ATOA Transcription Archive
The Perfect Artist
Artists Talk On Art, October 24, 1997
Moderator: Michael Walls, art dealer, curator
Norman Dubrow, collector
David Rankin, established artist
Jean Wolff, emerging artist
Douglas Michael, psychiatrist, critic, curator
Robert C. Morgan, critic
Donna Marxer, director ATOA: Here's Michael Walls to welcome our distinguished panelists.
MW: Good evening. I thank all of you for coming out on such an inclement evening. It is my pleasure to be here this evening. I scan the audience briefly and I don't see the perfect artist yet but we will start anyway.
I'd like to introduce starting with the artist because without their work, obviously we would not be here tonight.
On your left is an artist named Jean Wolff. Jean is a native of Detroit, a wonderful city--great, great, great museum and six years ago she I guess gritted her teeth and made the big move to New York. Her background, her academic background is in printmaking and she has transformed herself into I think a splendid painter.
By means of introduction, I first encountered her work in the slide registry--more about the existence of those valuable entities later this evening--at an admired and sadly defunct organization in Tribeca called Art Initiatives which was begun and nurtured for several years by my friend Gail Swithenbank. And I was invited by that organization to curate a show for them in the spring of 1994 and was sort of honor bound to go through the 300-and-some sets of slides which are divided into different categories and discovered six slides by Jean there and was immediately very attracted to the work with its systemic qualities, its sensitivity to color, and within a few days got in touch with her and put her in that show that I was working on which was titled "Isn't it Romantic" at a donated space in Crosby Street and she and I have--for me a very, illuminating and satisfying relationship since then--sometimes dealer and artist and sometimes independent curator and artist because those are two hats that I have worn in recent years.
Jean's studio for a number of years has been in Williamsburg. You can't be interested in what is going on in art at the present time in New York without frequent trips to the great borough of Brooklyn--an increasingly large community of artists there. Anyway, her studio is in Williamsburg and her residence only recently now is in Manhattan.
She supports herself by working for a very high-powered advertising agency in Manhattan on a full-time schedule and her life as a painter is as it were forced to exist in the evening hours and on lengthy weekends and her work can be seen at the present time in two exhibitions, both, perhaps not coincidentally, curated by me. One is an exhibition of three painters work at the Robert Steele Gallery in the Castelli-Sonnabend building called "Process Become Poetry" and there is the show at the University of New Jersey, in which she is one of 69 participating painters.
To my immediate right, your left, is the painter David Rankin, who is a very close friend. David was born in the south of England in 1946. When he was only three, his family picked up and moved to Australia and he grew up in the countryside outside of Sydney and had the good fortune as a young boy that a teacher recognized that between the left and right ears was an extraordinary mind. He is one of the best read and most articulate people that I have ever encountered and in 1969, he met his wife, a very gifted poet, novelist and essayist, very valued in her adopted country. She also went there as a child, in her case from continental Europe, Lily Brett. They are a formidable team--wonderfully supportive of each other and more about artists supporting each other and forming alliances later in the evening.
David's work has been the subject of more than 100 solo exhibitions in his almost-native Australia. In the United States, he's had a solo show in a museum in San Francisco a few years ago. He's recently had exhibitions in both Boca Raton, Florida and Washington, DC and at the Australian embassy in Washington. Among the many things that he has done in addition to (leading) a very productive life as a painter, he did run for a number of years a greatly admired printmaking workshop in Australia so that inescapably put him into a working relationship with a large number of Australian artists of different sensibilities.
He's been a resident of Soho since 1989.
To my left and your right is a gentleman who wears several disparate hats, someone I am very fond of and admiring, Mr. Douglas Maxwell. Doug is a native of New York. He is a certified psychoanalyst. He has a private practice in New York. He is the art editor of a journal called The Psychoanaltic Review. He has quite a bit of experience as an independent curator working on shows in both commercial galleries and museums. He's a critic. I'm sure you all know the journal that is published twice a month by the courageous Bill Bace. It's called Review which comes out the first and 15th of each month. There's an issue that came out yesterday in which he has a critical review of a current one-person show by the artist (inaudible) and two weeks ago he wrote a very perceptive, insightful and sensitive review of the painter Brenda Goodman who is with us this evening for her show at the 420 West Broadway building.
And last, but certainly not least, he is an adjunct assistant professor of art at New York University. He's taught there for quite a number of years and so he's someone that is both critic, collector in his own way, and curator.
I wanted this evening to have people who were from the several major disciplines that artists would desirably interact with throughout their careers in order to aid the work in being seen.
And then, to my extreme right is the collector this evening, my friend Norman Dubrow. He is a native of New York and I met him in 1974 within weeks of moving here from California and opening my first gallery. In a way, choosing a collector to represent that sometimes scorned sometimes admired undertaking and profession, I wanted a very special person. I specifically did not want someone from the large hardy band of collectors who would say, well I'm an art collector so I have to have a Frank Stella; I have to have an Agnes Martin; I have to have (possibly if enlightened) a Louise Bourgois. I wanted someone who approached looking at art in a really insightful, really individual way.
