Episode 46 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Presenting Papers

Presenting Papers

To present a paper means presenting a lecture on a topic of your choice from your perspective. At international biennial and art conferences around the world, papers are always being presented by artists, curators, and others in the art world. The best way to really understand this is to go to lectures, panel discussions, and presentations at museums and nonprofits near you, as well as universities. You will also meet other curators, directors, and artists.

Your topic could be anything, but as an artist, you are talking about something that will make people think, “Oh, she’s interesting, what is her work like?” Not because you presented any of your own art or even mentioned your own art in your presentation, but because you yourself were simply interesting. An example of “interesting” can be summed up in a title sometimes, which is what draws people to a lecture in the first place. I once saw a title for a presentation at a biennial called, “If You’re so Smart Then Why Aren’t You Rich?” I liked that title very much. I would think many papers could be presented on that subject from all different angles on art and the artist.

You don’t have to be an academic to do this, but college will help unless you are just a good writer or can get your ideas across easily. One artist, Ken Lum, who represented Canada in the Venice Biennial one year, presented a paper that was also based on a question. It was a question his grandmother asked him when she arrived at an opening for for a group show where he had some work. As he tells it, there was a crowd at an opening in a small East Village gallery and he had a piece in this group show. He said his grandmother walked in and shouted out his name in Cantonese. He went to her and was surprised she came to the opening. She asked him, “Who are these people and what do they want?”

He told me he didn’t know how to answer that question and wrote a paper on it. That is, a paper or presentation (lecture, panel discussion) on the question, “Who are these people and what do they want?” as it relates to the art world. Because the presentation is to the very people that the presentation is about, it is of course of interest. It also has a sense of humor and a self-reflective quality which is admirable as well.

Presenting papers is also a great way to meet more people. For now, just go to more presentations at museums, nonprofits, and galleries and you will most likely make interesting friends. You will also see other people presenting papers, or lectures on different topics, and use those as a model for your own if you are drawn to that.

Engagement

Whether you are networking by talking to someone sincerely and potentially building a friendship, or presenting a lecture to a group, the goal is to engage your audience and have then take an interest in how you are thinking and acting. That is why papers and presentations based on questions work out so well, because the entire point of the lecture is to engage by asking questions. That in itself, perhaps a Socratic form, is a simple rule of thumb as you make more friends on all levels of the art world: keep asking questions. Of course listen and respond as well, but questions as opposed to “here is my information” statements are more interesting because the audience must complete the question, even if it is to themselves.

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.

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Episode 45 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Promotion & Networking

Promotion & Networking

This chapter is about how to present papers, give lectures, and engage the community of artists around you, as well as art administrators, with thoughtful presentations.

Promotion is a dirty word for some artists and a calling card for others. In this chapter we will discuss how to promote your work in a way that fits your situation. There is no need to be pushy or awkward about it. It must be done with grace and style, and the elements of that will be discussed here with specific advice to advance your career.

Another word for this is the rather cold sounding—networking, a term that has meaning now as a social media tactic as well as an interpersonal strategy. How you approach this concept will greatly determine your future. The idea that an artist shouldn’t promote their work, or that too much promotion hurts work, is one of those ideas that prevents good work from getting out into the world. Without promotion, which really means sharing, how will anyone ever see it? The less promotion, or sharing or networking that you do, the smaller your audience will be.

Networking

This concept of how to share, how to network, and how to engage your audience is the most important in this book, because without it, nothing else will work. Essentially, it boils down to this—make more friends. That is both the easiest thing in the world and for some, one of the hardest. Yes, it is “who you know,” but that is not a bad thing, because you need to know more people and have more friends so that your system of support can grow. It is true that we live in a world that can be more isolating, that we spend more time at home, more time with a computer, and less time singing, dancing, and being part of a community that makes us feel good and part of something larger.

It is also true that we are most comfortable in a mutually supportive environment, and that we must create that environment for ourselves. Let’s get down to what that means in terms of how you will create your community of supportive curators, artists, and gallery owners. It is not about getting introductions to all of them, because even if you did get introductions, then what do you do? For the museum shows I have gotten, and my patrons and sponsors, too, I never had any introductions: I contacted them directly. I often asked a foundation or museum for their email, contact information, or office information, and found I was able to get to just about everyone. Why shouldn’t you be able to do that? At the highest levels, everyone has a secretary, an office assistant who will pass on your letter if it’s good enough. So at the very least, work on writing letters to people you want to reach.

I interviewed Ida Applebroog, an artist now represented by Hauser and Wirth, a very high end gallery. Her work is also consistently disturbing, that is, the content is often faces that look as though they are distorted or upset, and other work is often challenging on social and political themes. She would never say she promoted her work, because I asked her and she said she did not, but she also had a different definition of that meant. Before she had exhibits or was known, it was the seventies in New York and she was trying to get her work noticed, but as a woman—and in the seventies—it was difficult. She began making small, inexpensive, xeroxed (copied) booklets in black and white. (That process is simply folding four pieces of 8 . x 11 bond paper in half and nesting them all together and putting a staple or string through the binding.) She copied black and white reproductions of her paintings and words. The words often didn’t even connect, so the reader would be puzzled, trying to figure it out.

She sent these inexpensive productions to whomever she wanted to reach, even if she did not know them. That meant gallerists, friends, critics, curators, writers, and anyone she wanted to share work with. She said that sometimes people would write back and tell her to “stop sending these dark images,” and that it ruined their day! Ida said she took that as a compliment.

