Marketing Mondays: Advice to Your Young Self

Carmen Herrera at her home in New York on her 94th birthday. Photograph from The Guardian online by Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu

In a recent interview in The Guardian, the 95-year-old Cuban-born, New York City-based abstractionist Carmen Herrera–"discovered” at the age of 89was asked what advice she would give her 20-year old self.

This is her answer:  "Don't hurry up, just take your 20s as long as you can. But the 20s is not an easy time. A lot of things are coming to you that you're not ready to absorb. You have to get old and wrinkled and grey-haired before you know what they're talking about."

I don't know about the "old and wrinkled and grey-haired," but since I teach a course to art school seniors about to embark on their art careers, I often give to them the advice I wish someone had given me. Here's what I would tell my 20-year-old self:

. It is possible to have a career as an artist
When I went to art school there was no such expectation. If you can't imagine it, it will take a huge stroke of luck to have a career in which you support yourself from the sale of your art. I supported myself for 20 years in publishing before I had the courage to make the leap to full-time artmaking. I'd urge my 20-year-old self to do it sooner (but not too soon; wait until after you're vested in your workplace's pension system).

. "It" doesn't just "happen"
That was the art school fallacy foisted on tender students. Partly because the times were less career oriented than they are now--and quite probably because the professors themselves didn't have a clue--there was never any information offered about the business of art, only the idea that selling your art made you a "sellout." (Easy for them to say, from their tenured perches.)  So here's what I would tell my 20-year-old self from the vantage point I have now:  It's fine to think of art as a career. And a career doesn't appear out of nowhere. It has to be cultivated for galleries to notice you, for sales to take place. What you do outside the studio–presenting yourself well, promoting your work, finding or creating opportunities to show and sell, networking, sharing resources and information with well-chosen peers–is as important as the serious work you do in the studio.

. The dealer is your business partner
A professor actually told me, "The dealer is your enemy."  I should have sued his sorry ass for that advice! Instead, following his "wisdom" I spent a decade distrusting, disrespecting and dismissing the very people whose galleries I wanted to show in. Talk about a conflicted situation.  Now I know better. I would tell my 20-year-old self that artists and dealers are two sides of the same coin. Yes, keep records. Yes, question decisions that don't sit right with you. But know that the average dealer is plowing gallery income back into the gallery and making about as much money as you are. We're in this together.

. Relatedly, there is no mystery to the art world
Well, there are many art worlds--the international art world, with its high stakes; the New York art world, with its high stakes (and high rents); regional art worlds with international programs; regional and local art worlds that remain small by design or default--but there's no mystery. They all function in this same basic way: artists make art, dealers sell it, collectors acquire it, critics write about it, curators organize it into shows typically with broader parameters than a gallery might. Down the road, auction houses resell it. Don't be intimidated. It starts with you, the artist. Yes, there are politics. Think of it like high school, with the same odious hierarchies and personalities but greater possibilities for navigation. More on demystifying here.
. It doesn't get easier--but it gets better
You're always going to work too hard, but after a certain point you'll find that you don't have to keep sending out packages and entering juried shows. Instead, opportunities present themselves to you. At first you'll think it's your lucky day. Then you'll be amazed at your string of lucky days. Then you'll realize you've reached a higher level in your career. You're going to work just as hard–maybe harderbecause you won't want to turn down the opportunities you've spent a career chasing after. The good news is that you will have developed the chops to handle it.

What advice would you give to your 20-year old self?

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The Big Show at Sideshow

Looking in from the entrance

I don't get to Williamsburg often, but when I do I head straight for Sideshow, Rich Timperio's gallery on Bedford Avenue. There's always a good show. Last time I mentioned the gallery, it was Thornton Willis's retrospective in 2007. This time it's It's All Good!! Apocalypse Now, a jumble of art by some 450 artists, up through February 20. 

The postcard announcement with names of the participating artists

Let me clarify. It's an organized jumble. "It took nine or ten days to hang," says Timperio when I asked.  And it's a passionate jumble; the ardor of the artists and the dealer is just radiating off the walls. The result is the big-ass mother of all salon shows: large and small works by well knowns and unknowns, hung cheek by jowl from the top of the 12-foot-high walls all the way down to the floor. (Timperio placed the largest works first and assembled the installation organically from there. Amazingly, everything has some visual breathing room.) It's about as democratic as they come. And in that spirit, there is some fabulous work along with the, well, just a little less fabulous. I'm not in the show, but I loved being in the middle of it surrounded by the work.

