Episode 76 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Banksy

Banksy

Banksy is also an artist from England who began as a graffiti artist. Because he decided to remain anonymous as the artist, it was a move that got him more and more press because everyone was so curious. He would make his own framed paintings and walk into museums and hang them on the wall with double-stick tape and leave. As an artist who wants to exhibit and show the world his work, he found a way. But he kept pushing the boundaries of what and how he could do it. Like graffiti artists before him, he plastered his images all over cities, and all illegally, of course.

The content of his work was often political, and that also got people’s attention. The press loves new photos, and he gave them plenty of photo opportunities by placing his images everywhere for them to see. He used stencils and spray paint so that he could make images quickly and move on.

His great achievement was to protect his anonymity fiercely. In a terrific marketing ploy, he remained anonymous and created a mystique about himself that way. Everyone saw his images around the city and wondered who he was. The more people asked, the less they found, and this only added to his notoriety. Then in 2005, Banksy had a show in an abandoned warehouse in Los Angeles, which he elaborately staged with the help of a curator he hired. He put a real elephant in the room that he hand-painted with nontoxic paint. This was the show that not only brought in a huge amount of people, but also press as well. Celebrities came to the show, bought work, and that was his big start. Not long after, his work was being sold at auction houses. Does this story sound familiar? In the tradition of Damien Hirst and others, he started by creating a show outside of a gallery, in a warehouse. The content was very different though; his work is antiestablishment, antigovernment, and anticapitalist. However, his ability to market himself to the capitalist system is very effective.

By painting his artwork all over city walls and streets, he is getting tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising—for free! There are lots of books on how to market your work and use social networking platforms, but Banksy is getting tremendous visibility with a very different method. This is not unlike what Keith Haring, another graffiti artist, did in the 1980s, before the Internet boom. He put his work on walls all over the city, gave out buttons and stickers, and relentlessly promoted himself.

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

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Episode 75 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Damien Hirst / Style Marketing

Damien Hirst–Style Marketing

Damien Hirst is another example of high-end marketing, and at the moment, he is one of Britain’s wealthiest artists. He began right out of college to stage shows of his own. Curating ware- house shows in available buildings with his own work, as well as the work of many friends, he began getting collectors to follow and buy his work.

His earliest collector was Charles Saatchi, who helped to propel many careers by buying artwork and getting his collection exhibited.

Hirst is one of the savviest artists in terms of business deals. In September 2008, he took an unprecedented move for a living artist by selling a complete show, Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, at Sotheby’s auction house and bypassing his long- standing gallerist. The auction exceeded all predictions, raising almost $200 million, breaking the record for a one-artist auction as well as Hirst’s own record with $18 million for The Golden Calf, an animal with eighteen-carat gold horns and hooves preserved in formaldehyde. The idea of an artist bypassing his dealer and going straight to auction was unheard of, and totally new. He cut his dealer out of almost $100 million! Everyone doesn’t need or want to be Damien Hirst, but it is important to understand what he has done. Like other artists I will discuss, he is able to change the rules of the game a little bit, and that is something artists can do no matter where they are in their careers.

How do I get my big break

 

For the Love of God

Damien Hirst also created a now-famous work of a skull covered with diamonds called For the Love of God. He said it would be the most expensive artwork ever sold. He thought it would sell for about $100 million. In fact, it never did sell for $100 million, but he received tremendous worldwide press for saying he would try to sell it for that much. It is an age-old technique of announcing you are going to break a record of some kind. Donald Trump, the developer, has used a similar technique, saying he is about to build the tallest building in the world, and even if he doesn’t build it, he will get press attention for that claim.

Damien Hirst was using the same public relations model by claiming he would sell his diamond-encrusted skull for $100 million. In fact, he didn’t sell the skull for $100 million, but he had a very savvy backup plan. He put together a group of investors, of which he was one, and sold the work for $76 million dollars to the group. Does that give you any idea? He is often criticized as a model of excess, and he may deserve that, but he is also offering new ways for living artists to make much more money off their work than anyone previously thought possible.