Norman in 1970 began collecting drawings, specifically drawings. It partly had to do with drawing's immediacy as a vehicle of communication, putting down as it were an artist's innermost thoughts--both long festering ideas and inspirations of the moment. It perhaps had to do with his being a beginning collector, the economics of collecting art and also had to do with the environment in which he lived at the time, which was modest in proportion and not suited, he thought, for housing very large paintings.
So he began a 24-year activity of going out. He's one of those hardy souls of which New York has many which makes it one of the important reasons it is such a great art center.
Robert--Robert Morgan is joining us.
So he (Norman) concentrated on collecting drawings. Two rather important points were that he's interested primarily in the work of quite young artists. It's the freshness and newness of their ideas and the fact that, as it were, they are the foot soldiers refreshing and renewing in this enormous community of artists in New York and by nature, it is they whose work speaks to him most profoundly, so he began by collecting two, four, six drawings a year. He had a certain amount of money he felt he could spend. He did a lot of looking and from time to time lightning would strike and he would--he would look primarily in galleries. I should note that. He wasn't someone who combed PS1, visiting the studios there. He looked primarily and bought primarily from galleries and that continued and after a certain number of years--and this is one that makes him such a singular individual--rather than hanging all of these works in his apartment, he would make certain that they were archivally framed if they were not already when he bought them from the gallery. He would take it upon himself to make certain that they would survive for posterity's gaze and he would store them in his apartment for periods of time--looking at them, studying them and sometimes just being their caretaker. And then he began a program of giving them away to the principal museums of New York. He's been a very valued benefactor of the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney, the Metropolitan Museum. And this really sets him apart.
Three years ago, in a quite unexpected move, he decided it would be interesting after two decades of studying, collecting and giving away drawings, he thought he really would like to start dealing with paintings so in the last three years, he has bought more than 40 large paintings. He's very attracted to paintings of large scale and it's a really quite dramatic reversal in the medium and the scale and I think he's now in a different apartment. Although it isn't particularly commodious. So, when he goes to a gallery, he's very moved by work in a group show or solo exhibition
and is convinced to buy a work, sometimes two, by the same artist out of the same show. He says to the dealer, 'You must store this for me for the indefinite future. I have no room in my home for it. I may, if I follow my existing pattern, I may give eventually give it to a museum in New York but I can't be held to that promise. That's my plan. That's my grand scheme but, you know, one can't predict tomorrow.'
So, as a dealer myself for many years, if such a person, and very few of them came to me, say 'I'm going to buy that painting by this very young artist and the condition is that you store it,' one would quickly take it to the pigeon coop on the roof with insulation and say, 'Yes, we'd be delighted.'
So, just one brief story. He said two years ago at the time of the 1995 Whitney Biennial, I believe it was an unseasonably warm March day, he was walking down Madison Avenue and in unusually good spirits, he thought that he hadn't done anything especially wonderful for the Whitney Museum recently. 'They have a new director people speak admiringly of. Wouldn't it be nice if I walked in there Monday when the museum was closed (the Whitney Biennial hadn't opened. It was two days before it opened) and bought something out of their own exhibition and gave it to them.' So he walked in and announced himself and said he would like to speak to David Ross, the esteemed director--and was a little surprised but definitely impressed that he was immediately ushered up to David's office--who greeted him very warmly. Knew who he was, of his collecting and philanthropic activities and so they recommended, I believe, two artists that they would like to have. Two works by two different artists that they would like very much to have in the collection but neither one spoke to him personally and he felt that would not follow his pattern, that he was very specific. I have to mention that he is more attracted to figurative works. He uses that very term 'figurative works' as opposed to abstract. He says that speaks to him. I said 'Is that because of the humanistic concern?' He said, 'Well, I wouldn't commit myself to that.' He finds it particularly moving, has a particular affection for works in which there are two or more figures--about the interaction--I think the physical interaction and possibly the implied psychological interaction between the two or more figures in the composition. This is true of both drawings and paintings that speak to him.
He found himself to his astonishment entering a third realm of photography and bought a work by the Los Angeles-based photographer, Catherine Opie and found himself giving a large polychromatic photograph, a full-figures tattooed figure, to the Whitney. So that got him started on yet another area. Now he announces himself that his present passion is large-scale paintings. He feels there is so much extraordinary work being done by photographers that photographers are pulling him in their direction too so he sometimes collects in that area.
Robert (Morgan) is probably best known as a critic. Before its sad demise he was one of the critics for Arts magazine, published here in New York. I'm certain you are all familiar with it. At the same time, he was writing for Flash Art and still does. He, like Doug (Maxwell), is one of the principal critics for Bill Bace's journal, Review, which recently celebrated its first anniversary. His most recently published work came in as of yesterday in the 15th of November issue of Review. It is a review of the work of the conceptual artist Barbara Kruger who he had written about many years ago in Arts Magazine. It has a marvelous title, 'Power and seduction kitsch.'
RM: That wasn't my title.
MW: He didn't choose that; it was thrust upon him. . . the power of the editor.
