Episode 82 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Outsider, or the Self-Taught, Folk Artist

The Outsider, or the Self-Taught, Folk Artist

The outsider artist has many definitions, but for the purpose of this chapter, I will consider an outsider someone who may or may not have gone to art school but, in general, an artist who feels they are not “inside” the system as in a traditional gallery. But I will also use it to mean any artist that feels “out of the loop” or somehow apart from what they believe most other artists are connected to. The artist I just wrote about, Mr. Brainwash, would be an outsider in these terms.

Outsider artists are usually considered to be folk artists, that is, artists with little information about the history of art and their place in it. So please understand that while there is overlap in these categories, I am referring to artists who feel like they are “outside” the system of the art market and exhibitions, and want a way in.

Most likely you fit into this category; I know I always have. I did go to art school, but from the start, I wanted to work outside the art world system, partially because I had no idea of how to get on the inside of the art world. When I would ask people how to become part of the club of artists working professionally, I got some odd answers. One of the most interesting was from a friend who said, “Brainard, in order to be on the inside, you have to be on the inside.” At first that was annoying to hear, but after a while, something sunk in. I saw myself as always outside of something, and in order to think the opposite, I would have to feel like I was already there, already on the inside. Ironically, one way to do that is to simply recognize that as an outsider artist or one that feels like it, you are exactly the kind of artist that people on the inside of the art world are looking for, something new, something fresh.

But let’s look more at this label with a specific definition, like selling work on the streets. To begin with, it means that you have fewer rules to think about. As an outsider or someone who just feels that way, you can argue to yourself that you are creating work independent of any trends, and because of that, you are not compared to others unless you choose to be. Yet there is even something more freeing about this idea, because as an outsider, you can also create any strategy you like, and since you have no set of rules, it is a wide-open arena.

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.


Episode 81 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / How It Was Done, DIY Style

How It Was Done, DIY Style

His story begins with him putting up posters of his artwork, in a graffiti style, all over Los Angeles in 2007. That was the beginning of his marketing, you could say, for his exhibit. In 2008, he rented an abandoned building, the former CBS Studios in Los Angeles, California, and decided to stage his own show there. He worked tirelessly to fill the space, hiring other artists to do much of the work for him. Like Andy Warhol, he made prints as well as paintings and created portraits of numerous famous pop figures. He also created sculptures and installations. He hired other artists to make most of it for him.

He oversaw the entire process, but to make enough work to fill the gigantic building he was in, he needed people to manufacture and create new designs for paintings. He did this entire production by himself; that is, he had no gallery dealer or representative, just employees. It was, as the press called it, a DIY show, a do-it-yourself exhibit. He must have spent a great sum making all this happen, and has said that he asked people to purchase works in advance to finance much of it. He did hire a curator to help him, the same one that produced the Banksy show a few years earlier.

As a promotion, he said he was going to give away two hundred prints to the first two hundred people that came to the opening. That night, an estimated seven thousand people came to his opening. He sold almost a million dollars’ worth of art! And in one bold stroke, the art world knew his name. To this day, the art world continues to dislike him because he did not travel through the usual channels of the art world; he did it in his own way, on his own terms. And in my book, that is just fine because he is prospering off his work, doing what he wants, and like Damien Hirst, he is challenging the so-called rules of the art world.

When I want a show, I ask for it. When I want money, I ask for it.

Since that show, he opened a similar one in New York in an abandoned warehouse. In New York, the show was also mobbed, and he gave away hundreds of posters and sold work as well. This is a wonderful example of how an artist can not only work outside of the gallery system, but can create their own mystique, marketing, and sales on their own. Is his art good, and is he talented? In this case, as with the others, that is not the issue for me to decide. Because if he is talented or not, he is making it in the art world in a big way. Selling work at major auctions is the ultimate goal of being recognized in the art market. When we examine an artist like this, for the purposes of this book, we are not determining if this is good or bad art; we are looking at his techniques for earning a living and becoming well-known in the world of art.