Was she promoting herself? Of course. We must find away to share and get work out no matter where you are. You don’t have to use Facebook, but of course you can. What Ida did is something you could probably do today. Make small books regularly and send them out. Make the books hard to decipher and memorable perhaps, or whatever you like. In this age of emails and text messages, paper mail is even more special. Receiving a small handmade book in the mail is something special that will be remembered, and if your name is associated with it, why wouldn’t you also be remembered?

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.

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Episode 44 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / The Curators Point of View

Carey: And where do you meet new artists? You said mostly through recommendations from other artists—is there another way?

Hoptman: I still do that. But of course I go to art schools. I go to programs like the LMCC, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. I make an appearance at the AIM program. I didn’t do it last year but pretty much every year from past twenty years I go up there.

The Bronx Museum has the show every summer. For me it’s a kind of organic process and a big challenge because you’re most comfortable in your generation and those artists who are closest to your generation. It’s a challenge but I was very lucky, for example I participated in this triennial that we did here at the New Museum called Younger Than Jesus. So that was the millennial generation of artists. We looked at five hundred artists’ portfolios, it was fantastic, from all over the world.

So if you’re lucky enough, as a curator, to be involved in a project like that you immediately have a vocabulary. I spent three years traveling all over the world for the Carnegie International and they’re not exactly emerging artists, they’re fairly well-known artists who are part of that kind of pioneer circuit but I certainly learned a lot, I traveled a lot.

It’s important to do that, to get out of your seat. Get away from the galleries. I mean the galleries are a fountain of information, absolutely. I mean they often know way before we know interesting artists. But I have to say, and this is something that I have been wagging my finger at some of our very beloved art critics for– the assumption that curators find their material in the art galleries drives me bananas. Because more often than not we find our material before the gallerists do. And they find that they find their artists through us which is fine.

I think it’s all great, it’s all great but the criticism, I don’t buy the criticism that says that many curators or all curators just follow what the gallerists do because in a lot of cases the gallerists are following what the curators do. Sometimes there is simultaneous thing where you see an artwork, and you see an artist’s work in a museum and a gallery at the same time.

I think almost every other contemporary curator will tell you this, I don’t need the stamp of the famous gallery for me to be interested in somebody’s work, that’s for sure.

Carey: That’s refreshing to hear for a lot of people.

Hoptman: But everybody would say that I think. I don’t think I’m alone.

Carey: I don’t think you’re alone as a curator perhaps, but I think many artists do believe that’s exactly what they need on their résumé.

Hoptman: I know, and I think for a broader population and certainly for the collector class, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Although there’s a whole area of collecting that’s been pumped up over the past ten or fifteen years that concentrates on lesser known artists, unknown artists. Collectors really pride themselves in finding new talent before anybody else. It’s a big deal for a lot of contemporary collectors to do that, the hunt.

The world’s all turned upside down now, really. We didn’t even get into that but, you know, I have one job. I’m very lucky, I get to interact with artists, I’ve done it my entire career. That’s what I wanted to do and I get to do it. I get to travel and I get to look at beautiful things and try to understand them. I’m very, very lucky but my job, the thing that I dedicate myself to, is trying to create a context and interpret these beautiful and interesting things for a wider public, that’s what I do.

The Curators Point of View

I think this interview sheds some light on the process from a curator’s point of view. She is looking, but she is meeting people and talking. Meeting curators must go beyond emails as soon as possible to build any kind of interest or relationship.

I interviewed another curator which I will not reproduce here, but it was Simone Battisti, director of the Barbara Gladstone gallery in New York in 2015. That is a major gallery that is one of the key players in the art world market and manages the careers of highly influential artists.

When I asked him what he looks for in artists when he meets them or goes to their studios, he had one word—sincerity. That struck me as odd in a world as aloof as his, and in one of the most important galleries. But he explained more about sincerity. He said that in all relationships he values sincerity, but with artists making work, he want to see work that is not compromised in any way. If it looks like work that is made to be sold, he has no interest. He wants to know what the artist is sincere about. What is their vision, so to speak, of what they want to see and why? I liked the way he said that, and it sums up the most important aspect of this business. Be sincere and straight-forward. Your work can be mystifying in any number of ways, but your manner and approach should be sincere.

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.

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Episode 43 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Where do they begin?

Hoptman: I agree with you.

Carey: I’d like to talk to you about all the artists that are graduating now. There are artists emerging into this world, thousands every year and many of them are attracted to New York or as near to it as they can get, and we can see this kind of expansion outside of New York as well. Just meeting a curator or applying for shows or becoming part of the art world is very much a mystery to a lot of artists—where do they begin? Where do you think an artist should begin in terms of moving, etc.?

Hoptman: It’s a good probing question because it comes around to the beginning of the conversation, and I have the same answer. I think artists begin making a world for themselves among other artists. And any way that you can become a part of that, if you can commune with other artists, that’s where I think you’re going to find your ideological or your artistic home.

There are lots of ways to do that. You can become involved in a post graduate program like the Core program or Skowhegan, or even a less ambitious one like the one I mentioned that the Bronx Museum still runs—the AIM program, which is one that’s not necessarily a residency so you don’t have to go live somewhere.

I think that you can go to graduate school. I know that that’s been de rigueur now for at least twenty years for professional artists. Most professional artists that I see have master’s degrees, although it probably started in my generation. Because artists that are a little bit older than me don’t have those master’s degrees. They didn’t feel it necessary.

