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On the Gleason Rant

Post #1496 • January 16, 2012, 6:24 AM • 1 Comment

Despite my habitual avoidance of both Mat Gleason and the Huffington Post in general, the Twitterverse went all atwitter over his Twelve Art World Habits to Ditch in 2012 and curiosity got the better of me. Was it indeed, as Paddy Johnson described it, "insipid"? Only one way to find out.

I have excerpted heavily below and have not bothered with indicating elisions. See the original rant for full details.

Consignment. An alternate way of doing things might be to imitate the way every other business on earth operates: The gallery should just buy the art from the artist. How hard is that? If the gallery cannot afford it, either they should find an artist who will sell them work for what they can afford or they should get out of the gallery business, which they are not in if they cannot afford to purchase inventory. Of course, this works in the benefit of the gallery too—you can mark up the work 200 percent if you like. Buy 10 paintings for $100 each. Sell them for 20 grand each.

This is not completely crazy. I know of an artist who is approached with some regularity by galleries with interest in showing her work. She often tells them just to buy a piece at 50% of her list price and see if they can sell it. If they can, the conversation continues, usually along the typical lines of consignment and exhibition. Thus she obliges the gallery to display that it has some cash on hand, that it's serious about moving her work, and that it has at least one amenable collector. I know of another artist who made it part of his agreement with a gallery that they had to buy one piece from any exhibition they gave him. Again, this demands a display of seriousness, and has the advantage of guaranteeing a red dot on the wall at the opening.

Consignment allows dealers to take aesthetic risks they could not otherwise afford to make. Price of the stock isn't the only issue, because getting loaded with inventory that you can't move has costs as well. The worst-case scenario is that both your storage costs and the costs of returning the work to the artist exceed the value of the art, at least its value to you, at which point the sensible thing would be to throw it in the dumpster or ask the artist to buy it back. Nevertheless, versions of the above ought to be tried.

(Update 9:14 AM: In the interest of numeracy, Gleason's math is not correct. $20,000 is 200 times $100, not 200%. Furthermore, markup is both an additive and multiplicative operation. A 100% markup of $100 is $200. Rasing a price from $100 to $20,000 is a markup of 19,900%. As much as I'd like to give Gleason a hard time about this, arriving at that figure necessitated a protracted conversation chez Einspruch involving my spouse and a calculator.)

Academic Curators. The realm of the visual is inherently non-verbal. Academia is a lecture-based system of auditory and linguistic learning. Pretty much the polar opposite of art. And yet here come the pinheads with their Ph.D. theses (rhymes with feces) getting every damn thing wrong about the art and making sure none of their presentation is enjoyable nor accessible to people outside their peer group. Their ruse is the implication that art is intellectual. Art is sensual. Academics are not. Sleep with a few (your grad school professor is almost always willing) and tell me I am wrong.

Quoted in its entirety for truth, or something close enough.

Marketers. Marketers are people who know nothing abut the creative process and feel happier watching an episode of Friends than they do looking at new and exciting work or having an interesting gallery space experience.

More on this later.

Paid Writers. Writers have become sharks because, like the academics, people who are good with words either manipulate you with them or exclude you from the discussion. Verbosity is often used as a weapon to seize power in the arts, populated as they are by visual learners and masters of non-verbal expression. Beware of the writer whose desk has blank invoices in the drawer.

I sympathize with the irritation but I am not permitted to service my mortgage with artistic integrity. Your prompt payment is appreciated.

Charity Auctions. The price your art goes for at a charity event is the golden "what the market will bear" amount. Do you want the world to know that in a roomful of millionaires eager to support a good cause your donated painting could not get a minimum bid of $50?

I am cautious about donating to charity auctions and limit myself to those where there is sure ancillary benefit. In one recent case, a collector asked the board of a nonprofit to solicit work from me. My acquiescing made everyone feel good. Besides that, I'll gladly donate work to auctions for causes I support.