I'm going to take you on a tour of the two gallery spaces. We start with the view from the front door and work our way clockwise around the front gallery. When we enter the back gallery it's another clockwise tour. I'm not identifying the artists--the captions would be too long--but I have an idea: I'm numbering the pics below. If you are one of the artists whose work is in a numbered picture, let us know via a comment, like the example I'm making up now: "Josephine Schmo. My painting is the large fuchsia square in photo 20."

1. The view as you enter the gallery

2. Moving clockwise around the front gallery. Behind that ajar door is a bathroom--with more art

3. That's Rich Timperio, artist and gallery owner, presumably recovered from the opening the previous evening when 450 artists and their friends packed the gallery. I'm told the line to get in snaked around the block

4. Follow the art to orient you. There's always at least one painting in the previous image to tell you where you are now. The door we entered is visible on the far wall

5. The doorway is just to the left of this wall

6. Swinging around, you see the actual scale of the netlike sphere that loomed so large in picture #4. The sculpture, placed more or less in the center of the front gallery, will orient you as you continue to swing around clockwise




9. We're about to enter the back gallery. Wait, let me run in ahead of you so that I can connect the two rooms visually

10. And look who's walking in. It's Sharon Butler, artist and author of Two Coats of Paint. (Check out her TED talk. The link is on the sidebar, right)

11. Same vantage point, but pulling back so that you can see more

12. We're moving slowly clockwise . . .





16. That's it for the tour of the back gallery

17. Now we walk back through the front gallery and onto the street, walking up Bedford to catch the L train that takes us back to Manhattan

Post Script: In his excellent Journal, Steven Alexander reports on the drawing show at Janet Kurnatowski, also in Brooklyn, about a mile from Sideshow, through February 13. Called Paper 2011, it features the work of close to 100 artists in an informal salon-style installation in which many of the works are "simply tacked to the wall."  It's on my go-see list, as my interest is piqued by Alexanders' praise (and pictures): "The variety and quality of the work is astonishing, and reveals the ongoing vitality of contemporary abstract painting."


Marketing Mondays: Burning Bridges

Warning: Burning bridge behind you.

Some years ago I worked with an eager young art dealer in a major Midwestern city. She had very little experience, but she was well financed and ambitious for her gallery. A red flag went up when I arrived at the gallery and saw how she’d hung my paintings: The inner cradle was placed on one small nail rather than suspended from the wire I’d attached. (I asked for and got a more stable two-nail rehang.) A second flag waved vigorously when she exhibited a cavalier attitude about a painting she’d damaged slightly. I repaired the work to good effect, sales were made, and I was temporarily assuaged, though still apprehensive that this was the right situation for me.

For a second show, a brochure was published with typos and misinformation, and with images of work shown sideways or upside down. I’d asked to proof everything, but she was so late getting the material to the printer that there was “no time” for me to see it in advance of its going to press. This was after the full page ad in Gallery Guide was printed with my painting oriented incorrectly. The resulting brochure was useless to me—too mistake ridden to send out.

I was so pissed over the way things had been handled that I didn’t fly out to the opening. After a modest post-exhibition period (in which sales were made), I asked that my work be returned. I felt the dealer was too inexperienced to represent me. The bridge was burned.

Turns out that as the young dealer matured, she developed a good roster of artists, a strong exhibition history, a new and better location, and a sustaining collector base. Looking back, I believe I did the right thing, but I could have done it in a more politic way—one in which the bridge was temporarily closed, rather than burned to a crisp.
On the other hand, after a recent debacle with an educational institution—what I believe to have been be a willful misrepresentation of my efforts—I rescued my project and then burned the bridge behind me. It's still smouldering, as am I. I have no regrets.

Metaphorically speaking we’re islands working alone in our studios, so bridges are the way we get our work and efforts out into the world. We build bridges through networking, through exhibitions, through what we say and to whom, through what we do and with whom. Burning bridges, then, is a radical act. Sometimes it's a foolish act, based on hubris or anger. Sometimes it's a desperate act, when other measures have failed. And other times it's a necessary strategy to put a distance between you and those who do not have your best interests at heart.

So today, I’d like to know about your bridge burnings. What were the circumstances and what were the results? If you had a do-over, would you light the metaphorical match or find another way to deal with a bad situation?


It's a Plane! (Part 3 of 3)

It's a Plane! Part 1: Plane Speaking at McKenzie Fine Art
It's a Plane! Part 2: Steven Alexander, Taro Suzuki, Sven Lukin

Al Held from the Sixties, through January 29, at Ameringer McEnery and Yohe. I wrote about his more compositionally and chromatic later work here

This post, the third of three to look at planarity in the galleries right now, is a mixed bag of interesting painting and sculpture. The thread is simply the appearance--illusion or reality--of planes in space.

