Did You Get the Chain Letter, Too?

About three weeks ago, I received an email from a Boston-based artist inviting me to participate in a "Chain Letter" group show at a Boston gallery. I was also asked to invite 10 artists I admire. They, in turn, would each ask 10 artist they admire. Here's the letter:

 "Chain Letter" is a global group show wherein 10 artists have been invited  to participate. Those 10 then invite 10 artists that they admire. Those 10 invite 10 more and so on. This cycle continues for 30 days.  The result is an exponentially massive, artist-curated group show based  entirely on admiration. We hope every admired artist on the planet will be  included in "Chain Letter" this summer.

You can see where this is going. Image from the Internet

Sounds crazy but interesting. Crazy because an exponential number of artists will be involved. Interesting because I'm getting emails not just from Boston artists but from my New York peeps inviting me to participate--in a Boston show. I've posted the (sketchy) details below, leaving out the specifics because it is a chain letter, and the invitation is to pass in that way rather than on this blog:

1.The Protocol: Forward this invite to 10 artists you admire. Remember to  change the names (in red) at the top.
2.Install and Opening: Works should be at the gallery on July 13th. The opening reception is on Saturday, July 16th from 5 to 8. Every participating venue  around the world will have their opening on the same day as ours.
3.The De-install: All works will be returned or picked up.
*Please do not email your curator or venue. Everything you need to know is  here. Trust in the chain letter. Viva simplicity. Finally, if one of your ten artists cannot participate, go ahead and invite another!
Everyone has the same question: How can one gallery hold what is likely to be about 10,000 pieces of art?

Actually they have other questions, too: How long will the show run? How can so many pieces of art be registered and handled properly? Is there insurance? Is there a postcard announcement? Since the invitation comes with the request to "not email your curator or venue," I'm smelling someone's big, messy, conceptual art project. Still, I know the Boston dealer to be an honorable guy whose program consistently pushes the envelope. And, wow, what a great concept for a big, messy show!

To the artist who invited me, the Boston dealer confirms that the show is legit but offers no details. Then, breaking with the outlined protocol, I forward to him an email--see below in small type--that has been forward to me by a friend to whom it had been forwarded from the participating gallery in Los Angeles. (Don't you love it? A chain letter about a chain letter.) He responds with a, "Sounds good, Joanne."  The reporter in me has more questions, but the artist is me is going with the flow.

Here's what I forwarded (I've left off the parts specific to the Los Angeles Gallery):

3. There are no size restrictions. Bring everything you need to support your piece. No assistance is guaranteed.
4.  The invitation can be sent out up to the date of installation technically. 30 days is the loose structure, but everyone interested who wants to show just has to have there work there and installed by [the L.A. date].
5.  If you cannot be there to install your own work, please make arrangements with a friend or the person who invited you, to drop off your work for you. The gallery will not be responsible for returning or sending works back.
6. If you get invited multiple times accept them both, keep inviting, let the chain weave and weave and weave and grow!
7. No hanging wall pieces. Leaning works will find a home. Hanging pieces are fine, but again no assistance in install is guaranteed.
8. Chain Letter is not reaching out or contacting people other than the original invites and what the gallery websites can provide. Its just too big to reach everyone1
9. We'd prefer no pedestals. You can bring them, but we can't guarantee the space for them or ideal installation scenarios. It will be very, very cozy!
10. No matter where you are, invite who you admire and encourage them to find the nearest location to get there work to and up.
11. The works will be labeled with your names. If someone inquires about purchasing your work, that will be dealt with on individual basis.  No price list will be posted. Consignment details will vary by location. You can find out about consignment forms on day of install.
12. This email can only answer general questions and details relating to Los Angeles only. Deinstall dates will have to be discovered by the venue at your opening.
13. The works will be a complete surprise the day of installation!
14. One piece per artist per location please. If you got invited to 2 different cities, then I suppose show in both! One work per city please.
15. You don't have to have 10 artists confirm to participate.
16. We can't advise you which venue to show at if you are invited in multiple cities, but the galleries are NOT PAYING for anything. But if it were me I'd go with simplicity and show up at the closest venue.
17. Chain Letter is very real and artist driven!
So, here's what I'm going to do: Since I'm in Massachusetts for the summer, I'm going to drive into Boston on the appointed day (with a small painting to drop off, just in case) and report on what I see taking place. And I'm going to go to return for the opening to see how it all turns out.

Have you been invited? What city? Do you have any information to share?

Update  B.R., an artist from Boston, offers this first-hand report and observation: We went into the gallery and asked the assistant a few questions. We were told that it was not real organized, but was legit. The show is to be "installed” in the lower (basement?) area. I can imagine that there will be thousands of works . . . a waiting line at the gallery door to drop off and [to enter the ] reception.  I agree that this is the piece--happening now, all over—and will continue into a ‘chaos happening’ at show time. . . . The gallery owner is someone whom I greatly respect and who is well respected for his cutting-edge, conceptual exhibitions.


Barbara J Carter said...

I got invited by an artist friend. We're in Los Angeles, and the gallery is a real one in LA. The gallery's website talks about this show, so I guess it's real. But I'm not participating. I hate chain letters, and I'm not interested in showing my work in an overcrowded venue. Damage is virtually guaranteed.

M.A.H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yes, a real ego killer. Most of LA seems to be participating. Its going to be a chaotic orgy of admirable art likely at the expense of fire codes and the pristine white cube. Parking I imagine will be what it usually is in LA. i.e. Park far and hike in.

ESZ said...

I have been invited to the Boston show and I have some reservations about getting the work back since I live in Atlanta. I won't be able to attend so I don't think I should risk it. I am glad you brought this up...I have been on the fence about it.
I will be interested in knowing how it all went.

