Many years ago, back when I was still in college, I had this idea that I was going to pursue being a fine artist more seriously. I was living just over the river from Manhattan and figured, hey, now's the time. I'd read an ad in the back of a magazine requesting artist submissions for a New York gallery and decided to give it a try.
I spent several days carefully taking slides of my paintings and a few drawings. Slides! That's how long ago this was! I didn't have the right equipment but I'd managed to scrape enough funds together to buy some clip-lights and photoflood bulbs and some professional slide film for my 35mm camera and an 18% gray card. I also had grit and determination and stick-to-itiveness and all those other good old American values that lead to success. Also a magazine article detailing the steps to taking good slides of artwork, because this was before you could go on the World Wide Web and get a tutorial. I set up in my dorm room and took my slides and got them developed for some ungodly amount of money and sent them off.
One day I heard back from the gallery. I'm not sure how I heard from them. I guess they wrote me a letter -- they couldn't have called me because I didn't have a phone and almost no one outside of college had e-mail (how did we ever survive those benighted times?). I heard back from them that they were interested and wanted me to come in for a meeting.
I was flattered and excited. This could be the break I was looking for! I hadn't ever considered a career in fine art, or any art at all for that matter, because I'd thought it was an impossible dream. But this gallery -- a New York gallery -- was interested in me!
So I made the trip into Alphabet City, which was still, at the time, a dicey neighborhood. I'd brought a friend with me as protection. We found the gallery, the only one on the block, a few steps down from the street, quiet and empty except for the gallery representative I was to meet with.
We talked about my work and she seemed to be taking it very seriously. She mentioned my use of color and the violence inherent in my drawings especially. She seemed mildly distracted, a little flaky around the edges, but she spoke in somber tones and seemed very professional. It was with the utmost professionalism, then, that she finally introduced the gallery's rate sheet: This much for a show, this much for publicity for the show, this much for refreshments at the show, and so on.
I walked home with my friend, crestfallen and confused. I couldn't believe this was how galleries -- New York galleries -- did business. I had always thought they took chances on artists they believed in, hoping that sales of the work would pay for their expenses. It never occurred to me that they might charge the artist for these services. It seemed...unfair. I worked out fairly quickly that this was something of a scam. And anyway it was a moot point: I'd barely gotten the money together to make slides, I couldn't afford the cost of a show with this gallery.
I dropped the dream of being a fine artist. Clearly it wasn't for me. My parents were right: The important thing was having a real job, somewhere I could make money and get promoted to management and wear a shirt and tie and one day retire with a pension and an annuity and health benefits. The important thing was getting a degree from a good school, which is what I went back to that day.
Of course what I narrowly missed getting entangled in was a vanity gallery. Vanity galleries are considered beneath contempt in the art world. It took me many, many years before I'd even stick a toe back into the New York art scene, but when I did, I learned that, while a layperson might not be able to tell a real gallery from a vanity gallery, everyone involved in the scene knew which were which and saw the vanity galleries as what they are, namely scams run by unscrupulous scum preying on the gullible and ignorant. Vanity galleries are so far beneath notice you'd be hard-pressed to get a reputable dealer to even discuss their existence. And as for the artists who exhibit there, well, at best they're misguided fools, and at worst no-talent zeroes who can't get their work shown anywhere else. Paying someone to allow your work to be shown? That's no road to success.
Unless, apparently, you can buy a nice enough venue. For example, the Brooklyn Museum. They've whored out some of their precious real estate to the Rubell family and allowed them to mount the show Hernan Bas: Works from the Rubell Family Collection. Right there on the official Website it says they got their pet curator Mark Coetzee -- he's the former "Director of the Rubell Family Collection" -- to "organize" the show. So a collector of an artist, who presumably has some financial stake in the artist's reputation, gets to show the works they've collected in a museum, thus improving the artist's standing. Pretty good deal. Everybody wins: The museum gets a show on the cheap, maybe even some kickback donations; the artist gets a career boost, even if he's a Feeblist of such poor standing he's beneath such luminaries as Peyton and Dumas; the collector gets an improved return on investment as the artist's standing improves; and the director/organizer gets a paycheck for doing nothing but moving the works he recommended from one wall to another. Everybody wins!
Oh, wait, I forgot. Everybody wins except you, the art viewer. You're forced to look at crap instead of good art. Check out the Emperor's naked pimply ass. If you're lucky, maybe he'll fart in your face.