Painters Reply – A Reboot I

Painters Reply Lisson Gallery Installation 24th Street 2019

Many of the themes and ideas we’ve been going over in the last year have a lot in common with the show Painters Reply at Lisson Gallery which just closed. So let’s have a bit of a recap and a look at some of the thoughts and ideas flying around at the time.

Painters Reply, curated by Alex Glauber and Alex Logsdail, aims to answer the Artforum questionnaire through an exploration of experimental painting practices starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present moment. The selected artists reveal how the pervasive antipathy towards painting perhaps afforded a greater degree of latitude whereby materiality, application, atypical support, performative impulse and format were all of a sudden in play. The exhibition brings together a diverse group of artists, including some of those published in Artforum’s responses to the questionnaire such as Joan Snyder and Dona Nelson, where the common denominator is aesthetic emancipation.” [Lisson Gallery – Painters Reply: Experimental Painting in the 1970s and now 2019]

Roy Colmer Untitled #55 1973

In a brief artist’s statement for the catalogue accompanying the 2006 exhibition “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975,” Roy Colmer (1935-2014) mentioned video feedback no less than three times. Colmer’s exploration of this process––whereby a video camera is trained on its playback monitor, producing ever-receding self-replicas––introduced to his painting practice a set of behaviors and effects, like movement, time, and delay, from outside the medium’s usual purview. His line of inquiry seems to have concerned cross-pollination among mediums: how could television monitors and video cameras point abstract painting––regarded as outdated and conceptually bankrupt by the early 1970s––in a fresh direction?
…For each painting, Colmer wholly covered a canvas with horizontal spray-painted lines of equal width in alternating colors, and then spray-painted either side of the composition with a highly saturated or dusky hue, partially obscuring the stripes and leaving a glowing, irregular mandorla form at center. Despite the circumscribed set of parameters, there are significant variations in the paintings, which evoke patterns and effects of analog electronic media, including those that arise when the transmission of images and sound is interrupted by static and noise. Some of Colmer’s stripes are not quite straight, and some, by way of minuscule snarls of acrylic, bleed into those below them. In certain works, the slight misalignment of masking tape during his multiple stages of paint application resulted in slivers of underpainting that peek out from the stripes’ edges, such as threads of maroon and yellow glimpsed between carnation pink and ocean blue in Untitled #49 (1970). Works like Untitled #112 (1972) bear stripes of contrasting colors at their tops and bottoms that lend the compositions an uneven visual weight and produce a sense of vertical scrolling, as if the bands are forever cycling upward or downward over the central motif, enhancing the images’ allusion to the horizontal registers of static that appear on tube televisions when they lack reception. The paintings also conjure another visual characteristic of such TVs: the luminous flash of an image sucked into a downward vortex when the boxy machines are switched off. [Elizabeth Buhe on Roy Colmer]

Ted Stamm DGR-7 (Dodger) 1975

“The Woosters employ an unusual rectangular theme that extends into a triangular hinge on the left side. These works were both drawn in graphite and painted in black and white (and, later in silver). At the outset (1978), it seemed that few observers were aware of Stamm’s discovery of this rather obtuse form. Given the analytical orientation of the times, many assumed it was based on some complex mathematical derivation; but, in fact, it was quite the opposite. Stamm, being a man of the streets, with bicycle in tow, discovered this abbreviated form one day on the sidewalk near his loft. The fact that he could not decipher its use or origin piqued his curiosity enough to accept it as what might be called an unknown readymade.
The exhibition catches both the artist’s consistency as well as his complex reprieve from an all-over spatial reduction, replacing it with a series of modular variations. Examples of this would include 78 W – 4 (Wooster) and 78 SW – 22 (Small Wooster) (both oil on canvas from 1978). The difference between the two is not only the shift in scale in relation to identical forms, but also the enclosure of the black band that moves around the edge of otherwise white paintings. In the first, larger version, the band descends from the upper side and follows along the upper diagonal slide of the triangle before it extends back along the bottom edge. The second, smaller form carries the exact same proportions except that the black band completely encloses the white surface, which makes the interior shape a smaller version of the larger one that extends outside the black frame.” [Robert C. Morgan on Ted Stamm]

Semi-Articulate About Their Aims

Unlike East 10th Street of 30 years ago, however, where artists’ co-ops struggled without a nod from the larger art world, the East Village has quickly become a brand name that gets attention in art circles everywhere. Two exhibitions of East Village art have already taken place outside New York: in California last November and December there was ”Neo York,” at the University Art Museum, Santa Barbara; while in Philadelphia, ”The East Village Scene” appeared around the same time at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. So portable, in fact, is the scene that in our own Manhattan, it’s not enough that we have the ”live” East Village itself. A package version has now been brought uptown, in a new show called ”57th Between A and D: Selected Artists From the East Village,” at the Holly Solomon Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street (through Jan. 26). That means we don’t even have to make the hairy trip to, say, East 11th Street, one of the city’s main drug drags, to visit the work in situ. It’s as if 19th- century Montmartre, during its own time, was excerpted for exhibition in a Paris Right Bank gallery under the title of, maybe, ”The Montmartre Experience.” Once upon a time, an artist’s milieu was simply a quarter whose inhabitants could live on the cheap and carry on as they pleased. Nowadays, the milieu itself makes a movement of the art produced there. The show at Holly Solomon presents work by artists from some of the ”leading” East Village galleries, including Fun, Gracie Mansion, Patrick Fox, Pat Hearn, CashNewhouse, Wolff, Piezo Electric, Debra Sharpe, Virtual/ Garrison, Nature Morte, Dana Garet, PPOW and Civilian Warfare. Many of these small places have tidied up since their grubby early days, so the elegant space of the uptown gallery no longer seems de luxe as a background for their transported art. Nor does the art itself seem ill at ease in its new surroundings; though to be sure, it is probably closer to the spirit of this, shall we say lighthearted, establishment than to most others on 57th Street. But why the show at all? ”They want recognition,” says Holly Solomon, who plans in the future to do ”dual exhibitions” of certain artists with East Village galleries. ”They do a show, then other galleries raid them and take their artists away. Also, many of the East Village artists have been influenced by those in our stable, some of whom have even been their teachers in art school. It’s a natural connection.’‘ [Grace Glueck on the East Village Show at Holly Solomon]