He has ushered in a new era where the marketing of the art is part of the art itself. When the diamond-encrusted skull was exhibited in London, the setup for viewing it was an artwork in itself. It was exhibited in a small gallery that had several security guards looking very ominous. The room of the skull was in was almost completely dark, and there was a long line waiting to get in. Once you were in the gallery, you had a very short time to see the skull because you were moved through rather quickly.

The problem was that your eyes didn’t have enough time to adjust to the darkness in the room, so just as you were starting to see the skull on the way out, the angle of the light caused a spectrum of colors to come out of it, and then you were outside. It was an incredible scene. You could barely see it, and once you did, it was all colors and reflection, and you couldn’t make out too much. The end result was like a vision or a dream of some kind. The press loved this and so did the people lining the block to see it. If nothing else, Hirst is an example of how far you can go in being creative and caring for every aspect of your work, including his exhibition and how it is seen and perceived. He has opened the door for artists to be creative in similar ways. It is notable that his work is fetching such high prices that most museums cannot afford it. However, his ideas of being creative in your approach can apply to any artist.

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

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Episode 73 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Different Income Modes for Artists

Chapter 1

Looking at Different Income Modes for Artists and Building Self-Esteem

Perhaps you have had the experience of walking into a gallery or museum, and after seeing work on the walls that is clearly bad or at least of poor quality, you say to yourself, “My work is so much better, why are they getting $50,000 for that? And how did they get in a gallery?”

Those are the questions to explore, because  the  reason they are getting that much money, or at least asking for it, is not necessarily because the work is of high quality. The idea of objective value or objective quality is clearly slippery in the arts. There are no standards or review procedures the way there are for cars, for example. By reading enough reviews on the web, we can get a sense of a car or almost any product, but art is very different. Since we know this already, then the question of why some art in galleries is priced so high even though it may not be very good is the right question to ask, as well as why it is there in the first place. One answer is that it clearly has nothing to do with its quality! And since, as an artist, you have a sense of quality, then you know that there is truly something else at work.

What about eBay?

 

The simplest answer is that a big part of what is going on is how art is talked about, presented, and, more importantly, written about. Similar to the marketing of other products in our lives, art, at most levels, has a story with it of some kind to help sell it. Exceptions to this are the very lowest ranges of work, such as the paintings for sale in IKEA and WalMart that are mass- produced and printed on canvas, or some artwork that sells for under one hundred dollars on the streets of cities, in stores, and in galleries. Having said that, the market for the lowest-priced work is large, and you could make a career out of that as well. There are many factors that increase the value of art, and I will go over a few examples here. The artists I am writing about below represent new and old forms of entering the marketplace with your art.

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

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Episode 67 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Make Lots of Money and Be Famous

Will You Make Lots of Money and Be Famous after Putting This Book into Practice?

Maybe you will and maybe you will not. But if you follow the book, you will learn how to be a professional artist, and no matter how things turn out, you will know that you tried and conducted yourself professionally and gave yourself a chance. That alone should give you an advantage in the marketplace. As an artist, Judith Braun once said to me, “I don’t want to look back at my life when I am eighty or ninety and say, ‘Oh, I wish I had tried to be an artist.’ I want to know that I did my best and have no regrets about it.”

There is also a burgeoning DIY movement in the arts now. It is generally meant to mean that now, many artists are “doing it themselves,” that is, they are working outside the gallery system, they are bypassing the traditional middle person in the equation and working directly with the public. That notion pertains to visual artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and many others that are in the arts.

There are many ideas in this book, but the main thing you can take with you is knowing that you conducted yourself like a professional, giving you the best possible chance at making it in the art world. There are examples of how other artists have  done it, and you can follow their examples or make up your own.

You should be reading this book if you want to see more of your art in the world, no matter where you are in your career.

