Marketing Mondays: News from L.A.

Recent email brought in two eye-opening pieces of information about Los Angeles-area venues. Both relate to Marketing Mondays issues we've discussed in the past. Naturally I've turned them into a post.

Hold the loan!
Or at least read the results of Jane Chafin's survey first
Image from Offramp Gallery blog

1. The MFA Revisited
MFA: Is It Necessary?, a recent post by Jane Chafin on her Offramp Gallery Blog is must reading. It's the result of an informal survey of some 300 artists and Chafin's own research. The chart above gives you the quick story, but read the whole thing.
Chafin is the director of a gallery that is in a private home (her own) in Pasadena. The gallery's slogan: "Contemporary art in an historic house." You can see the gallery here and learn more about it here. 

Here's Chafin's take on the MFA:  "A degree is not something I look for when selecting artists for Offramp Gallery. The bottom line is always the work. I look for work that's honest, creative, original, skillfully executed and intensely visual. It's supposed to be VISUAL art after all."
 I don't know Jane Chafin, but I like how she thinks (I've written about the MFA here) and I admire her entrepreneurial spirit.

2. Pay to Show Revisited
If you read this blog regularly, you know that I am not a fan of pay-to-show galleries. There’s no incentive for the owners to actually sell your work, because in paying upfront to exhibit (a fee that can run in the thousands) you—and any number of other artists showing that month—have already paid the gallery’s rent and bills. 
Now someone has sent me a link to a different kind of pay to show: the commercial gallery that won’t look at your submission without an enclosed check. Should you check the Artist Submissions page of Ace Gallery in Los Angeles—and you can do so here—you will find this sentence in the fourth paragraph: “A fee of $60 is required for all submissions.”

This is not  to enter a juried show (though $60 would be pretty steep), but simply to get your materials past the conceptual velvet rope. Did I mention this is a commercial gallery?

Image from the Internet

Trying to see this $60 fee from the gallery’s point of view, I can imagine the director saying, “We’re inundated with solicitations. This will limit the number of people submitting.” Or, "I have to pay an extra day’s salary to an assistant to go through these packages, so I’m passing on the cost to the artists.”  But this a commercial gallery that takes a presumed 50 percent of the sale price of art--a commission that includes things like gallery development, of which finding artists would be one.
The Ace Gallery is a privately held business; the owner and director can run it the way they choose. But nickel and diming artists, many of whom spend a lifetime working for and living on chump change, seems grossly inappropriate. And when you see  the gallery's roster of established artists, you know they didn't come to the gallery through unsolicited submissions. So wouldn't it just be more honest to say, "The gallery is not considering unsolicited submissions at this time." 
Sixty dollars can buy food, or paint, or pay for a couple of entry fees where the artist has an actual chance of being included. Is Ace doing so badly that it needs to be funded by artists?
Has anyone else come across such a request from another venue? Or does Ace Gallery hold a singular card in the art world?


joel c said...

Just a quick word about MFA's. The only reason to earn one is because you would like to improve your art (and hopefully have the money to pay for it). As to paying for submissions, it's just a way to make more money from another artist sucker. What I noticed in the photography world is a proliferation of portfolio reviews, of course you have to pay. The reviewers are well known in many cases but the desired end result (having your work shown in either a gallery or museum) is a long shot, but the reviewers are paid, recieve a little vacation, and are kept abreast of all the upcoming 'stars'.

Anonymous said...

I think it is becoming more common as galleries look for ways to bring in revenue (almost any kind) to help with their operating costs. I think they play on the artist's "hope and dreams." I think it's a crock although, as you said, a business can do as they wish. I think it should breed suspicion as in Beware Sucker!

Richard Bottwin said...

That's interesting about Ace Gallery. Back in the 90's when Ace had a monumental space near the Holland Tunnel in NYC, they had a fabulous show of Issey Miyake's work. To everyone's surprise there was a $10. admission fee. I paid it and it was worth the bucks to see what was there but it also was insulting. I guess they haven't changed their ways...

Joanne Mattera said...

You're right that paying to have a portfolio reviewed is a longshot. If an artist goes into such a meeting looking for a solo show, they will be disappointed. But dealers are always looking. Interesting things can and do take place at such meetings--comments, referrals, suggestions to check out the work of Artist A, B or C, with a "use my name" when you contact her" kind of thing.

As with juried shows and submissions of any kind, one artist will tell you it was a waste of time and money, another will tell you "It changed my life."

Joanne Mattera said...

I didn't mean to ignore your comment. Yes, I remember the space.It always seemed too big for its own good. But there was a fabulous Tara Donovan show there--possibly her first in New York. I find its pay-to-enter and pay-to-submit policies abhorrent.