It’s very similar with curators, there are curatorial programs all over the place. When I started working I knew I wanted to get an art history degree. I never knew that I needed a curatorial degree. So I’m kind of an old school curator in that way. I’m a historian, not a curatorial studies person, but yes you find your community that way.

I think that the communities are much more permeable now. The museum community, the commercial art world in New York City, the non-commercial art world in New York City, the kind of commercial art world if you want a hybrid, too, and that kind of judgment I don’t think is so much a part of people’s lives anymore. I’m very happy about that because that was just awful, I think, personally. What an awful way to look at art and make this snap judgments and it was an awful way for artists to have to submit.

I think now art dealers, for example, at least over the past ten years, have been on the hunt for artists. So I think the burden of finding artists are more on these people who realized that there was a very lively market for emerging artists.

What’s going to happen now? I don’t know if my art dealer colleagues are running around looking for the next big thing, but I certainly know that curators are very focused on emerging artists, what to look for in new talent, and are very interested in finding and gathering information. So I don’t know, I mean, I have to ask some young artists, but I think that I wouldn’t say it’s easier. It’s just some of the burdens that were there before aren’t there anymore.

Carey: Right, and you mentioned smaller communities as well as going back to school for graduate programs. I’m thinking also of many artists who are graduating from their MFA programs and are still wondering how to act with a curator and reach those types of programs.

Hoptman: Yes, I mean, there’s the Core program down in Houston and others like it, things like that, residencies. I know lots of artists do that. I think the art schools are thriving now because so many people are interested in teaching.

It used to be, on the East Coast, it used to be problematic, at least in my time, but now I think almost every artist that I know would probably kill for a teaching a job in New York. It’s a wonderful way to be in touch with all the sort of new ideas that are coming up and also have academic stimulation, if you will.

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.

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Episode 42 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Finding a Context for Yourself

Carey: You talked about this thing post studio environment, such as what happened with Rirkrit and Gabriel. They were all conceptual, though, which makes more sense. There are so many other artists who I would think are post studio, who aren’t conceptual artists who also have a studio practice, but it’s very difficult to have a studio in Manhattan.

Hoptman: Yes, that’s the second. Yes, I completely agree with you and that’s another contribution to the phenomenon of a post studio practice. To making art in your living room as opposed to your loft in SoHo.

I came to New York in 1983 and I say this to people all the time—it’s a long time ago but it doesn’t seem that long ago to me—but when I came in 1983, I worked on Rivington Street but I could never afford to live in the Bowery or Rivington Street. Even in 1983, the rent in those bigger spaces, the loft spaces that artists traditionally would move into, cost real money. It’s important to remember that those kinds of big spaces cost real money up from the late seventies. So you have to be a generation and a half older even than me, and I feel ancient, to have been able to have a shot at the space in Manhattan or downtown or even in the East Village. East Village was cheap but it didn’t have the big spaces that you think in your mind that maybe a sculptor would need, for example. So my generation lived, might have lived in the East Village, but they were already moving to Williamsburg where the big spaces were.

Carey: So now that we’re in the 2000s, what is happening to your visits? Are you going to Brooklyn more? Is it less feasible? Is there a different kind of process?

Hoptman: I think so. I think artists are very intrepid and I’m very admiring of the way that artists manage to figure things out. Of course, after a certain generation you’re not going to have a studio in Manhattan. After a certain generation you’re not going to have studios in the closer areas of Brooklyn either. People push further and further out and manage to find places that they can work in.

I think that as the discourse evolves, so does the kind of work people do. I think when the recession hit everybody was saying, “Oh, the art will change,” and it didn’t change immediately. People who were painters didn’t stop painting because people weren’t buying their work anymore.

I think now that we’re about almost two years out, about a year and a half out from the biggest crash, the biggest economic problem. I think probably that the pressure might be off a little from that sort of unrelenting pressure to make an object and send it to market.

Carey: I think that’s the case. I think I find artists do talk about how the pressure is off, but the way the pressure is on has always been to earn enough money, to continue staying where you are or to pursue your practice as jobs are more scarce. Or even if the jobs aren’t more scarce, there’s an even greater push to earn money and keep a studio close enough to Manhattan or a major museum so that you can be involved in the art world.

Hoptman: I think that’s an interesting thought. It’s something I talk about with my husband all the time. This idea of whether it’s very important to be close to the central marketplace that is New York City, because there are other marketplaces, too, but how important is it now at this moment to be close to the center in terms of economics.

I understand it’s good to be close to a center because it’s great to be meeting with other artists. I mean, to have a community, to not feel like some weirdo or like some Martian in a community that doesn’t understand what you’re doing or need what you’re doing. But economically, how important is it to be near, do you think?

Carey: I graduated school and I lived on Block Island for a little while, which was completely off the path, and I established a gallery and a magazine out there and most of the artists I knew from New York came out there and we had a gallery for the summer.

In my experience, I thought I had really an ideal set up. Icould work a few days a week doing carpentry and spend the rest of the day in a beautiful studio that was something like a giant loft—this one was a giant barn. The problem I was experiencing was that I felt that even though it was a very tolerant community and I knew many people in the community, it made me feel somehow that it was creatively constricting. And I think it had to do with the fact that it was a very small community and everybody knows what you’re doing.

