She Built Her House Upon the Sand


By way of Art Fag City -- yes, I'm still reading it, no, I don't know why -- I read a brief op-ed in the New York Times about Becky Smith, whose gallery, Bellwether, closed down earlier this year. Faithful readers will recall I wrote of my hopes for other galleries to do the same. How ironic the gallery should be named Bellwether! Maybe she should've named it "Coalmine Canary" or "Evaporating".

Becky Smith

Becky Smith in happier times, in Brooklyn in 2000.

I have to admit, though, reading about Becky's abject failure -- eating Velveeta, not having enough money to get to Pittsburgh -- Pittsburgh, for crying out loud, you can practically walk to Pittsburgh from New York -- okay, that's hyperbole -- reading about her total collapse as an art dealer, I have to admit to feeling no schadenfreude at all. And I usually love me some schadenfreude. But not this time. I actually felt bad for Becky.

Because she called her collectors, the people who'd bought art through her gallery, the people who'd built her up, who'd propelled her into a business with $75,000 a month in overhead, she called them and she begged for them to save her. And when she begged, they said no. They forsook her.

Here she'd been curating from her values, not her taste, chasing acceptance. And for a time she had it. She thought she knew what she was doing. She was confident. She thought she was going to be major.

And then one day it turned out she didn't know what she was doing, she wasn't accepted, and she wasn't major. She thought she was in control but she wasn't. Becky was at the mercy of others. Her gallery existed at their whim. And at the crucial moment they removed their support and it turned out, just like that, she had nothing. She'd had nothing all along.

I find this tragic, in the older sense of the word, where the sadness comes from one person's downfall due to some integral flaw, some essential error at the core of their being, something which cannot be corrected or countered, something we might call destiny.

I don't often quote the Bible, but sometimes King James just says it best:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.


Jesus Christ. I think it was hubris that brought Becky from Greenpoint to Donkey Island - it astounds me that a gallery selling NEW WORK and not BLUE CHIP out of the back room could spend more than 5 to 10 grand on rent (historically speaking what did galleries pay to be in SOHO ~1985?) - and that overhead beyond that would exceed the price of utilities, shipping, spackle, pizza, alcohol (pabst, vin en vrac), printing invitations and postage - i.e. no more than 200,000 a year.

A MAJOR gallery can't make do with pizza parties. I can. I didn't have velveeta (how the mighty have fallen!) way to reveal your class roots - but I did have non-organic store-brand peanut butter on a fresh 50 cent roll (less actually) for lunch - and a splurge on a cup of deli coffee with lots of cream and sugar. Because I am major. A heavy hitter. I prefer an Americano - coffee in coffee. I could eat coffee grounds by themselves on buttered bread.

Personally I would eschew velveeta and - well on the subject of budgeting, I find the people that talk about it the most are usually doing just fine (starbucks and energy drinks add up, as do incidentals like candy, wine, hand lotion, chapstick, and anything else that you might buy to alter your mood) - the truly poor don't want to talk about it or might even be ashamed to admit their diet consists of the dollar menu at mcdonalds and kraft mac and cheese. "I made a movie while eating only Ramen" nevermind that Ramen is more expensive than rice with beef bullion. Oh but organic macrobiotic bean dip is so much cheaper, you might say - but then you flavor it with fresh vegetables - cha-ching! Gotchaa - whooowhup, you are under arrest for class snobbery.

I am doing fine, and I expect Becky Smith is doing fine as well, or I would send her a check - though I do understand it's hard when you used to order takeout every day and people quoted you in the newspaper because you were doing so well.

ok bellweather had 4 employees - that and art fair expenses add up - but still, the books I read (dated before bellweather) all said to avoid fair weather collectors - though I can see the allure of Wall Street money. Or Internet Money. Or money.

It is a great feeling when you let go and just say fuck it.

Chris, people like me would never have been part of Ms. Smith's target audience, so perhaps whatever I might think of her is a moot point. She was never in it for the likes of me, so maybe I'm not entitled to judge her. Still, the bit about curating from her "values" (which could mean any number of things) and not her "taste" (which was what, exactly?) is a smoking gun any way you slice it (or at least any way I slice it).

My take on this is that, as you imply, neither she nor her enterprise was ever truly solid, but based on the ephemeral, the circumstantial, the illusory, the expedient, the temporarily effective. She apparently got carried away by her success and took rather too much for granted. It happens.

It may be that what she actually did, in practice, was to curate based on what she perceived as likely to be valued by the "right" (or most desirable) crowd. I suppose that's a common enough business model, and it may be valid enough, in business terms, assuming a dependable customer base. However, evidently her customers, or most of them, were a rather shaky or fickle lot, as she eventually found out the hard way.

I'm sure even people with the best intentions or highest motives can still fail, for a variety of reasons, but building on sand doesn't help. No doubt she was committed to succeed, but the question is, on what basis?

well I know from gossip and her stable of artists that she put a lot of stock (pun intended) in the value of an Ivy league (Yale 100,000g+) education and that this somehow entitled one. This sense of entitlement, in my experience, is hardly justfied - institutional pedigree does not make one an artist, nor does it confer on one magical powers visa-vis the alchemical or pagan (see Sir James George Frazer's "The Golden Bough") though I do put some creedence in taste and taste makers - believing I have good taste.

I don't think Becky had some guru like ability to find talent - the fact is most of her painters were the merely good - and some of the artists were pretentiously conceptual - none of them stood out in my travels - and to her credit Becky didn't make clowns of her artists as some of the larger galleries seem to encourage.

