Episode 141 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Corporate Culture

Here is another excerpt from an interview with emergetrends.com.

What were some of the criteria you considered when crafting not just the programming but the overall feel of this highly unconventional marketing program with Starbucks?

The fact that brands are participating in contemporary culture is now a given. Starbucks produces and distributes movies, music, books.

Even Bob Dylan recently released albums through Here Music, Starbucks’s music label. Starbucks, like other brands, is changing the dynamics of contemporary culture, which is why I came up with the slanted gallery installation downstairs, where all the angles of the walls were off, as a literal reaction to this phenomenon.

Corporate Culture

You can see he can speak to corporate culture, and that is one of his talents. He talks about “brands” being involved with contemporary culture and how he can expand on that. He has been able to connect with a culture he understands. When he writes to them, he is talking about why they are already in this market and how he understands their interests. This is subtle in some ways, but very important. I write in other parts of this book about how to meet people that can help you and to find out what they want to hear or what their interests are that you are part of. It is like what the private banker told me, “You must find out what the person or institution wants.” It is a rule of thumb for many business people. If you are trying to make a new relationship, there has to be something in it for the person you are trying to meet! In the case of the curator/designer I am mentioning here, he has the ability to talk the corporate language that gets him in the door. This is something that you can acquire fairly easily. First, if you understand the rules of the game, companies are not looking to sponsor art exhibits usually; they are looking for innovative ways to make more money and have a higher public profile.

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 95 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Presentation tools and techniques for artists

Chapter 3

Presentation tools and techniques for artists

As computers and the latest social networks are changing the way we share images all the time, the way in which you present yourself and your artwork continues to change as well. To begin with, I will caution against a common practice of artists that usually gets them nothing but frustration, which is to send out a lot of cold letters. If you want to present yourself to a gallery, do not buy a list of gallery addresses and send them all a generic package with a CD, images, and a résumé. It is possible you could get a reaction from this, but the best tactic is to be targeted in your approach. First, choose the nonprofit centers within your reach and choose the galleries that you like. Not the galleries that you think would be appropriate for your work, but the ones you admire for good shows.

To do this is fairly simple. First, look at a map or just write down the name of your city. You are about to make a list and a plan. If you wrote down the name of your city, begin searching on Google for the word “gallery” and your city. Look for your state council on the arts and write down their number as well. I think it usually pays to take a trip to your local council on the arts. If you are living in another country in Europe or somewhere else, there is usually something like an “office of contemporary arts,” which is funded by your ministry of culture or similar. Wherever you are, you are putting together a list of everything in your area that is art-related, meaning galleries, museums, and nonprofit centers. The nonprofit centers are places of education usually. That means they are supported by your government because their goal is not for profit; it is to help artists in some way. Nonprofits, or in Europe, NGOs, are everything from community centers to granting agencies to foundations that have been set up to give money to artists, and also museums and universities could be part of it.

After you have made the list of art-related institutions and galleries within your area, begin to sort them by which ones are closest. If you have to drive more than an hour, in my opinion, that is too far. So pick all the places that are near to you and refine your list. Separate the types of organizations you are listing in different categories, such as galleries, universities, museums, nonprofits, art-related NGOs, and foundations for grants. Now you have a list of places and people to meet. Take it one step at a time and begin by deciding how many you are going to call and visit in a week. I would pick a low number, like three in a week. Pick a time of day that you can spend thirty minutes on this task.

The next step is to look at your three contacts for the week and do a little research on each on the web so you can understand more about what they can do for you. Ideally, you have done enough research on each that you know who the staff is at the places you are calling. Then give them a call or write them a letter. You are not sending them links or images of your work; you are writing them a letter to ask about their services. If they provide grants, you want to be on their mailing list and know when the next application is due. If you are writing to a university gallery, you want to know who curates their gallery and who you can send a proposal to for having a show there. If you are writing to an organization that supports the arts in some way, like an arts council or NGO, then you want to be on their mailing list, and you want to know if there are any opportunities you should be aware of, like competitions or grants. If you are writing to a museum, then you want to be on their mailing list as well, and you want to know if they look at the work of new artists. Let’s look at each case and exactly how to proceed.

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

The Interview at the Whitney Museum

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

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

The Story Every Artist Wants to Hear

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

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

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

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

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


Episode 79 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling What You Can’t Document

Selling What You Can’t Document

His work could be called performance art. It looks and feels like performance art when you see it, and it certainly isn’t a painting or sculpture. It is necessary to have live performers whenever his work is shown. He is the first artist in the performance art world to make significant sums of money from his work; in fact, he is the only one of the performance artists to make money from his work. There were many other quite famous performance artists who were jealous of his success and frustrated by it, because they never found a way to market their own work.

The key to what Tino Sehgal did was to address the issue of collecting his art directly, because your art cannot be in the marketplace if it is not collected. Let’s take this situation apart for a moment, because as poetic as some of Sehgal’s work is, how the system of the art world consumes it is very important.

