Ten Questions with Lydia Mozzone

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Lydia Mozzone is an artist living and working in Boston’s North End. Lydia’s work has exhibited her paintings at the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the Lore Degenstein Gallery in Selinsgrove, PA, and in a two
person show at the Cape Cod Cultural Center, South Yarmouth, MA alongside her mother, Michele Poirier-Mozzone. Her work recently gained regular representation with Coastal Contemporary Gallery in Newport, RI.

Lydia is a painter whose figurative work explores the complex relationships between women and their bodies within the context of contemporary life. She earned her undergraduate degree in studio art at Skidmore College.

In 2018, I selected Lydia as one of ten “Artists to Watch” for Boston Accent Lit and I have continued to follow her work. I am thrilled to share this interview with a talented emerging artist with you.

-Michael


Q1. Your work is primarily figurative and focuses on the nude. Do you have regular models for your paintings or do you work from photographs, memory, etc?

A1. I use photographs I've taken of roommates and friends through a foggy glass shower as reference for my paintings. Using a photo lets me map out my canvas and refer to the image until I'm happy with my drawing and composition. Then, I can put down the image and react to and enhance what the paint is doing organically. I find this process to be very freeing.

Q2. The nude has a long tradition in art history. Do you see your work in conversation with historical precedent or as a departure from past works predominantly created by male artists?

A2. Many classical nudes portray a confident woman who is acknowledging the viewer; she might be looking directly at us, making little effort to conceal herself. I admire these historical paintings, but I do see my work as a departure from that point of view. My "ladies" are very much about of the complicated relationship the modern woman has with her own body rather than a depiction of confidence and sexuality.

Q3. You studied art at Skidmore College. Can you talk more about your educational background and the role it played in shaping your work?

A3. For the first two years as a Fine Art major at Skidmore, we drew the figure and still-life in charcoal. Regardless of concentration, each student had to spend many hours perfecting proportion, perspective and composition in charcoal before exploring other mediums. I think Skidmore's approach directly inspired my "style" once I discovered oils. I have an obsession with realistic figurative areas interacting with loose, textural spaces in a painting. I still do remain more technical at the beginning of a painting, and then let the handcuffs off to achieve the organic marks I love.

Q4. You have shown your work previously at other venues. But what role do you see your relationship with Coastal Contemporary Gallery playing in your career as a fine artist?

A4. Coastal Contemporary is the first gallery to represent my paintings. I'm thrilled to be showing my work in Newport, and am especially excited to have Shari (the director and owner of Coastal Contemporary) representing my paintings. She is an incredible artist herself and has such an elegant and approachable way of speaking about and curating the work in the gallery.

Q5. Your mother is also an artist, Michele Poirier-Mozzone. How has having another artist in your immediate family influenced your development?

A5. My mom has been the biggest influence in my life artistically. She taught me to draw as a kid and has been providing unfiltered, honest critiques ever since. Each of us has turned areas of our homes into a painting studio. Having a home studio is convenient but isolating, so we’re constantly texting images and calling each other to bounce ideas and critiques back and forth.

I'm extremely lucky to have her support as I carve out my own art career. Her work has inspired me to appreciate deliberate brush strokes, to diversify my "go-to" color palettes, and to keep evolving and challenging my own series of work.

Q6. You've mentioned the importance of drawing to your paintings. Do you exclusively work in charcoal? And are your drawings strictly preparatory or would you consider exhibiting them as finished works?

A6. As a student, I worked in charcoal and graphite constantly. Now that I work mainly in oils, I use graphite pencils to sketch composition ideas for larger paintings. When I move to the canvas, I draw out the composition again with a thin brush and oil paint. I no longer treat my drawings as finished works, but I do think it would be really interesting to explore my series in charcoal or graphite one day! 

Q7. Speaking of influences, what famous artist(s), historical or contemporary, are you currently inspired by and why?

A7. I look at Gerhard Richter for his beautiful lost edges. I love Alex Kanevsky's figures - his compositions are always so unique and I admire his ability to boldly integrate a flesh tone into a cool background and vice versa. I'm also inspired by Jenny Saville's juicy, gestural strokes; her marks make her paintings feel so emotional.

Q8. You work in a variety of scale from 8" x 8" to works that near life size. What role does scale play in your work?

A8. For years I rarely worked on canvases smaller then 4 feet. Painting the figure at a life-size scale is a really cool exercise; it's a very physical process requiring movement of the whole body. Lately I've been working at a much smaller scale. Initially this transition was out of necessity, as I couldn't fit large stretchers into my apartment, but it has challenged me and taught me a lot. It's much easier to overwork a smaller painting - but smaller canvases also lend themselves to making bolder, textural marks, which I find really exciting.

Q9. Can you speak more to your painting process? Do you create the distinct textures using brush or palette knife or both? How do you develop the unique qualities of your surfaces?

A9. I use a mix of palette knife and brush strokes throughout my painting process. I find I can capture an atmospheric "foggy" feeling best when painting "wet into wet" - so often I'll go over a whole dried canvas with Galkyd medium before going back into it. I try to mix hard and soft edges in my paintings - blurring the background into the figure in some places, and using harder lines elsewhere. I use the palette knife to keep a sense of immediacy and spontaneity throughout my process. I try not to overthink it (though that's easier said than done!).

Q10. What projects are on the horizon for you and how do you see your work growing or changing?

A10. I think it's important that a series of paintings never becomes too formulaic - so I'd like to continue to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Now that I've been working at a small scale, I think it would be really interesting to see how these smaller works would inform my process if I go back to very large pieces. I've also been thinking about using a spotlight in the shower, pumping up the contrast and drama in my pieces.

Collecting Vintage Prints: A Personal Perspective

I have to begin this post with a thank you to my colleague Donna Parsons, Gallery Director at Dryden Gallery / Providence Picture Frame for giving me a preview of their incredible Archives Sale, which opens this Friday, June 12 and will run each Friday and Saturday through the end of July from 11am - 4pm each day. Providence Picture Frame is a 100+ year old art business and an institution in itself. It will soon be moving out of the converted textile mill it’s called home for many years and this exciting sale of work from the company’s archive is, what a seasoned collector I know referred to aptly as a “once-in-a-generation sale”.

I was supposed to be visiting Providence Picture Frame earlier this week on official business on behalf of the Providence Art Club. This sneak peak at the objects that would be for sale was supposed to grant us a chance to find some appropriate frames for naked paintings we own, as well as an opportunity to pick up a piece or two to add to our permanent collection. But, of course, I naturally lost all semblance of self control and bought a couple of items for myself.

I am extremely interested in the prints made of New York in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s and was genuinely thrilled to have the opportunity to add two etchings from this period to my personal collection at this intriguing sale. After getting the work home, I did a bit of research and found out some incredibly fun facts about the makers of the pieces I selected. Collecting historic works of art can be interesting, and even dare I say, fun, and I hope sharing what I found and why I love these two pieces might inspire some other would-be collectors.

Nat Lowell,  Lower East Side , etching, 1930’s

Nat Lowell, Lower East Side, etching, 1930’s

The first etching is by the Latvian-born Nat Lowell (1880-1956), who trained at the Art Students League of New York and was a prolific printmaker, capturing the unique vibrancy of the City. This scene of the Lower East Side, probably from the 30’s, shows off the bustling harbor, which itself already dated back 300 years to the Dutch settlement of the island. It may be forgotten today to some extent, but for most of its history New York served as one of the most important ports in the world.

In Lowell’s dynamic image, he contrasts the masts of the sailing ships in the foreground with the spires of the city’s financial hub on the tip of Manhattan Island behind. It’s worth noting that the term “skyscraper” was originally used to describe the height of ships, not of buildings. The riotous sea faring vessels before use accentuate the solidity of the City, as do the billowing baroque clouds over head.

Nat Lowell,  Lower East Side , etching, 1930’s (detail)

Nat Lowell, Lower East Side, etching, 1930’s (detail)

I am unable to find this specific image online thus far, but works by Lowell can be found in the Metropolitan Museum, New York Public Library, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Library of Congress, and other important collections. One of the reasons I find original prints so exciting is that for an incredibly reasonable sum, you can live with museum quality work.

Karl Dehmann,  Metropolitan Museum , etching, 1928

Karl Dehmann, Metropolitan Museum, etching, 1928

The second etching is by Karl Dehmann (1886-1974), who was born in Germany and trained both in his native country and in Paris. He made his living for a short time as a copyist at the Louvre and wrote home at one point to complain that he wished he could make more money at his trade. Don’t we all, Karl?

This beautiful nocturne depicts the glowing Beaux Arts facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1928, which one source reports as the year Dehmann emigrated to the United States. This exact print can be found in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York as well as the Metropolitan Museum itself, which acquired it the year it was printed.

Karl Dehmann,  Metropolitan Museum , etching, 1928

Karl Dehmann, Metropolitan Museum, etching, 1928

You might notice that the seemingly cramped steps and horseshoe driveway in this image are not the hallmarks of The Met recognized today for its gracious cascade of stairs. This entry was dramatically altered in the early 1970’s under Thomas Hoving’s directorship. But this print captures a moment in time while also expressing the innate grandeur of the Richard Morris Hunt building abutting Fifth Avenue, as well as the drama of the well-lit facade against the inky night sky.

Both of these images are richly detailed and executed in a style that was extremely popular in this period. They are intricately and lovingly detailed. They exude two polar qualities of New York: the gritty excitement of downtown in the middle of the workday and the meditative night of a staid and cerebral uptown. They also express some of the wonderful technical qualities found in the medium of etching: the specificity of the line work, the graduated tones of dark and light, the possibility for an image to be descriptive, narrative, and abstract all at once.

It is also worth noting that both of these images, as well as many others crystallizing the singular personality of the place that Brooklyn-born poet Walt Whitman called “America’s great democratic island city”, were executed not by native-born artists but by individuals who came to the United States from abroad. This fact has a message for all of us living in the US in 2019.

