Absolute Arts published today a Column by me that happens to be the same as one I wrote for Friday Tips a couple of weeks back.Â It got so many hits then, that I figured I may as well reach a broader audience.Â Since Absolute has a couple of hundred thousand readers worldwide, this ought to do the trick.
Loretta Luckenbill, Watercolor, Zeek TaylorÂ
I met Zeek when I was jurying an art exhibit in Eureka Springs (a hippiefied sort of resort town in the mountains of NW Arkansas).Â Not only is he an imminently kind dude, but I’ve rarely met anyone who can paint in watercolor with such insane, painstaking precision.
What’s up with his chimps?Â Well, they’re of that crossover sort of art that could make a huge splash in the contemporary world, or a modest splash across the board.Â Zeek?Â Hell, he just smiles and paints, content either way–which shows in his work if you know how to look for it.Â You should check out his interpretations of iris as well.Â Bloody amazing.
How do you go about establishing fair prices for the works you create–meaning fair to you as well as to potential collectors? Easy. Get a dart board, tape a range of prices to it, toss six darts at the sucker, and see where they land. The middle figure wins.
You don’t like that? Then try this: go to a series of galleries, find works by established artists that are in some way similar to yours, then set prices that you’re comfortable with in comparison. If the established artist is in the range of, say, $15,000 per painting, this is likely not a realistic comparison. If they’re in the range of $700 to $4000 per painting, depending on size, that will likely be more suitable. Even then, if youâ€™re an emerging artist, it would not be practical for you to charge the same prices. The artist whose work you’re viewing has probably been at it a long time, paid heavily in her dues, and is now reaping her rewards. If you’re in the beginning stages of your career, it’s doubtful that you’re at her level yet.
The same rules apply to sculptors, ceramists, etc.
Of course I can’t tell you what prices to set, but I can say that initially they should be moderate. It’s unlikely that you’ll make a killing right out, and it’s generally unwise to expect to. I advise that you concentrate on placing as many works with as many people as possible, which in the beginning is normally achieved through moderate pricing. These clients can then be listed on your resume as collectors, which will lend you greater credibility as your career expands, and as you later approach galleries. In the beginning, you want to make it easy for those collectors to buy your work. In fact it should always be easy, it’s just that later on it should also be more expensive–in fairness to you, and all you’ve sacrificed.
In relation to this, I’m often asked by novice browsers why paintings and sculptures are always so “expensive.” Â In my gallery, prices currently range from $800 to $10,000 for in-house pieces. (Commissioned work is a different matter.) These are hardly expensive prices by New York standards, but they are expensive to the vast majority of the populace, regardless of where they live. Of course the question is a reasonable one, so I always try to give a reasonable answer.
I typically answer by explaining that my artists have been working in their disciplines for anywhere from twenty to forty years. They’ve established, through decades of struggle, techniques that are unique to them–meaning that their work is uncommon. They have now reached the point where they’re due proper compensation for all the privation they’ve been through, and, in most cases, that their families have been through as well. To charge any less would be a disservice to the artist. I carefully explain all this, then finish by asking the questioner that if they’d been down such a long, exhausting, risk-imperiled road, what would they charge for the work? Invariably the answer is, “More.”
I say, “Very good,” then proceed to close a deal.
Shots of the new space under construction.Â Enormous gallery upstairs, various offices and a classroom on the lower level.Â
Last night I threw on the work belt, framed part of an office and hung some drywall.Â It’s not that the carpenters are behind, but rather that I still dig doing that: the radio a littleÂ too loud, singing and banging nails.Â I also hung some insulation, but only as a tribute to my old man.Â That’s what he–a tough but lovingÂ dude from the Ozarks–used to do for a living.Â Â Man, he’d be so happy to see how far we’ve come.Â Probably he does see it.
Anyway, we open in two weeks.Â
Becoming, Acrylic on Canvas, Leslie Reuther
We just received this new work, and some others, by Leslie Reuther. Well actually we received them two weeks ago, I’m just now getting around to mentioning the fact. Leslie, who lives in St. Louis, sent them in preparation for the grand opening of our new space. All of our artists are filling us up with work, and we’re bringing in a couple of dozen new ones as well. Sound like a good shindig? Oh yeah.