If you have ever said to yourself, “I wish I could just make art,” then this is a book that can help you. If your dreams are large, like getting into the greatest museum in the world, or modest, like getting a local café, gallery, or collector to take

interest in your work, then you will find some wisdom in here to make your travels a bit smoother.

At the end of reading this book, you will have a map in your hand that outlines your strategy that is entirely your own.

If you are an artist at heart and want to let the world know how wonderful you are, then read this book, fill out the workbook, and you will be marching down a new road.

Is my art good enough?

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

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Episode 57 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Finding Art Collectors

How do artists meet and work with collectors? Can artists sell work directly from their studios? This chapter will discuss how collectors operate, how to approach them, and how to make sales from the studio.

Where are all the collectors? They are on the board of all the non-profit organizations around you from universities to museums, theatres, and art centers. They are in attendance at museum openings that are open to the public. Their names are listed on the brochures of museums under “donors and patrons.”

Usually there is a big list of patrons to any major local cultural establishment, and those are all potential collectors. Of course some of those names will no longer be living, but many of them will be, and new names have to be added all the time.

It’s easy to find those names with the internet and a search engine like Google. Get a list together of local collectors using the method I am saying, to find lists of donors and patrons to museums and art centers. Then research each one and see if they have their own foundation (many do) and take notes on what a search comes up with so you can get to know this potential collector better.

So that would be assembling a list of 20 or less people who you would like to meet and having researched them all, you are now familiar with them and if they have foundations and where they like to give money, etc. If that sounds like a lot of work, think of what just one relationship with a collector could yield.

The next step is according to your own style, but you must find a way to meet those people and befriend them with a conversation. It is that hard and that easy. These people on your list will be available to talk to at openings and arts events you are following, so you must find a way to say hello that is not too uncomfortable and that works.

It is clearly possible to meet these people if you do your research, and find the collectors and patrons you want to target. But if a public meeting sounds too daring for you, then you can also email them and introduce yourself online.

However, meeting in person easily trumps the technique of writing an email, because when you meet in person, there is either a rapport, a chemistry, that makes you comfortable or there is not. So I favor in-person meetings because even if it is an awkward first meeting, the email follow-up will be much more meaningful once a face to face meeting has occurred.

It’s all personal. We tend to be comfortable with people we have been around and trust for some reason. Because of that, I suggest trying to meet people at openings, because even if they are not on your list, the more friends you have in the art world, the better.

If you are determined to reach out by email first, then this is how to craft your letters.

Your approach to your letter should be personal, not a template of a letter requesting a view of a website. Ideally you have at least researched the person you are writing to, so make the first letter a form of a fan letter, since you will flatter the recipient by having a knowledge of who you are writing to. Anyone who receives a letter with sincere compliments in it is engaged. If the compliments are not sincere it will not work, so writing a letter from the heart is something you will need to practice and be truthful about. It is an art in itself and has a history that is filled with artists writing letters to collectors, charming them, and often asking for money. There are no strict rules to those letters, but politeness and charm tend to go very, very far.

Begin crafting letters that are like works of art in themselves. Send them by email and / or postal mail. If you do this regularly about things you are passionate about, you will get answers with similar passion and build strong relationships while doing so. These letters can be written to collectors as we have outlined above, but also a great letter to a newspaper can get published and a great letter to an artist or intellectual hero of yours often gets an answer. Try it, with all that you’ve got. This next interview is with Sue Stoffel who is a collector and talks about her expierence in the art world.

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 56 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Vicki DaSilva cont’d / Artist Wanted

Vicki DaSilva interview continued.

Carey: It’s amazing and that was a $10,000 prize?

DaSilva: Yeah and so it was a great moment for me because the New York Times was doing an article on  on “Artist Wanted” and on these companies that they’re trying to give more opportunities to artists via the internet, that these companies are finding artists through the internet and trying to give exposure to people who are either young or old or anything in between, just based on their work. It was a really refreshing, great thing because we all know that the art world is very structured and it has traditional hierarchies as any other traditional company does. People are vetted. You have to be really in the inner circle sometimes to breakthrough.