Historical works of art can add so much to a collection because in looking at them we can know and understand their makers and their context in ways that do not always translate to artists and artworks of our own time. We know the way the places depicted have changed and that makes these works romantic, doesn’t it? We understand the impact that this school of printmakers had on the shaping of art history and that makes these works educative, doesn’t it? And, if we let the lessons inherent in works like these wash over us they can change our mind or make us see the world differently, can’t they?

Although one of today’s more popular art memes goes something like “buy work by living artists, the dead ones don’t need the money”, there is an alternative saying in the museum world about art-makers who are no longer with us. “The only good artist is a dead artist.”

In the case of collecting there are many great things about buying the work of living artists you might know and like, of course. But there is also something to be said for broadening, deepening, and enriching your collection with works by artists whose careers ended decades ago and whose productions were influenced by an entirely different set of social, political, and artistic realities than we know now.

When I look at the prints I recently purchased, I see not only the New York of Lowell and Dehmann, but I feel inklings of my own experience in the City. I also see indications of familiarity on the part of these printmakers with artists whose work I will never be able to afford like Edward Hopper or Martin Lewis. And for a much more affordable price I can bring prints that capture the zeitgeist of their time with technical precision and artistic flourish into my home.

I removed these prints from their frames and pulled them out from under glass and I honestly cannot stop looking at them. They are a delight and I know I will enjoy them for years to come.

And that is truly the best art investment money can buy.

Providence Picture Frame’s Archives Sale is on July 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, and 27 from 11am - 4pm. They are located at 27 Dryden Lane in Providence, Rhode Island.

Join Me for Gallery Night Providence July 18!

I would like to invite you to join me for Gallery Night Providence on Thursday, July 18 where I will be the Celebrity Guide for the 5:30pm trolley tour of four galleries in Providence.

This is a free, fun way to get introduced to art spaces you might not otherwise visit and learn more about the artwork on view and the artists who made it. My tour will conclude by 7:30pm.

Our stops will be:

  1. City Hall Gallery featuring: Invasive Beauty: New Works by May Babcock and Rebecca Volynsky

  2. BankRI Gallery featuring: Paintings by Abba Cudney

  3. Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts featuring: Time Zero and Beyond and Hold Up The Hood by Francis Crisafio

  4. Gallery Z featuring: European and American Landscapes: Exploring Color, Form, and Light

Gallery Night is free program held on the third Thursday of each month, which allows visitors to park for free at Regency Plaza Apartments (entrance to the parking lot is on Greene Street) and then take guided tours to participating galleries around town.

Seating is limited and reservations are not available unless you make a $10 donation, so do arrive early if you’d like to join my tour. If you have any questions, please email me.

*The header image for this post is Abba Cudney’s Dirty Dishes, which will be on view at BankRI Gallery.

Hope to see you July 18 at 5:30pm!

-Michael

That Must Be Fun: Navigating Misconceptions About Gallery Work

The field of gallery work, especially as it relates to commercial gallery spaces, tends to be somewhat misunderstood. It is certainly not thought of in all quarters as a serious career. As a gallery professional, when I meet someone at a social function and the question of work comes up, the statement “I manage an art gallery” almost always elicits the same reply, particularly from those who don’t work in the arts: “That must be fun.” While work in the art market is stimulating and those of us who get to do it are incredibly lucky, those four words, and the mindset they represent, are indicative of some fundamental misconceptions about gallery work and who gallerists are.

The average American rarely, if ever, steps foot in a commercial gallery space. And the majority of Americans have never purchased (and will never purchase) an original work of art. So, it makes sense that most perceptions of gallery work are shaped by popular culture. Scripted television shows like Sex and The City or GIRLS have given us fictional gallery workers like Charlotte York and Marnie Michaels. In the 2003 rom-com classic Love Actually a group of school children snicker at a gallerist’s show of large scale nude photos festooned with Santa hats. And the 2012 Bravo reality series Gallery Girls primarily showed the lives of privileged young women working in the industry. Moreover, recent documentaries and news stories about the art market skewer dealers (alongside others) as shadowy insiders grifting from the nouveau riche. In short, when commercial galleries appear in media they are conversely the object of ridicule about elitism or the subject of suspicion regarding the murky nature of money in the visual arts. And gallery workers themselves are often envisaged as delicately coiffed trust fund babies in need of a hobby.

In addition to this problem of perception in the media, it makes sense that a central conceit of gallery life, the wine and cheese fueled reception, is viewed as a sort of party which gallery staff attend rather than an event which gallery staff work. Anecdotally, at least, it seems that many people see gallery professionals as individuals who have fun for a living. These lucky few spend their days toying with art and rubbing elbows with a bevy of glamorous collectors and talented artists. And in the imaginative mind, this hobnobbing is occasionally punctuated by a glass of Rosé over a sumptuous crudités spread.

Misconceptions about gallery work are not limited to those outside the field. Not long ago, I met an aspiring gallery professional who commented that the best part of gallery work was that curators and directors don’t have to lift a finger, saying, “You just point and people hang it for you.” The disconnect between this comment and the reality of daily life for the majority of individuals who make their living in art galleries astounded me.

So what is the reality for many commercial gallery professionals?

Outside of major hubs like New York or Los Angeles and beyond the walls of mega galleries like Gagosian, Zwirner, or Pace, smaller regionally-based and local galleries tend to be financially precarious and gallery owners are often one-man-bands. This means a gallerist has to possess an incredible array of skills. They must be equal parts curator, writer, preparator, installer, art handler, maintenance supervisor, publicist, public speaker, photographer, graphic designer, accountant, events manager, educator, caterer, bartender, server, and custodian. This isn’t to mention the softer skills of social diplomacy required when dealing with sensitive artists, frugal buyers, and a curious public. This job description would be a tall order for anyone, but when you consider the limited financial incentives involved in the local and regional market it becomes taller still.

The gallerist, in spite of this broad skill set, remains an enigmatic figure. And the pressures of gallery work are often veiled behind the well-crafted façade of the art world. The reality is that employees at the majority of commercial galleries are not, in fact, filing their nails at the reception desk of a white cube on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. But instead, they are engaging in numerous skilled tasks, often across many exhibitions at once. They are, additionally, providing needed services to artists and bringing artwork to the market - often acting as the only professional representation certain locally known artists will ever have.

So, why does it matter if the general public or even art people themselves understand what or who a gallerist is and what their work is like?

Misconceptions about gallery work devalue the labor of gallery professionals. Not only in the eyes of those with an already limited affinity for the visual arts. But also in the minds of those who are genuinely interested in galleries, art, and collecting. An artist once told me that commercial galleries are a racket because gallerists provide virtually nothing in exchange for their 50% commission. This line of thinking is extremely troubling. A good gallery owner, indeed a good gallery professional at any level, does much more. And for this reason gallery workers are worthy of recognition. But the reputation of privilege and frivolity persists. So, too, does the idea of the unfriendly gallery person.

In the popular imagination gallerists are chilly and inaccessible. In reality, though, commercial gallery work is essentially the effort to bring art to new audiences and thereby to new potential clientele. For this reason, gallery staffers must be public people, yet they are often perceived as closed off. This is in part the fault of gallerists everywhere who fantasize that they are the second coming of Larry Gagosian. Gallerists on the lower end of the market who seek to cultivate a reputation for elitism and aloofness do so at their own peril and degrade the reputation of the profession in the process.

Those of us in the gallery field are more often than not amiable people who care about art and artists and work to help them navigate this complicated marketplace insofar as we can. Commercial galleries also provide an incredible, if unspoken, community service in that unlike most art museums they never charge admission. For free, anyone can visit an art gallery and see artwork that is being made by artists right now. And they can often engage directly with the artist, too.

Gallery work is, as many people suspect, deeply enjoyable. But it is also emotionally and physically taxing in its own way. I know many in the business who work around the clock even when the gallery is closed, conducting studio visits, installing purchases in the homes of clients, answering frantic emails from artists on weekends at midnight, to name just a few common tasks. Though the work is often fun, it’s not always easy.

Ultimately, the best way to understand gallery work is to be in the trade. But one can learn a lot by speaking to real world professionals. A little bit of research also goes a long way. Instagram accounts like @arthandlermag, @jerrygogosian, and @contemporarycostanza humorously illuminate some of the things that go on behind-the-scenes. But truly, visiting galleries, reading art news, and following your local gallerist are essential to developing an understanding of gallery culture and the people who make it all happen.

And, if you ever have any questions for your own friendly local gallerist, you should feel more than welcome to email me.

What Has Your Gallery Done For You Lately?

One of the questions I hear most frequently from artists is “how do I get my work  into a commercial gallery?” For most artists who operate primarily within a local and regional marketplace, this is a complicated question. Even in a culturally rich region such as the Northeast, the ratio of commercial galleries and art dealers to artists is deeply uneven with artists outnumbering venues enormously. Although many artists state their interest in breaking into the commercial gallery market, I rarely receive questions about what comes next. Namely, how to maintain a relationship with a gallery and examine its worth to an artist’s practice and business.

Because artists are so interested in being represented professionally, and because these resources are so scarce, artists tend to accept just about anything from their local gallerist. Commercial galleries are for profit businesses in which a gallerist makes their living representing the work of a select “stable” of artists. Particularly in these venues, certainly more so than non-profit arts collaborative, associations, or other membership-based organizations, commercial gallerists have a special responsibility to serve the artists they represent in a variety of areas.

In this post I will examine a few key areas where artists should be particularly critical of their gallery’s performance.

Reputation

Your gallery should have a good reputation. While its not always easy to discern a gallery’s standing in the community, it is simple to explore how a gallery interacts with other organizations, artists, and with the broader public. You can assess a gallery’s reputation by asking artists, collectors, and other galleries who have worked with them who they are and what they’re about. If a gallery has a reputation for being slow to pay their artists, or unethical, or disorganized, there may be some truth behind it. Ultimately, the gallery’s reputation will also become your reputation if you align your brand with theirs.

Mentorship
Your gallery should provide mentorship about your work. The gallerist should encourage your best work and discourage your weak material. How can a gallerist do this? A quality gallery professional will have the education, experience, and connoisseurship necessary to help you improve your work. For this reason its important to truly examine the qualifications of dealer or gallerist you’ll be working with when considering any gallery. Whether you like it or not, your gallerist should take a critical view of your work and thereby help you to grow, evolve, and improve both as an artist and as an art businessperson.

Marketing

Your gallery should be marketing your work specifically in addition to promotions for shows in which your work is included, or for the gallery itself. A good gallery relationship should not only include space on the wall but also an increased knowledge of your work in the marketplace. If your gallery has a poor website, a small following on social media, a weak mailing list, or rarely mentions your work publicly then it may be time to rethink the relationship. The gallery should be sharing your work with their audience, and you should tell your followers about your relationship with them.

Sales

Your gallery should be selling your work. And they should aid you in holding the line on your prices. A quality gallerist will help their artists find a price point for their work that validates the effort and materials involved but also reflects the realities of the marketplace. Again, a good gallerist should have the experience necessary to this task. They should be able to help artists set a reasonable price for their work and maintain it. As an artist, you too should be aware of the marketplace for work like yours in your area and be honest about its salability.

Collectors

Your gallery should connect your work with collectors of all varieties, not only frequent collectors (who are few and far between at the regional level), but also with first time art buyers and other customers who are seeking simply to buy work for their home or office. A few top tier regional galleries will be able to place work in permanent collections within corporate or institutional settings, but these opportunities are rare and the competition is fierce.

Networking

Your gallery should provide opportunities for you to meet their audience at events as well as through studio visits or other means. There should also be opportunities to connect with your fellow artists and members of your local art community. A professional gallery should be connected to the key individuals in the arts nearby, as well as have a broad array of fans and followers who regularly attend their openings, programs, and other events.

In addition to these topics, there are probably too many other considerations to mention in this short post, but there are a few key issues to consider. The first is that there are no strict qualifications for owning and operating a commercial art gallery and the talent pool in smaller commercial galleries is quite variable. If a gallerist has no educational background in the visual arts, few connections within the art community, or seems to own a gallery mostly for their own enjoyment, a question might be raised about their suitability to handle your work professionally and effectively.

Another issue is that often, smaller galleries focus on a few key artists at the expense of their broader stable. If your work is never on view and it’s hard to get your gallerist’s attention, you should examine the real value of the relationship honestly. It is also important to remember that you must always be assessing the quality of your gallery, their services, and their effectiveness. If things aren’t going well, you should have a conversation with your gallery professional. Communication is key to developing healthy and mutually beneficial relationships.

With all of the above considerations in mind, it is also important to remember that the pressures on small local and regional commercial galleries have never been greater. Between skyrocketing rents, and the many costs involved in operating a brick and mortar business of any kind, the profit margins can be razor thin or non-existent. Considering your gallery’s position will help you to put yourself in their shoes.

Ultimately, no small gallery can completely shape the market for an artist’s work and it is extremely important that artists take responsibility for their own professionalism and maintain their own art business vigilantly. Doing this will give you the wherewithal to thrive in the market even in spite of the sometimes precarious position of small local and regional galleries.

Upcoming Programs Summer 2019

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Art League Rhode Island Annual Meeting
Featured Speakers: Michael Rose and Anastasia Azure

Wednesday, June 19, 4:30pm - 7:30pm

at the Providence Art Club

Admission: This program is for Art League Rhode Island Members.

I am pleased to be one of the featured speakers at the Art League Rhode Island’s Annual Meeting 2019. I will be giving a brief talk on the state of the local and regional art market for members of one of the premier visual arts organizations in the State of Rhode Island. I thank the Art League for inviting me to share my expertise with their artists, who comprise a large segment of artists working in the Southern New England marketplace.


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Writing an Artist’s Bio with Michael Rose
at Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education

Thursday, June 27, 6:30pm - 9:30pm

at the Rhode Island School of Design

Tuition: $85, To learn more and to register, visit RISD CE’s site.

I am grateful to The Rhode Island School of Design for inviting me back to teach another writing course in their Continuing Education Department. This class will focus on writing an artist’s bio that effective tells a story.

Course description from the RISD Catalogue: Learn how to share your personal story as an artist in a compelling and accessible way. Through the use of the third-person biographical essay, you'll discover how to develop your backstory to paint a more complete picture of yourself as an artist and as a person, and how to give readers a clear insight into your personal narrative and the inspiration, motivation and nature of your work. By the end of the workshop, you will have developed strategies of approach and a rough outline to write your bio for use in a variety of applications including web and print.


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Art Lovers Book Club
Special Presentation on Sebastian Smee’s The Art of Rivalry
with Guest Speaker Michael Rose
Saturday, June 29, 2:00pm - 4:00pm

at the Attleboro Arts Museum

Admission: This program is free and open to the public. Reservations are requested but not required. To reserve call 508-222-2644  x10 or visit the Museum’s website.

I thank the Attleboro Arts Museum for inviting me to speak to their Art Lovers Book Club in June. The Attleboro Arts Museum’s Art Lovers Book Club launched in January 2010. A dynamic Museum member proposed this artful Book Club idea and the program was launched on a trial basis. After the success of the first meeting it was clear that the Book Club should live on. The Art Lovers Book Club meets in the Museum’s Ottmar Gallery from 2 – 4pm. This talk on June 29 will focus on Sebastian Smee’s book The Art of Rivalry, which features four friendships, betrayals and breakthroughs in modern art – Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, Freud and Bacon.


Work by Abba Cudney, which will be on view at BankRI during July’s Gallery Night.

Work by Abba Cudney, which will be on view at BankRI during July’s Gallery Night.

Gallery Night Providence July
Celebrity Guide: Michael Rose

Thursday, July 18, 5:30pm - 7:30pm

at galleries throughout Providence, Rhode Island

Admission: This program is free and open to the public. See the Gallery Night website for more information about scheduling, parking, and other logistics.

I am thrilled to be the Celebrity Guide for Gallery Night Providence’s July installment. This free monthly program gives visitors access to galleries and museums throughout the city. My tour will begin at 5:30pm at Regency Plaza Apartments where free event parking is available. This tour will feature four stops including BankRI’s Exhibition of work by my friend and colleague at the Providence Art Club, the talented painter and printmaker Abba Cudney.


And coming this fall…
Plymouth Center for The Arts
50th Annual Juried Art Exhibition
Three Jurors including Michael Rose

Gala Reception: Saturday, September 21

In addition to these other programs, I am also excited that I have been invited to serve on a panel of three jurors selecting work for the Fiftieth Annual Juried Art Exhibition at the Plymouth Center for The Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts. More information on this exhibition will be available soon.

For more information about any of these programs, please reach out to me. I am happy to chat more about collaboration ideas, scheduling availability, and pricing. I am always interested in learning about new venues and partnerships!

- Michael



In Black and White: Examining the Recent Market for Drawings by Martin Lewis

The Australian-American artist Martin Lewis (1881 - 1962), a contemporary of Edward Hopper, was a talented and prolific printmaker, though not as widely recognized by the general public as the creator of Nighthawks. Martin’s work is, however, popular in the market for themes that frequently parallel those admired by Hopper’s collectors. Specifically, the market tends to respond well to work depicting evocative urban environments and scenes of New York life in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s. An examination of some recent sales of work by Lewis illuminates a few of the qualities found in his oeuvre that are rewarded in the market.

In Study for Yorkville Night, a preparatory drawing for one of the artist’s numerous prints, figures gather around the pool of light emanating from a storefront below an elevated rail line. The work is executed in ink with apparent ink washes. It has a great range of tonality and developed figurative compositions within the scene. That being said, it does not have the level of detail that would be expected of a finished print by the same artist. This work sold for $13,750 at Heritage Auctions in May of 2018. This sale price was squarely in the house’s estimate range of $10,000 - $15,000, indicating a level of predictability about the market for Lewis’ drawings.

For comparison, the print produced after this drawing sold for $42,000 (over a high estimate of $35,000) a year prior in May of 2017. Previous sales of the same print image for $26,400 in 2008 and $35,000 in 2016 are indicative of increasing interest on the part of collectors in Lewis in general, his prints more specifically, and this image in particular. This intense interest appears to be mostly correlated to the artist’s prints and it is important to note that such enthusiasm does not always translate across media. When examining recent sales of Lewis’ drawings this is an important detail to be cognizant of.

One question arising from the comparison between the drawing and print sales of Yorkville Night is why would a drawing, which might be considered the more “original” of the two works, sell for so much less, especially at the same auction house? One potential answer to this is that Lewis is primarily known as a printmaker, so the market response will tend to be stronger for his “primary medium”. Another issue is that the drawing in question is almost certainly preparatory and therefore might be considered by some collectors to be an “unfinished” work. In the print, the artist’s intention for the final and complete work is evident. Therefore, it becomes the more desirable work even though it is a multiple. While this is not an uncommon phenomenon, it can be illustrated well in this case.

Variations between the auction and retail markets for Martin’s work are also important when considering varying levels of market response to his drawings. A Study for Yorkville Night is currently on offer in a retail setting at The Old Print Shop for $35,000. This retail price is roughly double and a half the auction price, which is common for a retail setting.

Importantly, a simpler Yorkville Night study executed in graphite and conté crayon is held in the venerable collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. So, the Study can rightly be called “museum-quality”, an often misused descriptor in the commercial art gallery setting.