But some of the other hats Robert has had thrust upon him--he's had books published, not just as a critic but also as an author. Importantly, he's an artist and world traveler. He's leaving tomorrow morning for a trip to Korea. He's forged a number of alliances with museums and galleries in France and he's becoming increasingly knowledgeable about recent art now made in France and writing about it and curating it, also presenting American artists in Europe.
So we will begin. I want each artist, each of the panelists to speak briefly. Just very briefly, I chose this curious title, 'The Perfect Artist' possibly like titling something 'The unicorn in the neighborhood' as if such a creature exists. I feel that no artist will be remembered by posterity unless the years given to them to work they manage over a period of time to gradually forge a very individual artistic vision for themselves, obviously on something that springs out of nowhere and comes from many years of working and industry and mistakes and occasional triumphs. And also at the same time, developing if not extraordinary, at least highly workable craft skills in whichever medium they choose to work in--photography, printmaking, painting, clay, whatever. Something that sets them apart from the larger scene as it were. I think those are at the core of any artists existence.
Those aspects tonight, we want to leave the core behind and talk about all the important external things--how artists function in the world, their personalities, the degree to which they are introverted or extroverted, how they live in the world, how they interact with their fellow artists, school or classmates, their teachers and what happens to them.
I've been a dealer and sometimes independent curator for three decades so I have really focussed on young artists. I've had the great fortune to work with hundreds and hundreds of young artists at the beginning of their careers. It's been an extraordinary experience for me. And so I have observed in this 30-year period some artists I could mention, such disparate figures as Joan Snyder and the Santa Fe, NM artist Terry Alan, whom I worked with at the very beginnings of their careers who have persevered and are greatly valued now. There have been sadly many other people, a far larger number than I have begun with who have stopped working for one reason or another or have never risen above their relatively quiet beginnings.
So I wanted to pick people from the various important professions. I chose two artists. I had Jean represent the young artist. I have been exhibiting her work for four or five years.
JW: Longer than that but steadily in the last four or five years in New York.
MW: And she's met with some success, enough so that in a show that had more than 50 artists in it she was one who was singled out by Roberta Smith in her brief Times review of the show. Robert Storr, the admired curator at MOMA juried her into an exhibition at the Katonah Museum two or three summers ago so she has had some small, so far, critical and commercial, success.
When I wanted an older artist, David kindly agreed to step into that--someone who has a had a fairly lengthy exhibition history and who could look back, you know, at things that he is proud that happened, decisions he made, not the least of which was where to live. David and Lily were living a number of years in the cosmopolitan and very lively city of Melbourne and they were making once-a-year expeditions to either New York, Paris or London, where they would go, and not just for three or four days but three or four weeks and so when they made the very difficult decision to leave their adopted countries, more or less native countries, where they had both arrived as small children, those were the choices whether to move to New York, London or Paris and happily for me, and many others, they chose New York. He will have a certain vantage point.
And then I wanted an admired critic, an amusing curator and a highly individual collector and these two gentlemen, I am very grateful for their agreeing to come, both on short notice for me, for which I apologize. They are marvelous because they are both curators and critics (Morgan and Maxwell) in addition to their other gifts. So, may we begin with you, Norman? I'd like each person to speak about their experiences about either being an artist or working closely with artists and aspects that they find in ways in the which the artist comports himself or herself that make the work more accessible and more of a joy to deal with them. Or conversely, things that they find difficult about them.
ND: Michael mentioned that I had spoken to David Ross about getting a work for the Whitney and they suggested two or three artists in the Biennial that they would like a work by. And I wasn't interested in any one of them. The artist in the Biennial that I wanted to by a painting by was Christian Schumann, and it happened that there were no Christian Schumanns available at that time, but I did buy a Christian Schumann for the Whitney in his next show which was about six or nine months later. But I did immediately buy a photograph by Catherine Opie, and I had no plans to buy photography but when I saw her work in that show, I was absolutely flabbergasted. I thought it was so extraordinary and so I bought a very large photograph of Ron Aphie, this tattooed man, for the Whitney and very recently, I bought another Catherine Opie photograph of Ron Aphie and his troupe and, if you know anything about Ron Aphie and his troupe, they are a rather bizarre bunch but the photograph, which is large, is so extraordinary technically; it's so incredible, in every way it's so incredible, I just couldn't resist it. In fact, when I bought it from the gallery, they said to me that it was the fastest sale that they had ever made because as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it.
Now, to give you an idea of what I look for in art and artists and things like that, I am going to tell a little bit more about the story of buying something from the Biennial. One of the two or three artists that they wanted me to buy something by for them was Ellen Gallagher, and I simply found her work boring. And I did not want to buy a Ellen Gallagher work and in fact, I did not. Then a few months later, I saw a Ellen Gallagher hanging in Mary Boone's gallery. Now I wanted to buy paintings and very few of the important galleries were showing painters. So, I went to Mary and I said, 'Mary, I want an Ellen Gallagher. I really don't care for the work very much. I'm buying a Mary Boone, I'm not buying an Ellen Gallagher. (laughter) So, it turns out that Lowry Simms of the Metropolitan wanted an Ellen Gallagher very much. So we worked out that I would get an Ellen Gallagher and give it to the Met and donating to museums is very much a part of my program. So that was not out of my program at all. It was something that I wanted to do. And so we bought an Ellen Gallagher for the Met and it's really quite a wonderful painting and I did like her work when I saw the entire show. It had much more variety than I expected and the painting happens to be, apparently, one of Ellen's favorites because it is reproduced a lot when there are articles about Ellen Gallagher.