Anonymous said...

I meant to post anonymously. I'm not very anonymous now. I'll just agree with Anonymous 3:19.

Kesha Bruce said...

I'm too much of a control freak to participate in anything like this, but I would LOVE to go to the opening night! said...

Yes! I was also invited and checked things out with the Boston gallery. Since my studio is right upstairs from where it is all happening there is no risk to me and I have a lot of respect for the gallerist. He'll find a way. I am also going with the flow.
Joanne, if you can't make it in easily to pick up your painting at the end of the day but I can get it and hold it for you until it is convenient. I am in studio 223B.

Many of the artists I have spoken to just don't want to "bother". So it may not be as crowded as the mathematical model would show.

annell4 said...

It is an interesting idea...

Lynda Cole said...

Thanks for adding more information Joanne. I was invited to the Boston show but since I live in Ann Arbor, MI I probably won't participate. After reading your post, I think I would participate if I lived closer. Is there a list anywhere of what cities are participating?

debraclaffey said...

Here's a link to an article about this same event in 2006:

Gam said...

...bu it could be a great way to have the largest vernissage ever - where the artists are the audience too ...

crook a nail ! or whatever one says before a show

Anonymous said...

I am in Maine. I was invited to the Boston show by a friend from grad school and I know the dealer as well. I was curious how legit it was so I Googled it and found your blog.

Ego-killer nothing -- I love stuff like this so I'm going to make it happen. Plan to invite a crew of Mainers and see if we can't carpool the work down for the install, etc.

G. Fournier said...

I really want to participate in this, but I am working on the day of drop off so I may have to take a day off. One question...on the list you provided it said no hanging works...then it says hanging works are fine? I'm a photographer...not sure how I could make a non-hanging work and I would hate to get all the way down there to find out I can't put it on the wall.


Joanne Mattera said...

I'm the messenger, not the gallery. Anything I know is on the blog post.

liza bingham said...

The basement space (of Boston venue)is decent, and I would imagine the hallspace leading down to basement/office space would have to be used to accomodate all participants--a decent if more 'alternative' space.

L Fayer said...

I was invited to shows in Boston and Chicago, but I followed the instructions for declining the invitations.

I sent emails back explaining that I was flattered to be an artist they admired, but that I couldn't be in the show.

I feel like submitting the work would be a waste of my time, effort and money. I imagined my piece crumpled on the floor of the gallery. I didn't see anything positive that I would get out of participating. Someone else gets the glory (the curator or conceptual artist organizing the show) and I get my artwork trampled.

graceann warn said...

I was invited by a Boston artist but I wonder how chaotic it will be to retrieve the work. I'm skipping it but will be interested to hear about it.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a lot of cynicism about this concept. From what I understand this is meant to be an "artist-curated" show. I don't think either of them are doing it for curator-cred (if there is such a thing). The 2 guys who organized this simply made an invite and sent it out. People don't throw parties for credit, they do it to make life more interesting. One of them is a very respected L.A. artist and art writer. He currently writes for The Nation. The other is an L.A. artist friend of his. I think its about time the curatorial task is given to artists and to emphasize inclusion. A real fuck you to an establishment that creates value by making "good art" seem scarce. I don't think the average arts patron has any idea how much interesting art is in the world.

Joanne Mattera said...

Excellent points, Anon 11:23. One big negative--and the reason I didn't participate--is because the specifics were not made clear. How long would the show run? How would the work be installed? When and how would it be retrieved?

Some artists sidestepped these questions by leaving what they themselves described as not their best work. Others put up digital prints of artwork. I also saw parents bringing their kids, and the kids had artwork. I'm all for inclusion, but kiddie art is stretching it. None of those options seemed so great to me.

But as you say, the art world is larger and more interesting, and certainly more diverse in expression, than most people can possibly imagine.

Anonymous said...

"I feel like submitting the work would be a waste of my time, effort and money. I imagined my piece crumpled on the floor of the gallery. I didn't see anything positive that I would get out of participating. Someone else gets the glory (the curator or conceptual artist organizing the show) and I get my artwork trampled."

...since when were artists so afraid of chaos. People participate to be a part of something interesting and crazy. I doubt any summer group show has the power to make or break your career. If you "don't see anything positive that (you) would get out of participating" you're likely better off at your studio churning out as many masterpieces as possible before you die. The legacy of humanity needs them. Don't waste your time on something that promises no "glory". Don't lower your standards by responding to an admirers request.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon 11:46:
See what you did here? You posted a disparaging comment directed at a person who used her real name. If you--or anyone--is going to dis anyone, you have the right to do that, but please man up, or woman up, and do so under your own name.

Artists have the right to decide how and if they wish to show--and whether or not they think this event is worth their time, effort and artwork.

Susan Bainbridge said...

I sent something in to the Boston show. The opening is supposed to be tonight but their web site isn't promoting it which has me a little concerned. I'd love to hear about it and see some photos from any of you who made it there! Thanks!

Susan Bainbridge said...

I sent something in to the Boston show. The opening is supposed to be tonight but their web site isn't promoting it which has me a little concerned. I'd love to hear about it and see some photos from any of you who made it there! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

We went to the Boston Opening yesterday. It was a lovely evening with floor to ceiling artwork on two floors and over the stairway. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to exhibit my collage with my son's photograph...a first for us. I drove in to Boston with my artist friend from Fitchburg. She had mailed her work to the gallery and unfortunately found it on the gallery owners desk, not installed.

Susan Bainbridge said...

Well then, mine probably wasn't installed either. Doubt I'll see it again.

Joanne Mattera said...

I didn't post your comment but I followed the posts. I'm horrified by what I have read. Feel free to email me if you wish to discuss further: