Episode 155 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Preparing the Budget Sheet

Preparing the Budget Sheet

Before we met with the curators and assistants again about our show, we prepared a budget, and since we are visual artists, we made a picture on a piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper with a pen. We drew one big circle on the paper, and then inside that circle we drew several more circles. On the edge of the big circle we wrote “950K,” meaning $950,000. We were guessing at an ideal figure but stayed under one million to make it seem very calculated and not too over-the-top. Now on the inner circles we wrote other amounts that were the numbers that added up to 950K. There was a book we wanted to make, the cost of building it all, and salaries of people to help us. There was one circle that said 22K, and that was titled “Installation Cost.” The rest of the costs were mostly for a film we wanted to make of it all.

When we went to the meeting where we were supposed to talk about the budget, we brought our sheet of paper with circles on it outlining the grand budget. As I pointed to the first number, 950K, for the whole production, there were audible gasps. I said, “Don’t worry, we can raise some of the money.” And then I pointed to the circle that said 22K, and said, “That is what we need to mount the show.” Quickly, the top curator said, “We can’t give you more than five thousand, that’s the most we have.” Then the other curator said, “I could probably get five thousand as well.” At that, I said, “Very good, we can work with that.” And in the end, the museum did give us ten thousand to do the show, which was a lot of money for them, and for us as well.

Ask for the Moon

You see, the method here is to ask for much more money than you might actually need, and when you do that, you will find out what the maximum budget for the museum is. In this case, the most the museum could give was ten thousand dollars. And that is the story of how we got that show and began funding it. The next part of that show was how we got the additional funding. In this case, we had some great luck through perseverance. Apple donated equipment generously to the show, as did companies like Bose and Gibson, to name a few, along with private patrons. I will write more on sponsorship and how we got those companies to get behind this show, but first let’s wrap up what happened here.

I began by writing a cold letter to a museum curator and asking for a meeting. At the meeting, after giving three proposals and asking where to exhibit them, I was pointed in the direction I wanted, which was to a top curator. Then, with careful planning, my wife and I were able to talk about the show further, develop a budget, and get the museum to commit to a certain amount of support and a date and time for the show. It is a clear process that you could follow. In the next chapter, I will explain how we got funding for the show.

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 154 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Questions


Then we were asked a slightly bigger question than we had expected. The top curator said, “Well, what would you like exactly in terms of space and time?” We hadn’t thought about that beforehand, so fairly quickly we just asked for the moon. I said we wanted all six thousand square feet in the space where we were sitting, including the galleries off to the side, and we wanted it all for at least a month. She nodded her head and took notes. We were thanked for coming to the meeting and told that they would be in touch. As of that moment, the show was being considered but was not in the bag by any means. We had three more meetings before we signed a contract for the exhibit. We were asked if we could do the show in two months. We said no, that was too soon to prepare, and they said the only slot after that was a year from then, and we happily said that was the spot we wanted. Then we spent a year working on the show. When the show finally went up, it was billed as a “commission” by the Whitney Museum, which we liked very much and were surprised by, but we also understood that how a show is publicized by the museum is up to the museum for the most part, not us.


One of the questions we had over the course of several meetings with the curators was how much money the museum would give us for this show. We knew this was a tricky question because there is not a set amount that artists get in most cases. However, we had a method for finding out exactly what they could offer us. In many cases, the museum will only give you a portion of what you need, even if they are commissioning it. When we were in the group show at the Whitney Biennial, we were given a $400 budget. That was of course very little, so like many artists, we had to do fund-raising beyond the show. That meant that if we needed a tent built (and we did), we would ask the company that made it to donate that to us (and they did). There was even an artist in that show (the Biennial) that the museum commissioned to do a huge installation, but the museum would not pay for it. However, because it was a prestigious show, the artist was able to ask sponsors from all kinds of places to help pay for the show, and they did.

Now in the show that I am talking about in this chapter, which was a solo show in a giant space, we had to come up with a budget. This is how we did it and is also how we found out what was the most they could afford.

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 153 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Curator Writes Back

The Curator Writes Back

After I sent in that email, I got an email back that said the curator wanted to meet me and my wife and talk about what we had planned. We were extremely excited about this meeting. We knew there would be several people there, the original person we met as well as the main curator we wanted to meet and prob- ably a few assistants. To prepare for the meeting, my wife and I talked about what we wanted to do. However, we were not exactly sure what we wanted to do yet. We knew it would take much more time than we had until the meeting to plan the show. What we did do was to make one image that we would bring to the meeting. It was a very simple image of the doors that led into the space we might use, and it had the name of the museum above those doors. Then, in a very simplistic way, we printed out an image from a movie, I think it was an old classic with Cary Grant, and I physically cut that image to a size that could be pasted over the picture of the door. The effect was that it looked a bit like the image was projected on the doors. This was not done with Photoshop; it was a real cut-and-paste. The image itself didn’t say a lot, but it was the one piece of paper that we brought with us.

The Second Meeting

At the meeting in the museum, we were at a round table with two curators and three assistants. The top curator asked us what it was we were thinking about. We began saying that we wanted to create a space where people walked in and were able to step through the sculptures and the effect would be dreamy. We used a lot of adjectives and talked more about the experience of the viewer and less about what we were doing precisely. We showed our eight-by-ten piece of paper with the picture of the museum doors and the image pasted on top of it. We explained it would feel like walking through an image, or at least through doors with an image on them. The image was passed around, and everyone commented on it, saying that it looked very interesting. Of course the whole idea was still just being formed, so they were reacting to an idea of what it might be, not any images of the art itself. They didn’t see the sculptures we were going to make, and we couldn’t provide many more details.

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 152 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Last Question

The Last Question

Then came the very last proposal and question. I told the curator that we wanted to do a large-scale exhibition with sculptures as well as sets that enable the viewer to enter into the space and have a new experience. While I was saying all this, I was enthusiastic and excited about what I was saying, and I also kept my thoughts and ideas brief, under three minutes each, usually less. After describing the last idea, which I was most excited about because of the scale and size of it, she knew what I would ask next and said, “Oh, Shamim might like that project and the museum has a large, six-thousand-square-foot space that could accommodate that.” Of course I was thrilled at this suggestion, and I said, “Yes, that sounds perfect,” to which she replied, “I could just tell her [Shamim, the curator], or do you want to send me something?” This was an interesting point in the conversation and very telling about how I presented all this. She was saying she had enough information to pass on this idea to another curator without having any more information from me. That meant that my pitch to her was succinct enough that she could remember it. That is one of the keys to getting quick results. Be clear, be compelling, and also make it short enough to remember. My answer to her was that I would send her an email when I got home about the show that she could pass on to the curator.

Following Up

Before I explain what I sent to her when I got home, let’s look at the big picture. If I had started right off with something direct, like, “I want to meet X, can you help me to meet her?” or if I had started right off with the big project, I may not have gotten the results I was after. But by starting small and being brief, I not only worked my way up, but the situation also became more relaxed as we became more comfortable with each other. When I got home, I wanted to send her something that she would then pass on to the curator I was interested in. Rather than send her links to images or a website or anything else, I sent her a simple text. I made two separate texts. The first I called “Brief Summary of the Praxis Project,” and in one paragraph, I described what it was. I wrote that paragraph as if it were a listing in the newspaper. By that, I mean I wrote it in third person and I described it in a way that made it sound like something interesting to go see.

That is the challenge that journalists have when summing up shows for the listing section. How do you make a listing seem compelling enough to make someone want to go there? In this case, I was fairly straightforward and just described it as though it were already happening. I titled this short text “Brief Summary of Exhibition.”

It read like this: “The artistic collaborative of Brainard Carey and Delia Bajo creates a sculptural installation so large you can walk into what feels like a Felliniesque set, complete with sculptural elements and a movie. The result is like a surrealistic amusement park for adults.” That was the brief description. Then below that I added another description that I titled “Extended Summary of Exhibition.” In that summary, I added more details to make it exciting, but never got too specific, partially because it hadn’t been done yet, and I wasn’t sure what we would do exactly.

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 151 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Prepare for the Meeting

Prepare for the Meeting

When we had our meeting with the curator, my wife and I prepared ourselves by coming up with three exhibits we would like to have—that is, three different ideas, on different scales. One was small, one was a bit bigger, and the third idea was huge, and that is the one we wanted to do most with one of the top curators there at the time. This is a strategy you could adopt no matter what your medium is. If you are a painter, and you want to have an exhibit, think of three different ways to exhibit your work. For example, you could hang one painting only that is large and stands on its own. Your second idea could be to hang three to five paintings that are based on a theme, perhaps a theme of color or other elements. Your third idea might be to have a show of twelve paintings that need a room of their own, because they tell a story or are a meditative series or have an idea behind all of them. That is what my wife and I did when we met the curator. The first thing she asked was, “So what are you working on?” We had our answers to that question prepared. We began by saying that there was a small project involving a few new works that we needed a space for.

Asking the Question

And when I finished talking about it, I ended by saying, “Do you know of a venue where a show like that would be appropriate?” She paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, you should try X, they are wonderful people there, and this might fit.” You see what happened? I did not ask her for a show, I paused, and I asked her if she knew of a venue to show this work. If you do not ask a question, you won’t get an answer. Also, by asking her if she knows of a place outside of the museum we are in, I do not back her into a corner, and she can tell me what she knows. This is a very important point because if I had just asked her if I can I have the show here at the Whitney Museum, that would create an awkward situation, because for one, she might not be in a position to give me a show, and two, even if she were, that is a bit too direct in my book and runs the risk of making her feel pressured. On the other hand, to ask her advice opens the door to any connections she might have in a comfortable way.

After she told my wife and me of a few places, we told her about another idea. Now remember, we had thought about all this in advance, and we are not showing her images, just telling her about three ideas for exhibits. Then we move on to tell her about another idea, and ask her the same question after we finish: “Do you know what might be a good venue for that?” She tells us of another place, and I take notes by hand at the table where we are sitting.

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 150 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Getting a Solo Show at the Whitney Museum

Chapter 8

Getting a Solo Show at the Whitney Museum

This is the story of how I got a solo show at the Whitney Museum of Art simply by asking. And in the end, they called it a “commission by the museum,” which sounded even better. The story begins with my wife and I wanting to have a show at the museum. We have always done all our work together, calling our collaboration “Praxis.” We felt that we wanted to do something that was on a large scale, was sculptural, and also had video involved. We discussed many ideas between ourselves and decided we wanted to do an installation where we created large sculptures that created the effect of entering a fantasy space. Our idea was that we wanted people to feel like they were walking into a movie, that is, to imagine walking through a movie screen and entering into that fiction. The idea was not really formed completely, but we wanted to try and secure the show with what we had (an idea).

The Beginning

The first step was to decide who we were going to write to and what we would say. At the time, there was a curator there named Shamim Momin, who is still one of the top curators in the world. We wanted to have a show with her, and though we did not know her, or anyone at the museum for that matter, we decided to make a time to meet someone from the museum. We went to the museum’s website and began looking at who was curating there. Of course there were several curators, and we didn’t know any of them. We decided to write to a curator who was new there. The reason we did that is because we thought the likelihood of getting a meeting with the top curator was slim. She is someone everyone wants to meet, and finding another way to her was our strategy. We emailed the new curator and said quite directly that we wanted to meet her for tea in the museum café. That is our particular method that you can use. First find a curator who is not so busy that they can’t have a meeting with you. This could even be someone from the educational department of the museum even, but find somebody who is not famous or very busy. The reason for this is that if they are interested in you, then they will pass your name along to the curator that you do want to talk to.

The Meeting

Getting back to our story, we wrote to the curator of events, who was new, and asked her for a meeting. The reason we always ask for meetings in the museum café is because it makes it very easy and it is hard to say no to. The letter was direct and clear, and we asked for a fifteen-minute meeting over tea. She accepted and we got a babysitter for our son and went to the museum. We did not bring a portfolio, a computer, or any images at all. The reason is that when two or more people are looking at images, they are not talking to each other, and in my experience, that is what counts, the talking, the relationship. Typically when an artist shows a curator their work, it is awkward. They look at images, maybe you explain a bit of what you were doing, and the curator says politely, “Thank you, please send me updates of your progress.” And that is the kiss of death because it is a conversation ender, and your meeting is over. Instead, be prepared with explanations and questions.

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 93 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Whitney Museum Calls

The Whitney Museum Calls

In April 2001, I noticed another news item that said people can send in their art to a particular person at the Biennial, the coordinator. I sent in a copy of the first package and also sent another package to two other curators at the Biennial. So that was a total of four packages with a letter and DVD to the Whitney Museum.

I waited and heard nothing, and it was the summer of 2001. I knew the names of the artists who got into the Biennial would be made public in November, so I was getting antsy. My wife suggested that we use meditation or mind-control to help us. That meant that we picked a quiet time each day (when the baby was sleeping) and did a specific meditation together. It was a version of the Silva Mind Control method. Here is how it worked. We would use a visualization of getting into an elevator and going down many floors. With each floor, we became more and more relaxed, and finally when the elevator reached the bottom floor, we got out in a deeply relaxed state and began visualizing what we wanted to happen. I pictured myself in an office at the Whitney Biennial being greeted by the curator. I imagined that my wife and I were talking to her, and very enthusiastically she said, “I would love you to be in the Biennial!” We did that every day. If nothing else, it made us relaxed and focused on what we wanted. Then in August, we got a call from the museum saying that they wanted to interview us.

Of course we were thrilled; we set a date to come in, and I began asking everyone what I should say at the interview. I got all kinds of advice from “Say something that sounds very important and interesting” to “Just be yourself, don’t talk about philosophy or history, just relax.” Many artists assured me that it was routine, and I probably wouldn’t get in anyway. That was my first taste of professional jealousy, and it made me feel awkward to think that some of my friends thought the interview was inconsequential and didn’t mean much. In fact, I learned that the interview meant a lot. It meant you were being considered, and now they want to put a face on it, to see what you are like, to make the final decision.

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 89 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Getting into the Whitney Biennial

Chapter 2

Getting into the Whitney Biennial

When my wife and I got into the Whitney Biennial in 2002, it was a turning point in my career. The Whitney Biennial is a show of mythic proportions. Besides the Venice Biennial, it is one of the most coveted shows for artists for several reasons. Besides its fame and notoriety and the overwhelming amount of press it usually gets, the Whitney Biennial is a show that attempts to bring together the best or most interesting works by American artists (and often international as well) that are living today. Which means that if you are a young artist in the Biennial, you will see your work hung next to others who are already major figures in the art world. Also, there is always an element of surprise about who gets in, and it is almost always controversial, which is always a big help when it comes to press! When the curator invited me and my wife to be in the Biennial, she said, “This is the story every artist wants to hear.” I am telling you this story because it tells the tale of how a relatively unknown artist who had no gallery representation or major shows got into the Biennial by asking.

What do you do?

My Story

On January 1, 2001, my son was born in a birthing center on Fourteenth Street in New York City. I was very happy about this, but also my perspective on the future changed instantly. Now instead of just paying the bills and wanting to get by, I had to think about the future, a savings account, my son’s education, and more. I had one great fear at the time. I was afraid that I was going to have to get a regular job, like teaching full-time, and that I would never make art again. The idea of spending most of my life doing something I hated was an awful thought. And for me, what added to this looming dark future was that I would be a model of compromise for my child. I would be showing him that you have to do something you do not like in order to pay the bills, and more directly, to pay for him! The thought of communicating that to a child, the idea that his parents are compromised because of him, was dreadful. What would that teach him in the end? Certainly not to follow your desires, but to pay your bills by taking a job that you do not like because your real passion is not financially feasible.

Within that first month of his birth, I made no art, which only increased my anxiety. I knew I had to do something, and what I wanted was to be in the Whitney Biennial. But before I explain what I did, let me explain briefly what I did to arrive in this position.

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.