Part of his initial success was due to his having mounted a show that was so large (over 125,000 square feet) and also to his status as an unknown artist. When you do something on a scale that is record-breaking, the press pays attention. It is a technique used by many promoters and was one of the elements brought into play for this show. He also asked for the help of other people who had organized events in the past. Besides being a driven, obsessive artist, he was also getting all the help he needed. The movie that I previously mentioned, Exit Through the Gift Shop, is a must-see for readers of this book. You will see more details of his story and will probably find it quite inspiring. As with Banksy and Damien Hirst, Mr. Brainwash took the idea of an independent warehouse show to a new level. He was bold and brave enough to believe in what he was doing, and took it one step further than most by making it on a scale that most never imagine doing.

There are many lessons to take from this artist, but I think the most important is that this is a way of working, a way of making it, that is new to the art world. No one had ever seen an artist rise this high and this fast, especially in this manner, separated from the art institutions that are normally the stepping-stones to success.

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.


Episode 62 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Sue Stoffel cont’d / The Eternal Optimist

Sue Stoffel interview continued.

Carey: That’s the idea. I think Creative Capital was encouraging fiscal sponsorship, because in a way this is what a lot of non-profits know how to do, Creative Time as well.

What they know very well is those wonderful things that Ann told you even about raising money, what needs to be done which means that’s the level of expertise that were artists to be able to use that they’re really conversive. They’re pro’s in how to do that. I haven’t seen this happen a lot and I think it’s very difficult for artists to raise money. Right now the art world seems to be changing so much or perhaps that’s just the whole world is always changing so much.  

Stoffel: Well, one of the projects I’m working on going forward which has to remain nameless now is finding exhibition space, living space and production space for visual artists and performance artists.

I think that’s the most pressing need right now, and the fact is that every creative person in New York is being priced out real estate wise. We’ve watched that in Brooklyn, we’ve watched that on the Lower East Side, going to Hoboken and to Philadelphia is not the answer. So I’m working with a non-profit to market empty storefronts, empty buildings, empty spaces on a temporary basis to artists in need so that they can have a studio or even an exhibition.

So it’s working with the real estate industry to make them understand that that social responsibility will come back to them in a big way by working with the creative community here in New York.

So I think that’s a viable alternative to building new studios and new buildings to work with existing structures and to make them suitable for artists to use even at a time temporary basis. So that’s one of the project that I’m working on now.

Carey: You’re working with galleries at the Lower East Side and I assume that’s how you find artists and work with artists – what are you seeing happening in the art world now? Are you excited about what you see coming out? I’ve talked with so many different people, some people say things like, there’s great work coming out, other people complain of the lack of depth in work being produced too fast, artists are thinking too much of the market. What’s your perspective on the new art that exist?    

Stoffel: I’m the eternal optimist. I mean, there’s such a disconnect between the art market and the art world and emerging art world, artists are creating extraordinary work with very resourceful materials.

I don’t agree that they’re making work too fast for the market. I think smart dealers and good dealers and long terms dealers allow artists to work at their own pace. It gets a little stressful a couple of weeks before the opening of the show but I think that model still works. The pricing structure is still where it should be. You shouldn’t have to mortgage your children to pay for a work of art. It’s the last priority at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of life’s necessities and it is actually disposable income.

So I’m not discounting art as an asset class and all the art investment funds but it’s not something that I’m interested in professionally or personally. I’ve been buying art for 30 years and the value of the collection has grown astronomically but it’s not why I do what I do. It’s not about the value. It’s about the support and the encouragement and the commitment of believing in these artists who are coming out of art school and have this incredible need to do what they do.

In that interview Sue Stoffel explains how she became a collector and I think it sheds light on how direct and simple the process can be for collectors. It started with one work of art, and from there her interest continued to grow. Like many collectors, she looks for art in galleries and talks to gallery owners about work she likes. That is primarily where she finds artists and new work. To be on her radar, and the radar of most collectors, your work needs to be on exhibit in places where collectors go.

She is a New Yorker, and most collectors in New York are looking at galleries on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where new galleries open all the time. So getting into group shows in that part of Manhattan by going to those galleries and getting familiar with the scene would help you meet collectors like her. If you are not in New York, then go to whatever neighborhood is near you that has galleries that collectors go to.

