any regularity--frankly, I didn't know what I wanted to write about--but by the the time I reported on the Miami art fairs in December, All's Fair that year, I knew what I wanted to do. I've been writing about the art I see in New York City and on my travels ever since. I'm fully committed.
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There are some other interesting numbers: 618 Followers (love you!) and some 750,000 hits since I began tracking readership in early 2008. I just bought more space from Blogger, so I can go for another 500 posts and then some. I guess that's a commitment. Are you with me?
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8.25.2010

The Carriage House at John Davis Gallery

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The dappled Carriage House as seen from the gallery's back door
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As a first-time visitor to the John Davis Gallery, I humbly suggest that its motto should be, “Wait, there’s more.” Not that the bi-level space isn’t fine for exhibitions; it is (and Brenda Goodman’s show looked great in it). It’s what happens when you walk out the back door. There’s more.

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Across a sculpture-filled courtyard there’s a four-story carriage house with five more exhibitions. The space has been cleaned out and stripped bare so all that remains are the space with its 19th Century workaday details and, of course, the art.

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When I was there, Ben Butler’s cedar sculptures were in the courtyard. Paintings by Beth Gilfilen and Leticia Ortega Cortes were on the second floor. Suzanne Ulrich’s collage were on the third. And Luis Castro’s wood sculptures were on the topmost floor. Running the length of the elevator shaft was a shimmering installation by Ortega Cortes and Dionisio Cortes, a waterlike but soundless cascade.

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There was other art, too. But what I just noted is what I’m going to focus on. We’ll start on the ground floor and climb up, the installation as our centerpiece.

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This building is over a hundred years old, and you can see that the space was used hard. The entrance is over your left shoulder as you look at this image. I want to draw your attention to the installation visible between the columns at left
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Below is a full-on view. I love the linear quality of the work. Makes you want to draw, doesn't it?

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The glare you see is the light from the entrance, so this view is one level up and about 180 degrees from from the first one

The installation, called Is Where Space Ends Death or Infinity? , is made from some 25,000 plastic drinking straws that are strung with thread. There are two intersecting planes: one suspended at a slight angle; the other with a catenary curve.

Detail of the two planes below:

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I shot this from a small side room, pictured below, so that you can get some of the geometry of the interior. The small rooms--animal stalls in a previous incarnation, or perhaps living quarters for the livery staff?--are now galleries .

Here's a view looking into the room. The paintings inside are by Leticia Ortega Cortes. The painting on the outside wall is by Beth Gilfilen .
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.The small rooms make for interesting bisected views, like the one above. The painting on the right is another Gilfilen. The staircase barely visible in the right corner is shown in profile below: .
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From our vantage point on the stairs we have a good overview of the second floor and the installation in the shaftway
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. Here on the third floor we're at the top of the cascade
.Below, a view looking down .
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. Here we see some collages by Suzanne Ulrich
Just out of view in the right corner below are the stairs we're going to climb to the top floor
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I love the geometry of this stairwell, which leads to a low-ceilinged garret
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Below, the opposite corner, with an installation of carved wooden spheres by Luis Castro. These were the thoughts I had when looking at them: bocce, prayer beads, people
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Castro's human-scaled forms are so sensuous, and I like their curvilinear relationship to the enormous elevator pulley, below
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Before we head back down the stairs, let's take a look out the low window at left.
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Here's the view into the crisp geometry of courtyard with views of Ben Butler's cedar sculptures, Beat and Pitch:
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Next post we travel farther up the Hudson to Castleton, to another reincarnated building with a new life. The Castleton Project space, housed in the enormous former Odd Fellows Hall on South Main Street, is featuring its inaugural show, Castleton Twelve. I'm one of the twelve.
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8.23.2010

Marketing Mondays: “Should I Pay to Have My Portfolio Reviewed?”

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Who’s doing the reviewing? How much will it cost? What do you hope to get out of the session? What kinds of promises are being made?