But the point that I am trying to make is, a lot of my collecting is based on confidence on dealers, certain dealers, because sometimes I find that it takes me, it may take me quite a while to appreciate an artist and I find very often that sometimes when I get to like an artist, the work is simply too expensive. So I have to really put a certain amount of faith in dealers and so that has a lot to do with my collecting. But that's a rather unusual case because most of my collecting is work that I really like and respond to very very much. Now when I buy something, I like to interview the artist to find out about the work because I am working on a book about my entire collection, and I prepare an essay on every work that I buy. And so I take my tape recorder into the gallery, into the artist's studio and I converse with the artist about his work, which I feel is extremely important because I find out things about the work when I talk to the artist that I would never have guessed and never have anticipated. And you sometimes read descriptions and discussions of works in museum publications and sometimes they are way way off the base because they haven't spoken to the artist so I try to find out what the artist had in mind, what he's trying to say, sometimes their sources--you just can't believe it. It's not possible to anticipate. So, that's something that I enjoy doing and the response that I get from the artists generally and the dealers is that nobody does this. It is apparently simply not done. But I enjoy doing that the information that I'm collecting will be valuable for the future.
MW: Norman, excuse me, you mentioned when we spoke earlier that you have had the experience of having bought a work by an artist, a drawing or painting, explained to the artist of having this program, of keeping this record through having a recorded conversation and that on more than one occasion the artist has declined to do it. I was not surprised to hear this but I immediately thought when this book is published in the future that it obviously is going to be a singular record of one collector's oddessy but also a record of this time period which Norman is looking exhaustively at and what were your personal feelings. I felt that the artists were doing themselves a disservice to deny, as it were, posterity this immediate fresh viewpoint.
ND: Michael, a lot of artists don't want to reveal everything that they have in mind. They want the work to speak for itself and they'll tell you that. And they don't want you to lead anybody to a certain interpretation or a certain view toward their art. And so a lot of artists--so there are not many artists who have refused to be interviewed by me. Just very, very few. In one case, I think it is because the artist wanted to leave the work open to the viewer's interpretation and not put ideas into the mind of the viewer. And I think that's a perfectly legitimate reason.
Another artist who declined to be interviewed, although she spoke to me, she was interviewed at great length but she did not want it taped. Now I can't figure out why she did not want it taped. She said, 'Submit questions to me and I will answer them in writing, which she has not done.' But, she will do it. She will do it. It's just a matter of personality. But most artists are very happy to be interviewed and they seem to enjoy the experience. But if an artist does not want to be interviewed because he does not want to reveal all his ideas and wants you to do your own work, I can appreciate that as a legitimate reason for not wanting to.
MW: Thank you Norman. Robert, would you like to continue on this? If you want to be interviewed?
RM: If you want to be interviewed with your charm, wit and intelligence, what I've heard so far. You know, I feel like I'm on one of these ski lifts where my legs are sort of dangling in space. You in the other room are seeing that I'm trying the best way to arrange my feet here (Someone brings a stool.) I don't know if Michael introduced himself or his background. I've known Michael for many, many years and I think we met back in San Francisco if I'm not mistaken where Michael was running an extraordinary gallery in, is it Ghiridelli Plaza?
MW: Ghiridelli Square.
And the first show that I saw was Frank Stella, Donald Judd and Stephan Von Hume, who is a lesser-known New York artist but I guess in the early 70s was fairly well known in Southern California. And I was really struck by that show and immediately struck up a conversation with Michael Walls. This was 25 years ago or so and we've remained friends off and on. We are friends. Michael is a great guy. It's just that we don't see each other that much but this is a great occasion. I just think very highly of Michael Walls and so I was delighted to come here and participate in this panel this evening although I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to say about the ideal artist.
As a critic, I'm looking for a criterion, I suppose, in relation to what I think is the most advanced art and often my criteria doesn't fit with what I read or what artists tell me. I would seem to go in the opposite direction.
Last night I was on another panel dealing with women's art and there's a great deal of emphasis nowadays on 'the spectacle.' And we've seen a sort of chain reaction. I suppose it goes back to Robert Longo and Jeff Koons, Damian Hurst, Andres Serrano, the Chapman brothers. I suppose you could throw Matthew Barney in there as well. In other words, this idea that art has to be somehow larger than life, that it has to have this sort of anti-mythological proportion and somehow exude this extraordinary presence is going to shock the viewer into some kind of agreement that culture is on the decline. And I'm not interested in this statement. I'm not interested in those values.