If you are a seasoned artist or emerging, this is one way to get more exposure in a new scene – by going to those galleries and looking for ways to get into group shows that can lead to sales and opportunities for solo shows.

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.


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.


Episode 35 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Art and Culture

Todd Levin interview continued…

Carey: And who were some of the initial artists that you collected?

Levin: Many of those names one would recognize today, and there are many one might not. Most were part of that eighties East Village scene, either centrally or tangentially. Basquiat, Bender, Bickerton, Condo, Haring, Halley, Holzer, Hujar, Koons, Kwong Chi, Noland, Prince, Steinbach, Taaffe, Thek, Wojnarowicz, and many, many, many more. Some names are all but forgotten, but they still have tremendous meaning to me because of the time and place I associate with those artists or their specific works. Separately, I also began a love affair with Surrealism at that time, particularly Joseph Cornell, and began buying his work which continues today.

Carey: Absolutely. You mentioned David Wojnarowicz . . .

Levin: Yes.

Carey: Amazing artist.

Levin: It was clear when one encountered his art then that there was a tremendous amount of emotional power distilled into those works – but I only knew David in passing. We had met and talked a bit and I always thought that his work was incredibly powerful.

The eighties were a different time. There were many talented people – artists, critics, gallerists, curators, performers, musicians, writers – all crushed into a small geographic area together in the East Village, and interacting on a daily basis with one another. That sort of communal spirit has been lost today in favor of another model. There is a tendency for one to look backwards through halcyon rose-colored glasses as one advances with age. Some things are better now, and many things are worse, but it was certainly a different kind of a model specific to that time.

Carey: Yes, it’s hard to say that there’s a scene like that now. I don’t think the Lower East Side would be the equivalent of what was happening in the eighties, unless you see it differently. The idea of artists opening spaces and having conversations is something that was specific to an eighties East Village art scene that isn’t happening now, is that kind of what you’re saying, that kind of communal support?

Levin: Art and culture thrive best in a bifurcated economy. By that, I mean either a very strong or a very weak economy. Most recently we experienced a period that generated tremendous amounts of wealth for consumers of culture. That means there are lot of people with massive amounts of excess capital, and they have to find a place to put all that capital. They’re not going to put it in the bank at one percent. Those people have decided for the moment that one of the areas they feel is a wise place to put their money is art.

Equally powerful for art is when the economy is extremely weak. In that case, arts and culture are most creative when rents are depressed and gallery space is plentiful. Curators, critics, and artists are able to engage each other in the same place. Those sorts of conditions lead to what economists call low barriers of entry. It basically means that the only requirement to participate in a cultural economy at such a time is to be creative, because in a weak economy there are no cost-prohibitive factors. This meant that huge influxes of talented artists flooded New York starting in the late seventies, and that increased the chances of more creative and interesting things occurring in New York. And this all happened vividly during that East Village period of the eighties that we were discussing. The key point to grasp is that the economic downturn that began in the seventies, interestingly, was significantly positive for creativity in the long term.

And this is the reason that when you ask me if the current scene on the Lower East Side might turn in to an East Village model, my answer is ‘no.’ It can never be the East Village as it was, nor should it be – it’s an entirely different thing. The cultural world in the late seventies and early eighties was shifting from modernism to post-modernism. And that was a thumping, epic cultural sea change which only happens once or twice in a century. The previously strict adherence to art forms, and the definition of culture and cultural products were being completely reconstructed during that post-modern period in the East Village. In essence, it wasn’t the Duchampian modality that ‘anything was art’ anymore – but instead, anything had the potential to be an art form. As I discussed earlier, that meant all modes of production were in the same geographical space at the same time. And there was, for the first time, no longer a proscenium between creator and audience.

What’s interesting about all this is just a few years later, by the late eighties, the market translation of culture into a consumer product began with a vengeance – what we now term the commodification of culture. All this happened within a very short time – that incredibly fertile DNA existed within a very short span and birthed an unusually powerful confluence of ideas.