When I came to New York it was a difficult decision becauseI did live this life that was very gratifying and I had a perfect set up. I was only twenty-two but I felt like a retired artist with a big studio in a beautiful island. I could make all the work I wanted, but I didn’t feel an involvement with the community. It was more than that, though. When I came to New York, since it’s such a giant city and I didn’t know many people, it felt you have a sense of anonymity that made me feel anything was possible.

At that point I did open up a storefront in the East Village and began giving out services likes hugs and foot-washings. I could not have done that or even thought that was possible to do in the very small community I had been in.

My theory is that a very small community can be somehow claustrophobic as opposed to a giant community like New York. It’s the opposite because of the sense of anonymity. Does that make sense?

Hoptman: I completely agree with you. It has nothing to do with money is what you’re saying. It has everything to do with—I hate this term—but finding a context for yourself so that you make sense and what you do and who you are makes sense with the community that you live in.

Yes, New York is huge and there are all these different art worlds, micro communities, which are something that we are exhaustively looking at right now. We’re having this sort of contemporary self-examination here about the micro communities in the city, but it’s possible to find an audience, if you will, for what you do and not be alone, I think.

The thing with curators, by the way, is that you can be one anywhere. I grew up in Langley, Virginia, and it’s great to be a curator in Langley, Virginia and it’s important. But it’s easier to be a curator in a community that is looking for contemporary art exhibitions to go to.

Carey: Exactly. I think there’s a certain amount of support. I mean, I don’t want to focus too much on New York, although I guess New York is the focus of the art world or much of it, but it was my feeling also that in New York people are encouraged to do anything. My wife is Spanish, she’s from Madrid. She feels that way as well. It does seem that there are limitless possibilities for all artists.

Whereas in the small community that I was in for a little while, or in Madrid, grandiose ideas are thought of as improbable and not worth pursuing. There isn’t a lot of support there for that. New York somehow seems to support that or has that feeling, I think, of offering support for all those things.

I don’t just think it, it obviously happens. Certainly more unusual projects, from my point of view, happen in New York, whereas they may not happen at all in other cities.

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.

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Episode 41 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Artist in the Marketplace

Laura Hoptman interview continued…

Carey: You talked about doing three hundred studio visits, and I’d like to talk about that a little bit because I’m interested and I think everyone is interested in how you selected those artists. How did you choose three hundred artists?

Hoptman: That’s a very good question but I have a kind of a boring answer. We can talk about it in another way; for that particular job, the Bronx Museum had and still has a program called AIM, which is an acronym for Artist in the Marketplace.

It’s a program for emerging artists where every week they come to the museum, meet one another, and learn practical information on how to survive as an artist in New York. How to do your taxes. At that time, how to make a portfolio or a slide or something to send galleries. The museum arranges meetings with curators, other curators, as well as gallerists, as well as tax people, it’s all kinds of things and at the end of this nine-week program you have an exhibition at the museum.

So when you leave the museum—this was the thinking at least at the time and maybe still now—you leave that museum with kind of a community that you met. Some sort of life skill for artists, and that could be an addition to your résumé with a catalog.

So the time that I did most of my studio visits is the year and a half that I was there. I was making an exhibition that commemorated the twentieth anniversary of this program. I think it’s now thirty years old. So I visited the alumni of the AIM program, plus a group of the emerging artists. It was a kind of matrix. So how do you choose? Well, I have had one tried and true method my entire career and that is that I ask other artists. I’m actually married to an artist. I’ve been married to an artist for fifteen years. I always rely on artists to tell me what other artists to go look at.

Carey: That’s very interesting.

Hoptman: Doesn’t everybody do that?

Carey: Well, everyone has different methods it seems. Some people do say that they do both. They have artists to rely on. Other people will talk about meeting other people when they’re out. It’s an interesting question, because one of the things that I’m finding from talking with different people in the art world, especially the people who’ve been in it quite a long time, is how the world has so radically changed from the seventies, and even the early eighties, and now. We’re talking of so many more artists and a very different landscape. Even without the recession, financially, for artists it’s a very different . . .

Hoptman: But—I’m sorry to break in, but the first thing I would think of was the idea that we’re in a post studio landscape, and particularly in New York because it’s so expensive to establish a studio here. So there are a lot of people who have a post studio practice. During the boom, there were a lot of artists that you would visit and very often there would be no work at their studio. You will be looking at it through reproductions because they had, for better or for worse, brought it to their gallery for sale, so it was rarely there.

I think that over the years what’s changed for me in terms of studio visits, is that at certain moments, it has become a kind of a meeting as opposed to a kind of a discussion over objects.

Carey: Let’s talk a little bit more about how it’s become more a meeting than a discussion over objects.

Hoptman: I remember when I first met Gabriel Orozco—and I met him under other circumstances, I met him in an elevator. We kind of became friends. When he lived in the East Village he used to meet people in one particular place, Café Veselka, that Ukrainian restaurant. That used to be the place where we went to visit Gabriel and others.

The same with Rirkrit Tiravanija, an artist who I have known ever since I was at the Bronx Museum. He was one of my three hundred studio visits that early time. He was the first project that I did at MoMA when I got there. I remember how we talked about it and Thompson Square Park was where we sort of worked. So all three of those guys were sort of post studio and that was my first experience of that. Not going into a basement or a studio, a place where there are things like paintings to see or something.

As the 1990s became the 2000s, and as the art market heated up so much, the studio visits became more and more in a way sort of bizarre, because you really were trying to chase the objects. More often than not you didn’t find the objects in the studio with the artists, you found them in the backroom of their gallery or some other exhibition space, mostly commercial exhibition space.

I mean, even at art schools I remember very, very well up until four years ago going to art schools and having cases of some people not even having very much work. If I wasn’t there for their MSA exhibition they could, some of them could have already dispersed into the commercial ecosystem. It’s weird. I mean even to talk about it is weird.

Carey: Has that changed also since then?

Hoptman: I’m talking about very recent history now. I can’t tell you absolutely whether it has or not, but I can see some changes. I go to a lot of art schools and I really treasure that ability. People ask me to go to places all over the country and also to postgraduate programs like the Core program—I just came back from there, in Houston.

I think, as of this year, I do see a kind of changed atmosphere, a sort of less charged atmosphere in the studios of younger artists or emerging artists, if you will. There’s more stuff there. There’s less of a push to get it out of there. There’s less of an object orientation that shouldn’t be a surprise to people who are looking at contemporary work. There’s less painting. I’m a painting curator, but the ubiquity of painting became almost lugubrious. For someone like me that’s hard to say, because I never thought I could get enough of it.

I noticed in art schools now there’s a little bit of a chilling out, which I think is really positive. You know, that artists whose practice might not have been conducive to painting or making paintings.

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.

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Episode 40 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Talking to Curators & Laura Hoptman

Talking to Curators / Interview with Laura Hoptman

In this chapter I discuss how to present yourself to curators so that they become attracted to your art and your story.

In the academic world where most curators get their directions on how to pursue their careers as independent or institution-based curators, they are taught how to look at art and evaluate it from a cultural standpoint. There are also curators who do not have academic training and are putting together shows as well, but the majority of curators that you will meet are most likely coming from a curatorial studies program at a university. That means, in most cases, they will have had art history classes and learned how to create exhibits as well as how to visit artists’ studios.

When visiting studios, they are told to look at work in a cultural context. That means that as they talk to the artist and come to their own conclusions, they are looking to see how the artists are reflecting contemporary culture today. In fact, we all reflect contemporary culture to some degree, even those who are not artists. A teenager who is watching videos on YouTube and using Snapchat and other forms of social media is engaged in a form of the culture that reflects who we are as a culture and how teens might be responding to and interacting with specific forms of media

Artists do the same thing even if they are not aware of it, and this is part of what a curator is looking for. He or she is looking at your images and their content and thinking about how this might be a reaction to current political or social trends, or even popular trends in entertainment.

Laura Hoptman was the senior curator at the New Museum and is now the curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. Her focus is contemporary art. In the interview that follows, you will learn more about what she looks for and how she finds artists.

The aspect of talking to curators that I would emphasize most is discussing your ideas—not necessarily your art, but the ideas or impulses behind your art. That will allow a curator to understand and interpret your work in a cultural context, and it will also make for interesting conversation. Here is the interview with Laura Hoptman.

Laura Hoptman

The Interview

Cariey: I’d like to begin by asking a little bit about your beginning in the art world. Where do you first remember becoming interested in either of the arts or in curating?

Hoptman: Well, I’m kind of a special case because I’ve wanted to be a museum curator ever since I was a little kid. I grew up in Washington DC and we spent our weekends at the museums. I can remember when I was about four my mother did an art show in the backyard and I watched it. So it’s just something that was part of my DNA from very, very early on.

Carey: What was the show that your mother did in the backyard?

Hoptman: We had a neighbor who is a painter and I remember her nailing the paintings to the pine trees in the backyard. I mean, we had a very culturally interested, if not sophisticated family, and our thing was art and we went to the museums all the time. That was something that I always wanted to do and I focused all my energies as a young person on art.

Carey: And what was the first curatorial work that you did? Was it something as out of the box as nailing paintings to trees? I love that!

Hoptman: I went to graduate school in New York City, but before I went to graduate school I worked in film and video on the Lower East Side, actually right around the corner from where the New Museum is now, on Rivington Street, in a place called Film Video Arts.

So I started my art life in film, video, and performance. I also worked at a place called Franklin Furnace which was a performance and book archive. Then I needed some money, so I was a waitress at the same time. I went back to graduate school a year after I came to New York. I came to New York City in 1983 and I went back to graduate school for art history in 1984 and started my curatorial career in the midst of graduate school.

My first curatorial job was at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and for those who don’t know that place, it’s a museum of contemporary art that was founded in the late 1970s as part of the largest of the Johnson administration’s Great Society programs. It’s a place for emerging artists and I spent three years there, and I remember in my last year I made three hundred studio visits. Can you imagine? So it really started me, gave me a vocabulary, certainly, of the regional artists in the New York area.

Carey: Was that in the eighties when you were doing the studio visits?

Hoptman: Late 1980s, yes. In between, I also worked for Merce Cunningham, which was really interesting. I spent eighteen months with Merce because he was a dancer who was very involved in media in particular. So I worked at the film and video department there for a while. And I also did some time at the Whitney Museum in the film and video department, which at the time, actually, I really loved.

So I had a little bit of experience, but not in curatorial capacity. My first curatorial job was at the Bronx Museum and from there I went to MoMA, which was a quite strange experience but I was very lucky because I had this huge vocabulary of emerging artists and I went to an institution which at that time didn’t know anything about emerging artists.

At MoMA, I spent six years in the drawing department, and did a lot of exhibitions. And then I did the 2004-2005 Carnegie International,which took three years of my life. And I came home to New York. Then decided to return not to a big institution but to the New Museum, because the New Museum was opening a new building here on the Bowery and creating a whole new staff. It gave us an opportunity to sort of envision a new kind of contemporary art museum for New York. That’s my life in a nutshell.