What interests me much more at this point is the art of intimacy which is quite opposite from the art of spectacle. And when I talk about spectacle, I'm referring to the French situationists back in the 50s, Iga Borg in particular, who looked at spectacle as a kind of relief from the pain of capitalist exploitation, which is sort of a paraphrase but that's more or less what he was getting at, in other words, if you can't deal with the reality of your life, then denial sets in and the projection of denial. And I think a lot of this work, in which people are investing so much money is sort of like cable TV, you know when it appears and then it disappears. It's sort of in and then it's out. And it is of no great interest to me. I am more interested in artists who have pursued a line of inquiry and perhaps that line of inquiry is not trendy or not within some social context or even within the economic context of the particular moment, but there's been a dedication to that idea. There is then a pursuit, a struggle to evolve those extraordinary images or ideas or ideas, images, however you want to see it, depending on how conceptual the work is or how expressionist the work is or how postmodern the work is, depending on what kind of criteria you want to bring to it, but this is kind of my position. It's not kind of my position it is my position and the intimate, I think, is what people really want. They want to feel something that is real. And we get image bombardment every day, 20,000 images a day, and I think getting in touch with something else is what people are after and if you ask me about the art of the 21st century, it's that sense of the intimate that people are going to go for, because it is going to be one of the few places that they are ever going to find it.
MW: Very eloquent, Robert. Thanks. Douglas Maxwell?
DM: Well, as Michael has so graciously stated about me, one of the things I do is that I'm a psychoanalyst. So I know about doing unpopular work, highly criticized work. I know about work where one is personally criticized at all times. So I guess I am very empathetic about the work artists do when they put their whole self-esteem out in terms of a show. And receive perhaps, not the greatest reviews.
So I guess I wondered about the topic as well. I guess one of the things I can talk about, interestingly enough is not about contemporary art but about Velasquez. And Velasquez's painting of Las Mininas, probably his most famous painting and why is that such a famous painting. And I believe the reason it is such a famous painting is that he did something there. He broke with a tradition and took a risk. And the risk was, of course, as you all know, that he painted into the space, well kind of surreptitiously painted into the space, the king and queen, Philip IV. He had worked with Philip IV as the only court painter of the court of Philip IV almost 40 years. They were about the same age. And the only time he wasn't the only court painter was when a guy named Ruebens came down and he (V) bowed out for about five paintings worth. But he was the only artist who painted Philip IV over the course of 40 years. So we could say that Philip IV was really his collector. And what he did in Las Mininas was the king and queen. Now this was close to blasphemous for an artist to paint himself into the space of royalty. It was noticed by his son-in-law who, I believe his name was Del Mazzo, who after Velasquez's death, went back to the painting and painted the crest of Philip IV on Velasquez's chest. Velasquez dar not do that.
So here we have a relationship with a collector of 40 years where he is the sole artist painting this particular collector, obviously a prominent one, and it takes him 40 years to assert enough of his self esteem to be able to paint himself in the same place as his collector. So, what am I saying?
I'm saying that it is really difficult to assert your self esteem as an artist. I mean, it takes a lot. It takes a tremendous amount. And it seems to me that it's something that's worthwhile to assert it.
None of us up here--you know--one of the reasons I got involved with Review magazine was that it did things like its (Whitney) Biennial issue last year or if you look at the magazine, you'll see three or four reviews of the same show and they'll be sometimes diametrically opposed. Now how is it that all of us that know so much up here, supposedly, can differ so greatly looking at the same damn thing?
Well, it is because none of us are really final arbiters. So, my role as a curator, and perhaps even as a collector and a teacher, I'd suggest that in terms of self esteem that you push a little bit as an artist. That you send slides out--not necessarily to a dealer. I don't think that works very well. As you said before (Donna) that artists help artists and I think also that curators can be of help and you don't take it personally when you don't hear from them. That's the tough thing about the self esteem is when you don't get the exact response you want it feels biting. And I guess being an artist, part of the definition of being an artist is being able to accept 'No' a million different ways. So I think you have to find it in yourself well--who are you doing the work for? First and foremost, if you are not doing the work for yourself, if you can't find the satisfaction in the work yourself, you'd better not be doing it. So that's first and that will help your self esteem if you can come to that conclusion.
But secondly, you have to put yourself out there, in different ways and sometimes you have to be pushy. And you have to be pushing not in a personal way but pushy because you are an artist and the ultimate goal of an artist is to have his or her work shown. And so, I suggest to you, you know, this world is a little more accelerated than Velasquez's world, so maybe it doesn't have to take you 40 years.
JW: It is interesting hearing what the other panelists have said because it has given me a lot of thoughts about artists and young artists, emerging artists, collectors, photography, asserting yourself, sending out slides, Velasquez, you know, he's one of my favorite painters, Ellen Gallagher who I actually do like very much and did like the work at the Biennial. But you know, you're right. Who else do you do it for but yourself and I guess when you were talking about that I was thinking about a panel discussion I had been to many years ago and Marilyn Minter was on the panel and they were talking about the business of art and how you get out and what you do and she'd sort of gotten caught--well, in her words--she's sort of 'making it,' becoming established; she's had shows and she said this whole thing that comes over us, like this art machine, the business side of it, you know and she said, and this friend of mine said, 'Yes and Jeff Koons owns the manual." You know, to the machine.