Peter Halley Red Cell with Conduit 1982

DC: I want to ask about your role in the ’80s. I think the idea of a painter as a thinker, writer, and theorist came as a real shock to viewers, who were used to painters being only semi-articulate about their aims.
PH: Well, I’ve never quite been able to figure out how my role as a writer fit in. Even today it concerns me that more artists haven’t done more writing. Maybe an artist writing just doesn’t make sense anymore. However, when I was a student in the mid-’70s, I was thinking about people like Smithson, Judd, and Robert Morris—all of whom wrote. Not long after I came to New York in 1980, I was introduced to Jeffrey Deitch, then a young guy who worked as an art adviser at Citibank. He had just published an article in Arts Magazine, and I wrote him a note saying, “I really liked your piece, but I disagreed with what you said about such and such.” He sent me back a postcard saying, “Peter, that’s great. You should do some writing.” That gave me the idea, and during the next couple years, since it didn’t seem likely that I’d be able to show my work at that time, I began to write. The only person at any of the art magazines who actually read unsolicited manuscripts was Richard Martin at Arts. When he got my first piece, on Robert Smithson, Colab, and New Wave music, he immediately published it. After that, he published everything I sent him. If that hadn’t happened, I would not have become a published writer, I’m almost certain.
DC: I remember distinctly the very powerful impact that it had in the art world once you began writing about abstraction and geometry, and once your texts could be understood as somehow forming a manifesto for the paintings. People were excited by the notion that someone would use their texts as a wedge to state their ideas and validate the artwork itself.
PH: Well, I wasn’t exactly aware of it that way. “The Crisis in Geometry” was published in ’84, at a time when I hadn’t really shown any work. A lot of the texts contain attacks on traditional liberal humanism, with a special emphasis on anything to do with spirituality. I still feel a bit self-conscious about it, because it also meant an attack on what was a truism in the New York art world: that abstract painting was uplifting, or that art could be spiritual. It was a broad attack on dearly held values, but I thought it was needed.
All the French authors I was reading then were, for me, fuel with which to build that fire. My introduction to that French critical writing also burst a lot of my assumptions, as somebody who had been schooled in liberal humanism. [Dan Cameron and Peter Halley on the East Village Scene]

Peter Schuyff Untitled 1987

“Which is to say, Performance Space New York is adapted to the city’s art world as it has become: a high-production-value outpost of a global intellectual-aesthetic marketplace, not a bohemian semi-abandoned escape-from-capitalism hole in the wall. But it’s also, as the art world has been in general, striving to be a more self-consciously inclusive place (the Lower East Side Girls Club also did a performance). Not long ago, I complained to Simon Castets, the director of The Swiss Institute, another interesting arts nonprofit which is soon moving nearby, into a former Chase bank on St. Marks Place, that there was nothing much going on in the East Village anymore, and he reproved me: What about the Poetry Project, and Anthology Film Archive, Danspace Project and La MaMa Etc? He’s right, of course; they soldier on. Meanwhile, on East Sixth, the Brant Foundation is renovating the former Walter De Maria studio, a former ConEd substation, polishing it up with some public programming in mind. The new Performance Space will only add to that tradition; I’m sure I’ll go more than I ever did to PS122 (which wasn’t all that often, honestly.) So maybe the East Village can continue to be an important place to show and see new art. Artists just can’t afford to actually live here.
Claude Wampler, the artist who happened to be seated next to me (I confess I had to look her up: she once did a show at the Andy Warhol Museum which “was lit with forensic UV light fixtures that allow human semen ejaculate to be visible to the eye” which she’d “curated” and carefully placed throughout the museum; the regular lights were turned out, and visitors could wander around and spot the semen while they listened to dialogues from Andy Warhol’s audiotapes) left New York some years back to teach at the University of Virginia. Sometimes she brings her students up to New York, but mostly, she says, they can’t imagine living here and trying to make work, and move instead to Detroit, or Nashville.” [Carl Swanson on the New East Village]

More and More Careerist

Peter Halley Freudian Painting 1981

PP: But the perception did come about that Artforum as a whole was the equivalent of the longest, most excessively footnoted Michael Fried essay you could think of. The magazine seemed to say that the most important new art was being made by, and critically championed by, incomprehensible academics displaced to SoHo. As time progressed, however, more and more new art was coming out of the East Village, in both geographical and psychological senses. Also, Artforum’s American-ness became a chauvinism.
JC: American art had begun to feed off itself. So the world changed: the center of artmaking, as you mentioned earlier, shifted from the New York/L.A. axis to the New York/Europe axis. Also, art became more and more careerist in New York. I started to hear artists saying cockamamy things like “I got the lead review in Artforum.” I mean, is the first review in the Friday New York Times the “lead review”? And when I’d put an artist on the cover, six museums and collectors would call the gallery, wanting to buy.
PP: Didn’t the artists themselves start pounding on your desk, asking when were they going to get their covers?
JC: Yes, and a number of dealers began to pressure the magazine, saying they wouldn’t advertise if we didn’t do thus and so. Galleries began to send for me, to take me to lunch, and tell me I wasn’t covering them adequately. Several of the contributing editors also felt that money was beginning to matter too much in the art scene. Michelson, in fact, wanted to turn Artforum into a performance-art magazine to get away from it. [Peter Plagens and John Coplans in conversation on Artforum and the changing Art World]

