Sorry I was away for a week while dealing with the webinar, and a huge NFL project. But I’m back so here’s another excerpt. I trust it will be of use. Best,
New York: What It Means and What It Doesn’t
To be honest, I can’t say whether any of my artists will ever be adopted as the latest rage in Soho or Chelsea, which are tough places to figure and tougher to break into. To be even more honest, we haven’t approached any of the galleries there, since my strategies have mostly focused on artists and collectors west of the Hudson. Some of my artists would undoubtedly do well in New York, if we ever get around to placing their work there. But because we haven’t needed to, it’s never become a goal. Sure I love the town, but being or not being a part of the New York scene doesn’t determine our success.
Many galleries on the Soho/Chelsea front obviously carry magnificent work that will stand the test of time. Just as cool, I’ve met scores of New York dealers who are quite aware that where one lives is not a determiner of talent. These people know they can as readily make their next discovery in rural Alabama as the Upper West Side.
But those who are caught up in the fame machine appear absurd, even ludicrous, for their perpetual courting of what they hope will be the next hip thing. Not only will they ignore the artist from Alabama, but also those from Brooklyn, Harlem and Jersey—unless they have a well-dressed entourage. This excessive posturing bears little substance beyond name recognition, money, and some warped notion of celebrity. Talent and discipline are often last considerations in these sorts of galleries, superseded by what has tragically become a primary consideration—image.
Despite its aura of self-importance, this portion of the New York scene has minimal impact on the rest of the country. Soho and Chelsea, amazing places though they are, represent only a fraction of what is now occurring in the arts in America. And while exhibitions like the Whitney Biennial are finally beginning to pay attention to artists in other regions, a good part of the Manhattan scene is still under the delusion of assumed superiority based solely on location. In truth, the New York mystique is what it is because of where it is, not necessarily because of what is carried there—although some of the finest work in the world is indeed carried there. But the American art scene is no longer centered in New York; it began dispersing across the country in the ‘90s, a movement whose time had finally come.
Prior to that, from the 1840s onward, Manhattan was necessarily the center of America’s art universe. Where else would Childe Hassom and Diane Arbus have based their careers? Kansas City? We both know better. And while artists like Judy Chicago and Wayne Thiebaud did very well by launching from California—another mecca of a different sort—without a nod from New York, their impact would have been less significant. The entire country, if not the entire world, has been enriched by the cultural wealth of Manhattan. Whether an artist makes a pilgrimage there, or is distantly influenced by its many movements, the place is incomparable. That much is a given. So is this—things have changed.
All the time New York was bearing its influence, the provincial regions were struggling to grow and stand on their own cultural feet. Now they’ve begun to, whether in art, film, music, or literature. The process is far from complete, but it’s come a long way in a very short time. Avant-garde work that used to mostly come from places like The Village can be found in any city now; and whenever that is flourishing, it’s a sign that other disciplines are as well. This is significant. Why? Because without that growth, the country as a whole can’t realize its own potential, and artists in Austin or Minneapolis who can’t afford to live in New York (not that artists there can either), get a better shot at a viable career.
Since the time of the 1913 Armory show, Manhattan has been the launching pad for whatever was revolutionary, outrageous, or new. It still is, but so are dozens of other cities. They may not yet have the cachet of the Big Apple, but because of the Internet and a burgeoning national art market, their influence is growing.
This doesn’t mean that Soho and Chelsea will ever be replaced. It does mean though that they are sometimes out of touch with the rest of the country. That wasn’t so important in 1960; now it’s critically important. This also means that artists who have been locked out of the New York scene no longer have to look to Manhattan for approval. Mutual respect on both sides would be a good thing though.
I bring this up because some of you may not yet be acquainted with the New York scene, but may be curious about it. I’m just assuring you that your success can mirror or eclipse ours without representation there. You don’t necessarily need that to have an outstanding career, but having it under your belt is certainly a great thing if you can land it. So go ahead and submit to the New York galleries if you wish. Should you only meet with rejection, don’t worry, you’ll be in great company. While you’re in the process of making those submissions, you can still do exceedingly well in the other markets, which are vast and numerous. All you have to do is go after them, using techniques I’ll cover soon enough.
Despite some of the beefs I’ve listed, I will always love Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. As with many writers, I owe the place a great debt, since my early years in that city had a profound influence on me.
That’s why it was so harsh to go back in September, 2001—which was like returning to a place that had once been home, only to find it had become a battlefield. The strange quiet of the city, the grief, the look of shell-shock on the faces. Yet also the compassion and unity, the newfound levels of patience and consideration—horns that honked less, people saying please and thank you, many of them with subtle warmth. After all, it’s not easy living in a place so crowded while still maintaining sanity and civility.
