Picking Artist Pockets


Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Saturno devorando a un hijo, 1821-1823, Técnica mixta, 143x81 cm

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Saturno devorando a un hijo, 1821-1823, técnica mixta, 143x81 cm

The economic downturn -- a phrase which has its own macro on most pundit keyboards these days -- has caused many people to predict a new era of creativity as Darwinian pressures on businesses and individuals force innovation in the struggle to survive. With art galleries closing left and right, and the remaining dealers feeling the squeeze, creative means of making money are cropping up in the art world.

Unfortunately some of the creativity is geared towards wringing even more money from artists, not gallery customers. Lyons Wier Gallery -- until recently Lyons Wier-Ortt, and when we find out what happened to Anna Ortt, we'll let you know -- Lyons Wier, for example, announced recently something owner Michael is calling "Art Bazaar", where artists can pay him $20 to sit in his gallery all weekend in front of six feet's worth of their stuff. I thought this sounded like a pretty cool deal until I realized that he's just sucking money from his (potential) work force, kind of like McDonald's charging their fry cooks for the privilege of selling their wares.

Meanwhile Ceres Gallery -- which has always struck me as a questionable space -- is bringing "back by popular demand" their Exposure "show" where artists can basically rent out a tiny part of Ceres for a week at a time between November and December for only -- only! -- $250.

And then there's Smack Mellon which is using traditional oil painters as fundraising workhorses paying a pathetic $125 per half-hour per painting, which is a less than a professional portrait painter would make for simply taking a client's call.

Smack Mellon is something of a special case since it's not a for-profit gallery, and Ceres is some sort of non-profit co-operative kind of thing; to Lyons Wier and other galleries like them we could say that, rather than creatively finding ways of exploiting artists they should perhaps simply be doing their jobs of selling better. That is, after all, how real businesses go about raising cash: By trying to sell more stuff. Smack Mellon and Ceres aren't forgiven, though; as organizations ostensibly founded for improving the lives of artists, they should be getting their funding from elsewhere, not living off the backs of those they claim to be helping. The Second Great Depression is no excuse for eating your own young.

[Links and discussion from Stephanie Jackson, Sharon Butler, and Joanne Mattera.]


Regarding the Art Bazaar:

The entry fee, admittedly, is minimal only $20. But charging a commission on top of the entry fee seems gratuitous. Yes, the commission is a lower 20% and not the usual 50% . . . but the Bazaar guidelines state that the artist is then responsible for installing (bring your own tools and materials!) and selling the work (you need to be there from 8am to 8pm--you can't leave or ask someone to fill in for you!) Lyons Wier has little to lose from this approach since they're shoving most of the gallery's normal responsibilities/duties right back on the artist.

Two things bother me most about this plan: 1.) The artist takes on the role of gallerist/dealer and pays for the privilege of doing so. This smacks of the vanity gallery approach. 2.) Lyons Wier is essentially abdicating responsibility for anything that could be considered studied, coherent gallery program. First come, first serve, the highest selling artist gets a solo exhibition regardless of whether or not the work is suitable for whatever vision they (Lyons Wier and whoever) might have possessed for the gallery. (I understand that the art business is, at bottom, a business but this move essentially pisses on the traditional role of gallerist.)

The Art Bazaar is a bad move. It is raw and rapacious without even the slightest effort to pretend otherwise. It is a tacky maneuver intended to cash in on the inherent hard-working nature of artists, not to mention our inherent career desperation. Ostensibly, it could be argued that it offers some exposure to the artists and perhaps it could foster a sense of community amongst the participants. (Boy, I'm really reaching here, aren't I?) But the benefits to this approach are minimal at best. Avoid it, I say.

(Full disclosure: I am posting this comment of several blogs who've touched on this topic. Please forgive me if the sentiment isn't entirely unique to one blog.)

For any artists who wish to exhibit during the forthcoming weekends, and find the lesser than usual commission and nominal entrance fee non-offensive, we welcome your inclusion. ALSO, what HAS NOT BEEN mentioned is that the top selling artist will get a solo show in 2010. Complete details can be found on www.artbazaar.tv and www.lyonswiergallery.com

Why are you absolutely amazed when someone responds to something you wrote about them? Gosh, you found my little blog among the millions of blogs on the internet? People self-Google all the time.

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