Commercial gallery: Unless there’s some kind of special program or class the gallery is running, commercial galleries don’t charge to view work. Dealers do, of course, review work by artists they might like to work with, but here the review is not to help you develop your vision or technique; it’s to help them decide whether ot not they wish to take the next step with you.
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Non-profit art organizations: Advice comes in many shapes and forms from a range of non-profits. Check out the options in your region. Grant funding, for instance, may allow an art center or museum to offer a day of free career advice to a first-come group, or a selected-from-application group, in which a portfolio review is part of the package. Some venues may charge a nominal fee to cover their costs. Find out who is offering this advice. You want people who know how to look at and talk about art and—this is important—who know how to do it concisely, because those one-on-one sessions are usually brief. A reviewer who is connected to a museum or gallery is a bonus.
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Also check out venues that offer services to artists as part of their mission. A venue like the Drawing Center in New York City will look at your work if you apply and are selected for an appointment. There’s no charge. I had a review some years ago and got absolutely nothing out out it, but I’ve heard many artists say it was career changing.
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Professional events: I’m thinking of the Mentoring session offered by the College Art Association at its annual conference, in which you sign up to have your portfolio reviewed by an art professional for 20 minutes. I believe it’s free and first-come, but you have to be a paid registrant for the conference. At other conferences and symposia, you may pay a fee to meet individually or in small groups to talk with a critic, dealer, curator or other art pro. Before you pay your money, be clear on what is being offered and how much individual time you will get, if individual time is what you are seeking.
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Career consultant: This is a private individual you pay for career advice. A good consultant can offer critical feedback about the work--not just in a portfolio but actual artwork--as well as suggest where to take it, both esthetically and in terms of getting it out into the world. A good consultant can step back and ask the kinds of questions that make you dig for answers, or connect the dots between you and other artists or venues, or offer comments that serve as a bridge to your next career step.
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But due diligence is required. There are folks who would take your money--lots of it--and offer little in return. Beware the consultant who promises you the moon, like a solo show. S/he may a gallery set up just for just this purpose; if you haven’t heard of the gallery before, chances are no one else has heard of the gallery either. Ask around. (Disclaimer: consulting is something I do at a reasonable rate for midcareer artists. The only promise I make is that while I can offer esthetic feedback and career suggestions, the artist is the one who will have to do the hard work of moving her work forward and getting it out into the world. I’m not advertising here, just making it clear that I think consultations can be a good thing IF you do your research.)
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Vanity gallery: Is a vanity, aka a pay-to-show gallery, offering you a review of your work as part of the “package” it’s selling? Run in the other direction, not just from the review but from the whole pay-to-show concept. When any entity receives a ton of money up front, it has no incentive to do anything for you. A definite no on this option.

A group of peers: A small group of artists at more or less the same career level who meet regularly, who are serious in their intent and willing to speak honestly, may do more for you—and you for them—than any paid consultant. But it’s not easy to navigate the waters of friendship and criticism, a topic I covered earlier this year. Another caveat: If you get along well, it's all too easy for a group to start out with studio visits and serious talk and gradually morph into getting together for lunch. Of course it's lovely to have art friends, but that's probably not what you signed up for.
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Whatever option you choose, know that a good reviewer will take the job seriously. You should expect some encouragement, but be prepared to hear things you don’t like.

Over to you.
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8.19.2010

Brenda Goodman at John Davis Gallery, Hudson

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Because of the recent debacle wrapped in a fiasco enveloped in a brouhaha, my blogging schedule—to say nothing of my studio time—has been compromised. But art marches on. For this blog post it’s going it’s going to march backward a couple of weeks to my visit to Hudson, New York.
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The John Davis Gallery on Warren Street in Hudson
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Set alongside the river about two hours up the New York Thruway, Hudson is a small town that seems to have been revitalized by the galleries and antique shops that line Warren Street, its main drag.