Jeff Koons Lifeboat 1985

HUO: If one looks at the museum situation now, creating small structures with flexible spaces seems to be of most importance.
WH: Somewhere in the ’70s in America—and in Europe, too—the idea of the smaller, more independent Kunsthalle rose up. In America, the so-called artist’s space—that whole phenomenon.
HUO: Which leads us back to the laboratory idea.
WH: That’s right. I hope the concept doesn’t disappear. I hope a breed of entrepreneurs will come along who aren’t worried about being chic or fashionable and will keep some of that alive. One damn way or another, some version of that idea has always been around. We don’t have the salon now; we don’t have the big competitive shows in smaller cities, you know? They don’t mean much anymore. Most serious artists don’t submit to those. In a sad way, the old salon is dead.
I’ve been waiting for some breed of artist—some terrible little ancestor of Andy Warhol or whatever—to put out a mail-order catalogue of his or her work independently of the galleries. Whether it’s printed matter or it ends up on the Web, people, without even using galleries, can find interested patrons. This was the thrust of what the East Village was all about. They had artist-entrepreneurs there. Never in SoHo. This market appeared, then died down again, but I think it could happen again. [Hans-Ulrich Obrist talks with Walter Hopps]

Nicolas Moufarrege Edward Brad Munch 1984

WHEN I CALLED THE HOLLY SOLOMON GALLERY in SoHo in 1997 to ask about their 1985 East Village show, the man who answered the phone was aghast. “What are you doing?” he asked incredulously. “Nobody talks about the East Village anymore, nobody. People are taking it off their résumés.” After several years of conducting research, I had come to expect this kind of response. My informants often laughed at the very idea of writing a doctoral dissertation on the East Village art scene of the ’80s. At the same time, they sized up its promotional potential. Was I writing a book? When would it be published? Nobody was talking, but everyone had a story to tell.
… Thinking back on that night, on the crush of happy people about my age who packed the galleries, I remember the air of excitement, as if the East Village were the epicenter of the art world. (I also recall that the bathrooms and closets at the condo were crammed with people snorting cocaine.) The next day a gallery worker (at Vox Populi?) pestered me about buying one of the paintings then on display (I can’t recall the artist’s name or even what the work looked like). They were forty dollars apiece during a one-day-only sale, cash and carry. Though I didn’t buy anything, I was mightily impressed by the style of the scene—the open avenues of possibility, the frontier mentality, the aggressiveness of the sales pitch, the self-representation, the unpretentiousness of it all. This, I thought, was quintessentially American. I admired the way that these artist-entrepreneurs openly traded on the intertwined fortunes of art, entertainment, and commerce, which had covertly defined the Western art world since the late nineteenth century. [Liza Kirwin on the East Village Art Scene]

Engaged in a Commercial Profession

The sixties were about blurring boundaries. Warhol triumphed because the frontiers—between high and low and art and commerce—never existed for him. Look at every other important artist then, especially every Pop artist, and you will detect some or another skittish irony. Warhol wasn’t ironic. He was neither naïve nor cynical. He was innocent and greedy. Middle-classniks tied themselves in knots trying to fathom the complexities of a mind whose secret was simplicity, as efficient a life-form as a shark, a cat, or an honest businessman. He gave himself with no strings attached, only price tags. [Peter Schjedahl on Andy Warhol]

The generation of artists that emerged after World War II were both conditioned by and responsive to this environment. The romantic vision of the artist as an outsider, maligned and downtrodden. alienated from a world that did not appreciate his talent, was no longer valid. Artists were now college-educated and engaged in a commercial profession. Allan Kaprow neatly encapsulated the change in his insightful article “Should the Artist Become a Man of the World!’: “If the artist was in hell in 1946, now he is in business.” And artists were not only in business but also in the limelight, bedecked by the glitter of Hollywood and backed by the merchandising of Madison Avenue. As never before, they achieved celebrity status, their names becoming widely recognized outside an circles and topping guest lists of important dinner panics and public events. No longer did young American artists expect to live without fame or fortune or recognition during their lifetime. As Larry Rivers observed, “For the first time in this country the artist is ‘on stage.’ He isn’t just fooling around in a cellar with something that maybe no one will ever see. Now he is there in the full glare of publicity.” [Sidra Stich on the Americanization in Modern Art]

Mark Rothko Number 18 1951

Brancaccio: When you say business-art, you’re not talking about the guy with the chain stores in the mall selling oil paintings to the passers-by. It’s the structure of the business was seen as a kind of work of art. 
Gopnik: Yeah, Andy Warhol claimed that the act of being a good businessman could make you a different kind of artist, a new kind of artist. But, you know, when he tried to make money, the things people accused him of doing to make money, make no sense as moneymaking enterprises. He got involved with the Velvet Underground, a screeching, insane band that turned their amps up to 11. When, if he wanted to make money, he should have gotten involved with something like The Monkees. To imagine the Velvet Underground was a moneymaking scheme made no sense. [Andy Warhol and the Business of Art]

“Mercedes Matter, the daughter of Arthur B. Carles and a member of the artists’ circle since the 1930s, lamented: “The minute success entered into the art world and it became a business, everything  changed. It  was  all ruined.” The changed expectations, and the effect they had on behavior, can be gauged from a proposal that Pollock, Rothko, Newman, and Still made in 1951 to their long- time dealer, Betty Parsons: they wanted Parsons to drop the  other  artists in her gallery and concentrate her energies on promoting their work. “They said they would make me the most famous dealer in the world,” Parsons recalled. “And they were probably right. They really were paying me a great compliment.” The proposal was not made as a tribute, of course, but as a way of more vigorously pursuing the fame and (possible) fortune that seemed to the four now within their reach. We should observe that the four were willing to sacrifice the well-being of a number of colleagues to these selfish goals.” Parsons refused the tempting offer to forsake her other artists: “I did not want to do a thing like that.” She remained committed to uphold purely artistic values. As her assistant, Richard Tuttle, explained: “It’s not true that she’s a bad businesswoman…. But that’s not her real interest. Betty cares about growth… she  cares mainly about your growth as an  artist.”
Rebuffed, Pollock, Rothko, and Still decided that Sidney Janis (who represented Picasso and other famous Europeans) could better serve to realize their aspirations. In a sense these artists were justified in making their offer to Parsons and in their subsequent move to Janis. They had suffered significant deprivations for their art and felt entitled to some  rewards. From a practical standpoint, greater success in the marketplace would have meant that Rothko and Still could quit teaching. Who can blame them for wanting to profit from the new situation – especially if those rewards and the pursuit of them did not compromise their art. That a new system of rewards would produce certain changes in conduct is not surprising. What is curious, however, is that their behavior changed but their uncompromising rhetoric did not. De Kooning’s frank admission that painting had become “a good living” was exceptional; the  others refused to acknowledge that their painting no longer was the pure, disinterested calling it had been.” [Bradford R. Collins on the Abstract Expressionists and Life Magazine]