Leonardo Pereznieto said...

It´s outrageous to charge a fee to read your submission!!! (great article Joanne, I enjoyed it). In regards to the MFA... I didn´t fill in the survey but I add myself to the equation. I am a full-time artist and don´t have a diploma.

McGowan Fine Art said...

I would agree that an MFA is not neccessary to become a successful artist. Perhaps an MFA is just a way of postponing putting yourself out into the world? I maintain that art schools fail their students by not giving them real skills in promoting and marketing what they do. There are lots of good artists who give up because they don't know what to do after they have graduated.

Nancy Natale said...

A group of us were just talking about the benefits of an MFA the other night at dinner. Our conclusion was that it might help when an artist was just starting out either by improving the artist's work or by networking then or later or by giving more substance to a beginning resume. However, we decided that if you hadn't just done it early on, it wasn't really worth it unless you wanted to teach.

LXV said...

I am a full-time artist in the sense that I don't have any other regular job. But I do pick up freelance work where and when I can (and happily, that has been increasing a bit recently). I have supported myself exclusively with my art practice for only a very brief period (about 2 years prior to 2008) over a career of 40 years.

I have no degree, art or otherwise. The only thing I really missed by not going to college was the "network" of professional colleagues. But I doubt I would have learned any more about art (or any subject, really) than I have with my own researches and practices over the years.

As for Ace, he does that to keep away the great mass of hungry artists looking for a break. It's all insider (blue chip to blue chip). So in a way, he's just being realistic. I've seen some fabulous shows there, but the air is a bit thin.

Gary J. Noland Jr. said...

An MFA can be crucial to one's success as an artist provided that MFA is obtained from a school with the right pedigree and connections. Otherwise an MFA is just a receipt for the money spent to learn about success as an artist from people who have never actually sold anything or been in any major shows. Just joking. An MFA is just like everything else in life. You get out of it as much as you put into it.

Mery Lynn said...

Ace Gallery owed Tim Hawkinson millions for past sales. I guess this is Doug Christmas' way of getting that money back.

I'm willing to give good odds on a bet that the $60 for a submission there covers the costs of an intern taking them out of the envelope you sent them in and sliding them unseen with a blanket rejection letter into your return envelope.

Joanne Mattera said...

LXV says: "As for Ace, he does that to keep away the great mass of hungry artists looking for a break. It's all insider (blue chip to blue chip). So in a way, he's just being realistic."

Understood, LXV, so why not just tell hopeful artists that their packages will not be considered.

Or, as Mery Lynn suggests, the $60 gets one an actual rejection letter,

Stephanie Sachs said...

Found it encouraging that more than half the artists make atleast part of their income through art. Thought the percentage would be lower.

LXV said...

Joanne, I don't believe I was suggesting helpfulness, fairness or good manners on the part of Ace gallery's directorship. When I first ran across this, and it's been in place for a couple of years at least, I just rolled my eyes. At least it's a published policy. The motive is transparent. Many galleries don't even bother to let you know where they stand.

And thank you for your helpfulness in sharing (and inviting others to share) your own intrepid experiences in the art marketplace. This forum is unique, for it's content, tone & quality of discourse. said...

As more galleries struggle to be relevant and commercially viable and artist seeking galleries increase, I believe we will see more galleries institute this "pay to submit" policy. (Much like the add on baggage and snack charges of the airlines.) There was a time when some galleries only took 40% commission and I have heard instances of that creeping up to 60%.

MFA, MFA or MFA? Here is my quick story. I am from Boston, a very academically connected town. I put myself through art classes while working full time. I never received a degree in fine art but took ten years of classes to develop my skills and knowledge. At some point I considered a MFA and while I was still getting a regular pay check I saved $$$$ to pay for it. Then I did the numbers. It didn't add up. I decided at that point I would further my career by committing to being a full time painter and using that $$$ to help me get by why I established myself. I made that decision in 2002 and did it. I did teach art part time to supplement my income for three years but now I am a full time painter with an income above poverty level but below being able to afford a car. However, I can afford a studio in the South End which for me is far better than an MFA. I made the right decision and I believe that chart.

Many ( not all) MFA students I have seen get out of school and believe the MFA is their ticket, find that it is not so and then have no where to go. (Except maybe back to school!!!)

Anonymous said...

I once worked as in intern for a prominent non-profit art venue. They would get several unsolicited artists packages daily. The secretary was instructed to place the images in a bin for filing and send back a form letter - " Thank you sending us your work. We will keep it on file ..."

One of my duties was to take the bin to the basement and file the submissions. They werer never spoken of again and the only person who ever looked at the work was me. It made me sad.