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Of the half dozen or so good galleries, the best by far is the John Davis Gallery, a small-town space with a New York sensibility. And I mean that as a compliment. The storefront gallery, with light pouring in around the exhibition walls which block the front windows, was showing Brenda Goodman’s powerful work, a selection of 20 years of paintings, mostly, and some work on paper. Davis himself was behind the desk, a slight figure radiating huge enthusiasm for the art that filled his space. .
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In the front corner of the gallery, large and small. The large painting, right, is Crossing Over, 2009, oil on wood, 60 x 64 inches

I don’t know Brenda Goodman, but looking at her work with its robust, if slightly menacing forms, I see life crammed with energy and emotion. There’s pain there. Joy, too. And those passages of thick impasto—so beautiful, so messy—pull you close to the surface and then push you away, then pull you right in only to repel you once again. Viewing those paintings was a physical and emotional workout.
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Formally Goodman is painting large areas against small passages, thick against thin, small figures against hulking abstract forms, raw emotion against the sheer material sensuality of the paint. Technically she’s a master. If I were to be flip, I would characterize her work as the lovechild of Philip Guston and Joan Mitchell on a bad day, no a good day, no a bad day, no a good day, but the fact is that Goodman is a singular painter doing brute and beautiful work. Her paintings in fact look like no one’s but her own.
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Left, Hard Choice, 2010, oil on wood, 60 x 64 inches; right, Burial, 2010, oil on wood, 52 x 56 inches
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Be sure to see the full view of Burial on the gallery's website. I find it immensely moving, suggestive of ancestral remains and recent loss. A scar carved into the surface seems new, raw, but perhaps it's an old wound reopened. The paint Goodman used to render the flat, map-like shape is probably iron oxide, the same mineral as earth and blood.
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Two details of Burial, below
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Above, Loss, 2009, oil on wood, 60 x 60 inches
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Detail below
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Goodman's show is over (it ran July 22-August 16), but you can see more of her work on the gallery blog, as well as Goodman’s own website and blog. There's a recent review by Eric Gelber at Art Critical. Keep her on your radar. Get to her next show.

Next post I’ll take you on a tour of the gallery’s Carriage House, an old building behind the storefront spce that’s filled with great art and all kinds of architectural fabulosity.
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8.16.2010

Marketing Mondays: Standing Up for Yourself

. Ansel Adams, Aspens, New Mexico; photograph from the Internet

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Last month I wrote a two-parter here called Mind and Matter, on the spectacular show at MoMA that featured the work of Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Gego, Louise Nevelson, Mona Hatoum and others. Part 2 focused on Bourgeois's cloth book, Ode à l'Oubli. In the text I referred to a 2004 New York Times article on the printer of the book, Solo Impressions. In short order I received an email from Raylene Marasco, owner of the SoHo based company, Dyenamix:
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"It was actually Dyenamix that printed and dyed the majority of the materials for the Ode a L'Oubli," wrote Marasco. "Judith did, in fact, construct the pages and assemble the book and printed the silkscreened pages, but she was not the only print house providing the process for the project. We actually provided the printed or dyed fabric for 27 of the 34 pages in the book."

This is a terrific example of an artist standing up for herself and her business. I admired her for contacting me and providing me with the information. I immediately added the clarification in red and noted the ommission with regret, including a public apology. Marasco has invited me to visit her SoHo studio, and I look forward to doing so soon. I expect a blog post will come out of the visit.

Mistakes can happen, but it’s what happens next that is the subject of this post.