So, it made me reflect on that. It also made me reflect on how I go about my work and 10 years ago, 11 years ago, I got into advertising. I needed to make a living and I'm sort of on the other side in my job of what a dealer does in terms of getting publicity. I'm responsible--I'm a senior vice president in a large agency--and I'm responsible for hiring photographers and illustrators for all our print advertising, so I'm solicited on a non-stop basis for hiring these people, making decisions and spending other peoples money--a large sum of money on a daily basis.
So in a way, it sort of gave me a pragmatism to what dealers deal with in terms of getting slides across the desk every day and looking at this work--how to make decisions, how to deal with rejections, certainly not personal. I mean, it's about being in the right place at the right time and ultimately, I do believe--maybe it's naive of me--but I really feel it is eventually for the people who respond to it, the response to the work. I mean, my relationship with Michael has been about that. He responded to the work.
With other artists, it's been a response to the work. It's true, other artists do help other artists and I've a very good support system and we are there for each other and at shows for each other and about grants. We are always telling each other about what deadlines are coming up for NYFA or the Guggenheim or the Elizabeth Foundation. You know, we just help each other. It's a different type of competition, competitiveness. You know, if you feel like your peer group is doing well, you're doing well. And it's a real sort of shared success.
I've also heard cynical things from other people about the art world--you know--the only people that make it are trust fund babies these days so I mean, you have to sort of balance all these different things and filter them in for yourself.
Ultimately, my studio is my sanctuary. It's the place where I work; it's the place where I work through my ideas and, you know, I just go to it as the place where I work and it's there. It's a process; it's a part of me and I considered myself an artist from the day that I was born. So it was always a sensibility that was with me in everything that I do from a very early stage.
So when Michael says, 'How long have you been exhibiting?' I know that when I was in college that I was active in that community in Michigan--was in juried shows and things.
And also, my work has changed. I was a printmaker as an undergraduate and as a graduate student here in Hunter College in New York. It's sort of the marketplace that turned me into a painter and nobody was going to look at prints or were going to make any kind of impression for the printmaker. It was a secondary art form, you know, subordinate to printmaking. It was the easiest way to make inexpensive art for collectors--if they couldn't afford the $40,000 Stella, or if they could afford a $4,000 Stella.
And also, the scale of the work that I was doing was very large and pushing printmaking. So it was only a natural progression that I went to painting.
I am an abstractionist, unfortunately (laughter.) But I do feel that my styles are very singular and that I've been working within a single vocabulary and with the medium for a number of years. Michael has seen it evolve and maybe so have some of you. And I'm very committed to that and I also find a lot of inspiration in photography. I am also a collector of photography. That's something that we've never really talked about but I do have a lot of friends that are established photographers and I've learned a lot from them from working through work. I did work with Robert Mapplethorpe before he died, and Richard Avedon. So you learn a lot from these people in terms of how they think and how they approach a problem. That's really what it is. They are given an assignment and how they see. I've been sort of privileged in that way.
And then again when I started advertising--this was in the mid-80s and the craziness of the art world at the time. And a lot of artists would way, 'Oh, you can't be an artist if you work full time.' And now the turnaround has been that my friends turn around and say, 'Oh, you've got such a great job.' (laughter) So you make it work, whatever you can do but in a way it offers me a lot of freedom because I don't have to worry about the financial side of things. So that I'm free to do the work that I want to do.
DR: Thank you Michael. I think when Michael first suggested that I join a panel and discuss the topic of the perfect or the ideal artist, as I mentioned before to Joe DiGiorgio, it's one of those subjects that's so narrow yet it's impossibly broad. And, I think, in a sense, the idea of a perfect artist or an ideal artist--there's no glamour and no power going to come from being a perfect or an ideal artist.
I was sitting in my studio the other day listening to Mel Torme singing. Now there's a perfect artist. Right? A consummate vocalist. Very few people want to listen to him. Even amongst his own peers, his own community, his own generation, they would prefer to listen to many other deeply flawed vocalists. There is something about that perfection and there's something about the ease and grace of that ideal, the quality in his voice that is very unattractive to people. So the notion of being an ideal artist or an ideal painter is a deeply unattractive one. Again, in terms of being an ideal artist I think you have to talk about the context, only about the context.
As a young artist I know as I was thinking about other painters, I thought very deeply about artists who taught me a second aspect of art, and that is, how to live. Endless, endless artists who I admired and I have revered for what they did with their painting, their sculpture, their drawing or their printmaking, but there were very few artists who could actually teach me about how to live as an artist. And it is one of the most problematic, most disturbing areas for young artists.