Carey: Would Detroit be an example? It’s very clear what you’re saying, but do you think Detroit might be having all that potential now?

Levin: Detroit is discussed as having potential for artists is because it’s cheap to live there. It’s great if an artist can buy a house for $5000, but the larger issue is that there is no centralized cultural apparatus in Detroit, and there never has been. I don’t think there ever will be. I should remind you that I am from Detroit, so this is not me talking badly about my city. I would say the same thing about any other American city if applicable. New York is unique. It is a place where certain kinds of things happen that wouldn’t happen in any other American city.

Carey: Also, as you were saying, there was a sea change from modernism to postmodernism that took place at this particular time in New York and was manifested in a certain way. Whereas, in Detroit or other cities you may have inexpensive rents but there’s also not this kind of sea change. I don’t know exactly how to put it, but perception of culture or artistic practice was happening as well, correct?

Levin: I think your observation is the crux of the issue. Furthermore, creativity is fundamentally about generating new ideas and new forms. And it’s that cycle that I discussed earlier of a very depressed and then a very thriving economy that makes New York a consistent entry point for the new, where people go to produce the new, and the marketplace where the new can be bought and sold. The art world is simply the apparatus through which the artist is threaded into general society.

Carey: Todd, it is exciting talking to you about all these aspects of the art world that you’ve experienced. And also about you as a collector, as someone who values and understands artists and looks into how this whole system is to some extent created and continues to grow. There are artists listening to this who are from a lot of different groups, most are students, mid-careers, older artists and they are from all over the world.

One of the questions artists have, of course, which a lot of people feel differently about, is how to enter into the market. And that doesn’t necessarily mean how to enter into major collections, although it could be that, but artists are in their studios wanting to sell more work, wanting not to think about selling more work, knowing that as you say that there are all these people out there that have income that they need to spend somewhere. Without going too much into the marketing, and you can really take this anywhere you want, but if there’s something you want to say to those artists about how they are managing their careers and thinking about sales, which they’ll understand is kind of a double-edged sword: not to think to0 much about money on the one hand, but it’s hard to ignore, especially in this economy—the market and its vastness as you’re talking about.

Levin: That is a very broad question. On one hand, one hears artists, critics, and cultural observers talk about art and money, and suggest that they should be completely separate things. This view espouses that the artist should be divorced from transactional methodologies of any kind. I don’t think artists need to be divorced from art market financial machinations. I think the actual problem is that it is impossible to interact with art in any meaningful way, aesthetically or monetarily, if the only discussions taking place are about its price. The meaning of art collapses under the brute weight of pure quantification of data without the requisite education and real world experience to qualify that data meaningfully. And if the meaning (one could also use the word ‘value’) of art collapses, so will its price, sooner or later. Art has offered me a way to better understand myself. If we only discuss art as a mythical asset class, and divorce it from why it was created in the first place, then art and money exchange roles. Money becomes divine by being translated into art, and art becomes commonplace by being translated into money.

Artists who have an interest in trying to enter the art market must be realistic. There are exceptions to every rule, but the reality artists have to understand is if they want to participate in a locally- or regionally-based art market, they can do that anywhere. They can do that in Detroit. They can do that in San Antonio, and they can do that in Portland. But if an artist wants to participate in the international contemporary art market as it exists on the level of important galleries, international art fairs, and major auctions – and it’s not for me to tell an artist that this is a worthwhile thing, that’s for the artist to decide for themselves – then they’re going to have to be willing to put themselves geographically in a place where they can participate directly. New York, Berlin, London, Los Angeles, etc. Those artists will also have to be willing to engage the financial realities of the art market – but again, that’s a decision for every artist to make for themselves.

It’s a real miscalculation, however, if an artist feels they can participate in a meaningful way in the international art market, yet simultaneously remain fully outside that system. Precious few artists are able to do that, and those that man age that rare balance usually have accomplished it by actively participating first when they were younger, and as they gain stature and independence are eventually able to set their own boundaries – artists such as Cornell, Johns, Martin, and Nauman come to mind in this regard.

Carey: Thank you Todd.

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.