Here’s what happened to me recently: At the invitation of an institution where I had recently produced a wildly successful encaustic painting conference, a local public TV station created a video for airing. Whether by design or incompetence, the taping took place during a short period when I was away! Perhaps not surprisingly then, my role was not noted; indeed, my name was not even mentioned. I was shocked and appalled not only at the omission but because the institution continued—continues—to promote a video in which it appears to take credit for my work. I saw it only because an art professional in the area emailed me the URL and said, "Stop what you're doing and look at this video now." There's quite a lot more to the story, but that's the gist of it.
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I severed ties with the institution immediately after I saw the video and read the error-filled press release for it. Then I created a new conference blog for the event I had conceived and directed for an audience I had attracted because of a book I had written. Then I set about to find a new physical home for the conference. To my great satisfaction and relief, other artists, unbidden, stood up with me. One artist created a blog post and a public Facebook page asking, "Where's Joanne?" Another posted a series of public letters and comments on her blog. There were numerous comments on each of those public postings, including a few of my own. Some artists emailed the institution. Many others--artists, dealers, curators--called and emailed me privately to say, “We’re with you.” Institutions emailed to say, "We'd love you to come here." It was a huge outcry in the small world of encaustic.
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What kind of conference leader would I have been if I had continued with the institution and said or done nothing? What kind of artist? What kind of Marketing Mondays writer?
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Unfortunately, this situation has not ended as well the previous example. There has been no public apology to me, and the offending video continues to be linked to the institution’s website. Indeed, I even received an email from a faculty member who, referring to the fallout, asked in effect, How could you have done this to the college? Are you effing serious? This is the same kind of thinking that gets women stoned to death. I’m not naming names here because this post is not about the institution (though I have provided links in bold if you're curious); it’s about how I stood up for myself in the face of an institution's actions. And further, it's about how we as individual artists stand up for ourselves and for one another in the face of an error or injustice by a larger entity.
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(Let me stop to emphasize that acknowledging a grievance without presenting yourself as a victim is probably the hardest part of the process of standing up for yourself; the corollary is standing up without stooping to slander--even if you are really, really pissed off. It's a tricky thicket. What I would say for myself is that while the scope of my accomplishment has not been acknowledged publicly by the institution that benefitted from it, I am not a victim. I created the best encaustic painting conference EVER--a fact known to the 250 conferees who attended and to the many others who read the blog accounts of the event--and I'm going to do it again next year, elsewhere. )
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These are some of the situations in which you may need to stand up:
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. You curate a show and find your name left off the credits. At the very least request that the institution immediately issue a press release announcing the exhibition and your role as curator. If it's not forthcoming, issue one yourself. And make sure the wall text in the show gets it right. By the way, artists: If you are curated into a show, identify the curator on your resume; your work didn't get included by magic.
. You get your work on the cover of a magazine, only to see the “On the Cover” info omitted from an inside page. Let the editor know. Usually this error is rectified in the following issue, though it's small consolation when you're denied the immediate pleasure of seeing your name associated with the work.
. Your work is printed upside down, or with a misspelled name. Having worked in publishing, I can tell you that these things do happen. Let the editor know. A responsible editor makes every effort to find a place in the following issue to reprint the image right-side up--but don't expect a full page; it will be a tiny image and a short correction. Unfortunately, this is not possible with a postcard that has already been sent out. A follow-up email announcement might help, but of course it's not the same as that stand-alone little card which often has a visual shelf life of months or years. If a dealer makes a habit of these kinds of mistakes, well, you know what you have to do.
. Your name is omitted from the announcement of a group show. You are set to promote the show on your blog and, uh, there's no mention of you. Create a postcard with an image of your own work to announce the show. A decent institution or gallery will pay for the printing, or at least share in the expense. But of course you have to ask. Make sure you send out an e-announcement with an image of your work; include everyone's name on the list of exhibitors.

Standing up for yourself is not just about media issues, of course:
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. What about the artist who sees his or her hard work claimed by another? Or copied? Or used without attribution? This is legal territory, and you'd do well to contact the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in your area.
. What about the painting that has been damaged? The work that has gone missing? Accidents do happen. Some dealers will work with you immediately to find or create a reasonable solution--and payment is a reasonable solution. Others may need repeated requests to deal with the situation; some may need legal prompting. Proceeding aggressively will probably damage your relationship with the gallery. Then again, do you really want to continue with a gallery that treats you and your work so poorly? This may be another time to contact the VLA.
. What about the check from a dealer or consultant that has been "in the mail" for six months now? I covered this issue a few months ago in
Where's My Money? and When Bad Things Happen (talk about standing up: Click onto the video link at the bottom of this latter post to see the TV news clip of Donald Baechler discussing his lawsuit with the Loew Gallery in Atlanta).
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In standing up for yourself, you may need to challenge an institution, a gallery, a group, or another individual. It’s not easy to take that stand. You may actually find yourself blamed for the situation! But inaction is not an option. Just remember that reporting a story, stating an opinion, and recounting your experience honestly are not grounds for libel (words in print) or slander (spoken words); speaking out to stand up for yourself is a First Amendment right.
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So, over to you: What was your situation and how did you handle it? How did you stand up for yourself? How did you follow up? What was the fallout? Was there litigation? If it makes you feel more comfortable to omit the specific names, that’s OK. This post is about how we stand up for ourselves, our reputations, our careers.
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8.11.2010

A Life in Art, Times Three

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I'm going to keep this post short today and instead direct you to posts on two other blogs. The theme: a life in art.

