Drunks at Openings

Derrick Breidenthal opening last night. I was pleased. Good turnout, good sales. The most amusing thing? At 6:30 this bleary-eyed dude that no one knew came stumbling in and headed straight for the wine. He got a glass of red, seated himself in the window, and proceeded to drink his way through the evening, getting up periodically to refill.

Yeah he was drunk, but he was a charming drunk. Every once in awhile someone would sit down to chat with him, including me. Had perfect English. Very well educated. I kind of dug having him around. Don’t doubt he’ll show up for the next opening. Will I chuck him? Nay. It’s better to just let guys like that stay, and act like all is cool.

Friday Tips: When Your Gallery Files Chapter 11


I received this question from an artist last week, and felt it warranted public discussion: 

Dear Paul: 

Q:  Recently I learned that one of my galleries in a large city is in Chapter 11.  I do not know if my artwork is subject to confiscation by the debtors at some future time.  I like the gallery owner very much. The family-owned gallery has been in business for 22 years; the son of the owner has managed the gallery for the past 15 years.  I now have 17 paintings in the gallery.   I am in a quandary as to what I should do, if anything.  Do you have any advice for me?

A:  Your dignified handling of this tricky and, unfortunately, all-too-common occurance is to be lauded.  The vast majority of galleries go under, though not all are forced into bankruptcy.  There are several reasons for this that I don’t have time to get into now, but many relate to the traditional way in which most galleries are run, which simply doesn’t work well.  Many galleries and artists are waking up to this truth, and learning how to market more successfully without sacrificing the caliber of the work, but teaching that old dog new tricks will take a generation or two.  I aim to help with the teaching.

Your artwork, if it was consigned, should not be subject to confiscation through any legal process, no matter what the debt situation might be.  Assuming the work was consigned, the gallery does not own it, and hence the work cannot be counted among its assets.  Therefore if I were you, I would politely ask that the work be returned until the storm has either passed, or the ship has sunk.  If you leave it with the gallery during the legal process, it may get tied up in court through some legal nonsense, and you may indeed lose the work, or at least be denied possession of it until the issue has been resolved.  You don’t want to be caught in that trap.  If this family respects you as greatly as you obviously do them, they will understand.

Look, it’s apparent they’ve done their best.  I admire their tenacity and longevity.  But you’re now faced with a business decision.  Those decisions, like many in the professional world, often have to be made without emotional or sentimental consideration.  That doesn’t mean the person making the decision can’t be just or compassionate; it just means you’ve been left without a viable choice, and have exhausted all other options. 

In the end, do what you’re most comfortable with.  Many times I’ve taken minor losses in order to save someone a crushing blow, or to bolster their confidence.  I consider this an important aspect of the art business–or any business–where humane behavior outweighs what can sometimes become an inhumane drive toward profit.  But never have I been willing to sacrifice my gallery’s security, or that of my family and artists, in order to serve the same need.  That would help no one, and would damage many.

Bonne Chance.

Brideshead Revisited / Visiting David Spear


One of my favorite novels is Brideshead, as much for the tight writing as the perfect capturing of emotion.  The story of British Catholics I’m less interested in, but it’s a nice backdrop to the whole tale.  Waugh knew the issue well, since he struggled with it his whole life–when he wasn’t arguing with everyone.  Me?  I’m just a vulgar spiritualist.

Anyway, whenever I’m in an artist’s studio, I often cop Anthony Blanche’s line to Charles Ryder, the painter, when Anthony arrives at one of Charlie’s openings in London.  He puts an arm around Charles’ shoulder, guides him among the paintings, and says, “Here, allow me to explain the art to you.”  Artists always howl when I crack that one (although a painter took offense once, thinking I was serious, but then he was a very serious dude).

So this photo is of David Spear “explaining” the art to my wife after I made the crack, when we were looking at the oils he was doing for Block.  Now he’s working on a piece for another one of my clients.  I’ll let him explain that one to you when he’s done.

Postcard for Derrick Breidenthal


Here’s the card we mailed out for Derrick’s show.  2000 of them.  I held 1000 back to hand out over the course of the next year–a standard practice. 

Derrick’s studio is presently at the Arts Incubator.  It pleases me greatly to be working with someone so talented, from such a worthwhile program.  Would there were more like it in more cities.  In time, there probably will be.

Why You Love Them II


Took this shot last month as all these punks were getting ready for their junior prom.  I coached half the boys in baseball for several years, and have been teasing many of the girls for just as long.  Yeah, my younger son’s in there somewhere.