I met Leslie while overseeing the Call for Artists for Block. Hard to believe that was all a year ago.
See thisÂ basicÂ sketch?Â This wasÂ a roughÂ concept for a huge (20′ high)Â glass sculpture that has since evolved into something highly complex, yet with the appearance of simplicity.Â It will be made of 330 pieces of glass, will be quite heavy,Â andÂ glorious.Â There wereÂ two others involved in the design: the brilliant Ed Tranin and the incomparable Sharon Gottula.Â We closed the deal on it today.
How longÂ was this in negotiation?Â 5 weeks.Â How many evolutions did the design go through?Â 7.Â How many times did I have to negotiate price?Â 3.Â Â Was it expensive to keep redesigning?Â Yes, and time-consuming.Â Was I concerned the time would be wasted?Â Not with this client.Â What does the final design look like?Â Ah, for that you’ll have to wait.Â But rest assured it will be bold.
I’ll post photos of progress as we proceed.Â And although the client is based far from here,Â I’d rather notÂ reveal their identity just yet.Â They’ll do that themselves, when they’re ready.
My 16-year-old’s band played in their first Battle of the Bands last week at Union Station (the sameÂ where the Massacre took place in ’33).Â This was only their 3rd concert, and yet they placed 4th.Â I was very pleased.Â So was his mama.Â My kid’s the vocalist.Â They’re all great musicians, with an incredible vibe together.Â
How far will they go with it?Â I don’t care.Â All that matters to me is the passion, originality, and a healthy attitude.Â The rest will shape itself.
Toucan, by Tom and Julie Bloyd
I’ll be carrying this work in the new gallery.Â Sculpted glass and metal by the Bloyds.Â Complex execution.Â Don’t know how they do it, but I’ll beÂ honored to have it.
To be honest, it is doubtful that any of my artists will ever be adopted as the latest trend in Soho or Chelsea, which are tough places to figure, and much tougher to break into.Â Some galleries there carry magnificent work that, to me, reflect all the values I discuss in my book.Â Others appear absurd, even ludicrous, in their courting of the avant garde at the expense of everything else, especially talent.Â This excessive posturing seems to bear little substance beyond name recognition, money, and some warped idea of celebrity.Â Talent is often a last consideration in a number of Soho and Chelsea galleries, superseded by what has tragically become a primary considerationâ€”image.
The most curious thing is that despite its aura of self-importance, this portion of the New York art scene travels primarily in its own circle and has minimal impact on the rest of the country.Â Soho and Chelsea represent only a small fraction of what is now occurring in the arts in America, since provincial America is currently in the midst of an Artistic Renaissance.Â And judging from theÂ Whitney Biennial, where art from many regions outside New YorkÂ is usuallyÂ ignored, Iâ€™d say much of the Manhattan scene is still under the delusion of assumed superiority.Â In truth, the Soho mystique is what it is because of where it is, not necessarily because of what it values.Â Dealers like me, with the types of talent I specialize in, rely on New York no more than it relies on us.Â We deal with the remainder of the country.Â
Too much of Soho and Chelsea have, in my opinion, betrayed too many artistic fundamentals to be taken seriously anymore, often pretending that this is visionary when in reality it was only visionary a century ago, at the time of the 1913 Armory Show.Â Now itâ€™s more like modernist repetition, all too often passed off as sophistication, hiding beneath a veil of snobbery.Â Sooner or later someoneâ€™s going to call this bluff.Â In fact Iâ€™m calling it nowâ€”not that Iâ€™m the first to do so, nor that Iâ€™ll be the last.
This doesnâ€™t mean that Soho, Chelsea, and anyplace else, shouldnâ€™t push the limits of what is accepted; limits should always be pushed.Â It does mean though that the rest of us donâ€™t necessarily look to this aspect of New York for blessing anymore, or consecration, or even approval.Â Mutual respect Iâ€™d be willing to settle for, assuming itâ€™s earned on both sides.Â
This may prove relevant to your career, since many of you may not be acquainted with the New York scene, yet will be curious about it, if not intimidated.Â Iâ€™m just giving you a brief introduction, and assuring you that your success can mirror or even eclipse ours, with or without New York.
