Episode 139 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Become a Curator and Get Paid

Become a Curator and Get Paid

Here is a story I found amazing at the time, and it is an excellent example of developing an income stream from the arts by being a curator and thinking outside the box. I once met a guy who was curating exhibits at Diesel jeans stores. As an artist, I was interested because he said he wanted a proposal and would pay for an installation! That is not something you hear often as an artist, so I was very curious. I sat down with him and asked him how he got this job and his history in the arts. This is what he told me. He was working in the marketing department at Revlon, and he decided to quit his job because it wasn’t interesting anymore and he was bored with it. He wasn’t sure what to do next, so he shared an apartment with a roommate in Brooklyn. At the time, his roommate was an artist and he was interested in what he was doing and asked him questions. His artist roommate told him that it was difficult to get a gallery, and he wanted to have a show and sell some work.

After thinking about it for a few days, he asked the artist why he didn’t just have a show in their little apartment. He said it was too small and no one would come. So my friend told the artist he would take care of it and try to get sponsors as well! And this is what he did. He announced a show at the apartment, started to tell everyone about it, and then he went to different liquor companies and asked them to sponsor the event. And as I have said before, incredible things can happen when you ask. He did indeed get alcohol sponsors, and in fact, his friend sold some art as well. He was so excited by this that he decided he wanted to make his new career about curating in the art world. Now remember, he had no experience at all in the art world, was introduced to art through his roommate, and now wants to make his living there!

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 92 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / My Son Is Born

My Son Is Born

Now we move forward to January 2001, and I am frantic and stressed out about how I am going to make a living with my art. So I made a video about giving out foot washings and hugs and decided I would send it out to people and ask for donations to support this. A DVD is really inexpensive to make, so the package was cheap to mail. I sent it to well-known artists at first. The first letter went to the artist Jenny Holzer. Now remember, I have had no major shows, and I am an unknown artist in New York. In the letter, I told Ms. Holzer that my wife and I were artists and this is what we have been doing. I asked her if she would consider donating a small amount to help us. She sent a check for $200! Then I began to search for other artists that I liked, like  Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I wrote them a letter and they sent me $400! The letters were not only inspiring, but they showed me that I could be a fund-raiser for my own cause!

I was getting the New York Times daily, and I would always read the section on the arts. And it was in February 2001 that I noticed a news item that said the Whitney Biennial curators had been chosen. That was one of the things I was after! I put together a packet right away and sent it to the museum. I put the curator’s name on the envelope. I also made an unusual decision. I decided not to put in a résumé, and I said that the work was a collaboration between two people. The reason I did not want to put in a résumé or biography was because I didn’t feel like I had a very glorious past. What would I say, “I lived on an island for almost ten years and had a show every year in my own gallery”? I felt that my past was also irrelevant to understanding my present work.

This again brings up the example of dating techniques. When you want someone’s attention and you want them to  like you, it is usually best not to tell them everything about your past, right? The reason for that is obvious, I think. Too much information! In this instance, it worked for me. I sent in a package with a short letter describing the work I was doing, and I signed it, “With love, Delia and Brainard.” It was an unorthodox package, that is for sure, but it was also a complete one. The museum had my name, number, and email address (I had no website), and a short letter and video describing the work. I waited and waited. Nothing came.

Ep 92

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 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.


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.


Episode 29 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / The Suburban

Michelle Grabner interview continued…

Grabner: I actually started writing for Frieze Magazine. I was writing reviews from Chicago and covering the Midwest for Frieze Magazine, and writing for something that was a small art publication in Milwaukee called Art Muscle, so really kind of covering a lot of bases, and there wasn’t a lot of internet presence of criticism at that point. So really publications for the most part. The New Art Examiner, obviously, which is a real terrific art publication coming out of Chicago and writing reviews and essays for the Examiner on a regular basis.

And then when it came to curating, it was mostly curating exhibitions at some of the college or university spaces up in Milwaukee. So bringing artists from Chicago, people we were in school with, bringing them up so we could have that exchange again.

So that’s how I started the curatorial projects. You were in shows, you know, little shows at the Milwaukee Art Museum or little shows at Milwaukee Art & Design School.