“The heart of Warhol’s idea — that by playing the role of businessman, an artist could turn himself into the latest, living example of a commodification he believed none of us can avoid — was perhaps as revolutionary in its time as Marcel Duchamp presenting a humble urinal as sculpture had been in 1917. Duchamp’s gesture declared that artists alone get to define what is art; five decades later, Warhol took that as permission to treat the spreadsheet, press release and launch party as creative endeavors. This set an example for some of his most notable heirs in our current century.
“I’ve wrestled with money — in an art sense — all through my career,” Damien Hirst, the longtime British art star and entrepreneur, said. “And I saw through Andy Warhol that it was possible to do that, that it was acceptable. Even though it raises questions, it’s not something to be afraid of.”
…And yet Warhol, the Business Artist set such a “strange, exciting, almost toxic example,” said Mr. Rothkopf, that many artists have found him a hard act to follow. Business Art so thoroughly rewrote the rules of art-making, even maybe its morality, that many artists found more direct inspiration in aspects of Warhol’s art that are less conceptual — his techniques, his grasp of pop culture, his pioneering work on gay and transgender subjects and culture.”[Adam Gopnik on Andy Warhol and Business]

Belcher, Nagy, and Sevard suggest that terms like “community arts non-profit” or “alternative space” are concepts from a different generation.  Dixon thinks that perhaps these new galleries are looking back to a pre-NEA time when artists like Claus Oldenburg opened his Lower East Side store front in the early 60s. “There’s a great feeling of OK the NEA is here” Dixon says, “but sometimes, often, perhaps artists can do more when they don’t feel like they have their fingers tied [with federal money].”
“…With all the Reaganomics talk we just assumed that grants were no longer available. There were sort of enough places eating up the grants, and so we thought that if we could offer enough art at low enough prices then people would buy and that would keep us afloat.
… How did you finance your spaces? By working during the day. We all have jobs during the day…. artists help us, they babysit the place [when we can’t be there] … usually artists do what they can… grateful for the opportunity [to show their work] … It becomes easier to start something yourself than to try to join something that’s already in progress, because there are always people willing to join you and say this is the right thing to do.” [Discussion with Peter Nagy, Alan Belcher and Dean Sevard on Galleries, Careers and Money in the East Village]

Having Made the Leap

“Art is long and life is short, and we must wait patiently while trying to sell our skin dearly. Me, I’d really like to be your age and go off with whatever knowledge I had to do my service in Africa. But for example, I’d get myself a better body than the one I have. [Van Gogh Letters]

Ask any successful artist, and I bet you’ll learn that achieving that success didn’t come from raw artistic talent alone. For artrepreneurs, there’s a tension between the arts and business that their entrepreneur counterparts may not always face.
According to Lukas de Beer’s 2016 book, “Artrepreneur,” artists are driven by raw creativity and passion that can potentially hinder their ability to think entrepreneurially. Though artrepreneurs must treat their work as a business, there’s an additional element of authenticity and connection that’s often only understood by other artists. [John Hall on Artrepeneurs]

If I wasn’t so caught up and absorbed in work, how I’d like to sell all that lot! There’s not much to be earned from it, and that’s why nobody takes it up. Nevertheless, after a few years it will all become quite rare, will be sold more dearly. It’s for that reason that we shouldn’t scorn the small advantage that we have at present, of going through thousands to make our choice. [Van Gogh Letters]

“Mind you, this isn’t a market rant. Even in 1964, happenings guru Allan Kaprow decried, “If the artist was in hell in 1946, now he is in business.” Mega-galleries do as many good and bad shows of contemporary art as any gallery. I go to and write about some of these. All this has to be taken on a case-by-case basis, without moralizing. Still, mega-galleries do so many more contemporary shows of so many more artists of a certain ilk in so many places at once that the experience starts to feel preplanned and cynical. Often, in this context, even good work takes on deleterious meanings: hype, hubris, commodity fetishism, hyperefficiency, expeditiousness. The artist Carissa Rodriguez recently compared galleries to “bleached anuses” in porn, meaning (I think) that they’re unnaturally sterile.
Don’t blame the dealers or the size of the spaces. These galleries are businesses, doing what businesses do. Any artist who signs with one of these places knows exactly what he or she is doing. Artists always claim to do only what’s creatively best for their work, yet in many cases going with a mega is the opposite of what they need. I imagine freaked-out artists, having made the leap, thinking, What have I done? How do I get out of here? If it weren’t for their marketability, half of these artists wouldn’t get offers from anyone. An aesthetic crisis looms.
To grow so huge, these gallerists have had to increase their overhead and output of energy enormously, while decreasing their artistic complexity, capacity for chaos, and quick and fresh thinking. The megas have reached a dangerous stage where they’re using the same amount of energy that they’re generating. In nature, this break-even moment is called the “compensation point,” the time in a plant’s life when a branch consumes the same amount of energy as it produces. When the compensation point is passed, the plant cuts off growth to the branch, and it dies. It’s time for all of us to do the same. With exceptions for their historical shows, and those few living artists who escape the vision-squishing force of these places, mega-galleries have reached their compensation points. Said simply, mega-galleries are a system too big not to fail. That, or they’ll rule the Earth for a million years.” [Jerry Saltz on the Trouble with Mega-Galleries]