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. And fliers for the missing posted on windows—Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims. Also atheists, spiritualists, janitors, executives, party animals, firemen, cops, and without doubt a fair number of artists. Then there was the site itself—the shattered buildings, the mountain of rubble, the cranes and dust and stench. As I gazed on it, I realized I was looking at a mass grave.
I had been greatly depressed ever since the towers collapsed, as most of us were. Now my depression deepened: the hatred and savagery that brought all this on—hatred that went back for centuries on many sides. I stared at the wreckage and felt so irrelevant, the profession I was born to and the thing I do. Oh I know it isn’t irrelevant, but at that moment I felt only futility. How could anything in the creative world seem worthwhile in the face of this?
And yet it is. Whatever calamities we may face, life goes on, just as it always has. 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. I thought of these things as I walked from Downtown to Soho, passing fire stations and police stations with their shrines to the dead out front.
At Spring Street I stopped at a café. The waitress was friendly and the busboy polite (I had to keep reminding myself that this really was New York). The busboy, of Arab descent, was singing along with a John Lennon song on the radio: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
I asked the waitress if she thought the busboy was a good singer. She gave him one of those sidelong New York glances, laughed, and said, “Neah.”
He just smiled and kept on singing.
I drank a cappuccino, wrote some postcards, and left.
That afternoon I caught my plane and flew out over the city, where smoke was still spiraling up from the ruins of the World Trade Center. I knew that New York would eventually be New York again—with all that is both great and awful about it. In the end, it’s still one magnificent town—so American, so full of excess, at times trend-ridden and self-obsessed, but always incomparable. In the end it has dignity, resilience, and strength. This country wouldn’t be what it is without New York, and neither would the arts. As long as I write, and run a gallery, I will remain mindful of that.
Of course I’ve been back to the city many times since, but of all my visits, that one remains the moist poignant. That one burns the brightest. I think it always will.
Juried Shows/Art Fairs
After an artist achieves master status, he will rarely participate in an art fair unless it’s an exclusive event through a museum, gallery, or similar entity. But while he’s building up his reputation, it’s essential to regularly participate in public exhibitions, whatever type of gig it might be. All of my artists have shown in various exhibitions and fairs, as have most successful artists I know. For those of you who only execute installation-based or avant-garde work, art fairs will be of little relevance. Instead you’ll want to seek out juried shows that are an appropriate venue for what you do—the edgier the better, as long as they have strong attendance. But for the rest of you, the right series of fairs can help give your career a serious launch.
Just what is an art fair? In the worst case, an outdoor event arranged by well-intentioned dilettantes for a largely indifferent public. Are they all this bad? No. Many are well run, providing excellent venues for selling work at the lower price levels, and for meeting hordes of potential collectors. The trick is learning to choose between the fairs that are worthwhile, and those that aren’t.
The best story I ever heard about a fair came from Vernon Brejcha, a glass artist whose works have been placed with museums worldwide, and who studied under the great master Harvey Littleton. But in the beginning Vernon was as unknown as any emerging artist, and so decided to do a few fairs. He told me how once, in the ‘70s, he was sitting a booth at a Dallas show when a man, woman, and their daughter walked up. The trio stared at his glass, stared at him, then the father said to the girl: “See now, Charlene. This is how you’ll wind up if you don’t start getting better grades.” They turned and walked off.
Vernon was rather more selective in choosing his fairs after that.
Regardless of whether the show is an outdoor fair or an indoor exhibit, it must be juried. It means nothing to be accepted in a non-juried show. Besides, in non-juried shows you don’t know what other kinds of work will be exhibited, or whether you’ll be stuck next to some guy who does paint-by-number landscapes on saw blades.
Amusingly, the jury members in some shows are no more qualified to serve on the panels than the average car salesman. In fact they may have no background in art whatsoever, but are chosen because their niece is chairwoman, or they think it would be a creative thing to do, or, hopefully, because they genuinely want to see a great show result, with scores of artists selling tons of work. However the jurying is done, most shows do advance awareness of the arts to a certain degree. That can only be a good thing. Besides, if you win a prize they usually give you a little dough.
Shows that are well established are obviously the best choice, like the Navy Pier Show in Chicago (if you can afford the booth fees), or the Brookside Art Annual in Kansas City. But even if it’s a newer show that doesn’t yet have a reputation, as long as it’s well run, well attended, and in a proper setting, this is better than letting your work sit in the studio and collect dust. You’re in the process of building up your resume. It’s a gradual process, and you’ll have to be proactive and patient in carrying it out.
How do You Learn About the Shows?
The simplest way to learn about shows is to use the Internet. Enter appropriate key words in a search and you’ll be off and running. If you’re only interested in fairs in a particular city or state, just specify that in your search.