Held in the the back gallery at Ameringer. Look up and you'll see the bottom of the skylight . . .

and below you can look up into the skylight, with its view of the planar abstraction on the mini storage building next door

The mini storage plane within a plane leads us to the work of John Stezaker at Friedrich Petzel, up through February 12

Another Stezaker in two views, above and below, with the planes extending slightly away from the wall

An unexpected find: Amy Park's architectural watercolors on paper in the project room at Morgan Lehman Gallery 

Large detail (an almost full view) of the middle work, below

We move slightly off the wall with the planar sculptures of Richard Bottwin. I've written about Bottwin's work here and here. Over his dimensional constructions he uses veneers which he paints or stains. The placement of the grain, sometimes this way and sometimes that, creates a slightly veriginous view of work that holds space in its own idiomatic way.

Richard Bottwin at OK Harris, in a show that is now down. Installation view above is from the front of the gallery looking back

The work you see below is next to last in the line of works shown above. The perspective of my camera lens creates more acute angles than the work actually has

Below: Another view of the work under consideration, second from front, as well as another perspective of the installation--from the back looking toward the front of the gallery

At Mitchell-Innes and Nash, up through January 29, Virginia Overton works reductively and very large, defining the space between two support pillars as well as creating a new planar dimension. Here, Untitled (Triangle), 2010, douglas fir in variable dimension.
A Robert Morris  felt sculpture from 1976, Untitled (White Felt), folds onto itself, adding a slight dimension --and sensuous form--to its planar presence

At I-20 Gallery through February 19, minimalist Don Dudley, showing work made between 1966 and 1979. Above a view of the gallery's two spaces

Below, Red Corner, 1969, acrylic on homosote, each segment secured to the wall with a nail

Moving into fully dimensional space, we come to Tatjana Busch's sculpture at Gallery 532 Thomas Jaeckel on 25th Street, shown in full view above. This fabulous piece, not part of the show, happened to be out because Jaeckel was preparing to show it to a collector. I love the way color and form conspire to define and hold the space within and without

Details above and below


It's a Plane! (Part 2 of 3)

Steven Alexander at Heidi Cho Gallery

We begin Part 2 of this series with Steven Alexander, showing in a two-artist exhibition at Heidi Cho Gallery. Alexander provides the perfect bridge from the previous post, Plane Speaking at McKenzie Fine Art, since his paintings are also included in that show. Alexander's formal compositions appear to be hard-edge geometry worked flat against the picture plane.  Up close, though, you see the richness of his surface: a field composed of layers of color whose hues appear to seep out from the edges or peek through intentional imperfections in their glorious chromatic skin.
Installation view of Alexander's paintings at Heidi Cho Gallery, with a detail of the
large foreground painting, below, in acrylic on canvas


Closer view of the installation of eight small painting, in acrylic on linen

Swinging around to the other side of the gallery, we come to the work of Taro Suzuki, shown above and below. Less obviously planar--color and repetitive pattern are the salient elements--there's nevertheless . . .

. . . a flatness that takes on unexpected depth with up-close viewing.  In the extreme detail below, you can see the weave of the canvas through layers of color in clear or translucent resin .

A big surprise for me in Miami was the work of Sven Lukin. His paintings from the Sixties--hard-edge abstractions with a dimensional element that emerges from the flat plane of the painting--were featured at Gary Snyder Project Space at ABMB.  A bigger surprise is that the gallery is right around the corner from me, on 26th Street near Eighth Avenue, and that Lukins has a show there through the end of the month.
Not sculpture: Sven Lukin's shaped paintings break the picture plane and jut out into the gallery at Gary Snyder Project Space. I'm taking you counterclockwise around the room, starting from above . . .
. . . swinging around to the far corner, where dimension can be optical (left) as well as physical (center) . . .

and then along the far wall

Closer views, all acrylic on canvas and wood construction
Above: San Diego, 1966
Below: Untitled, 1965

Tucson, 1966

With Tucson barely visible behind the wall of drawings, we see the fourth wall of the gallery's main exhibition space, below: 

Untitled, 1965, graphite and colored pencil on paper
The drawings offer a sense of how Lukins thought about bending and shaping the planes of the painting

Part 3 on Friday: Al Held,  Don Stezaker, Amy Park, Richard Bottwin, Virginia Overton, Don Dudley and Tatjana Busch