Carey: But you’ve been between several mediums. You were the drawing curator at MoMA and it sounds like before then, you were focused a lot on video and film.

Hoptman: I focused a lot on performance first, then video and film. Not because I liked it but because that was where I could get a job and it was super interesting for me. I’m just very lucky that I have been active in an era in contemporary art where that kind of division between mediums doesn’t necessarily have to dictate what you do in your life.

I worked in the film and video department at the Whitney but a few years after I worked there they dissolved that department altogether. So that there’s no kind of apartheid now between media in museums like the Whitney Museum. And even the MoMA, which is famous for its divisions. I was a drawing curator and learned about drawing, but I did a lot of exhibitions that were all kinds of different mediums.

I did the retrospective of the artist Yayoi Kusama, who’s a great, great person but a magnificent painter, performer, and filmmaker. I did a show called Drawing Now which included the work of—I think I had something like twenty-four artists. There were eight sections and they were wonderful, they are wonderful artists but most of them are probably not known just as drawing people.

There was, I don’t know, Elizabeth Paton, John Currin, the sort of heavy hitter figurative painters of my generation were in that show. You can think of it more as an exhibition of drawing but really coming from the vocabulary of people who are painters—not exclusively, but most of them.

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.

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Episode 39 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / The Personal

The Personal

An essential theme of this book, and most books on advancing a career, is about the personal contacts and friends that you make. Those contacts are often made through inbox messages on social media or email. In both cases, the writing that you do in those initial stages will make all the difference. I would try to imagine how you would feel if you received the letter you are writing to someone. What if someone sent you an inbox message that said, “My show will be up until May 15, here is the link.” Does that sentence attract you and want to make you click the link or go see it if you have never heard of this person before? I would think probably not. The reason is that it is the opposite of personal. It is a directive masked as an invitation. I get messages like this often. But when I get a message that says something more personal, like, “Hi Brainard, I am really enjoying your book, and have been finishing up my website as you suggest. There was one issue I had with using an email newsletter program and integration—is there an email program for newsletters that you would suggest?”

That is something I would tend to answer because it is a question that does not require me to review a whole site to see what is going on. If you were writing to a curator, you could also say something similar, such as, “Thank you for the great work you do, I just saw the show you curated at X space, and I thought your choice of artists mixed with scientists who approached the same subject matter was innovative and inspiring. Mixing two fields of study in this way add to both, and as an artist myself, I found it inspiring.”

In that note, you are not asking the curator for anything, just making them aware that you are sensitive to who they are and what they do. Since you did not leave a website, it becomes even more sincere. Anyone who reads that will probably respond with a thank you at the least and will most likely look at your Facebook page as well. Even if they don’t, in your next letter you can ask a question, or even, gently, send your website, or preferably talk about your work before sending it and ask if they would like to see work. Essentially, I am emphasizing writing that is personal and meaningful and not a quick note with your website link.

Your Story

Everyone has a story to tell, a story about who they are and why they do what they do. Even if you were not an artist, everyone has a passion of one kind or another that they could talk about. In crafting your story, which could be similar to what has been called an elevator pitch, you need to tap into some kind of passion. Since you are most likely an artist if you are reading this, you will be writing about your art and your life. How you end up telling this story in a brief biography or an artist’s statement is of great importance, because it is how you will be initially perceived and perhaps even remembered.

Earlier in the book I reproduced the stories that my wife and I sent about ourselves for the Whitney museum curator when she asked. That was my style and how I approach things. In the interview with Allard van Hoorn, he is telling his story and it revolves around a specific theme that we can all relate to. He talks about wandering and trying to find out what he really wants and who he would like to become. That alone is something we can all relate to and draws us in. Then he describes what eventually became his statement or theme on the basis of his experience with Aboriginal culture and the idea of Songlines, which was a method used by that culture to navigate or map existing structures and paths in the world. It is a concept that in itself is fascinating, steeped in myth, dreams, and a culture that is a mystery to most Western minds. He tells it in a straight-forward manner, no unnecessary theory or mystifying, yet it is interesting and memorable while weaving a line of thinking throughout all his work. It also is something we can all relate to in some form; it is very much about connecting with our environment, the people and buildings around us. It is also sincere. No matter what your story is, that is how easily it could be presented, as a straight-forward account of who you are, and how you became that.

The Form of Writing

That is the form I would suggest when writing about yourself and your artwork. Choose something that is memorable and reach deep into who you are and who we are as human beings. The idea of creating a mystery around yourself does not have to be as obvious as what Joseph Beuys was doing in his statements and texts and work, but that is of course valid, too, if that attracts you. Many artists like to keep it short and sweet and use a piece of writing over and over for statements, but the problem with this is that it can sound too smug, and leaves little room for exploring your ideas. Part of the form your story takes should be about exploring. Like the Van Hoorn example, his idea can be continuously explored in many ways. This is extremely important because it is not about just one idea, it is about how you continue to discover new ways of articulating that idea over and over again.

As I write in the next chapter about talking to curators, the idea of structuring your conversation and approach will rely heavily on how you write about yourself and your interests. A teacher once told me that artists can often be heard saying something like, “I wish people understood me for who I am, not what I appear to be.” His comment on that was that we are in fact only what we say we are. We are not the secret thoughts and ideas we have not yet articulated, we are our words. We are our pictures as well, but to understand art we must understand the artist, and words must be used for that. Thus, your writing should be a clear explanation and exploration of what it is you are discovering and looking for in your work. It should tell the world what you cherish most and what you are seeking to understand. It should tell the world why it is exciting to be doing what you are doing.