So this was a really great opportunity for me not only to have my work exposed on Times Square but it ended up in the article of the Art section of the New York Times on June 18, 2012. So I had a half a page image of the Never Sorry and I then got contacted by someone who had been working with Ai Weiwei in some kind of Twitter or Tumblr fashion and shared the image with him and he told me that he had seen it and he liked it. It just was mind blowing and at that moment I thought wow, everything is just going to take on its own. Everything’s going to come to me from this point but it doesn’t work that way.

It became an opportunity but I also knew better because I was winning this prize at 52 years old and I was actually kind of shocked that they picked someone who wasn’t younger, and that it was really based on the work itself. I was really proud of that, and I was proud that it happened the way it did because it was so organic and I didn’t have to ask for anybody’s help. It just happened the way that you kind of dream it happening. So I was wise enough to realize that this is an opportunity, it’s probably not all going to come to me yet – some things are going to come, opportunities are going to arise but it’s an opportunity for me to take this moment and go to every single person that wouldn’t look at my work before and have the images on my phone, two images. One image from the New York Times, “Hi, would you look at my work now?”  And just put it in front of them. I know the worst thing that you’re told never to do is to go to art fairs and ask gallerists anything if you’re an artist because they’re busy selling their artist’s work but you’ve got to have your own guerilla work there and your own guerilla marketing. So I would just take that opportunity, you have to be have your timing, it has to be right.

But you know, you have a little conversation, I was some artist and would say, “I know I’m not supposed to do this but I’m so excited, can I show you one thing.” And they’ll go, “yeah.” Because they’re curious, you make them curious and they’ll look at it. Would you look at my work? “Not now.” “Can I send you something? Can I follow up?”, “Sure.” So that’s how it works. If we get lucky and we get opportunities through our hard work to gain something, you’ve got to use it, you’ve got to put it out there and just ask because all anyone really can say is no and if they do respond to the work they’re not going to say, “No, we’re not dealing with you because asked me at the Armory Art Fair.” They’re going to be like, “Wow, you’re ballsy. You freakin’ have guts to do that.”

Carey:  Interesting.

DaSilva:  I really believe in that, it’s never too late. So I’m represented and I’m working with a few different galleries. The one I’m most affiliated with and represented by is Cheryl Hazan Contemporary which is in Tribeca. But but I’m still looking for other opportunities and I’m still kind of a free agent. I’m doing my own shows because it’s important, I have to, it’s important to me to make my living from selling my work.

And I firmly believe that I could be selling shoes or I could be selling art but whichever way I’m going to make it happen. So you can make arrangements with galleries too that enable you to work with them but enable you to work with others. Anything can be ironed out to work for everybody. It’s just a matter of negotiation. So that’s been really great and I do thank her for that I also thank Woodward Gallery. Kristine and John were awesome and they gave me a great opportunity last spring to have a solo show in the lobby of the iconic Four Seasons restaurant and so that put my work in front of the clientele that goes to do a power lunch at the Four Seasons. I sold several pieces to them and this kind of thing just keep going, you take it a day at a time, a year at a time and every year my chart goes up a little bit. It’s not a dramatic rise but it’s a steady increase so that’s the good news.

Carey: It’s very exciting to talk to you, Vicki. In closing is there something you want to say to the people who are listening to this that are now thinking, wow, that sounds great maybe I can do what she’s doing or maybe they’re thinking I can’t do what she’s doing. I’m not as aggressive or as driven as you are. Is there anything you want to say?

DaSilva:  Well, if you want to sell your work that’s one frame of mind, one business aspect, that’s the business side. If you want to sell your work you have to be aggressive. If you don’t want to sell your work and you just want to make work and show work, however you can that’s absolutely fine too. You don’t have to sell your work at all if you don’t want to.  But if you’re trying to make a living with your work there are ways to do it and you just have to kind of see it as you would sell anything else and even though art is particular, you pick your price point based on your experience and based on your sales record.