Martin Lewis,  Study for Yorkville Night , ink and pencil on paper, 8.63" x 11.88", unsigned and undated Sold for $13,750 at Heritage Auctions (Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000)  Sale date: May 4, 2018, Lot #68185

Martin Lewis, Study for Yorkville Night, ink and pencil on paper, 8.63" x 11.88", unsigned and undated
Sold for $13,750 at Heritage Auctions (Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000)
Sale date: May 4, 2018, Lot #68185

Martin Lewis,  Yorkville Night , drypoint, 8.5” x11.5”, edition of 18, signed  Sold for $42,000 at Heritage Auctions (Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000)  Sale date: May 7, 2017, Lot #355 Same image sold in 2016 for $35,000, in 2008 for $26,400 It was also offered in 2001 and 2002 for estimates of $1,500 - $2,000 and was unsold both times via Swann

Martin Lewis, Yorkville Night, drypoint, 8.5” x11.5”, edition of 18, signed
Sold for $42,000 at Heritage Auctions (Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000)
Sale date: May 7, 2017, Lot #355
Same image sold in 2016 for $35,000, in 2008 for $26,400
It was also offered in 2001 and 2002 for estimates of $1,500 - $2,000 and was unsold both times via Swann

In another work, the undated watercolor On The Bridge, Lewis handles a daytime scene of commuters traversing a bridge. Like Yorkville Night, the work shows one of Lewis’ central themes: the interaction of figures within nakedly urban environments. This work is larger than the preparatory drawing for Yorkville Night and also considerably more “finished”, yet it sold for the same price ($13,750) just three days prior to the sale of Yorkville Night. Again, the reason for this seemingly surprising result might have to do with the expectations of collectors. Lewis is known for depicting rich dramas of New York night scenes. Daytime imagery is inherently less dramatic, and therefore potentially of less interest to the types of individuals who will vie for his work in the auction setting.

In this watercolor, the focal point of the scene is the atmosphere of the city highlighted between the girdered superstructure of the bridge. While the figures and architectural elements are finely described, the city beyond and the sky above are loose and gauzy. Because collectors tend to respond to Lewis’ prints and to works on paper that exude a strong use of line, a looser treatment would likely be less attractive to the core pool of buyers who help to drive sales results. It also is highly possible that the sale price of this work informed collector response to Yorkville Night, which again sold at Heritage Auctions three days later.

Martin Lewis,  On The Bridge , watercolor on paper, 17.75" x 20.75", signed and undated Sold for $13,750 at Doyle New York (Estimate: $10,000 - $20,000)  Sale date: May 1, 2018, Lot #133

Martin Lewis, On The Bridge, watercolor on paper, 17.75" x 20.75", signed and undated
Sold for $13,750 at Doyle New York (Estimate: $10,000 - $20,000)
Sale date: May 1, 2018, Lot #133

In yet another work on paper, a loose drawing titled Night Windows, an apartment building topped with a water tower is silhouetted in the misty twilight. This work furthers an understanding of Lewis’ process; from loose studies, to more refined drawings, to finished prints. This work is slightly smaller in scale than Study for Yorkville Night. It sold for $5,000 at Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers in 2018, down from a $5,760 sale price at Swann Galleries in 2009. This result shows a clear decline in value for this individual object. This decline appears to be rather unique to this object and its situation, as sales of other work by Lewis have tended to remain strong over time.

Another question that might come to mind is why would a drawing such as this lose value as other works by Lewis such as Yorkville Night rise in value? Again, the answer is almost certainly linked to collector expectations and desires. This work is quite loose and lacks the detailed description which tends to be rewarded. It is rather abstract and illustrates the artist’s process but not the finer details of his more complete works. There is also a great deal of competition in the marketplace, and high quality prints by Lewis become available in a variety of auction settings regularly. Competition rewards works of high quality and is less kind to works that are of less interest to passionate collectors.

It is important to note that this piece has even less “finish” than Study for Yorkville Night. It also has no clearly developed figures, which are often central to the artist’s most popular works. Although there is some evidence of a figure in one of the windows at lower left. Again, Lewis’ oeuvre is known for the presence of characters interacting in urban spaces. It is still a wonderful drawing in many ways, and again, a great indicator of the artist’s process. But as the sale price indicates, it is of less interest to the market than other works by the same artist.

Martin Lewis,  Night Windows , graphite on paper, 10.5” x 8”, unsigned and undated Sold for $5,000 at Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers (Estimate: $4,000 - $6,000)  Sale date: April 26, 2018, Lot #149  Same drawing sold for $5,760 in 2009 at Swann Galleries.

Martin Lewis, Night Windows, graphite on paper, 10.5” x 8”, unsigned and undated
Sold for $5,000 at Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers (Estimate: $4,000 - $6,000)
Sale date: April 26, 2018, Lot #149

Same drawing sold for $5,760 in 2009 at Swann Galleries.

Finally, in another drawing, New York Nocturne, the qualities that truly excite the market for Lewis’ drawings are very evident. The work, executed in charcoal around 1930, shows two figures on a street in New York. One person stands on the sidewalk while the other is prone. Both individuals are framed below the black underside of an awning. There is an element of mystery to the subject and it is not immediately evident whether these two men are friends stumbling home drunkenly from a bar, or whether one is a passerby stopping to glance at a homeless person asleep on the street.

The image bears a great deal of linear description that is architectural in quality. It also has a range of tonalities that describe the way in which street light and ambient moonlight affect facades within an urban setting. This treatment would likely be of great interest to the type of collectors that seek out, and pay high sums, for Lewis’ intricately detailed prints.

This work sold for $47,500 over an estimate of $10,000 - $15,000 at Swann Galleries in 2018. This illustrates that there can be interest in Lewis’ drawings equal to that of prints, when the drawing in question is of exceptional quality. Some of the positive attributes of the drawing in question are that of line, contrast, and narrative drama. All of these, and more, add up to a work that is naturally of great interest to serious collectors.

Martin Lewis,  New York Nocturne , charcoal on paper, 12.75" x 16.88", c. 1930, signed Sold for $47,500 at Swann Galleries (Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000)  Sale date: March 13, 2018, Lot #166

Martin Lewis, New York Nocturne, charcoal on paper, 12.75" x 16.88", c. 1930, signed
Sold for $47,500 at Swann Galleries (Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000)
Sale date: March 13, 2018, Lot #166

This brief examination of just five recent sales of works by Martin Lewis does not provide a complete picture of the market for his work more broadly, but illustrates some of the key issues that inform value in his drawings. Each of the works presented has their own unique qualities, but the market response to each was informed by the values of those in the market for such work at this time. Because most of the sales cited here took place in 2018, these few sales provide a snapshot of the diverse market attitudes that can exist at one time.

Lewis was a prolific artist in multiple media and his work comes up at auction regularly and is also readily available in the retail setting. The market for his work is strong, and the response of collectors to the variety of his production is fascinating. Many artists of Lewis’ generation are not as well represented in the marketplace. Still others, such as Hopper, are much more widely known and more well publicized than Lewis. Generational peers are not always equal in the market. Collectors do truly tend to look at artists and artworks with deeply individualized values and opinions.

This post should serve to aid in broadening a better understanding of some basic market opinions about one specific artist during a singular time period. With a better understanding of how the market reacts to work like these by Lewis, collectors, dealers, and even living artists become more informed and more ready to deal with the realities of the current market for fine art.

Rhode Island Artist Survey 2019

This year, I am conducting a survey of artists based in Rhode Island in order to learn more about the market for works of fine art by local artists. This survey is anonymous and takes just three minutes to complete. If you are an artist based in Rhode Island, please consider taking my survey to help me form a more accurate image of the realities of our regional marketplace. This brief questionnaire seeks to gauge price points, sales, and strengths and weaknesses of the market from the eyes of artists.

This survey will be available through February 28 and, should enough artists participate, I will post the results with analysis here on my blog at michaelrosefineart.com. You can click the button below to head to the survey:

New Ways to Connect with Michael Rose Fine Art

I’m excited to share a few new ways you can connect with me if you would like to learn more about my newest classes and workshops as well as learn more about appraisals and advising.

I recently joined Fiverr, where I will be offering select writing and editing services as well as digital portfolio reviews. I realize that many artists feel intimidated at the prospect of engaging with a consultant, and through low-priced single project gigs on Fiverr, I hope I can make these services more affordable and more widely available.

I also created a professional Facebook business page to accompany this website as a place to follow what projects I am working on and learn more about my services. I will also be sharing art news and information on my new professional Twitter @michaelroseart.

Additionally, I have joined Pinterest and will be adding to art-related boards. Follow me on this platform for some fun and casual inspiration.

And finally, you can always add me on my Instagram, or join my email list to receive my quarterly e-newsletter update.

Thank you for following along!
Michael

Ten Questions with Michelle Benoit

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Michelle Benoit is a contemporary artist based in Rhode Island who utilizes translucent and toned Lucite to create minimal and enticing forms. She holds a BFA from Rhode Island College and earned her MA and MFA at the University of Iowa. Michelle’s artwork rewards extended looks and deep consideration. In the following ten questions we talk about her work, process, and more. Read our conversation and explore Michelle’s work on her website or her Instagram. Her work can be found at Memorial Sloan Kettering, the University of Iowa Museum, and in numerous private collections. She has exhibited widely and is represented by galleries in Scottsdale, Philadelphia, New York, Frankfurt, and Milan. She recently was the subject of a wonderful show at AS220 in Providence, RI and is now featured in the exhibition Object/Subject: Two Voices at Margaret Thatcher Projects in New York through October 13.


Q1. Can you talk about how you get started on a piece? Do you create preliminary sketches or studies, or what other preparation is involved?

A1. I purchase and occasionally collect scraps of Lucite. So the compositions have to conform to the size, shape and availability of the remnants. After we cut the components I work with the materials for a bit, stacking, looking at how the shapes receive light, and the various possibilities.  From here I often sketch out ideas of what the possibilities could be once I adhere and re-cut the shapes. I respond to the material throughout the process and there is always an element of the unexpected.

Q2: Your work has a feeling of precision. Do you consider your process precise or is there an element of spontaneity?

A2. I have discovered that this material is entirely unforgiving. So there is a certain amount of exactness that has to happen while cutting and clamping the work, so that the piece can withstand the continued cutting in addition to retaining the applied color. I intentionally never really know what the work will look like and always respond to a work when it is uncovered from the clamps. It is on very rare occasion that the work does not need further manipulation either by additive, subtractive or both processes.

Q3. Color plays an important role in your work. Can you speak more to your palate and how you select colors for your work?