From Art in the Studio: Lee Bontecou's studio now (above) and in 1962
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. Over at Art in the Studio, Nancy Natale has posted pieces on two artists: Lee Bontecou and Hedda Stern. She tells Bontecou's story in two parts, including historical images as well as photographs she took at Bontecou's MoMA show, All Freedom in Every Sense (up through the 30th of this month). Stern, who just celebrtated her 100th birthday, is less well known, but she's one of the pioneers in the high-testosterone art world of the 1950's. She's the lone woman in the famous "Irascibles" photo taken by Nina Leen for Life in 1951.
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. And at Geoform, editor Julie Karabenick has just posted a long and wide-ranging interview with George Ortman, an artist who for 60 years has been, he says, "exploring the possibilities presented by the picture plane and expressing new ideas with materials and process. " Ortman lived and worked in New.York City long before Chelsea, or even SoHo, at a time when the galleries were on 8th Street and then on 57th. He has moved around a bit since then, but his work has remained focused on geometric expression. The interview features a nice selection of images that give us the opportunity to see an artist's work and thinking unfold over time.
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Click on over. I'll meet you back here in a couple of days with the first of several posts on what I saw and did on a weekend trip to the Hudson Valley.

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From Art in the Studio: Hedda Sterne in 1951, the lone female "irascible" in the famous Life photo of 1951 .
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From Geoform: George Ortman working on Language in his studio in Castine, Maine
Photo: Lynn Braswell
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8.09.2010

Marketing Mondays: More on Media


In a recent MM post, Meet the Press, I talked about getting interviewed. This week, I’m going to reprise the information I learned in “TV school”—a media training course I was sent to when I had a day job as an editor for a high-profile women’s magazine. The training helped me when I had to speak on behalf of the magazine. More important, it has served me well since, whenever I’ve had the opportunity to speak about myself and my art.

Some of the info here was originally part of
The Artist’s Talk, which I posted about a year ago, but I’m expanding it for this post. If you’re going to be interviewed on videotape for local, regional or national TV, or as part of an archive about your own work, why not present yourself in the best possible way? .