Anonymous said...

As a curator for a non-profit gallery, I prefer to work with artists who have a MFA or at least a BFA. It shows a commitment to being an artist and it usually shows an understanding of art and art practice. Of course I am generalizing.

Most (not all) self-taught artists always seem to make the same visual mistakes in their work. And worse are the professionals (doctors, lawyers) who have decided to change careers and become artists. It's not so much that their work is good or bad, but their attitude of privilige that their professional credentals are deserving of something.

Bill M. said...

@Anonymous 12.34 pm

"As a curator for a non-profit gallery, I prefer to work with artists who have a MFA or at least a BFA. It shows a commitment to being an artist and it usually shows an understanding of art and art practice." That's a huge generalization!

Could you help us out here by clarifying what you mean exactly by: It shows a commitment to being an artist and it usually shows an understanding of art and art practice. I find it perplexing.

LXV said...

Anon 12:34—Count me in as curious and perplexed as well. I didn't do school and I'm wondering what are the mistakes I am condemned to be making. I concede your disclaimer that you generalize on this point, but clearly it's based on a strongly-held opinion.

If I had the opportunity now to go to art school, I would not because of what I've seen coming out of them over the past 30 years.

kim matthews said...

RE: MFAs, I've seen plenty of vacuous, technically incompetent work from people with advanced degrees and really fine work from artists with no degree. I agree that there's an enormous amount of value in formal training, but that also has to be accompanied by intellectual curiosity, focus, skill and talent. As Louis Armstrong said, "If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out!"

Joanne Mattera said...

Before we all get our knickers in a twist over the remarks by the anonymous curator--("As a curator for a non-profit gallery, I prefer to work with artists who have a MFA or at least a BFA. It shows a commitment to being an artist and it usually shows an understanding of art and art practice. Of course I am generalizing")--let me point out that the person said s/he was generalizing. Also, the BFA is very different from the MFA.

There IS an attitude of certain people who come late to art directly from a successsful career in another field, like medicine, law, entertainment, publishing, that they will show up and enjoy the same kind of success they had in their earlier career. Sometimes it works (good example of a bad painter: Sylvester Stallone showing at Basel Miami in 2009); sometimes it doesn't. Often there's no real background in art, no thinking about history, theory, technique, only that they want to express themselves and they want a gallery now. And a solo show, and sales, lots of sales.

I don't think that any serious artist who hasn't gone to art school would be considered in that category.

BTW, I do think it's worth noting that art school (working toward the BFA, or even an art department BA) does help you see through artists eyes--develop how you look and athink about art. It gives you, or should give you, some basic technical skills, some formal ideas, some theory, and the courage to identify yourself as an artist, to set up a studio, and to be part of a network of students and teachers in your contemporary cohort. Those are valuable things for an artist.

To my mind, once you have those things, the only reason for going on to get an MFA is to teach--and we know how scarce those jobs are. My advice to anyone interested in spending money on an MFA: go to Italy for an extended period, look at art, learn the language, eat well. Then come back and get cracking in the studio.

Anonymous said...

It's just that most of the artists who show/sell and/or teach have an MFA. A couple of years in a place devoted to work and focused discussion with ambitous+talented artists can be a good thing. I have nothing against self taught folks (Darger (sic) was pervy but strange in very good ways), but going it alone can make it take longer to figure things out.

Unknown said...

Re: the MFA. It's not just for getting a teaching job, IMO. The time I spent in grad school (and I went very late in life, so I probably appreciated it more than some of my younger classmates) was invaluable for many reasons. The comaraderie and honest critique, the opportunity to read and think and speak about my work and that of others', a commitment of time to my art practice, and also the networking opportunity. Not all that different from getting an MBA, you make lifelong connections in grad school. Not everyone I went to school with continues to make art, but most do, and I'm in touch with many of them. Some become curators, some become famous, some you just like and want to keep seeing what they're up to. Of course it's expensive, and it isn't NECESSARY. Joanne, I loved what you said about going to Italy. With the right effort you could definitely soak all that great stuff in and have a good time doing it! I think it would be nice to do both.

Anonymous said...

I have an MFA and I learned quite a bit while earning it. I teach for chump change though the it is prestigious to outsiders. It's good enough for me. My needs are simple. I didn't do it for the $

Good information about Ace Gallery. That's a new one. If it catches on, that's because artists can be suckers. I would never associate with a gallery that did that. I wouldn't go to their openings. If you are going to do that, then do a Vanity Gallery. When Ace charges $60 for a look, they become a Vanity Gallery, though less honest (no show). I LOVE that you post information like this!!! (and I metaphorically spit at Ace Gallery). Thanks for posting this.