Episode 94 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Interview at the Whitney Museum

The Interview at the Whitney Museum

My wife and I went to the museum for our interview and made a decision not to bring anything with us, like a résumé. In the office, we were asked many questions, none of which were difficult to answer. At the end of the interview, with slight frustration, she asked if we could send her something about our past. We explained that we did not believe in the past! And with exasperation, she said, “Well, I don’t know if you went to art school, or any school at all, can you send me something?” Of course we said yes, we would. Then she handed us her card and said, “Please keep in touch about new projects you are doing.” We were thrilled but had no idea what had happened. At home, we decided that instead of sending a résumé, we would send her detailed biographies of both of us. That meant a long prose piece about where we were born and lots of excessive detail about our childhood, including things we made up. It was our answer to writing about the past. We wrote so much, which was probably useless to them, but they had also most likely made a decision by then.

The curators never came to our studio or asked to come. However, late in the month of August 2001, we received a call from the curator at the Whitney Museum saying we were invited to be in the Biennial! She also said that we could not tell anyone, even our parents, because they didn’t want the press to know before it was officially released.

The Story Every Artist Wants to Hear

Why is this the story every artist wants to hear, as the curator said to us? Because we were not chosen or sought after. We were not “solicited” by the museum. We had no gallery representation. We simply sent them our materials and a letter and got into the show. It is like winning the lottery, and as the saying goes, you have to play to win. We played, and of course you could too. Let’s analyze the approach for a minute so it can be adapted to you and your medium. To begin with, it is important to keep up on who the latest curators are for the Whitney Museum or any other museum or gallery.

I read the New York Times for some of that news and also the Art Newspaper, which you can get online. That was essential to read and keep up on what is happening in the art world. Then once you have decided you know who you want to reach with your work, send them a letter. The letter is the tricky part. What will you say, and will you include a statement and a biography? Of course it is up to you; sometimes a résumé is asked for or required, other times not. But remember you are writing a letter to a person, and that person has to read something that they think is interesting. Remember the dating analogy? You must decide what to say in the letter that will generate enough interest to have them look at your work. You can be as creative as you want. Send a poem, send a diatribe, a manifesto, or a joke or a very straight letter, it is up to you; just remember the goal—to get the readers’ attention and to have them open your images and look at them.

My meditations on seeing it all happen may or may not have had some effect. I feel that when you are focused on something, it brings in other elements that can help. So perhaps the meditation didn’t make it happen, but it did prepare me for the meeting. I saw myself relaxed as well as enthused in the office of the curator. I had no special philosophy or statement behind the work. I was able to be myself, more or less. If you are a painter, sculptor, video artist, or conceptual artist, you have as good a chance as anyone, but you must present yourself in a way that makes sense and is attractive. The moral of this story is, “If you do not ask, you will probably not be invited.”

In chapter 8, I describe the details of getting a solo show at the Whitney Museum and how, even though I proposed it, the museum promotional materials called it a commission.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

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