Well, Gauguin and I must look ahead, we must work at getting a roof over our heads, beds; the essentials, in short, to endure the siege by failure that will last the whole of our life. And we must settle down in the least expensive place. Then we’ll have the peace of mind needed to produce a large amount, even if we sell little or nothing. But if expenses exceeded income, we’d be wrong to hope too much that everything would work out through the sale of our paintings. On the contrary, we’d be obliged to part with them at any price at the wrong time. [Van Gogh Letters]

“Like other independent professionals, artists have a keen memory of past financial crises. For New York City-based painter and printmaker Julio Valdez, the repeated economic shocks of the early 1990’s, 1997, 2001 and 2008, compelled him to ask some tough questions. “How did we get into this? There’s no war. There’s no famine. You work hard, and something happens. Again and again. It has nothing to do with you.”
Valdez understood that an artist pursuing a traditional career—shows in galleries, commissions, teaching—would always be the first to suffer “when the economy has a little sneeze,” as he put it. There were two problems.
First, Valdez noticed, talented young artists struggled to get a foothold in the market, not learning essential business wisdom from older colleagues or partnering to reduce expenses. “Why can’t artists join a practice like lawyers, doctors or accountants?” he asked himself.
Secondly, artists often confused the idealism of creating art with the essentials of running a business. “Art has no compromise—with anything, anybody, any process. But once the art is done, it is a business. You have to do your taxes. You have to know how much you spend on rent, supplies and materials. There’s always a cost involved.” [Benjamin Wolff on Artrepeneurs]

Supply Side Economics

Andy Warhol DOLLAR SIGN 9 286 1982

While not all entrepreneurs are artists, all artists are entrepreneurs. Artists, like entrepreneurs, have a product or idea to sell, and they need to get out into the marketplace. In order to do this, artists need (at the very least) basic business skills and a willingness to approach selling art as any entrepreneur would. If you’re serious about building a sustainable art career, there are definitive steps you need to take to build and maintain your business:
Understand basic marketing and sales practices. Every entrepreneur knows the key to getting their idea or product to market is through marketing and sales. You must employ marketing strategies to do that. That means you need a website that reflects your signature style, which includes high-resolution pictures and descriptions of your work, as well as a means to buy the work directly from the site (or has links to contact information or the galleries that represent you). It should also include an artist statement and a section with a regularly updated blog or newsletter. Keeping in touch with and building an audience is key to selling your work. With social media tools like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and search engine tools like Google and Pinterest, there are no more ways than ever to reach audiences. [Art Design Consultants on Artists are Entrepreneurs]

… in the mid 1960s when… it was pretty well established that we had a going thing in the [American] art world… and about 6000 people had created some of the best art in the 20th century. [So] when they couldn’t kill us they decided to claim us – you understand? “Those are our artists! Every one of them. They’re all Americans, good Americans! We can put their paintings together and send them all over the world. So that’s American. That’s Jackson Pollock [and] that’s called all over painting. That’s American [because] we’re all over fucking everything!” And so all of a sudden America embraces the arts, and well, if we’re gonna embrace the Arts we have to support the arts, you know what I mean?
And the best way to support the Arts – since we’re all businessmen – we know that supply-side economics is what works. And the way you run supply side Economics is you encourage the sources of art. The more sources of art there are the better odds that there will be good art out there. So all of a sudden we start encouraging artists, you know, hand over fist! We [now] have art graduate schools – thousands upon thousands of them. We have art students – hundreds of thousands of them. And this [supply-side economics] didn’t work any better than anything else ever did… we’ve never given any thought to the fact that supply-side economics is a murderous and ruthless concept. What it means [is that] we get a million people [trying to be an artist] and 900,000 of them go broke. That’s supply side economics…. we got what we got [which was] an idea of all of this support for the Arts. [Support] because America’s Number One in the Arts and we want America to stay at Number One in Art, do you know what I mean?… I can remember [a time] when people referred to an “American Art World” and there may [very well] be one, but [you would] probably [have to look for it] in Brussels… (my apologies for my interpretation of the transcript – reading and conversation are two very different things) [Dave Hickey The God Ennui Talk at the SVA]

Installation view of Lisson Gallery’s booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2016

We admire entrepreneurs greatly in America. There’s a reason that every business school now has a fully developed entrepreneurship track, if not an entire program dedicated to it. And clearly, our understanding of what entrepreneurs do is similar to our understanding of what artists do. Artists are risk-takers. Artists change or transmute values. Artists dream about changing the world.
And so many people think that artists are entrepreneurs. Indeed, a whole cottage industry of rather silly career training for artists has arisen based on this notion (“Learn How to Break Into the Art Market in One Day!”). It’s true that artists must be resourceful, and that it’s helpful for them to be good at business, and that they start things from scratch. But artists having to find a way to survive while they make their art is not the same as entrepreneurship. And artists who enter into so-called art with the idea that they are starting a business — a transaction of something for money — are almost never making art. They are making something else, usually decoration. It’s a gamble, sure, but it’s certainly not a new idea, either as business or as art. [Rainey Knudson on Art is Not Entrepreneurship]