Most of these kids have artistic inclinations, which means–not being jocks–the high schools don’t give them the attention and financing that they do, say, the football squads.  That’s ok.  We, the parents, did.  That’s why I coached them in ball: there’s nothing like teaching an artist how to hit a home run. 

After we took this photo they all went off to dinner.  Pity the poor waiter.

Friday Tips: Question From A Reader: Consignment Sheets

I received this question last week from David Platt:

Q: Consignment Sheets. What should be on them, how long should a gallery keep your work, insurance policy, etc. In other words, what paperwork is involved in showing art at a gallery? What are the pit-falls an artist should be aware of?

A: The best way I can answer this is by posting, below, one of our consignment sheets:

Name of Artist Date
Street Address
City, State Zip

To Whom it May Concern:

This is to confirm that Annie Artist, painter, has consigned to Leopold Gallery the following oil paintings:
1) Disoriented, 24×30, oil on panel, $2600.

2)Field Decay, 24×30, oil on panel, $2600.

3)Dust, 24×30, oil on panel, $2600.

4)Wet Spring, 24×24, oil on panel, $1700.

These works are consigned for as long as the artist is content with Leopold’s business practices and sales performance. The works listed will be insured for their appraised worth against loss or damage for any reason whatever by Leopold Gallery. Leopold Gallery is to receive a commission of 50% of gross on any sales that are made, or from any insurance claim. Leopold Gallery pledges to pay Annie Artist within 30 days of any sales that are made.

With sufficiency acknowledged, I sign my name to the above in good faith.

Paul Dorrell                                                                Annie Artist

Please note that this document is not greatly binding. I base my relationships with artists on mutual honor, and earned trust, more than a piece of paper. However this does state that the work is insured, it lists the specific works, and when the artist will be paid. After filling out this sheet, we then enter the works into our Quickbooks system for purposes of tracking inventory. These aspects are essential. Any gallery that doesn’t cover this territory, is a gallery you should not consign work to.

By the by, while my commission is 50% with painters and photographers,it is 40% with sculptors, ceramists and glass artists. Why? Because their expenses are greater than those of painters. Do all galleries make this a practice? No, but I feel they should. In fact I feel it should be an industry standard, if there were such a thing.

If anyone else wishes to send me a question, just email it to: email@leopoldgallery.com It’ll get to me sooner or later.

June 6th, and the National D-Day Memorial


Death On Shore, Jim Brothers, Bronze

It was 10 years ago that those great people at the National D-Day Memorial informed me I had been hired as their art consultant, thus allowing me to avert bankruptcy.  I can’t describe what an honor this was, working with veterans like Bob Slaughter and Charles Schulz, listening to all the stories as we did the research, then watching as Jim Brothers brought to life the set of monuments that have made this site legendary.

Are the works traditional?  You bet.  Do I regret this?  Not at all.  Traditional figures are what the veterans wanted, and that is what we bloody well gave them.  Unlike other sorts of monumental sculpture in public installations, veterans tend to prefer traditional work.  This, for them, best relates to their sacrifices and lifelong hardships–the aftermath of battle’s horror.  I would never question that, nor make the presumption of knowing better than they.  It was merely Jim’s job, and mine, to make sure the work wasn’t shallow or predictable. 

I have plenty of other projects where edgy, provocative, and perplexing sculpture is called for, and in fact is what works best.  But on projects like this, no way.  Just watching those vets smile, and weep, at the time of dedication, told me we had made the right choices.

Casebeer Install


Now that Kim Casebeer’s Show is winding down, I’ve let some of the collectors take their works home–at least those who couldn’t wait any longer.  Hung this piece in, of all places, a kitchen.  Yeah, the wall’s a bit small, the supply duct is in the way, and the dinner table is in front of the painting.  But the couple love the piece here, and that’s all that matters. 

I ain’t no frou-frou designer.  I’m an art consultant, and don’t give a damn about matching paintings to wall colors or sofas.  I bring my artists’ passion to my clients, and let that speak for itself.  The clients always respond passionately.  Bottom line, that’s what this business is about.  Have sold 12 works thus far.

Friday Tips: Evolution Comes Knocking

(Note: This section, excerpted from Living the Artist’s Life, is a follow up the section two weeks ago: My First Gallery, Bottle of Bourbon, and Going Broke, 1995)

Evolution Comes Knocking

I’d like to write in detail about this occurrence, but out of respect for my wife, I can’t. It’s too painful for her to be reminded of, and in fact is something she would just as soon forget—even though I was the one that it happened to. For that reason, I’ll not go into any details.