A3. Color is symbolic of time for me. For this exhibition Laminae, I have chosen colors from my childhood bedroom. During graduate school I had found old fabric from curtains that we had sewn when I was quite young. I also chiseled into the walls to reveal the layers of colors over the years and applied an adhesive to these things and peeled them away, the colors absorbed permanently in the glue. The color in this exhibition is extracted from that time there with my sisters and those that were there before us.

Q4. Though there are clear differences, your work is reminiscent of the colorfield paintings of Mark Rothko, who you have cited as an influence. Can you discuss how Rothko or other artists have impacted your work and how you seek to change or improve upon his or other artists' ideas?

A4. For me there is an extremely powerful exchange of energy when in the presence of a Rothko painting. I think to some extent there is an element of silence that allows for this reciprocity to be initiated. While I could never hope to improve on what he has accomplished, I can collect fragments of my life through color and give them a shape to see what it looks like.

Q5. Your work references time, memory, spacial experience, and other topics. What, if any, advice do you have for audiences looking at your work on how to view it, and how to engage with it?

A5. I have been working on a diagrammatic drawing of a personal color symbolism. It is fluid and an ongoing project which may have various iterations in future exhibitions. But for now, I can hope that something in the work would give pause, or slow time for just a moment to evoke consideration from the viewer.

Q6. You exhibit widely and have international gallery representation including in New York, Frankfurt, and Milan. What advice might you give emerging makers looking to develop their own careers as exhibiting artists?

A6. I highly recommend taking advantage of social media. If you are persistent you can expose your work internationally, finding your audience. I have also made great connections with other artists that I otherwise would not have.

Q7: Your work tends to be more intimately scaled. Can you speak more to the size of your works and how you find the right scale?

A7. Much of my work is determined by the size of the fragments that I buy. Additionally the intimacy of small scale works is always something that I am drawn to. A goal is to attempt to, catch and redirect light with these materials. To some extent I can only work to the scale of my current tools and the fragments that I buy. But I do have ideas and some sketches for larger works that I am looking forward to having a bit of time to start experimenting with these thoughts. I hope to merge the intimacy often found in  small scale works to the experience that seems to happen with larger scale artwork. This may be impossible, but it is something that I am working on.

Q8. You have a large following on social media including over 7,000 followers on Instagram (@michelle.benoit). Does this impact your practice or influence the way your engage with new peers, gallerists, or potential collectors?

A8. I am working in the studio seven days a week do to prior commitments with galleries. Additionally we are restoring our 18th Century farmhouse while we are living in it. So I have very little free time lately. I often use Instagram to get some much needed separation from the work and also some feedback. Conversations with collectors can be very different than those with my peers.

Q9: Can you share the process behind preparing for your recent show at AS220? Was all the work made specifically for this exhibition, how long have you been working on this show, and are there any other details you might like to share?

A9. The AS220 opportunity came up just a few weeks before the exhibition. I had signed up to show at the Project Space about 3 or 4 years ago and remember a pretty long waiting list.  My show ‘Laminae’ was happening at McKenzie Fine Arts in NYC and I was working on new pieces for my exhibition at Margaret Thatcher Projects. Because I was working under the same continued theme I combined a selection of works from each exhibition for the AS220 show. It took about a year to make all of the work for this show.

Q10: What forthcoming projects are you most excited about? What's next for you? 

A10. Currently I am working on my solo exhibition at Morotti Arte Contemporanea, in Milan Italy for November so of course I am excited about this.  I was recently invited to a group exhibition at the college of William and Mary that is part of an interdisciplinary research project with the neuroscience department. The group of artists that I will be showing with are pretty fantastic and I am just really ecstatic that a connection was made between my work and a project in neuroscience. And I am very excited about my show Object/Subject:Two Voices with Kevin Finklea at Margaret Thatcher Projects. This show runs through October 13th.

You can learn more about Michelle at her website, michellebenoit.net.

Five Must-Read Art Business Articles for August 2018

August tends to be a slow time throughout the art market, but there were some interesting stories in the news nonetheless. From the changing strategies of galleries and dealers in the face of new market realities, to a couple of interesting Old Master issues, there is a lot to learn about both old and new in the field. Read on to see links to this month's five selected top stories along with short blurbs to accompany them.

  1. David Zwirner appoints curator-cum-Instagram-influencer as its first online sales director—why?
    by Margaret Carrigan via the The Art Newspaper (August 3)
    Carrigan explores the Zwirner's decision to add Elena Soboleva, a self-described "curator, innovator and global art adventurer" to head their online sales. Zwirner is one of the largest galleries in the world, and has seen a huge increase in sales via online in recent months. As they look to corner this market and improve on their strategies in the space, it made sense to reach out to an expert with a following of her own. This posting is likely a harbinger of changes to come at other galleries looking to bolster their digital footprint.

     
  2. Sotheby’s Posts $57.3 M. Net Income for Second Quarter of 2018, Down 26 Percent from Same Period Last Year
    by Annie Armstrong via Art News (August 6)
    Although overall, Sotheby's saw a steep decline in income from the same period last year, company officials pointed to a bookkeeping issues related to Asian sales to underscore that overall sales remained strong. In Asia, sales were actually up 15% overall which points to the future of the market to some extent. The financial health and sales strength of leading auctioneers like Sotheby's, Christie's, etc. is indicative of the broader condition of the market.
     
  3. The Strategies Art Dealers Use to Discount Artists’ Work
    by Anna Louie Sussman via Artsy (August 20)
    Discounts are a regularly used tactic throughout the gallery market and one that remains controversial. Many good collectors insist on discounts while artists tend to push back against them. Sussman's article does a great job of bringing together a nice array of sources in different positions in the field to learn more about strategies behind this practice as well as opinions of it. A great read for artists and gallery professionals alike.
     

  4. Italy Revokes Export License for Frick Collection’s First Painting Acquisition in Decades
    by Staff via Artforum (August 24)
    The Frick Collection, one of the great private-turned-public collections in the world, recently made its first painting acquisition in years. Now this purchase of a full length portrait of Prince Camillo Borghese by François Gérard is in jeopardy as the Roman culture ministry responsible for approving export permits has reneged on its initial 'ok' on the grounds that the gallery where the painting was purchased did not fully complete their paperwork and left out important details about the piece. This is a great illustration of just one of many potential pitfalls of acquiring Old Masters in Europe and it will be an important story to follow especially if it heads to arbitration in the Italian courts.
     

  5. A large Artemisia Gentileschi painting is coming to auction for the first time ever.
    by Benjamin Sutton via Artsy (August 28)
    Gentileschi is one of the great women artists of the Baroque period, and has seen a renaissance in interest over the last decade or so. The Dorotheum, the great Viennese auction house, will offer a painting of Lucretia by the artist featuring a pre-sale estimate with a high end over $800,000. Of course compared to other Old Master pictures this may not seem like a huge sum but it is significant. Sutton notes that the National Portrait Gallery acquired a self portrait of the artist as Saint Catherine last month for over $4millon. Lucretia will be sold at auction for the first time on October 23 after more than a century in a private collection. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts.

Martin Puryear is Perfect for The Venice Biennale

The Trump Administration's tardiness in announcing which American artist would represent the United States at the forthcoming 2019 Venice Biennale was incredibly unusual. And it lead some to speculate that partisan officials were plotting to push the selection of an artist who would exhibit work that represented Trump at the expense of artistic quality. Thankfully, that was not the case and a few days ago it was announced that Martin Puryear would create new pieces for the United States Pavilion at one of the most important events in the international art world. Puryear is in many ways the perfect choice to represent the United States in 2019, with a decades-long body of work that is an effective  foil to the Trumpian zeitgeist.

The 77-year-old Puryear, a native of Washington DC, earned his undergraduate degree in Fine Art from the Catholic University of America in 1963 and holds an MFA from Yale. He served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts as well. He has been featured in the Whitney Biennial three times. MoMA, SFMoMA, MoMA Fort Worth, and the National Gallery collaborated on a traveling retrospective of his work. The recipient of both a MacArthur "Genius Grant" and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, Puryear received the Gold Medal in Sculpture from the National Academy of Arts in 2007. He was awarded the country's highest honor for artists, the National Medal of Arts, in 2011 by President Obama. In short, Martin Puryear has the pedigree of an artist who should be featured at the Venice Biennale.

Puryear is also multi-talented. He is primarily a sculptor, but has also created furniture, tools, and other non-art objects. His work is often large scale and regularly commissioned for the public sphere. In 2014 he unveiled his Slavery Memorial on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The work takes the form of a half-buried ball and chain. The ball emerges from the ground as a bronze dome with a chain jutting towards the sky where it terminates in a broken link. At the breakage, the chain is polished to a mirror finish, reflecting the sky and trees above. On a granite plinth nearby, a plaque displays a text remarking on the ways in which Brown University profited from the international slave trade and the unpaid labor of Africans and African-Americans. It is an incisive and moving piece that calls to account for historic wrongs committed by the University that commissioned it.

Brown University Slavery Memorial , Photo via Brown Univeristy by Warren Jagger

Brown University Slavery Memorial, Photo via Brown Univeristy by Warren Jagger

Puryear is an artist who is not only concerned with the conceptual, but also with the craft involved in making objects. As a result, his work is often both formally and conceptually complex. His large scale sculptures have an inkling of abstraction but also reveal narratives that reflect the real world. One of his most notable works, Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996), shows his dedication to craft and thoughtful construction as well as his interest in history, politics, and sociology. The piece is a dramatically foreshortened and abstracted ladder that appears to recede into the far distance. It was constructed utilizing a single ash sapling hewed from Puryear's own New York property. The sapling was split precisely down the center and connected with maple rungs. Although it is essentially an abstraction, Puryear's Ladder is also a highly familiar and recognizable object. And it tells a story, too.