303 Gallery

303 Gallery Invitation Gerard Malanga 1985

“While Spellman is part of the establishment now, that wasn’t always the case. When she was first starting out, she was studying photography at the School of Visual Arts and had a live-work space with a gallery in the front of which she did shows of unconventional photography. “She wanted photography out of the darkroom,” writes artist Richard Prince in his essay for the anniversary publication 35 Years. The gallery was named in part for its first space and in part after Alfred Stieglitz’s legendary “intimate gallery” in Room 303 of the Anderson Galleries building.
In the early days, according to Spellman, the gallery was under the influence of an air of subversion that was felt across the city. “That was a great time to be in New York City,” she says. “New York was exploding. There was amazing music, amazing fashion, amazing art, and everyone was within ten blocks of each other.” And the art world was very “tribal.” “There was East village angst, Postmodernism, uptown dollar signs. Everyone was in their camp. And they believed with such fervor in what they were doing.” [Lisa Spellman in conversation with Rozalia Jovanovic]

The East Village art scene may be defunct, but its legacy lives on deep in the complicated heart of SoHo, where art and money, glamour and real estate continue to mingle in evermore varied combinations. The move of galleries out of the East Village, which started in earnest last season, still continues and is in its second and probably final phase.
In a way SoHo has absorbed its opposition, and is somewhat the better for it. This year’s crop of migrating East Village dealers has shifted SoHo’s geographical balance toward its quieter southern corners, and a few have left their spaces a bit more raw than has lately been the norm. Consequently, visiting these new galleries one has an eerie sense of being in touch with both SoHo’s emptier, less high-powered past and its expansive and increasingly sophisticated present – and sometimes this quality is reflected in the art on view.
Inevitably, the how and where of these recent relocations send different signals and have different effects. Certain dealers have moved to bigger, more glamorously designed spaces. Their new addresses and interiors – as much as the art on view – seem intended to announce a kind of professional coming of age. [Roberta Smith on the East Village Galleries]

“Back in 1984, you could actually start a gallery in Manhattan the way Lisa Spellman did: A photography student at the School of Visual Arts in the early eighties, she and a few friends rented a fifth-floor 2,500-square-foot loft at 303 Park Avenue South for $470 per month. “This was during the time of East Village angst and post-AbEx expressionism—artists like David Salle and Julian Schnabel,” says Spellman. “And I was more interested in Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince. It was so frustrating—I was studying photography at SVA, and my teachers hadn’t even heard of those artists.” (Whereas she not only knew about Prince; she ended up married to him for a few years.)
Spellman has a nearly unsurpassed reputation based on long, tight relationships with her artists as well as her prescient eye. She showed Prince, Jeff Koons, Charles Ray, Laurie Simmons, Thomas Ruff, and Andreas Gursky in the eighties. Although she says she is wary of characterizing 303 as a “chick gallery” (“The ratio has fluctuated throughout the years,” she says, noting that right now it’s twelve men to thirteen women), she has been peerless in her support of strong, boundary-pushing female artists, like Sue Williams, the Wilson sisters, and Collier Schorr. [Rachel Wolff on Lisa Spellman]

Nature Morte

Nature Morte invite October 1984 Sherrie Levine “1917” exhibition 

“Why the East Village?” is the first question host Jenny Dixon poses to Peter Nagy and Alan Belcher from Nature Morte Gallery and Dean Sevard of Civilian Warfare. It’s partly economic they say, but the move to the East Village also reinforces their philosophical and aesthetic differences with the SoHo scene. For example, gallery owners in the East Village are often artists themselves (mainly in their early to mid-20s), who live behind the storefronts where they show work. Nature Morte focuses on two- and three-person group shows, largely consisting of their artist friends, and Sevard describes Civilian Warfare’s shows as “anti-SoHo” and having a tacitly political focus. His list of recent openings includes “Black Art Now”, “The Art of Tyranny”, and “Hit and Run Numbers One and Two.”
“… there are so many artists right now that… our generation can’t live in SoHo because of the rents… for us, being young, we don’t have a lot of money. So we have to go to the East Village, because that’s where the storefronts that we can afford are available… It’s just that it’s more of a support system for young artists. It’s just as hard to show in Soho as it is Uptown, now.
Nature Morte we’re really trying to go out of our way to present something new every single month. And in this way we can use a lot of artists that don’t necessarily… we look at artists’ work and we find artists in similar veins and then we’ll put together a two or three man show. So the art plays off each other… And people that are doing work that goes against the grain of the majority of the stuff that’s being shown in Soho we will be more receptive to that. Just to give them an outlet. To show people in New York, the art going public, that there’s just as much pluralism as there was in the 70’s and to keep people aware of that.” [Interview with Nature Morte and Civilian Warfare galleries on the Rise and Fall of the East Village]

Steven Parrino Hell’s Angels, 1985

“The East Village in New York, for example, is a whole neighborhood whose history is being erased and rewritten to serve the interests of its new owners and occupiers. Ten years ago it was nowhere, a place deeply embedded in that desperate, unshakable dirt of relentless poverty. Now there are elegant places to eat and drink on the most surprising corners. It used to be very clearly an immigrant ghetto, a place where people tried to come to terms with their new culture without losing the important parts of the old. Now it is more a showcase of ethnic diversity, a sort of World’s Fair for the gourmet, a place where you can eat around the globe. There is a melancholia to the East Village, a deep sadness lost in the sushi bars and chic cocktail lounges, a recognition that an out-of-control parodying and posing is a strategy of despair. In the midst of this new nowhere is an art scene, one that revels in its celebration of a hopeless, endless return. It is an art scene that privileges the déjà vu, valuing a debased version of what are usually less than exalted originals. Examples abound: Rene Ricard’s rhapsodies on graffiti (reminding? Ridiculing? Validating?); Norman Mailer’s prose poem of eight years earlier; or Mike Bidlo’s recreations of notorious art parties at Peggy Guggenheim’s or Andy Warhol’s. Or the reappropriation of the tactics of some of the artists originally associated with the Metro Pictures gallery by the younger group who hang out at Nature Morte. Or, strangest of all, the reemergence as a new group of a bunch of marginal, and mostly bad, expressionist painters who made up the demimonde in Soho in the mid ’70s, throwing huge loft parties and organizing big shows like the “Whitney Counterweight,” shows designed to prove that those without talent also have rights. These artists, taking their cue from the success of the neo-Expressionist fad and the less successful neo-Surrealist or neo-Pop fads, are trying for fame and fortune once more, once again organizing and staging huge shows, shows that retain their earlier efforts’ oddly innocent mixture of wishful thinking and paranoia. Looking at all this work, all this “new” work, is like looking at a dreamscape, a fantasy of life in America, a big success story writ small, so that a greater number can believe they share in it. Wherever you look things seem disconcertingly familiar, until you can no longer tell if you are looking at what, for want of a better term, is called an “original,” or at a copy, or a copy of a copy, or a copy of an idea of a copy. Mimicry has replaced innovation as a creative value. Such a situation can be understood to be critically informed, or not, and such ambiguity is an essential irony. Without it we would merely be watching history repeating itself as farce. With it, that farce holds out the possibility of some other beginning. [Thomas Lawson on the East Village]