So that’s how that happened. And then in 1997 we moved down to Chicago. And that’s how we started The Suburban.

Carey: I want to ask you about The Suburban, but before we get into that, when you started saying you curate some shows at the Milwaukee Art Museum, small shows, that’s a pretty powerful entry in a museum. How did you curate those shows? Did you just meet people there and propose shows? Or, how do you think that happened? That’s a big step!

Grabner: [Laughs]. Yeah. It was a little in-house. So when I was writing my thesis and working on my masters in art history at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, my office-mate at that time started out as a sort of a curatorial assistant at the Milwaukee Art Museum and then became the curator, the art curator there. So we had a relationship. So through that, he was the connection to curating there.

As everybody says, it’s who you know, right? [Laughs]

Carey: Right. Let’s talk about The Suburban now. How did it begin? And how did you and your husband start that?

Grabner: We wouldn’t be brave enough to do it now. There was something about 1999, and still being young, and still being quite amused and curious. We just thought, “Well, if we invited people from a museum and from Europe, from St. Louis, from New York, people would come.” And they did! I think that was pretentious of us but it was exciting, and it launched a tiny, little institution here, here in Oak Park. Then artists from Madison, Wisconsin or from Florida come up. So it’s been a range. I think, we’re pushing over two hundred and fifty artists at this point.

Carey: So initially it was a piece of property you owned and a building. I mean, just to ask you more details about it. And was there funding for this or did people come on their own? How did the whole thing become funded?

Grabner: Both my husband and I were able to move back down to Chicago because we got full-time teaching jobs. So we funded it from our pockets. We don’t sell artwork. But we’re not in that for profit so I didn’t apply for grants.

It’s our responsibility as artists to give back to artists. I really think I learned so much. I mean, there’s a selfish underpinning to the whole project because artists will come and they stay with us. We’ll take care of them for up to a couple of weeks, if they want to stay that long.

We just had an opening yesterday. It’s a small, little space, so I should be a little descriptive here. It’s a small cinder block building, a ten by ten foot space. In 2003, we added two more spaces, which are little exhibition spaces that are maybe ten by twenty feet.

So, you know, they’re unique, they’re all in the backyard of our house in Oak Park which is a really interesting first ring Chicago suburb because it also hosts Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. So there’s a kind of a nice relationship of thinking about the suburb as an interesting place for making work as opposed to a suburb as a place of escaping what is going on in the city.

The Suburban is giving an opportunity to artists to think through a display of the way they think through art-making in the studio. So we don’t curate. I mean, the closest I come to curating is maybe having to schedule somebody. If somebody has a good idea, they all approach us. As I’m traveling and I meet somebody in Los Angeles, I will say, “If you’re interested, come do a project at The Suburban.” We don’t say, it would be great if you can make us a sculpture. We just let people do what they need to do.

And I think of a really good example would be when David Reed, a New York artist, did a project here. He had never shown his drawings before and so he wanted to take this opportunity to do it. And he had a really great show of drawings. And within two years, he had a big drawing show.

So sometimes it’s giving an artist an opportunity to think through their work differently. We’re in the suburbs, so you come and stay with us in our house, the spaces are small, so you can try something out. I do see The Suburban as an exhibition space but an exhibition space where artists make the decisions. They can fail, they can succeed, they can try something out that they wouldn’t if it was a commercial gallery or a proper institution.

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 28 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Michelle Grabner


Here are interviews with important figures in the art world to demystify their process: artist and curator Michelle Grabner, critic Arthur Danto, art consultant Todd Levin, and artist Allard Van Hoorn.

Michelle Grabner

The first artist is Michelle Grabner, who I mentioned earlier in the book as having a career as an artist and teacher as well as a curator. In the interview that follows, she unfolds her career and what it took to build it all. Her special projects that I only briefly mentioned earlier, like the The Suburban and the The Poor Farm are especially worth noting, as you could, of course, do something similar.

The Interview

Carey: What are you working on now? What’s happening in your studio at the moment?

Grabner: A very big project. It’s a solo exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art which will open soon. So getting work together—it’s going to range from all the past work to the present.

Carey: So is this a survey of your work?