Speaking on camera? Somewhere between the grand gesture and no gesture at all lie a range of viable expressions
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A Lineup of Clichés
As part of my training I was sent to a three-day course to prepare me for speaking on TV and to large groups. There were six of us in the class. Our first assignment, right then and there, was to stand in front of the group and talk about ourselves. We were videotaped. We hit all the clichés.
. The Jingler: First came the outgoing fellow who kept his hands in his pockets and jingled his coins and keys the entire time. Annoying? I found myself focusing on what he was jingling, trying to discern the various metallic sounds--the dimes from the quarters, the quarters from the keys. I didn’t catch a word he said.
. The Preacher: Then a plain-dressed woman stood up and told us about herself. The entire time she held her hands clasped together in front of her chest in a gesture of supplication. “Let us pray,” she might have been saying to her congregation.
. The Fig Leaf: Then came the demure young woman who kept her hands locked together over her pubis, as if she were as naked as she seemed to feel.
. The Ummer: Ah, um, ah, um, er, uh, ahh. It was excruciating to sit through.
. The Eye Roller: Every time this guy struggled for a word or phrase he rolled his eyes back and looked up. Yes, the information was in his head, but he looked as if he was trying to read it, as if off a TelePrompter.
. The Gesticulator: Finally, I’m embarrassed to say, it was my turn. If you’d seen my video without the sound, you’d think I was performing Evita.
You learn a lot from watching yourself on tape. You don’t need TV school, just use the movie feature on your digital camera and talk about your work. Read the tips below before you begin shooting. Then tape, review, refine.
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Some TV Tips from TV School
Watch a panel of speakers on CNN, or a pundit being interviewed one on one. They’re more media savvy than the average artists—indeed, they’ve probably gone to TV School—but make note of the ones who stand out for not standing out, the ones who seem perfectly comfortable, neither orators nor ill-at-ease mumblers.
. Stand up (or sit up) straight. Sounds elementary, but it makes a difference. When your spine is straight and your shoulders are back, your lungs can take in more air. That makes you more alert and gives your voice the air it needs to sound like you. Visually you have more authority. Plus you won’t look like … a Turtle (another stereotype whose presence is marked by slouching or shrinking, seemingly in effort to hide). Relatedly . . .
. Know where your head is. That expression “can’t keep his head on straight” has relevance if you’ve ever seen a speaker, head cocked to one side, addressing an audience or talking to an interviewer. You find yourself cocking your own head to compensate for the lack of perpendicular. (Remember the team of disco barhoppers from Saturday Night Live?)
. If you’re using a mic, adjust it before you begin so you don’t fumble. And, this sounds ridiculously elementary but it’s not, know how to speak into it. There’s a sweet spot where your normal speaking voice will be amplified without your having to strain. If you’re on a panel, there’s nothing more annoying for an audience member than being unable to hear you because you’re not making adequate contact with the mic (or vice versa, when you lean over and shout into it)
. Make eye contact. If you’re speaking one on one to an interviewer, look at the interviewer—not on the floor, on the ceiling, or darting about. Darting your eyes makes you look as if you’re up to something. If you’re speaking to a group, make eye contact around the room
. Too many, um, vocal pauses is, ah, annoying to the listener—and, uh, it takes you twice as long to, er, get your point across.
. The answer is in your brain, but rolling your eyes back to find it will not retrieve the information. That looking-up-to-heaven eye roll is endearing in little kids, but in adults, not so much. Once you’re aware of it, it’s pretty easy to avoid.
. So, what do you do with your hands? Just let your arms hang by your side if you’re standing, or rest in your lap or on your thighs if you’re sitting. It may feel unnatural at first, but it allows a viewer to focus on your face and on what you’re saying. TV school tells you that the occasional “small gesture” for emphasis is OK. That goes for facial expressions, too. I’m Italian, so “small gesture” is relative. If your conversational style is physically expressive, you don’t have to straightjacket yourself—you’re not the Queen—but save the conducting for Sunday Dinner. (You bluebloods don’t have a clue to what I’m talking about, but the rest of you know what I mean.)
. Can you relax enough to let your body express itself? Normal facial expressons go along with our spoken language. Smiling, especially--not the "cheese" smile, but the relaxed, lips-apart expression that's part of conversation--puts your audience at ease and conveys your message with sincerity.
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Over to you
How have you prepared for public speaking? For a taped lecture interview? Tips, comments, and of course your personal stories are welcome.

8.04.2010

See You in Castleton

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I'll be at the Castleton Project and Event Space on Saturday evening as part of the Castleton Twelve.

The Project Space, just south of Albany, New York, is a refurbished silent movie theater. The town, officially, Castleton-on-Hudson, lies along the river. The Castleton Twelve consists of Sheila Manion Artz, Nancy Baker, Manhee Bak, Jackie Brickman, Marylyn Dintenfass, Laurence Fayard, Matt Hart, Richard Jochum, Lisa Mackie, Peter Mackie, Jeffrey Allen Price and myself.
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I expect to have some installation pics for you next week. I'm also planning to hit the galleries in Hudson, farther south along the river.

These are a few of the Castleton Twelve:

Marylyn Dintenfass

.. Lisa Mackie

..Nancy Baker

. . Peter Mackie

. . Joanne Mattera

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8.02.2010

Marketing Mondays: It Takes a Village to Have a Big Career


Village people: View of The Independent Art Fair in New York City earlier this year as reflected in the enormous revolving mirrored cube by Jeppe Hein, Johann Koenig Gallery, Berlin

If you follow this blog, you know that I’m a big believer in taking charge of your own career. Early on, especially, it’s important to create the opportunities that are not immediately visited upon you. Open studios are a good example of taking control. Co-op galleries, too. Want a show? Find a space and put one on—and promote the hell out of it. Enter good juried shows. Apply for grants. Self publish. Start a group for like-minded artists. Organize an event. There’s no point in waiting for opportunity to knock.