Our position was decidedly not dictated by the fact that we were a gallery in the East Village. We behaved as a New York gallery, reactionary to our immediate environment. Content-wise, for the most part, we avoided anything that seemed too personal, sentimental, therapeutic, or talented. Our bent was one of historical foundation coupled with an adventurism of experiment, and we threw in a heavy whack of critical think. My own view was always to detour in the opposite direction of what was already going on. In the most basic sense, we found that the garish color of the time in neo-expression, figuration, and the neighborhood kitsch and graffiti, appeared cheap and unconsidered, se we gravitated to black and white, grays and primaries – even the gallery walls were a light gray to emphasize our color vision. I came with a heavy regard for Euroepean 60s and Pop culture and was sharply trend-aware, and Peter’s foundations based on Futurism and Dada, coupled with his voracious appetite for information and contemporary criticism. We had a very good balance that way, and found that we usually appreciated the same art and the same people. It’s not like we didn’t show painting, but we definitely gravitated toward photo-based work and sculpture. If work was thoughtful and layered, not a quick read, then we were drawn to it. We avoided a stable mentality, as we were more concerned with whatever we would be showing next, and we enjoyed a certain unpredictability. We never sold a lot and the prices were low, so commercial potential was rarely addressed when we were considering work. We assumed the histories would be constructed around advancements and risks, and realized later on that it was the works that got placed well, and select personalities, that would eventually supersede actual events on timelines. A few friends are viable references for what went on – a couple crowned themselves authority figures. We took matters of legacy minor out own hands by publishing our complete exhibition history in Flash and Artforum. And these days we are both still around to fact-check and callout falsehoods. [Alan Belcher in conversation with Bob Nickas]

Jay Gorney Modern Art

When Gorney’s gallery opened, Vaisman was running International With Monument, the gallery at the center of the collecting hysteria then sweeping the area. The people who showed there and at two other artist-run galleries, Nature Morte and Cash/Newhouse, had little in common with the graffiti artists, whose raw, streetwise, often overtly political work the East Village was known for. Their art was cool and calculated, with a cynical edge. Combining Conceptualism’s intellectual pretensions and Pop Art’s infatuation with consumer objects, they created avant-garde objects as a commodity. Extending the joke to the limit, they then sold these objects to eager collectors who took this mockery as artistic high-mindedness.
As the stakes got higher, artist-dealers like Vaisman got out of the gallery business, and Gorney ended up doing the selling. Sonnabend – a gallery that rode the first wave of Pop and Conceptualism in the sixties – got Ashley Bickerton, Peter Halley and Jeff Koons, the stars of International With Monument, after a much-ballyhooed group show in 1986 (New York, November 19, 1986). But Gorney picked up Otterson, Nature Morte co-founder Pater Nagy, photo artist Sarah Charlesworth and Tim Rollins +K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), a collaboration between a lover Manhattan Conceptual artist and a group of “learning disabled” teenager in the South Bronx. Gorney shares Vaisman with Sonnabend and Leo Castelli, and shares Haim Steinback, a commercially successful sculptor who arranges consumer items on wedge-shaped shelves, with Sonnabend as well. [Frank Rose on Jay Gorney]

“In any event, the neighborhood was always welcoming to people who defined themselves as artists of any sort, so in the era of amusing fakery it was ripe for exploitation as an artful copy of itself. Reagan was president, Communism was dead, and the idea of doing anything that didn’t make money had begun to look ridiculous to most people. For a few seasons the storefront gallery became the most commonly opened business, followed by the offbeat boutique and the precious little restaurant. The normative style of art featured in the storefront galleries was “neo-expressionism,” of a type that suggested the artist was a wild and crazy misfit, tortured by inner demons, and so forth. Often these paintings depicted emaciated, punky-looking guys with their limbs twisted and bleeding from stab wounds, and when you saw the middle-class white kids making this art, mostly good-looking boys of about twenty whose parents lived in Greenwich, you had to laugh. The most visible galleries and the constellation of proper names emerging from them made up a neat little package of prefabricated angst, something that appealed to a media notion of artists as tantrum-prone infants gifted with uncontrollable, oracular powers—which, when you think about it, wasn’t far from the romantic bohemianism that the neighborhood’s still-obscure, slightly more indigenous artists tended to live by. But it was all rather thick, a kind of mannerist posturing, like someone selling you a vividly decorated used car, and among these very young artists, there was a desperate competitiveness, almost a panic, that the gravy train was passing through just this once and you had damned well better hop on it….
I observed most of this from a certain distance, so I couldn’t really tell you who, among the neo-expressionists, turned out to be talented and who ended up as space debris. The East Village galleries that I followed in a serious way—Nature Morte, Jay Gorney, 303, Pat Hearn, Cash/Newhouse—showed Conceptual and photo-derived work that didn’t have the East Village playpen effect. Some of it was probably just as ephemeral in its own brainy way, but it was closer to my taste. There was definitely a struggle for dominance going on between the East Village neo-expressionist trip and the neo-Conceptualist faction, something about “instinctive” versus “intellectual,” and socially, too, the two camps were quite distinct, though the precise details of this have fallen out of my memory. It happened that somewhere in the middle of the East Village phenomenon I became the art critic at the Village Voice, so for three years I had to look at all the art being shown (which became not unlike having to attend a Shriners convention every weekend) and cope with suddenly being hustled by every imaginable and unimaginable person. I became, I think, completely dissociated from the social life this job required me to have, and I remember almost nothing about it. I just remember being very happy when it was over.” [Gary Indiana on the East Village art scene]