I do think there was a bit of idealism - most artworld mercenaries wouldn't twitch at cutting the jugular of their gallery. I have a hunch the top spots are held by psychopathic minds and other such borderline personalities. More than a hunch.

who are you people? are you the random people who show up at openings you find online to try and get into the art world? do any of you have any successes in your art careers? this is like the blog from another planet.

Speaking for myself, I don't have nor have I ever had (or wanted) an art career. I have no interest in getting "into" the art world. However, I confess it would be nice to get something out of the art world a tad more often than once in a blue moon. But of course I'm being unreasonable. I'm funny that way.

hello art world. I don't want to "get into you" I am from a parallel universe called "the real world" - it would astound you that there is art here, as well as random openings, gallery visits and other things commonly associated with you, the art world.

One theory is that there are multiple art worlds. This of course is JUST NOT POSSIBLE from your perspective. I might suggest you read the book "Flatland" and get back to me with your thoughts.

But from my perspective, so high above you, immanent and transcendent, you look pretty small.

Chris Rywalt has been described as "Barely an artist" though that quote comes from an angry place, I think. Why would you even say that to someone? Who cares? Probably someone who is severely invested in some notion (paradigm, construct) of quality to the point of elitism and pretention - even if you are whip smart, I don't think it matters if you show, and the hubris of Ms. Smith and the gallerists she aspires to be like is a bit farcical (or should be), don't you think?

Myself I find a focus on career and careerism is a real drag. I don't go to many openings (like most normal people) now and I am enjoying the silences, the void, the peace, making art, earning a living, eating, sleeping - I have plenty of "contacts" who will "critique my work".

Be here now. (like let god, or whatever)

"Barely an artist" is an apt description for more than a few people who are drowning in money, fame and fabulousness, and absolutely "in" the art world. But of course, that's sour grapes. Or it might be, if I were an artist or at least an artist wannabe, neither of which is the case.

any thing possitive form me should make you sick. I;m a littel quaeasy myself due to poor dietary habits.

Becky, wild thing, you need to lighten the fuck up.


People "in" the art world (now or formerly, as the case may be) can't possibly lighten up. They're too serious, you see. They live for art, or something to that effect. I mean, somebody has to save the world and redeem mankind. Lightening up is for nobodies who don't "get it," and they obviously don't count.

So if "the art world" is "part of it," why would it bother with those who aren't? Why would it care? Isn't being "in" everything, and isn't being "out of it" the same as nothingness?

i wonder if the art world thinks it is a part of itself or if it knows that it isn't real? Weird gow these ghlosts think that they are alive.

Yes I was addressing Becky Smith. If she met her fiance online then she might be here too. Fukin a man!

I vote for your second possibility, Chris. The conversion angle is rather unlikely: the more exclusive the clique or in-group, the better for those who belong (or think they belong) to it. Another possibility is a kind of outraged, self-righteous arrogance, as in "How dare you inferior life forms doubt or question the elect (even if they elected themselves)?"

Saying that you are eating Ramen in Greenwich CT. is like saying you are a sheep herder in Dubai. Doesn't happen. Sorry Becky, no love.

i went through greenwich one time and it seemed like 9 of 10 cars was a BMW or Jaguar. It just felt rich.
Where I grew up the thing to get was a subaru or a volvo. Which brings me to my point that people who eat velveeta generally live in dilapidated bungalows or trailers and have a corvette parked out front. I mean where I grew up. that's not true really but you get the idea - if velveeta is your comfort food, there is something blue collar about your upbringing. Next we get into spacefood like Tang and Ovaltine. Do you think ANYONE drinks Tang in Greenwich?


The world of Art is always going to be a "tricky" business, be it for the gallery owner, be it for the artist.
It relies too much upon having the right connexions and therefore it's important to build them.
However I believe that these should be made with people who care and won't forget who helped them.
As an emerging artist, I won't forget those who are helping me getting my name in the market.

Best regards,


I think my point being that Becky must have been in a real funk to resort to the convenience of individually wrapped processed cheese slices.

What I want to know is what she had for X-mass dinner? A cheese turkey made out of cheese slices?

My folks had a series of subcompacts like the Datsun, the dodge colt, and the honda civic.

I wonder what Becky drives now.

Im just trying to get to the bottom of the mystery - I know i;m responding to the angle of the article - which struck me as somewhat too neat, toungue in cheek or otherwise lying by omission.

I too envisioned a big cheese block, or a tub of spreadable cheese. I haven't seen that in NY, but then I haven't looked. As cheap as Velveeta is, if you cook a big pot of chilli, after the initial investment (dry beans(soaked overnight), canned tomatoes, potatoes, canned corn), I think it wouldn't be much more expensive, pound for pound, than Velveeta on bread with mayo.

You can melt processed cheese and mix chillis in for a great nacho dip for holliday parties.

Which leads me to deduce that, with the crying in the shower story, there was a level of denial that led to a budget crisis and freakout rather than a measured rationing. That this involved a psychological decision (comfort food, easier) rather than some pathetic famine bread made of the baking soda, toaster crumbs and birdseed.

I dunno, I've never flown that high.

well potatoes beer- I guess i could call it stew. If the most exciting thing to come out of the art world is ethics violations, obviously we have a problem. What is art? I don't know and no one else does either.

I saw Gentlemen Broncos it was pretty good and no cussing.

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