On another note, which is more denigrating to your work, your painting failing to make a minimum $50 bid at a charity auction, or selling art to your dealer outright for $100 a pop so he can try to resell it for 200 times that?

China. Call me when you have two billionaire army general art collectors bid up the price on your painting of Hu Jintao having a threesome with Confucius and Mao Tse Tung. Until then, you can let a thousand sub-par Thomas Kinkades bloom—it is the only way to stay out of jail.

Yes and no. I have often wondered about the success of one-trick ponies like Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang and I suspect that better art would come to the fore of the Chinese art market if China was a free society. On the other and, as reported by Bloomberg (via Hyperallergic), the wonderful Zhang Daqian outsold Picasso this year. Perhaps artists spilling their respective Ids into the world is not wholly necessary to the creation of a healthy market.

Diploma Mills. Tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt used to at least get you a diploma that led to a decent job. Those jobs are gone now. MFA art programs are just a summer camp experience with pretense and attitude. The art they produce is not demonstrably better than art produced outside of academic dialogues.

The only sensible reason to get an MFA is because you want to teach at the college level, and opportunities to do so are few, as correctly noted by Gleason.

Rules. There are too many of them. You do whatever you want.

Yeah, we know.

Experts. Art is subjective. There inherently cannot be experts.

Last fall in Augusta I was asked by a student in the audience what makes one opinion better than another. I answered that better opinions have been tested. You think you're going to like something, but you don't. Then the converse happens regarding something else. You give it some thought and have another look. People who have done this thousands of times and have researched a field fairly completely have something we might as well call expertise. On the other hand, how can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?

Reading Graffiti Art. Street art is the best abstract painting of the past 60 years.


And what is closer to the bottom of the barrel: Street art gallerists, street art curators or street art academics? On what sad date did aerosol spray paint become synonymous with cotton candy?

Maybe in the early '80s when Tony Shafrazi Gallery started showing Kenny Scharf?

Artists As Their Own Manager. You gotta do this, and you gotta do that, and most of all you have to buy the art advice book on how you can make it on your own as an artist by doing all of this stuff on your own. Advice is now an industry. Just make the art and sell it for whatever it takes to get it out of the studio and make more. Don't buy the book.

So marketers are bad, and marketing yourself is bad. Spoken like someone who doesn't have an art career. My advice: buy one book. Make the art. Survive as best you can.



Walter Darby Bannard

January 16, 2012, 11:22 AM

I know nothing about Mat Gleason, and your post offers me no reason to change that. I also did not know about Zhang Daqian, so I looked him up and the article about the #1 in auction sales. He's pretty good, and the Chinese art market is an interesting phenomenon. So much money!

Gleason's only interestingly specific comment, in the ones you quote, was the one about consignment, and I think he is wrong. One of the basic commercial problems with the art market is that prices for a very few artists are very high and this creates an unrealistic inflationary push on all prices. 99% of all art should be selling for a couple times cost—maybe $200 or $300 at most—and should appreciate only through the mechanics of the market. This would price art like most other commodities and would actually help lesser-known artists, almost all of whom make way more art than they ever sell. But that is a big "should," and it is unlikely to happen.

The custom has always been to price art unrealistically high, I suppose as a kind of gamble that out of 10 or 12 artists one will hit the jackpot. Also because the psychology of collectors is that if it isn't expensive in can't be any good. This creates all kinds of distortions, one of which is that dealers cannot afford to actually buy art if they know they probably won't sell it. Hence consignment. The market cannot realistically function without it.

I have noticed lately, however, that the auction houses have been doing more and more auctions of work at modest prices, to take advantage of the growing interest in original modern art as a decorative necessity. Christies calls them "Interiors" sales. There was one Jan. 10 (check it out on Artnet) which has a lot of pretty decent art at pretty decent prices, and the "bought in" ratio seemed much lower than at the "big name" sales. Perhaps this anticipates a change in the market.



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