I give a lot of work away to people just as presents or whatever to try and get into, get selling something. I’ve sold stuff to my accountant for their office. They go and do my taxes and say, “You guys charge a pretty penny for this, you should have one of my works on the wall.” This goes both ways. You just have to ask. All they can say is, “no, thank you” and you say, “okay” but you’ve done your job and you feel so much better if you’re trying to sell your work by asking because it’s really just a matter of asking enough time to enough people, someone will say yes eventually, it’s probability. I believe that.

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 54 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Vicki DaSilva cont’d / Pounding the Pavement

Vicki DaSilva interview continued.

DaSilva: And in 2000 –  I was really also back into my photography. Antonio and I, we’d get babysitters and we would go out every weekend and we would shoot. So I was full steam ahead on that, in 2003 I decided that I was, with Antonio’s support, going to leave my job and try to do the art full time and give it a shot. So I was 43 at that time and I started really pounding the pavement, trying to get into shows, trying to get shows. I got my first solo show in New York in 2006 with a gallery called Art Gotham. They’re no longer there. A woman named Kimberly, she was wonderful, she give me a show. It was at 27th street in Chelsea, I was ecstatic. So that was kind of my big “okay, I can do this.” There’s some way, somehow, I can do this. And I was hustling. I’ve always been a hustler. I sold airport advertising, too before I have my job at Rodale’s so I was comfortable on the sales, and I would just start pounding the pavement, with people in my town, whether it was the hospital or corporations or whatever to buy my work, to try and sell something.

Carey: The hospitals in your town, and pounding the pavement is an interesting process. You would just walk into the hospital and in other places and say what?

DaSilva: I would find the facilities person. The facilities person is the person you’ve got to find, they buy the furniture. Whoever’s buying the furniture might be putting work on the wall, probably posters and probably not art but they will consider artwork but where there’s a will, there’s a way and because my work was being made locally and not with the intention to sell local landscapes but it just so happened that I was making these light paintings in around my area in various parts, and on bridges and things like that and so they were images that local people could relate to.

So knowing that art has a positive effect on patients and there’s studies that prove that, I used that as well to go to local hospitals and say, “Light is an element that heals. You’re using it in medicine and artists are using it, and these are beautiful images. May I please sell you one?” It kind of starts like that. If you work hard enough and don’t take no for an answer, eventually they’ll buy something just to get rid of you. But I’ve always wanted to be and maintain my practice as a New York artist because I know that you can be a local artist or you can be a New York artist and if you live close enough, I live two hours away and I knew the city from living there for 10 years, and I thought I can put as much energy into being a New York artist and I would probably reap the rewards much better than trying to just be a local artist. So although I was just trying to sell work just to get some money and fund my practice I continued to pound the pavement and try to show my work in New York.

Carey: And you weren’t living in New York at the time, right?

DaSilva: No, I haven’t lived in New York since 1989. I’ve been living in Allentown since 1993 and I’ve been commuting on a weekly basis for my art and for any potential interaction of my art and to see artists, to haunt galleries and such since 2003 on a full time basis. So then in 2012, I got incredibly lucky and I applied for – and I always was applying for competitions, having some luck here and then in there.

Carey: In the competitions, wait because I’m excited to hear about that. Where did you find out about applying for competitions? I know you’re going around and going to different galleries and places…

DaSilva: Mostly online, online through things like New York Foundation for the Arts and others. Lists like all these different internet sites that list all the different competitions. Mostly with photography, I started out looking for photography competitions because there’s more of those seemingly than there are for painting or sculpture. I mean, there’s tons of everything out there. Now there’s café, it’s a site (https://www.callforentry.org/).