It is acceptable to break the rules to some extent here. That is, you can be quirky in your writing, but you must be able to communicate clearly. For example, if you are going to create a poem for your artist’s statement, it should be a poem that is narrative, or something that is understandable and somehow relates to your work. Most of all, the overtone of your writing should be about an idea or ideas that you are interested in. If not ideas, then perhaps topics or cultural reflection of some kind.

When in doubt or stuck, look at the writing of other artists. Look at the brief biographies of artists that have recently won grants or awards. When artists win awards or are given them without asking (like the MacArthur genius award), there is always a brief synopsis of the artists’ work when announcing the grant or award. Those pieces of writing are great examples of how an artist’s work can be summarized in a way that makes sense to the general public and can be easily understood. Usually that is done in less than a paragraph.

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.

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Episode 38 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Weaving Your Own Mystery

Weaving Your Own Mystery

This chapter will not just help with writing, but with understanding how to create a story about yourself that invites others to ask questions.

Writing, for most artists, is one of the more perplexing tasks they face. In this chapter I will discuss approaches to writing anything online. That would include getting media attention as well as critical attention for exploring ideas and issues that may be present in your work.

Writing is not a skill that comes easily to most artists, which is why you so often hear the phrase, “the painting speaks for itself.” However, thinking is something that artists must do. Thinking about the world of ideas, the world of colors and context, or poetry, politics, the environment, and more. These are all ideas that may already be present in your work or ones that you have thought of to some degree. If you can think about these things, then you can write about them, too. Perhaps not as well as you paint, sculpt, make photographs or installations, but nevertheless, you can write about issues that are important to you.

Social Media

Think of how a social media platform like Facebook contains so much writing by people who do not consider themselves writers. I find the most interesting posts on Facebook are about what someone is thinking or struggling with in their mind. It usually doesn’t relate to their work, but to thoughts and ideas we all have. The posts about loved ones dying and about how much they meant to someone is an example that resonates with most of us. But comments and fairly long status updates can include writing about art and how someone feels about a recent show, or a recent political event, or something much more personal—about struggles in the studio, or struggles with health and more. This kind of writing works on Facebook, meaning it gets comments and interactions with other Facebook users. The artists making all these posts mostly do not consider themselves writers, but are indeed writing about art and life in a way that relates to their work. Part of the reason artists seem to write well on Facebook is that they are not thinking that they are “writing,” but are rather communicating to others in a way that is not so self-conscious.

Looking and Writing

Being an artist is about looking at the world in a peculiar way, a curious way, and then reflecting some of that investigation in the work itself. It does not matter if you are an abstract or figurative painter, or a photographer or conceptual artist: the work an artist makes reflects the culture around them and how they perceive it. From the grotesque to the political to the poetic, visual artists offer new ways of looking at how we all perceive the world around us. The more every artist is aware of this process, which is often intuitive, the more there is to write about and explore.

If you are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media, there is often a question of what to write and how to meet people that you want to talk to on these platforms. For most artists, the questions is how to meet collectors, curators, and others who could help them in their career.

Writing for Online Audiences

The method I would suggest for writing on Facebook and most other online platforms is to be at least sincere in what you write (as opposed to sharing jokes and videos), because if you want to meet people and attract them to your art, then show off how thoughtful, kind, and sensitive you are. When I get a comment on one of my images on Instagram, for example, and it is more than “awesome shot,” this catches my attention. Perhaps it is something like, “this is my favorite, it’s beautiful,” or even something longer and less vague, like, “this reminds me of those ice cream trucks when I was little and the music they played.” That last one was not particularly descriptive, but it showed that the person writing had a particular memory and feeling associated with the image I posted. If someone wrote that on one of my images and “liked” a few others, I would notice. I would read their comment, and the next thing I would do is click on their name because I want to know who this sensitive person is. Is it an artist, a curator? I will find out by looking through their images, and in my case, I will begin to look at their images and might even comment to return the gesture. It is really that simple in the broadest sense, but is harder to do than it sounds.

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.

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Episode 37 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Life as a Nomad

Allard Van Hoorn interview continued…

Carey: And the process you just described, the sound was coming from a number of sources. You’re going around with the handheld recorder but was it also the marbles you were recording with the other sounds that were coming in, as well as what you hear coming from the balloons?

Van Hoorn: Normally, it’s only the simple tool that we use to generate the sound. So when I say make the building into a marble game, it’s the balloons that represent the marbles. And it’s the big balloons that roll down and bounce off the walls that I record.

So it’s the feet moving of the dancers, their bodies against the architecture, and then the balloons against the architecture, and that’s the only sound input. There’s no other external input. It has to be a one-on-one. Let’s say it’s a homeomorphic description that’s to be a direct translation of that input, that energy, the shape the building has to be. So the idea of translating the exact shape into a new shape that is without loss of that shape. So what I try to do is to keep intact the original situation and by slightly intervening in it and creating something new out of it but not changing it.

Carey: It sounds wonderful. I feel like I hear lately sociologists and other people talk about how our world has become more isolated. Not necessarily because of social media or computers, though I suppose that contributes, but we don’t really function as small communities that are singing together, dancing together, eating together, sharing everything together, right? We’re in our homes, apartments, studios living this kind of solitary life to some extent.