But if you look at the artists who have big careers—I mean those big-ass international careers in the bluest of the blue-chip galleries and on the covers of the few art magazines left—you realize they have not have not done it alone. It takes a village to have a big career.

This is something you see when you start looking at resumes. Take the art historian who is writing a major book on a giant of 20th century art (and there are dozens doing so at this very moment). Very likely this art historian’s career was notched up a peg or two because of the association with the artist. But that cuts both ways. An art historian’s role in presenting, describing and explicating an artist’s work will go a lot way toward defining that artist’s career for the ages. Ya wanna be in the art history books? Ya gotta be on an art historian's radar. Read a few high-powered resumes and you’ll see that even the most famous of the famous have been helped along by a village of people--or at least a well-connected art community.

So who else is in this village?
. A supportive and well-connected dealer, first and foremost. She’s the one who shows your work regularly, creates interest in your work and develops a clientele for it. She has cultivated the people who get you reviewed, who get you shown in other galleries and included in museum shows, and acquire your work for museum and corporate collections. Several connected dealers can increase that visibility exponentially, especially if they each have different strengths.

. The art fair as a genre. It’s instant international visibility. Where else might a curator from Berlin see your work if you’re still showing regionally? And guess what happens between dealers, especially those who are in neighboring booths? They talk. In the process, they decide to share “resources.” That would be us. So an artist from Dallas ends up with a solo show in Chicago, and vice versa, along with all the things a second dealer will do for you.

. Museum curators. Curators’ careers rise and fall on the quality of the shows they put on, so they’re always looking. And their visibility increases with the cachet of the institution they’re associated with. The senior curators are looking at the artists with big names, of course. But those lower-rung curators are looking to make their mark (where do you think the big-name curators came from?) so they’re looking to find a rising star, or even mentor someone whom they think has potential. Also in this category: curators at non-profits and academic galleries; the most visible ones can really boost an artist’s career in the early stages. There’s a lot of movement in the curatorial world; if a rising-star curator likes your work, you may see your career trajectory arc along with theirs.

. Good press. A critic who writes about your work may give your career a boost early on; one who follows your career and writes about you regularly allows you to be seen as an artist worth following. Arts editors, staff writers, freelance writers, even listings editors also play a part in how your work is perceived and presented. And like curators, there’s a lot of movement in journalism: freelance to staff position (or vice versa); reporter at one publication to senior editor at another. Artists with those big careers are in a lot of editorial Rolodexes, actual or virtual. By the way, it’s not the critic or feature writer who puts your work on the cover of a magazine; it’s an editor high on the masthead.

. Art bloggers. OK, a blog is not the New York Times, but the interest of a well-regarded blogger does have some power, and the reach of a blog can be astonishingly large. And the beauty of online coverage is that it comes with live links.

. Collectors. Your art hanging in the well-appointed home of a collector who entertains well-connected guests can have far-reaching consequences. If those guests are critics, curators, art historians, other collectors, well you see where this is going: sales, museum collections, corporate commissions. A recent article in The New York Observer pulls back the curtain on a few big collectors and how they and their artists rose to success.

. Mentors. Lucky is the artist who can count on someone for advice, support, a reference or a recommendation. It might be a professor or former professor, a trusted member of your cohort, a curator who sees something in your work, a more established artist with whom you’ve become friends, a dealer with whom you’ve become close. A good word from one of them may lead to an unexpected opportunity. (Have you ever wondered how those non-application grants get given out? Someone farther along the career path recommends you for the honor.)

. The network. This is the conceptual system along whose lines the energy of the village flows. Personal referrals, word of mouth buzz, information sharing all share this energy grid. Plug into it.

Over to you.