Haim Steinbach supremely black 1985

“The 80s was a mix of everything, some stuff you knew was going to be great, and a lot of dross that was being hyped up and promoted. 
In a way, it seemed arbitrary, but pretty soon, you got to know what was really interesting. There was a thread of like-minded people pursuing the same arguments. The same aesthetic. Reading the same stuff, from Baudrillard and Bomb to the New York Post. On the outside, it seemed like a deluge of impressions: Malcolm Morley, Samizdat, Imants Tillers, Gracie Mansion, Tompkins Square, vogueing, Wigstock, the Life Café, Phillippe Thomas, IFP, Ange Leccia (beau), Brighton Beach with Anja von Bremzen and John Welchman. Orshi Drozdik and Patrick McGrath. Jay Gorney. International with Monument. Patricia Field. Glenn O’Brien (best man at wedding), and Barbara Egan, with Jan Avgikos, as the inner circle. Susan Hapgood. Anita Sarko. Johnny Sex. Visits by Terry Atkinson. On the inside, it all made sense, a kind of irony about art and its most internal convolutions. 
In the mid-80s, there was the art scene in the East Village, still the seed for the contemporary art world. Peter Nagy with Nature Morte (and Alan Belcher), Jay Gorney, Gracie Mansion, Colin de Land (friend), Pat Hearn. International with Monument. My editors, Ronald Jones and C Magazine, Richard Martin at Arts Magazine, Stuart Morgan at Artscribe. Dinner with Sherrie Levine, bowling with Richard Prince, Lisa Spellman, and John Ahearn. The advent of the Picture Generation post-Concept art, and the work of Haim Steinbach, Ashley Bickerton, Meyer Vaisman, Peter Halley, Jeff Koons, at Sonnabend Gallery. ” [Cornelia Lauf and Daniela Salvioni on the 1980s EV]

International With Monument

“By the fall of 1986, a good litmus test of where you fell on the art-political spectrum was how you felt about International With Monument. Feared by some, hailed as the neighborhood’s salvation by others, the ponderously monikered gallery on East Seventh Street between 1st and A was known foremost as the outpost for Neo-Geo, the notorious non-movement whose lack of prior historical status did not exempt it from accusations of killing off the bohemian camaraderie that typified the first wave of East Village galleries. Begun in 1984 by three artist friends (Kent Klamen, Meyer Vaisman, and Elizabeth Koury) who named their new business after a partly obscured sign found in the basement, the tidy storefront locale garnered major attention in 1985, with the first individual gallery exhibitions of Peter Halley and Jeff Koons. (Although Koons had already achieved a sliver of notoriety through early-’80s shows at the New Museum and Artists Space, Halley came to Vaisman’s attention through the unlikeliest of methods: by dropping off his slides.) Not only did Halley and Koons create exhibitions that carried a seismic critical wallop, but their work, packed into a tidy storefront, was also plainly visible to passersby, adding a touch of visual sensationalism for the uninitiated. This was in 1985, at a moment when some of the pioneering East Village galleries had already begun to close their doors.” [Dan Cameron on International With Monument]

“During its brief run, International With Monument’s roster was almost too good to be true. Besides the Sonnabend quartet, Sarah Charlesworth, Richard Prince, and Laurie Simmons all had highly visible exhibitions during the three seasons that the gallery was thriving. In fact, Vaisman and Koury (Klamen had sold his stake before the storm broke) came as close to cornering the market in Neo-Geo as Fun Gallery had done with graffiti. Their success, however, also in a sense led to the demise of the gallery, since the frenetic market interest in many of these artists’ work increased the number of more powerful dealers vying for their attention. This was fine with Vaisman, who soon sold his share in the gallery to Koury and Ealan Wingate in order to concentrate on his artwork. Several of the artists had already fled to Castelli, Sonnabend, Jay Gorney, and Barbara Gladstone, so that once International With Monument reopened in SoHo in 1988 as Koury-Wingate, the gallery bore only the vaguest resemblance to its predecessor. Perhaps this was fitting: In a few short years, International with Monument had already begun to feel more fabled than real, a magic stepping-stone for artists who couldn’t spare a moment in their mad dash from obscurity to the annals of art history.” [Dan Cameron on International With Monument]

“Various gritty, kitschy styles of art known as graffiti art, fun art, even East Village art were the rage.
Today, however, a cooler, more abstract and often more sophisticated style of art has grabbed the attention of leading art collectors, and some of the galleries that have shown this new work, although they made their mark while in the East Village, are moving to SoHo or planning to….
Another gallery whose artists are now much sought after by leading collectors, the Jay Gorney Modern Art gallery, plans to move to 100 Greene Street in SoHo in the fall, and the International With Monument Gallery, also highly successful, is looking for larger quarters in SoHo. The M-13 Gallery moved from the East Village to 72 Greene Street last month and the Jack Shainman Gallery plans to move from East 11th Street to 560 Broadway in the fall….
”It’s less of a happening and more of a business,” said Doug Milford, explaining the shift in the East Village art scene. ”When we opened, we were just trying to start something for ourselves and our artist friends. When they started to achieve success, they needed professional representation, and that meant getting up a little earlier in the morning, being a little more serious.” [Douglas C. McGill on the East Village Gallery scene]