You know, if you are an accountant and you are in accountancy school, there are endless role models about how to be an accountant and how to lead your life. But if you're a young artist, there are very few role models for people who you can look at and say, 'That's how you conduct a life.' That's how you can accommodate being a parent or having a house or being an integrated member of society or being responsible to your art. So there are very few artist, a small lexicon like rosary beads, these artists that I go to on a regular basis and refer to because these are the people who have taught me how to live and how to conduct myself and how to have some kind of sense of fulfillment, some sense of structure, some sense of pride in the life that's led, as well as the art that's created. And I think that if you've got a life that's led with that kind of sense of structure and strength, I think the making of the art becomes a whole lot easier, and a lot, lot more in focus.
The thing, of course, the obvious thing about being the ideal artist is the artist that you need on that day to help you get through that day in relation to the painting that you are working on, in relation to the ideas you are thinking about. There are a whole range of artists that you can refer to. The ideal one at that given moment who has in some way, whether it is a southern soul painter who has retired from the court and went and lived by a river or whether it is Picasso at his most heroic or misogynistic. At whatever time you need an artist, that's the ideal artist for you.
So the whole notion of the ideal artist is attractive--is endlessly qualified and endlessly indexed to who we are, what we need and our context of our time.
DM: There is a certain relationship that has to be watched between the sense of success and how we gauge success in society based on how we base success in a society based on these kind of monetary concepts and what happens to the creative juices. I think you see it critically all the time now, like, for example, I haven't read Robert's review yet of Barbara Krueger but I certainly read Michael Kimmelmans's last week. And one wonders about--forget the quality, what you think about the quality. One wonders about whether it is worth taking a risk as a successful artist in the light of that kind of criticism. So it's on the other end and on one has to pass the hat around for these artists but it's something to remember in terms of the overall longevity in the creativity.
The other issue is what I would like to call the Picasso syndrome. Which is that when an artist becomes more and more successful, he or she decides that 'Well, what I have to do is what Picasso did or Matisse did' and that is they have to become proficient in every art form and they have to extend out into all these other areas as if there isn't something really hallowed in being trained as a painter that doesn't mean that you can be a sculptor or that you can do video art or the like. Just because you've had success you can't just branch out. I just think these are caveats to watch out for. And I hope you all have to deal with them, by the way.
MW: Thank you Doug. I remember the exhibition of the admired painter Eric Fischl a number of years ago at Boone's gallery where he showed, I believe publicly for the first time, a number of three-dimensional works, and I also remember the response to them of most of my artist friends, specifically painter friends. They found them wanting and disappointing. One thinks of this sort of paradigm of multi-talented artists: a great, great printmaker, a fluent sculptor, extraordinary protean painter, Picasso. It would be nice to think that one would find the energy and the curiosity to investigate additional areas. I think part of that would be having the good sense, or possibly the humility to know where to accept advice. Where would be the time, and if ever, to publicly show those.
I have been affiliated long enough with Artists Talk on Art long enough to know that one of the favorite aspects of these Friday night panels is the interaction between the panelists and the audience. And since you have all been good and brave and come out on a rather dreadful evening, I think this is a opportune time to open up to your responses to some or all of the things that have been said, questions, brief statements that can be addressed either to an individual panelist or really just to all of us. So we'll start that now, if we may.
I'd like to thank all of the panelists for their very beautiful and individual comments.
Donna Marxer: I'm so moved by what you all had to say. And you give me faith. I've been painting steadily for 40 years and I want to say I consider myself a perfect artist in this sense. I don't have to have a day job and I get to do the work I love every day. And I'm so moved by what Jean said because she's not bitching about her day job. The time will come when you don't have to do it anymore, Dear. So keep the faith. (laughter)
Aud: This question is directed toward Jean and David, primarily Jean because she said she worked in advertising which is where I have been for the last two years in the city. How do you find time or make time between the day job and the art. Do you section it out or is it something that just inspires you and you call in sick. How does that occur (laughter).
JW: No. The best thing I can say is that I am very disciplined. I usually--at different times--I can't really say this completely, but I usually go right to the studio right after work and work for a couple of hours in the evening and then go home and shut it off. Once I'm there, it's usually forget about what I had to do during the day. And then the weekends. I'm just very disciplined about it, just getting in there and trying to spend six hours a day on the weekends and in the evenings. Probably two to three nights a week, so it's just being there and being focussed in the way that I work. I work, I guess the way that I've developed working, I work on multiple things at once so there's that luxury of getting a lot done in a very small amount of time but I'm efficient and disciplined. I guess that's the best I can offer you. I don't know what else to say. I don't think there's any secrets.
DR: I think what I was saying before--those artists that I look to to learn about life from, two artists that I particularly in this case would address. One would be Paul Klee who as a young man and as a young teacher of art, his wife was the main breadwinner in the family, Lily Strumpf. And Lily Strumpf was a piano teacher and Paul Klee was what we now call a house husband and he would stay at home and look after Felix in this tiny little apartment and Paul Klee's studio was the kitchen drawer and when Felix was asleep, he would pull the kitchen drawer out and there would be the watercolors and the little pad and that's where he's work. When the baby cried, the drawer was closed and he'd go back to his household duties. So that's an artist who you can learn from.