Ladder for Booker T. Washington,  wood (ash and maple), 1996,  The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Ladder for Booker T. Washington, wood (ash and maple), 1996, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Booker T. Washington  was one of the most prominent thinkers of his generation. An advisor to Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, Washington advocated for African-Americans in a variety of ways but suggested that through industrious pursuits they could improve their own opportunities in the United States. This idea made him the intellectual counterbalance to other intellectuals like W.E.B. Dubois, who sought political routes and protested to broaden civil rights for African-Americans. Puryear's Ladder for Booker T. Washington suggests the winding road of progress that comes with proposed self-improvement. It also reflects the idea of the sometimes-apocryphal "American Dream" in which raising one's own status through labor and entrepreneurship would allow for a rise up the societal ladder.

In this piece, Puryear punctures Washington's arguments by suggesting the fraught nature of self-improvement for groups of people who are systematically disadvantaged by the political structures of their society. Puryear ironically utilizes his own skills and industriousness to undermine the idea that these qualities alone can change the course of an individual life. The work is quintessentially American and plays on many preconceptions about American life. It is a great expression, not only of an idea about African-American history, but also of the experience of a broad swath of the American public. It successfully combines craft and concept to educate and inform viewers.

In another large scultpure, Big Phrygian (2010 - 2014), exhibited at Matthew Marks Gallery in 2015, Puryear uses painted red cedar to created a monolithic version of the Phrygian Cap which was worn historically to denote liberation. During the French Revolution les sans-culottes often donned le bonnet rouge as an additional sartorial statement of their ardor for liberté. The use of such headgear to mark free men in the eighteenth century is likely a bastardization of the pileus, another type of hat, which in antiquity was the sign of a manumitted slave. Re-contextualized for the American scene, Puryear's Phrygian suggests the incomplete work towards emancipation, justice, and a liberal society. Through this comparison between American democracy, Revolutionary France, and their ancient antecedents, Puryear comments on the veracity of claims about American exceptionalism. His cap is impractically enormous, not meant to don a head, but to demarcate space.

Big Phrygian , painted red cedar, 2010-2014,  Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD

Big Phrygian, painted red cedar, 2010-2014, Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD

For both his exceptional skill and his exquisite use of sculptural craft to evoke American historical and political realities, Puryear is not only a justly respected American artist, he is a fantastic choice to represent his fellow Americans in Venice. He will also be the second consecutive African-American artist to be featured in the Biennale's United States Pavilion. It is fitting, too, that his work in Venice will be commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which recently collaborated with Puryear on his Big Bling installation. The Park's Deputy Director and Senior Curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport will spearhead the project, representing New York's cosmopolitan tastes on a global stage.

Madison Square Park was notably the site of the installation of the Statue of Liberty's flame bearing arm from 1876 - 1882 as fundraisers sought to publicize the donation of the sculpture from the French in order to pay for its base. It is appropriate that in our current political climate, a craftsman, an African-American, an artist who has commented on the American experience through his work, should show the world what Americans are thinking and making now. And it is interesting that the patron of this work will be New York City, one of our nation's most open, most liberal, most international metropolises.

Whatever Puryear creates for the 2019 Venice Biennale will bear the mark of his singular sculptural acumen, and it will also certainly share the very best of American culture with our neighbors around the world.

 

Additional Resources to Learn about Martin Puryear:

Looking at George Wesley Bellows' Pennsylvania Excavation

In 1907, the construction of Pennsylvania Station was well underway in the heart of Manhattan. A vast swath of Midtown was razed to make way for a huge Beaux-Arts rail hub that would connect New York to the rest of the United States and cement the city’s place as the most significant metropolis in the country. George Wesley Bellows was in his mid-twenties in 1907 and, having studied under Robert Henri at the New York School of Art, was a member of the contemporary art movement known as the Ashcan School. Along with artists like Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, Williams Glackens, and others, Bellows explored the urban life of New York City in a raw realist style. The construction of Pennsylvania Station, as an exemplar of the continued, complicated ascent of New York, was a source of inspiration for Bellows and other Ashcan painters. In his 1907 painting Pennsylvania Excavation (gifted to the Smith College Museum of Art in 2010 by 1960 Smith graduate Mary Gordon Roberts), Bellows paints the scene with incisive honesty and, in doing so, expresses the urban condition at the turn of the century.

George Wesley Bellows,   Pennsylvania Excavation  , oil on canvas, 1907,  Smith College Museum of Art

George Wesley Bellows, Pennsylvania Excavation, oil on canvas, 1907, Smith College Museum of Art

In Bellows' image, the void that will make way for the great Station is all-consuming; its enormity accentuated by the minuteness of two figures and a steam shovel in the foreground. The figures are workmen, laborers whose toil will bring about one of the technological and architectural marvels of the twentieth century. But in the face of the project they are dwarfed by empty space seemingly at the fringe of civilization. In the distance the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan stand, not as glittering idols but as a lifeless wall of gray. Progress is not always pretty. And here, progress comes in the form of a barren canyon buried under snow and soot. The promise of modern life is reduced to a bleak and colorless wasteland.

Detail of the Manhattan Skyline in Bellows'  Excavation

Detail of the Manhattan Skyline in Bellows' Excavation

The composition of the scene is a stone's throw from Bruegel's Harvesters. In both images the land and the work associated with it are visually insurmountable, outscaling the humans tasked to them. In Bellows' New York, Breugel's peasantry is replaced by the proletariat. For Bellows, urban life was not a subject to be idealized, but one to be shared in order to express truth. Realism would elucidate reality, and in doing so share a new verity: the lived experience city dwellers in the United States at the tail end of the Gilded Age. As cities became the center of American culture, they also became flashpoints for the massive inequality that afflicted American society.

Formally, the painting mirrors its Renaissance antecedent while at the same time pushing the boundaries of representational painting. Bellows borrows the atmospherics of Turner and the central chasm becomes a rugged abstraction, an expression of the chaos of the place and time depicted. Paint is dashed on and carved out in a grisaille of destruction and construction. As changes come to the extensive work site, the city is also transformed. The station that would rise from the rubble of a vibrant neighborhood would become a landmark of elegant modernity. Bellows depicts this decisive moment with gritty realness and thereby shares the truth of progress: that it is messy and comes with great difficulty.

Detail of workers and steam shovel from the foreground of Bellows'  Excavation

Detail of workers and steam shovel from the foreground of Bellows' Excavation

Pennsylvania Excavation is a fine example of Bellows' work and an insightful piece from the Ashcan School, a movement that was uniquely New York in its founding and uniquely American in its scope. In paintings like Bellows', he and his contemporaries explored the truth of the American scene in the early part of the twentieth century and the innumerable ways in which average people would shape the national identity. Through images of urban development and redevelopment with zealous actuality, Bellows and his peers created a movement that expressed the experience of a nation increasingly centered around its cities and their growth.

More than one hundred years on from Pennsylvania Excavation, the original Penn Station has long been demolished and replaced. The life of the city and the country has gone on. But in the early part of the twenty first century, as American populations shift back to city centers and metropolitan life, there is still much to be learned from the urban realism of Bellows and the Ashcan School.

Five Must-Read Art Business Articles for July 2018

In this second installment of what will hopefully be an ongoing series, I outline my five must-read art business articles for the month of July. This month it was very tough to narrow down the five articles I selected. With issues as varied as Brexit, Holocaust Restitution, Copyright Law and other details in the news, I picked a few pieces that I felt covered issues of key concern to a broad audience. There is so much incredible arts journalism being written right now, so be sure to follow these links and explore other stories that interest you.

  1. Ending a Seven-Year Dispute, a US Court Rules That Artists Aren’t Entitled to Royalties for Artworks Resold at Auction
    by Eileen Kinsella via artnet (July 9)
    Kinsella was one of the first journalists to break the news that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down a California state law, the 1977 California Resale Royalties Act (CRRA). The law had required fine artists to be paid royalties of 5% when their work is resold. The court ruled that the statute was pre-empted by the Federal Copyright Act, which does not provide for resale loyalties to artists. This is a blow to artists whose works sell for high values in the secondary market after leaving their studios.
     
  2. 19th Century Women Artists Get Overdue Recognition—Will Their Market Follow?
    by David D'Arcy via the New York Observer (July 18)
    This piece examines the ascendancy of 19th Century women artists in recent scholarship and exhibitions and questions whether the market for such works, which has often been rather soft, can gain interest to match the renewed energy in the institutional sector. D'Arcy provides a review of the Women in Paris exhibition now on view at The Clark in Western Massachusetts and includes a few market examples. The market for these artists will be interesting to follow going forward.
     

  3. The End of Exhibitions? As Attendance Plummets, New York Dealers Are Scrambling to Secure the Future of the Art Gallery by Rachel Corbett via artnet (July 18)
    Corbett outlines what people in the gallery business have known for some time, which is that gallery attendance is on the decline across the board. As individuals seek out new and varied venues for seeing and purchasing works of art, the gallery exhibition seems to be increasingly less relevant. This fact precipitated the inaugural Chelsea Arts Walk, which offered visitors after hours visits with thirty members of the ADAA. This article indicates some of the tactics galleries are using to resurrect their practice; ideas of relevance to those working in every part of the sector.
     

  4. Christie's Sales Soar in Strong Art Market
    by Kelly Crow via The Wall Street Journal (July 24)
    Crow is one of the best market analysts working today. In this piece she breaks down Christie's central role in the current market and their astounding success in the first half of 2018. Perhaps most notably, Christie's online-only sales rose nearly 50% to $37.7million. The overall success of Christie's first six months of 2018 was helped in no small part by the once in a lifetime auction of the David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection which made up a fifth of their total revenue for the period. Their sales though, along with competitor Sotheby's, indicate that the market conitues to be going strong.
     

  5. How Leo Castelli Changed The Art Market Forever
    by Nate Freeman via Artsy (July 31)
    This great profile by Nate Freeman gives a very accessible introduction to the story behind one of the most legendary art dealers of all time: Leo Castelli. Through his eponymous gallery, Castelli not only shaped the careers of many American artists in the mid twentieth century but also laid the groundwork for the commercial gallery model that exists, almost unchanged, today. Without Leo Castelli, there would never have been a Larry Gagosian.