The people who buy art for personal collections and for investment are not only wealthy, but they speak the language of business all the time. Since they probably accumulated their wealth through hedge funds, private banking, stocks, etc., they are very familiar with the language of money, and in fact, it is their passion. So when a dealer and an artist explain to a potential wealthy collector that upon buying the work, there is no written set of instructions, no written receipt, no catalogue, and no pictures, it begs the very interesting question of “Then how do I buy it and show it in my home?” At that point, they are already engaged. Brilliant! They have never heard of a sale like this before, and they want to know more. What they end up finding out is that the artist tells them verbally what to do, and they have to stage the performance themselves with actors in their home. Because this is such an unusual way to buy work, it generates interest in people who collect and are fascinated by the language of money themselves. Museums can buy and loan the work; it can also be resold, and that is what makes it part of the market. It is also what makes it unlike anything a collector has heard about before.

Sol LeWitt also had a process similar to this. He would sell instructions to make a drawing or mural on a wall. The collector bought the instructions and could have Sol LeWitt’s team of painters execute the drawing on the wall of their choice. The artwork could also be moved by erasing or destroying the wall mural and making it again in another place. Furthermore, LeWitt’s work could be loaned to museums in the same manner. Tino Sehgal is taking a page from LeWitt’s book here by making a sale in a manner that is itself not only creative but very savvy, because the collector is engaged largely in a conversation about how the work itself is purchased, and that is an interesting conversation for collectors. Also, the public and the art world became amazed that he rose so quickly to such heights but also that he was selling his work, which to most people seemed like performance art, and previously no one had sold work in that genre for so much or in such a fashion. As of the writing of this book, in January 2011, Tino Sehgal has not sold any of his art at auctions, but he has sold work to museums and collectors.

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 77 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Banksy Lesson

The Banksy Lesson

The lesson and perhaps inspiration to take from Banksy is that he is playing by his own rules. Like other graffiti artists, he paints on the street, but unlike other artists, he has consciously created his own mystique. By remaining anonymous, he continues to engage the public in a guessing game. Also, his content is often touching on issues of social and political injustice, and this is something that many people can respond to. Rather than have images that are decorative, his work is engaging the viewer and asking them to use their minds and agree with him or not. That is a provocative idea that brings the viewer into his fold.

The latest effort in marketing himself was quite brilliant. In his 2010 film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which I strongly recommend seeing, he cleverly uses another filmmaker’s footage of him and other street artists to document the whole genre of street-art painting. But he also skewers the art world by presenting an artist that had never had a show before, who calls himself Mr. Brainwash, and is a total unknown. Like Banksy and Hirst, he had a warehouse-type opening that was a success. He is profiled later in this chapter.

The method of Banksy and other artists who mount their own shows in abandoned warehouses is becoming more popular, and it is one of the new methods that you should consider. You can remake the idea in any way you wish, but in this economy, there are more empty spaces than ever, and it is worth considering. You don’t have to mount a giant solo show; a group show in an empty commercial space can work even better because all the artists will have their own mailing list, and it can generate even more traffic that way.

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


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.


Episode 74 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Selling Out a High-Profile Gallery Show

Selling Out a High-Profile Gallery Show

One traditional model is a gallery show that sells out. A friend, Ellen Gallagher, is an example of this tactic. After being in the Whitney Biennial, Mary Boone asked her to have an exhibit. At that exhibit, huge paintings that were often eight by ten feet in size were all sold for about $10,000 each. That began her career and created value. But there were other factors. Ellen Gallagher had a story and a way of describing her work that appealed to art buyers and gallerists. Ellen Gallagher is biracial and has very dark skin. Her work looks minimal, and in the beginning, it looked a bit like Agnes Martin’s work from a distance, with fine lines often making a delicate grid that looked like lined paper.

How did she talk about her work, and how was it sold? In her work, there is a language of her own that she has embedded into the lines. If you look closely, you see eyes, lips, and other forms that look like doodles, and together, they make up the lines in her work. All those tiny images have meaning that is social and political in content. They are about the history of the African American experience, from minstrels to riffing on the clichés that are often derogatory. Her work has a wonderful aesthetic to it because from a distance you see this beautiful canvas of lines, and up close, you see a personal history about the black struggle in America. As an artist and human being, Ellen is very easy to talk to and is approachable. She speaks well, refers to historical examples easily and, as a black woman, is a representative of the achievements that African Americans have made in the United States in the visual arts.

In summary, what gave her work real value was a show with Mary Boone with low-priced paintings that sold and, more importantly, a way to discuss her work that revealed its inner workings. She was able to tell an engaging story with her work that taught all the viewers something about her experience as a biracial woman in America. That was a story that writers could easily write about and that gallerists could use to sell her work. While this is all marketing techniques, it should be mentioned that, at a distance, her work was very minimal and often calming in contrast to its close-up content. Her work is and was beautiful and delicate and yet had a more intellectually confronting aspect upon closer inspection. To many, this story may seem like winning the lottery, and it is true that luck played a role here, but also her story and images worked very well together, so that the system could easily consume and digest her work.

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.