Grabner: It’s not a true survey. But it really is still focusing on the newer installation, some of the paper weaving projects that I’ve been doing. So it does run the gamut, but there are three very big rooms to fill. Then, there’s some new work that has been commissioned for this as well.

Carey: And so, how are you filling that space? I know that’s kind of intimidating but wonderful! How are you managing that?

Grabner: I’m working on a new hanging project, a new hanging piece. These sculptures that I call My Oyster. A curator asked me yesterday when I was on the phone with her, just what does My Oyster mean? Basically, “the world is my oyster.” It’s a sentiment of happiness. So that’s a new piece that I’m into. That would be at the entrance.

And then we’re moving to a gallery of paintings, and then we’ll have the long hall that will have a massive platform and very colorful paper weavings that I’ve been working on. Another new project for the Indianapolis Museum show is actually a series of photographs. So I’m really looking forward to that project. They’re being mounted right now. So that was something very specific to Indianapolis.

Carey: Let’s talk about where you came from—Oshkosh, Wisconsin. That affected how you began in all of these. Now you’re a painter and conceptual artist, and have done so many projects. I’d like to get to those soon, but what was it like growing up in Wisconsin? Oshkosh sounds like the quintessential town away from everything. What was that like?

Grabner: I have to say that everybody in my family, my uncles, my grandfather, my father, there’s a lot of vernacular art practice, or vernacular activities going on, whether it was wood carving or carving decoys or natural landscape. I mean something that wouldn’t be considered in the contemporary art world. But there were a lot of activities. So that kind of crafting, engagement in making things.

Carey: So how did you get to the Art Institute of Chicago?

Grabner: I always like to tell this story, especially to my students. I went to the University Wisconsin-Milwaukee for an undergraduate degree and then a graduate degree in art history. And when I wanted to get my masters, I wanted to go to the Art Institute, but I was never able to get into the Chicago Art Institute, and that is the department that I’m teaching in now. I have been the chair of the art department for four years, but it’s the school that wouldn’t let me in. I wasn’t good enough to get in when I was applying to school.

So this is how it is. You just have to be patient; it’s the story that many artists have.

Carey: Did you have supportive teachers early on?

Grabner: I had a really terrific high school art teacher. For three years, Mr. Perez was there for me and really supportive and could recognize some innate ability that one could have in terms of recording the world in front of you. And that was just supportive.

He reminded me or told me that you could go to school and actually get an art degree and that, I think, surprised me. So you know, I don’t think it’s a rare story, an unusual story, but Mr. Perez was there to inspire me through high school.

Carey: Sometimes it seems it can be a pivotal moment—how a high school teacher can have such a huge influence on someone’s life. That’s a story that I’ve heard from other artists, from people who were in the middle of nowhere who ended up in the Venice Biennial because, essentially, someone said in high school, “I think you should do this.”

Grabner: Exactly, it just opens up the world, and especially at that point in your development—young adulthood—when you think you know everything and you actually know nothing. And so you need somebody who is very inspirational to see.

Carey: I’m interested in what happened between getting your master’s degree and the first project which was The Suburban, right? Then The Poor Farm, correct?

Grabner: Right. The Suburban, which is now sixteen years old. That’s been going on for a while. I was raising two small kids, I had one when I was in graduate school. And I was trying to nurture and concentrate on developing an emerging practice. When you are in art school, as we know, it’s a bubble; it’s very different than when you step out into the real world and face these kind of forces and conditions that want to erode that kind of concentration, especially when you have a young family.

So we moved, and I was down here at Northwestern getting my masters of fine arts. We moved to Milwaukee just because it’s a smaller town, and I’m in a place where we could feel like we were dedicating ourselves—I say we, because my husband is also an artist—dedicating ourselves to a work habit. Evolving a vocabulary that was more true to our lives at that time.

We did that and then I started doing a lot of critical writing when I was in Milwaukee, too. I went to grad school, my husband went to grad school, and so there wasn’t that much language or discourse happening in Milwaukee. So we’d come down to Milwaukee quite a bit and start to curate at the museum, it was just a smaller city, so it enabled us . . .

Carey: I’m sorry to interrupt you. But exactly, how did you do that? What were you writing for and what did you curate?

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.