How To Champion Emerging Artists in Three Easy Steps

The term “emerging artist” is easily one of the most overused and least understood in the art world. Essentially, an emerging artist is one whose career is in its earlier stages. The first few years of an artist's career are crucial to success in a variety of ways. This is the period when an artist will make important connections, begin to define their personal brand, and lay the groundwork for the rest of their professional life.

These years can take place at any point in an artist’s lifetime. There are artists who emerge at 22 and there are artists who are considered emerging at 75. Artists whose careers are just beginning can, and I do emphasize can, be a great investment too. But they can also be an enormous risk. Their work is unproven in the marketplace, and early sales may not be indicative of longevity or retained value over time.

Regardless of the investment quality of work by emerging artists, these individuals deserve support, guidance, and recognition. Younger emerging artists will be the next generation of the artistic community, so championing them and their work helps to build the future of the visual arts.

For those who are interested in art and interested in supporting artists at the start of there career, here are three easy ways to do so:

1. Buy Their Work

The best way to support an emerging artist, or any artist for that matter, is a simple one. Buy their work. This does not mean that you have to make a sizeable financial investment in their practice. It is acceptable to ask what works they have in accessible price points, and a purchase at any price provides them with funds to continue making art and living their life. You might also commission them for a special project or buy a series of smaller pieces over an extended period of time. Financial support is fundamental to an artist's success.

2. Encourage Them

If you do not have the funds or the wall space to purchase work from an artist, consider providing encouragement and support in non-monetary ways. Show up at their exhibitions, leave a kind comment, let them know their work is impactful to you. Pass along opportunities for grants, residencies, commissions, and other projects they may be a good fit for. Thank the gallerists who exhibit their work. In short, become an advocate for their success.

3. Tell people about them

Use your network to promote the work of your preferred emerging artists.  Share their art and exhibitions with your friends on social media, host a gathering in their honor, introduce them to your circle. Show people their work. Borrow a couple of their paintings to highlight in your office or business. So many sales of fine art are the result of extensive networking and artists only have so many venues to meet new people. You can support emerging artists by spreading the word about them and helping them to built their base of fans and followers.

These are just three of many ways you might support emerging artists, but they also easily apply to art makers at any stage of their career. Talk to artists and work with them. Find out where your support will be most effective. Artists cannot succeed in a vacuum. They require supporters, patrons, and a community of people to encourage their continued creative endeavors. To learn more about building and managing your collection, visit my advisory services page, or if you are an artist who needs guidance, visit my creative services page.

Image in header: Students painting at the Art League School, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Five Must-Read Art Business Articles for June 2018

Artists, collectors, and people interested in art often ask me for good venues to learn more about art business and the art market. There are so many great publications and blogs to follow it can be tough to keep up. So, I will be putting together a curated reading list each month to help highlight some of the key stories related to the business of making and selling fine art. This month's listing includes stories on the financial perils of being an artist and insights into the auction and gallery business. I hope you might keep an eye out at the end of each month as I share must-read articles to keep you apprised of the goings on in the art world.

  1. Advice for Artists on How to Make a Living—When Selling Art Doesn’t Pay the Bills
    by Carroll Michels via Artsy (June 25)
    In this excerpt from her popular book How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist, Seventh Edition, published recently as an editorial on Artsy, Michels expertly outlines different career options for artists to help supplement their creative work. The majority of working artists do not make their entire living from their work, so this is especially timely and helpful.
     
  2. Artists Support Themselves Through Freelance Work and Don’t Find Galleries Especially Helpful, New Study Says by Benjamin Sutton via Hyperallergic (June 14)
    Benjamin Sutton does a great job in this article of breaking down a recent study from the Creative Independent on how artists support themselves. The findings are quite interesting, if not totally surprising. One important note I do not think Sutton mentions though, is that the majority of respondents to the survey were younger artists in the early part of their career. This likely influenced the results.
     

  3. Cheim and Read, Storied New York Gallery, Will Close Its Chelsea Space After 21 Years and Transition to ‘Private Practice’ by Eileen Kinsella via artnet (June 28)
    As shakeups in the commercial gallery market continue, news broke this week that New Yorks' Cheim and Read would close its Chelsea gallery space, move uptown, and shift to a private practice model. Kinsella's article provides some excellent background analysis on Cheim and Read, and gives some insights into the change, which is indicative of larger movements in the marketplace.
     

  4. Why Guarantees Are Actually Good for the Art Market
    by Doug Woodham via Artsy (June 28)
    In this article, Doug Woodham does a wonderful job of explaining the sometimes obscure process by which major auction houses offer guarantees to consignors. He breaks down the issue giving some very interesting real world examples, highlighting the differences between house guarantees and third party guarantees. This is a useful piece to read for those interested in learning more about the functionality of the auction marketplace.
     

  5. Meet the entrepreneurs catering to fresh crop of digitally-savvy art collectors
    by Isabel Togoh via The Irish Independent (June 24)
    This piece covers the incredible rise of Unit London, a gallery in London run by two entrepreneurs in their late 20's. Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt founded their first space in 2013 and just this week moved into a new 6,000 square foot permanent home in London's Mayfair district. These young gallerists have built an international following for their artists and have utilized social media to make their gallery accessible to a broader range of potential collectors. They are a bright spot in the gallery market and their story provides some solid insights for other gallerists on how to do business.

Why Teach Art History?

I recently finished teaching my first session of a new eight week lecture style class I developed for the Providence Art Club: Art History & Appreciation. I proposed the class because I genuinely believe that a good grounding in the basic history of art can go a long way in helping individuals to develop better connoisseurship skills. It was the first time such a class was offered at the Club and I hoped it would garner enough interest to get the ten or so students needed to run it. Nearly forty students signed up. Over eight weeks, and nearly 300 slides, we covered everything from the Cave Paintings of Lascaux to the use of art in Beyoncé and Jay-Z's new music video. It was a great experience for me as a teacher. And a great reminder to me of the incredible value of art history.

Regularly ranked as one of the least useful, least marketable, least valuable college majors, art history is often used as shorthand for a wasteful course of study. Mocked even by then President Barack Obama, who in 2014 reminded an audience that you can often make more money from a career in a skilled trade than as an art historian. Art historians are portrayed as alternatively icy, stodgy, and elitist in the popular culture. In spite of the negativity surrounding the discipline, it still draws in students at all levels. But what value does it actually have?

Still from the 2003 film  Mona Lisa Smile , about a professor who uses art history to challenge her students assumptions at the conservative Wellesley College of the 1950s, starring Julia Roberts.

Still from the 2003 film Mona Lisa Smile, about a professor who uses art history to challenge her students assumptions at the conservative Wellesley College of the 1950s, starring Julia Roberts.

The study of works of art is not just about determining whether a painting is by Bruegel or Bacon. First and foremost, art history has power to create empathy and lead to a better understanding of and appreciation for cultures, traditions, and beliefs other than one's own. Art history also builds remarkable analytical and writing skills, born out of the thoughtful consideration of the historical context for a work and paired with a dedicated examination of the object in question. Additionally, studying artworks builds the skills needed to critically process the ever-broadening flow of visual media that comes with contemporary life. In short, studying art history enables closer looking and deeper thinking.

They say that "history is another country", and that although there may be vague commonalities between historic cultures and today's world, it can be difficult for modern audiences to ever truly understand the motivations, attitudes, and values of people living in England during the sixteenth century, or in France during the eighteenth. But through looking at, and deeply examining, the exacting portraits of Tudor courtiers or the lush paintings of the French Rococo it might be possible to gain a better footing in these foreign worlds. And in the process to also hopefully learn something about abuse of power, or despotism, or revolution. More than the rote collecting of facts or points of view, art history stokes continued curiosity about the subjects, techniques, philosophies, and personalities that have shaped visual culture and history. It enables viewers to explore and question the world around them, and to do so with a critical eye.

Teaching Art History & Appreciation reminded me of all the reasons I love this discipline. The skills developed through looking at works of art are easily transferred to the examination of other media. Honing one's eye on great works of art cultivates stronger cross-disciplinary understanding of architecture, film, and design. Talking students through the history of art helped me to better develop my own capacity to see these and other connections, to understand them, and to share them passionately and accessibly with my students.

One of my favorite quotes about education is attributed to Plutarch and goes something like "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." In teaching Art History & Appreciation, I had a great opportunity to reflect on the capacity of art history to motivate curiosity and connoisseurship in contemporary viewers and collectors. By walking my students through the history of art, I think and hope that I inspired a better appreciation for the rich complexities of the artworks of the past as well as a better ability to read and understand artworks of the present. At the end of the last class one of my students came up and said that the course had "lit a spark" in her and inspired a more keen interest in art history. I guess then, according to Plutarch at least, I did a decent job.

I'm looking forward to teach Art History & Appreciation again in the future, and am currently writing the syllabus for a followup class on Modern and Contemporary Art. For more information on my teaching projects, visit my Speaking & Teaching page.

The Genius of Beyoncé and Jay-Z at the Louvre

A detail from The Carters'  Apeshit  music video directed by Ricky Saiz, 2018

A detail from The Carters' Apeshit music video directed by Ricky Saiz, 2018

On Saturday, Beyoncé and Jay-Z released a surprise new album, Everything is Love, on Tidal the streaming service they co-own. The first music video for the album accompanies the single Apeshit and was released under the duo's co-moniker The Carters. The video was filmed entirely at the Louvre and was directed by Ricky Saiz, who previously collaborated with Beyoncé on the video for her track Yoncé. The new video, shared with unwitting fans via Instagram on Saturday afternoon, has over seven million views as of this writing (a little more than 24 hours after release). It features Beyoncé and Jay-Z in the empty Louvre Museum; perhaps the greatest bastion of so-called "high culture", and also the center of the predominantly white and male tradition of Western Art. The Apeshit video is stunningly styled, choreographed, and filmed. And it is also highly conceptual. It takes part in an ongoing tradition of celebrities engaging with high art, it places the uniquely American art form of rap on the same level with European masterpieces, and it corrects the lack of diversity that is often taken for granted in cultural institutions, not only in the Old World, but in the New as well.