But none of these opinions intrude on my love for Manhattan, and the four surrounding boroughs.Â I owe New York a great deal, since my years in and around the city had a profound influence on me.Â Thatâ€™s why it hurt so deeply to go back in September, 2001â€”a return that was less like a homecoming than like going back to a place that had once been home, then returning to find it had become a battlefield.
The strange quiet of the city, the sense of sadness, and the look almost of shell-shock on many of the faces.Â And yet also the compassion, the unity, the newfound levels of patience and consideration: horns that honked less; people saying â€œpleaseâ€ and â€œthank youâ€ many of them with subtle warmth.
Then my visit to Ground Zero: the mile-long line of dump trucks, the barricades, the solemn crowd, many of them praying: Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims.Â And posted on windows were fliers for the missing: Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims.Â Also atheists, spiritualists, janitors, secretaries, executives, practical jokesters, intellectuals, party animals, firemen, cops, and, undoubtedly, a number of struggling artists.Â
Then there was the site itself: the shattered buildings, the mountain of rubble, the cranes, dust, smoke, and stench.Â It was only as I gazed on it that I realized I was looking at a mass grave.
I had been greatly depressed ever since the towers collapsed; now my depression deepened: the savagery and the loss.Â I stared at the wreckage and felt so irrelevant: the profession I was born to, and the thing I do.Â Oh I know it isnâ€™t irrelevant, but at that moment I felt only futility.Â How could anything in the creative world seem worthwhile in the face of this?
And yet it is.Â Whatever struggles the world may face, life goes on, just as it always has.Â And as life goes on, so does the work of the artists who examine events, interpret events, and help us make sense of what all too often seems senseless.Â
I thought of these things as I walked from Downtown to SoHo, passing fire and police stations with shrines to the dead out front.Â At Spring Street I stopped at a cafe.Â The waitress was friendly and the busboy polite (I had to keep reminding myself that this really was New York).Â The busboy, obviously of Arab descent, was singing along with a John Lennon song: â€œYou may say Iâ€™m a dreamer, but Iâ€™m not the only one.Â I hope someday youâ€™ll join us, and the world will live as one.â€
I asked the waitress if she thought the busboy was much of a singer.Â She gave him one of those New YorkÂ looks and said, â€œNeah.â€Â He just smiled and kept on singing.Â I drank a cappuccino, wrote some postcards, and left.Â
That afternoon I caught my plane and flew out over the city, where smoke still spired up from the ruins.Â I knew in time that New York would be New York againâ€”with all that is great and awful about it.Â In the end it still is one magnificent town: so American, so full of excess, at times trend-ridden and self-obsessed, but always incomparable.Â In the end it has dignity, resilience and strength.Â This country wouldnâ€™t be what it is without New York, and neither would the arts.Â I always remember that, just as I also remember to keep it in perspective.Â
Rise at 5:30.Â Work-out ’til 6:30.Â Walk dogs, granola and paper, kiss wife, roust sons, dash to work.Â Dash off emails and proposals, head to construction site of new gallery, overseeÂ carpentersÂ for two hours,Â dash back to old gallery. Espresso,Â read Isaac Babel for 15 minutes.Â Back to work.Â Listen to Respighi forÂ several hours as I work through lunch: more proposals, marketing issues, bring in two new artists,Â take some calls, dodge a few others.Â Back to job at 4:30 to oversee more construction.Â Downtown at 5:15 to host some high school artists at a swank opening in their honor at the EDC.Â Give briefÂ speech.Â Meet and greet a legion of execs.Â Leave at 7:00, return to gallery to polish a presentation due in the morning (7th draft).Â Home by 9:00.Â Missed dinner with family for 4th night in a row.Â Visit with sons, visit longer with wife, try to listen to everyoneÂ as I try to shut my mind down.Â Bourbon over rocks.Â Read WWI history.Â Bed.
Glamor of the Gallery Business.Â Better than digging ditches though–and I’ve done that.