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 48 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Pop-up Art Fair Satellite

Pop-up Art Fair Satellite

The third option is to make your own darn art fair! That’s right. At the same time that the other big fairs are going on, you could potentially rent a space with friends in an unused retail/commercial location and yes, start your own version of an art fair. You would benefit from the traffic that all the other fairs generate, and it could also be fun. However, unless you are creating this temporary event for publicity only, there will also have to be a salesperson there to actually close deals if you want that to happen.

You will see versions of this idea around art fairs, from open studios, to artists taking over a storefront or garage space. Some artists with their own pop-up spaces, like the dealers at the fairs, make many sales in that one week, sometimes enough sales to last until the next fair.

Vicki Da Silva

Vicki Da Silva is an artist you might relate to. She is a photographer and is determined to make a living off of her art. She rented her own booth at the Fountain Art Fair and sold enough herself to make it pay. She also breaks the traditional rules and walks up to dealers at art fairs and talks to them and shows her work to them. In the interview that follows, she explains exactly how she does that, but there are more tips in what she says. She explains how she does projects or installations at places like the Armory in New York by going directly to the person in charge and asking permission. She explains how she dealt with raising children at the same time, and how she sells to corporations and hospitals. Her attitude is upbeat and enthusiastic, but she has had her share of rejection like anyone. I think her story is very inspiring because when you read her backstory, you will see she didn’t come from wealth or any particular situation that made things happen for her, she simply worked hard at it, and was determined to make a living from it. After reading her story, you might feel emboldened to talk to dealers at fairs, and to make proposals as well. She also tells the story of how she won a competition and received $10,000 in cash.

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 47 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Art Fairs

Art Fairs

The Art Fair network has grown tremendously in size in the last decade. The Armory is one of the most well-known. In 1994 it started as the Gramercy International Art Fair, and was held in the rooms of the Gramercy Hotel in New York City by four art dealers: Colin De Land, Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks, and Paul Morris. As the fair grew, it needed more space and in 1999 the show was renamed the Armory Show when it was first held at the 69th Regiment Armory, which was also the site of the Armory Show of 1913.

Now the Armory show is a huge event, and other fairs have popped up all around it for the week it is open. In 2014 the event attracted crowds of up to 90,000 and more and sales of up to 85 million. So to begin with, what does an artist do at or with an artfair?

In general, art fairs like the Armory Show are meant for dealers to work directly with clients and also to see their peers in the business. It was initially not a place to shop for the public, only for serious collectors. Now you have many options as an artist in 2016 and beyond.

You can work with a gallery that takes work to an art fair and sells the work for you. Some galleries go to art fairs and others do not, so just ask. Since the “booths” or spaces at an art fair are usually very expensive to rent, unless a gallery is confident they will sell, it is often a big expense for a small gallery.

Your other option is to work directly with some of the other satellite fairs that exist all around the Armory and Art Basel which are now worldwide in their scheduling. So every time there is a big art fair going on, there are ten or more small ones happening at the same time to cash in on the audience that is coming in for the big fair. Your other option is to find visibility during the art fair week without traditional methods.

One idea would be to rent a booth yourself at new fairs like Fountain, or propose a curated booth with a few friends at one of the other fairs like Pulse or the Affordable Art Fair. A space can cost three thousand and up, so it helps if you are splitting one with friends.

The main consideration if you are renting a booth yourself or sharing one and paying, is this: someone needs to be a salesperson and actually sell the work. In other words, the work won’t sell itself, literally. Someone (either you or a friend) has to be outgoing and make new connections with potential buyers. Someone must talk people into buying something. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is a required skill. At all the big fairs, the dealers are at their booths and they are doing essentially that—they are selling to new and old collectors and talking about art. The ones who are best at talking have the biggest galleries. Showing your work yourself at a fair is like that—be prepared to sell yourself by talking to people as much as possible.

If that does not appeal to you, then you need to find a gallery that will take your work to a fair in the hopes of selling. The only other option is to do some kind of event or performance or pop-up space during an art fair week.

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 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.

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