Actually, now that eleven years have passed, I will. In 1996 I was accused, by a single mother who had a toddler in our home daycare, of child molestation.  Where she got this idea, I’ve never quite understood.  I didn’t work in the daycare, was never alone with the kids, and left each morning as the children were arriving, around 8:00. Normally I didn’t get home until 9:00 at night.  Furthermore, she didn’t make the accusations until a month after we had closed the day care so my wife could take a different job, five years of that gig having been enough.  In fact she’d thanked my wife and her assistant profusely for the excellent care they’d given her child, who was a little under two.  Then 4 weeks later, a detective called to inform me of the accusations.  We were stunned.  I remember he seemed embarrassed to even be making the call.  I offered to come in for questioning.
There was no evidence of molestation, my record and reputation with kids was spotless, I was a lauded baseball coach for both coed and all-boy teams, dozens of people came to my defense. The police threw out the accusations as warrantless. Shortly afterward, the woman posted fliers on every door in our neighborhood, accusing me of this heinous crime. We were new to the neighborhood, so of course you can imagine what the response was like: overnight, nearly all doors were closed to us, and our children ostracized. Prior to this, I had been respected and accepted as something of a novelty: a renegade writer and gallery-owner in middle-class America, how…nice.

Suffice to say this was a traumatic event that deeply affected our lives, and, indirectly, the lives of our children. It added immeasurably to the many financial burdens I was already under, caused me to have brutal migraines for three years, and briefly swayed me toward the contemplation of violence. But I am in truth not a violent man, so this really wasn’t an option. Instead I retreated back into my tendency toward compassion and understanding, despite how enraged I was over the event, and what it did to my family. But even this I eventually had to forgive, since if I hadn’t, my rage would have eventually destroyed me and my work, and would have harmed the ones I love.

The young mother, after all, thought she had some valid reason for the accusation. I don’t doubt it was rooted in her own experiences, which I knew had been harsh, since she’d told us about much of it.  For some reason, the injustices she suffered were transferred to me.  So I did what I always do with a challenge: I tried to learn from it, and to understand the point of view of the other party.  As I began to grasp her past more fully, the event became easier to digest.

In the end, the entire episode only deepened the bond between my wife and myself, further broadened my awareness as an artist, and, perhaps justly, brought greater misery down on my accuser. In the end, I gained far more from it than I lost. It’s just that while I was going through the ordeal, it seemed to be one more needless test in the long line of tests that life is inevitably made up of.

Why mention it at all? To acknowledge that the pressures you’re under as an artist are harsh enough already; you don’t need any other pressures. But just as with everyone else in this world, you will encounter additional burdens. Perhaps that is life’s way of teaching you: just when you think you can bear no more hardships, an entire truckload is dumped on you.

Why? I suspect it has something to do with developing tenacity, and inner strength, meaning that if you handle things well, you’ll deepen those traits, and likely gain wisdom in the process. You can also gain hatred and anger. As with most events in life, it depends on how you take it. I hope you learn to take these things with grace, balance and courage. That should stand you in good stead for the day when things really get tough.

Just remember, the song of life is partly one of adversity. If you can accept this now, it will make your road much easier. If you cannot, the journey may well become a disaster.

This particular disaster hit me and my family–as it has so many families–in the spring of ‘96; we recovered, and went on. It was a hell of an evolution to go through, and a hell of a time to go through it, but that’s how the cards fell. By the time I had begun to resolve the mess, Christmas was upon us. I profited from the season as best I could, gave to various charities what I could, and spent the rest on my family. It was a modest holiday, as ours normally are, but even so it was a wonderful diversion, and allowed me, for a time, to forget that my gallery was still headed for bankruptcy, and my debt still deepening. Thank God for holidays.

After New Years I forced myself to confront gallery business once more, and to deal with everything before me: proposals that I had to prepare, mailings that I had to stuff, marketing for the spring shows, and, as always, the general disaster of my finances.

While the Christmas season had been the best I’d yet known, the profits were not sufficient to override the losses of the year. As for January and February, they had been busts. For that matter, most months were still busts. I was hoping things would be better in March though. After everything I’d been through, after all the thousands of doors I’d knocked on and been turned away from (though some had opened), I felt it was time for things to improve. I had owned the gallery for three years now. I felt I was ready for a change. My intuition kept assuring me that March would bring a change. Well, it did.