I think of your project, the one that you were just talking about, and how it comes back to an audience and DJs are re-sampling and re-mixing. It strikes me as beyond the project itself. There’s a social element here that could be redeeming. I don’t know what the feeling is of an audience but it sounds to me like it’s almost as though everybody’s singing or making sounds together or feels that way.

Van Hoorn: I think it’s definitely part of it, because the idea of re-thinking public spaces, places where we spend so great a percentage of our times, and these are specifically the places that I want to reinitiate as agoras, as places of gathering, as places of re-thinking our relationships to public space through having these joint experiences. The music that comes out is pretty subversive. So the building is kind of alive and submerges the people into the soundscapes that I produce. That music is, in a sense, to bind the people together and eventually in all the places where I execute these works there is this. There is a sense of community specifically because the collaborations are local.

So it’s the local people getting an opportunity to work with their direct public space, in which they live daily, and create this kind of a new relationship; to re-think their relationship to public space.

Carey: Let’s move back a little bit maybe to the roots of you having this kind of perspective, this nomadic sense. How did you get involved in art as a child? Where did you grow up?

Van Hoorn: I grew up in a fairly regular environment. Isolated, and far from art. I did several things throughout my life. I have studied mining engineering and until the age of thirty-three I did not know a single creative person. Everybody I grew up around me in those times were doctors, lawyers, business people, and academics. Until I was thirty-three years old, I was not in contact with anybody who was a dancer, musician, artist, even a graphic designer or performer, nothing.

So when I finally decided to find my personal relationship to the world, I decided it had to come through investigating my daily environment and doing something with that. So all my work ended up being about how we relate to a public space. And everything I do comes from that kind of new born sense of learning because I had to start from the scratch and learn in every project that I do. So every project is different, every action is different and therefore I decided to travel the world to be able to understand different cultures and see different places, in the end traveling to over fifty countries over the last years and doing projects in many, many countries.

It became my tool of investigation and my tool of learning about these concepts of belonging and becoming as an individual. About finding your place and rooting yourself not necessarily in one place, but in many different places at the same time, through maybe a more rhizomatic network of relationships that you create not only with the people, but through this longer ongoing investigation like the Urban Songlines. Actually creating this interrelated network of spaces that becomes music and then carrying it around in your little backpack kind of all the information that is gathered through all these spaces.

So eventually, I let go of myself. Since nine years ago, all my personal belongings fit into hand luggage, which has enabled me to move around very swiftly and easily. For nine years I’ve been traveling with only hand luggage and I became nomadic. Just going from place to place, making works there and working with wonderful people, beautiful collaborations and great institutions and ways of surviving through just relating to the world in different places.

Carey: And so how do you survive as a nomad? I mean, I’m kind of interested in how you actually get and manage these museum projects. You’re traveling around the world. In the very beginning, in your mid-thirties, how did you begin to have a relationship to the art world and support yourself with that?

Van Hoorn: In the beginning you have to walk up to places and you say, “Hmm, new gallery, or new museum, I’m an artist maybe we should talk,” and you make stuff on your own and eventually these things come together. I’m still a Dutch citizen so I pay my taxes in Holland and there is, as we know, some really good support from the Mondriaan Fund, and eventually museums that commission your work provide networks. There’s a lot of residencies that I’ve done through the years and I’ve been teaching and lecturing in many, many places, from the Architectural Association and the Royal College in London, to the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, and several other institutions as a guest tutor. Eventually you publish, you write and you sell some works, some profits come out of these performances although they are scarce. Keep in mind that I have a very light and easy way of living. I don’t have to maintain and replace a lot of stuff, so I can live financially quite nimble as well.

Carey: In closing, it sounds kind of wonderful and also ideal to be nomadic in this way. I don’t know anyone really that is as nomadic as you’re talking about. There are plenty of artists who are doing a lot of residencies but most of the time is spent in their studio, or who are home-based in whatever country they’re residing in. Upon reflecting on the last nine, ten years, how does it feel to be a nomad? What is that like in terms of just traveling or being in the world? Is there anything you miss?

Van Hoorn: Well, the thing that you would naturally miss most is your books because books are always fantastic sources of inspiration and in a way you become mental collaborators between beautiful artists and thinkers. What I learned to do is to find many online publications and I even buy books on Amazon and then sell them, give them away to friends and ask the author to send me the PDF. So I tell them, “Listen, I bought your real book, I’m giving it away to a friend. Could you please send me the PDF so I can take it with me in my little laptop?” And so I gathered a great many books digitally.

Otherwise you adapt fairly easily—I find people are super flexible and adapt into any kind of situation. At the beginning it was more tough than now. Sometimes you find yourself being kind of isolated in a place, but by now I have friends in any place and everywhere I go. There’s a huge network of artists as well as interesting people to meet up with, to talk to, and people who are willing to take you in. They understand the idea of sharing. I think the economy in our community is changing a little bit towards that dynamic. I feel very rooted. Any place I go, I can very, very quickly adapt. I have only the same clothes, four of the same shirts and two of the same pants and a pair of flip-flops and all the rest is equipment. As you will see through my performances, I’m wearing the same clothes through the years but I have four of the same shirts. So I tend to wash them in between but otherwise there’s not a lot that I miss. I became fully adapted to this idea of continuously traveling, sometimes flying to another country up to fifty times a year. What happens in the end is you become rooted in all these places and you adopt this strategy.

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.

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