The video opens with a cinematic shot of a black figure with angel wings standing guard outside the Louvre by night; bells chiming in the distance. It then transitions inside the museum with lavishly gilt interiors appropriate to a former palace and details of fine European paintings. In the next scene Beyoncé and Jay-Z are pictured dramatically standing alongside La Jaconde, The Mona Lisa. Jay-Z wears a pale teal suit with a gold medallion, Beyoncé is in a pink silk smoking jacket, richly accessorized with diamonds. They are presented one-to-one with the best known portrait in Western Art, equaling it in regality. The scene is also a reference to their viral photo shoot at the Museum in 2014, in which they also took a photo alongside Da Vinci's most famous painting. In both scenes they are compared directly to their painted co-star. They, like she, stare out at the viewer. They too, are iconic. And The Carters, like The Mona Lisa, are celebrities with far reaching influence.

George Clooney, a la Yayoi Kusama,  W Magazine , 2013

George Clooney, a la Yayoi Kusama, W Magazine, 2013

Other celebrities, too, have engaged with the art world. The painter Will Cotton was the artistic director for Katy Perry's California Gurls music video in 2010. George Clooney was styled by the Japanese conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama for a W Magazine spread in 2013. John Currin was commissioned to paint a portrait of Jennifer Lawrence for the cover of Vogue's 125th Anniversary Issue in 2017. Louis Vuitton created a line of bags designed with Jeff Koons that feature paintings by Rubens, Monet, and others. The list goes on. Celebrities and luxury brands regularly utilize blue chip artists in their own projects both to establish their cultural bona fides and also to raise the cachet of their own brands. In the case of The Carters, the hallowed halls of the Louvre and the paintings within it become not a sales pitch, but rather a backdrop for an effective performance about culture and race that undermines traditional assumptions about art, the vagueries of high versus low culture, and the institutions that broker mass interpretations of these topics.

Whereas the media of the artworks presented in the video are sculptures and oils, the media of the performers are hip-hop and dance. The uniqueness of hip-hop, rap, and their associated dance styles can be traced back to their foundations in The Bronx of the 1970's, and other mostly African-American enclaves in cities throughout the United States. The Carters' merging of this American musical tradition with the Parisian art establishment is reminiscent in so many ways of Jazz Age ex-patriotism, when American-American Jazz singer, dancer, and performer Josephine Baker rose to spectacular popularity in the Paris of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. Beyoncé and Jay-Z are interested in the unique history of African-American performers in France, and engage with that story in the video. Like Baker, their cultural prominence abroad has been achieved not through the avenues of the establishment but through a mass popularity built on the currency of their own work. Lyrics in Apeshit directly reference their popularity and success:

I can't believe we made it (this is what we made, made)
This is what we're thankful for (this is what we thank, thank)
I can't believe we made it (this a different angle)
Have you ever seen the crowd goin' apeshit? Rah!

This popularity comes from a broad and diverse fan-base, which has already raised ecstatic support for their new album and the Apeshit video. Throughout the already viral video, the iconic American music duo is presented as equal to not only The Mona Lisa, but also to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Egyptian Pharonic sculpture. Beyoncé and Jay-Z perform as art historical subjects with the same gravitas afforded to the works of art they reference. Dancers perform too, alongside Beyoncé in front of works from the academic canon of art history, including Jacques Louis David's The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine, while Jay-Z raps in front of Gericault's Raft of the Medusa. The mostly white faces of art history are contrasted with contemporary African-American artists. Rigid paintings by dead painters are challenged and redefined by rap and the ecstatic movement of individuals who are very much alive. And importantly, this redefinition is undertaken utilizing African-American music and choreography, with a cast made up of people of color. People who have been mostly left out of institutions like the Louvre, as evidenced by the artworks scanned in the video, claim their rightful place in the cultural pantheon.

Beyoncé (center) accompanied by dancers, performs in front of Jacques-Louis David's monumental painting  The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine , 1807

Beyoncé (center) accompanied by dancers, performs in front of Jacques-Louis David's monumental painting The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine, 1807

Through performance in the Louvre and amongst works deemed "important" by the art establishment The Carters remind the viewer of their own cultural import, which comes not institutionally but communally. Beyoncé and Jay-Z are clearly and unarguably cultural leaders in their own right, and have been for some time. They have millions of followers around the world and, in a reference to the current political climate, they note that they fill stadiums as successfully as the NFL. So the Apeshit video is more of a statement of fact than anything else. These artists are as recognizable and as recognized as The Mona Lisa. They are as successful and as respected in music as painters like David or Da Vinci have been in the visual arts. The video shows though that The Carters share in the kind of creative "genius" formerly associated with white, male, European artists. Although it was produced commercially to promote their music, and does not fit the mold that has been set out for a work of high art, The Carters' Apeshit tells a compelling story and helps to reframe popular visions of culture and cultural institutions.

The video concludes with Beyoncé and Jay-Z in front of The Mona Lisa again. The two, who are previously pictured in the same spot facing the audience, slowly turn to regard each other and then the turn away from the audience to look at famous painting. The point is clear: two uniquely American celebrities considering an iconically European celebrity and thinking about her and their roles in the history of visual culture. In the video, audiences are enjoined not only to reflect on the status of great art or great celebrities within the mass culture, but to reconsider who is deserving of their status and who might have been left out of the popular story and history of art.

How An Art Exhibition Juror Thinks

Many artists ask me what jurors look for when selecting work for juried exhibitions. This is a tough question to answer, given that every juror and every show is unique. Recently, Dr. Elliot Bostwick Davis, Chair of the American Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, made her selections for our National Open Juried Exhibition: America, Now at the Providence Art Club. Her choices were formed partially by the theme of the show but also by her extensive and diverse academic and curatorial background. This week, I juried entries for another exhibition at the Providence Art Club, a show of work by members from Boston's St. Botolph Club coming this August. Like Dr. Davis, I was informed by my education and professional background but found choosing pieces for this exhibition to be a challenge. There were many options that I thought would be a great fit, but I had to work to shape a select group of diverse objects that would represent the talents of the St. Botolph Club community and also be of interest to members of the Providence Art Club. Later this summer, I will be the Juror for the Bristol Art Museum's Annual Members' Exhibition. So I thought it might be beneficial for me to share some of what goes into a juror's decision-making process and how artists can best go about applying to a juried exhibition.

The Call

First and foremost, no matter the show, you must closely and carefully read the exhibition's call for entry. The typical call for entry (or call for art) is a page or so long and contains all the information you should need when deciding what, or whether, to submit. Read the call and be honest with yourself about the relevance of your work to the request being put out by a gallery or institution. If you are uncertain if your work is a good fit to start with, you can reach out to the organization making the call to get your initial questions answered.

Presentation

Good presentation counts. Because most exhibitions are now juried virtually, jurors rely on digital images to make their decisions. Make sure you are submitting a high quality photograph that accurately represents your work. Blurry or otherwise poorly presented images that do not show the piece well will not benefit your application and will almost certainly hurt your chances. Most applications state the resolution and size required for digital images. Follow the guidelines given by the organization or entry platform. And if you need assistance, seek out a professional photographer. If you are submitting to a show where selections are made in person, your work should be professionally prepared and in good condition. Proper presentation may seem like common sense, but it is not to be overlooked.
 

Quality

After assessing presentation, the juror will likely move on to gauging the qualities inherent in each piece. This factors in formal aspects such as line, composition, color, et cetera, but also the conceptual qualities that might be obvious upon first glance. For this reason, submitting your most visually striking work can be helpful in catching the juror's eye. Asking peers and colleagues to critique the work you are considering for submission is a great way to get objective analysis, and to determine which artworks from your portfolio may be the most successful. Some of the qualities found in works of art are relatively objective, but the way a juror interprets them can obviously be very subjective, and influenced by individual taste.
 

Taste

Like I said earlier, every juror is unique. And each juror's selections are bound to be impacted by her or his personal background, education, and interests. The individual taste of a juror will naturally factor into their selections. This is difficult to account for when applying to an exhibition, but it can be helpful to research the juror and learn more about their background or shows they have previously juried or curated in order to determine if they have any obvious interests or biases. This information is often readily available in the juror's professional biography and may even be included in the call for entry. If the juror has a niche area of expertise or interest, they may be less inclined to choose works that fall outside their scope. But if they have a broad range of experience, it may be hard to determine what they will be most interested in.
 

Theme

If the exhibition you are submitting your work to has a theme, stick to it. This point is another seemingly obvious one, but hewing close to the theme can often play to your favor. This is not to say that your work should blatantly or explicitly shout the theme the show is based on, but it should at the very least contain a nod to the theme or express that you understand what the show is supposed to be about. Some themes are more explicit than others but, again, using the exhibition's call for entry for guidance can be helpful in ensuring your work matches the criteria that are being used to shape the tone and content of the show.
 

The Exhibition

It is important to remember that all the work selected has to hang together. As jurors review all the submissions for a particular show they are not only considering the qualities of individual works, but are also imagining how the pieces they choose can work together to create an exhibition that is cohesive. Cohesion does not necessarily mean that all the works must "match", per se, but it does suggest a level of aesthetic or conceptual harmony that creates a thread tying all the work together. Following the theme or, in lieu of a theme, submitting your most current and compelling work are both great ways to show that your work will contribute to a strong exhibition. And again, taking a look at shows previously curated by the juror can be helpful.
 

Takeaways

Ultimately, much of the judgement involved in jurying an exhibition is subjective and there are many potential outcomes. That being said, even a show with thousands of entries is not a "lottery" per se, as even a large exhibition is not shaped by chance. It is designed by a juror or jurors who have all the aforementioned details in mind and are utilizing them to make educated decisions about what works of art will create the most compelling exhibition.

Remember, if your work is not accepted to a particular show, it is not a comment on your worth as an artist. The final selections are always informed by all the factors I have outlined here, and then some. Through carefully reading the call, though, and using appropriate work presented well you will increase your chances of being accepted and hopefully snag a spot on the gallery walls.
 

 

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