You look at artists and all artists basically have massive levels of discipline. You know, the drive and the discipline have to be extraordinary.
The other artist I always look at in these terms is Matisse. I read Matisse's letters from 1905, when you would think he would be at the white heat as a painter of the developing fauve movement. You would think he would be literally intoxicated by color and the most excited moment in his letters of that year is when he addresses a friend and says 'You can't believe how excited I am now. I've made enough money to buy a house in the country so my daughter can do riding lessons.' So to me, that was the notion of balance. That's how to conduct the life.
MW: Have we another question?
AUD: You started talking before about people are looking for something intimate in art now? Could you just expand on that a little bit more?
RM: One of the historic examples that I point to is, do your know this artist? Eva Hesse? A very important artist who lived, I guess she was born in 1936 and died sadly in 1970 of cancer if I'm not mistaken and Hesse was working during that wonderful period of the 60s and she studied with Joseph Albers. It's interesting why she studied with Albers. For one thing, she was an immigrant from Germany, a German-Jewish immigrant and Albers had a Jewish wife, Annie Albers and Annie was a weaver and Joseph was an extraordinary painter and a great disciplinarian as an art teacher and Hesse really found some important kinship with both Joseph and Annie and often Rauschenberg is talked about as the one who came out of that but in fact Hesse also came out of that relationship and it really worked to her advantage.
She discovered she didn't want to be a painter but she really wanted to do sculpture and in 1966 she did a very important work called 'Hang-up' in which she took a frame. She wrapped it, she turned the hanging wire around so it touched the floor and she had this relationship between floor and wall which was quite extraordinary and this was during the time when Carl Andres, Donald Judd, Tony Smith, Dan Flavin and all these hard-core minimalists were doing these prefabricated forms and you saw a lot of repetition of cubes.
Now you can talk about minimalism in the 60s and as representing this idea of modularity, repetition and standardization and what Hesse did coming through that tradition, because she was very aware of what all these guys were doing is that she dropped out the idea of standardization. She liked the idea of modularity and repetition but she started going into it with the tactile experience in relation to the material. And she was intimately involved with the material and with the experience of doing the work. And I think that the resistance, but also the necessary ground that she found in minimal art allowed her to come through into this incredible buoyancy, this incredible sense of transcendence about materials and idea that is so extraordinary and relates to the whole discourse on the body because there is this extremely organic idea but it is so clear in terms of the discipline that I am sure she got from the Albers, both Annie and Joseph. But she did it her own way. It was never about the spectacle. It was the most sincere, authentic, I mean you feel this in the work. It's ineluctable. You feel that she was absolutely in the heart of her work.
MW: An extraordinarily beautiful statement. I've long thought her one of the most individual artists of the 10th Century. When one still hears, happily less frequently in recent years, about women artists being held in lower esteem, that there still are doors that don't open to them as readily as they ought to, the first artist that comes to mind to me is Eva Hesse. Such a brief life but what she created and there's no male artist, I can think, in the same time period to whom she would ever take a second seat. Lovely to hear it in your voice. I thank you.
Elsie? Elsie Dinsmore Popkin up here from North Carolina.
ED! I'm up here because I have a show that opened last night and it's pushy time. How do I? I love my life. I go out and I paint gardens around the world and now that the children have grown I can go any place I want. I used to pay the kids to pose for me when they were little. And my daughter is an artist with . . . down to her knees and she's wonderful and I'm not ready for the next step up. How do I get a critic to come review my work? I try to make connections. I live in North Carolina. How do I get these guys to come to my show? (applause)
MW: Well you have a senior vice president in advertising here.
DM: She could take a little bit of that perhaps but that's exactly what you do. You certainly have my curiosity to come and see your show but you know, there is no formula around the relationship between us seeing the show and us writing about it and I think that again it's the same sort of--it's kind of the same sort of relationship. I have to be moved in a particular way to write about a show. Now my writing I suppose certainly combines both of my lives, which is my analytic life and my art life. And so I have to be moved internally in a particular way to want to write about something, and feel that I have something to say about it. And I suspect that's true of Robert as well as most critics. But it's that kind of statement where you say, 'Come see my show,' I think we have a responsibility to do that, personally. And I think as Michael certainly knows, I'm in the galleries all the time, personally because I believe in that.
And I'm also somebody talking about two lives. I have two lives. I have a full analytic practice. I teach a couple of days a week. I try and create and I write. I work basically seven days a week. But you know something? I really love all that I do and that's at the heart of it. That's what I said before. If you can't do this stuff for yourself first, it's not worth doing. It's just not worth doing. And I'm glad to hear your statement so tell me later where it is and I'll be glad to come. (much applause)
MW: I'd like to respond to that also. I've been a dealer since 1967 and for some reason, I guess I could enumerate them but I won't bother to, very quickly, my principal sympathy has been to painting, or the interface between drawing and painting as opposed to photography, sculpture, conceptual art, other arenas. And so I've sort of made a specialty over the last 30 years of working with very young artists. It has been an extraordinary, an illuminating life. I can say that I have a sympathy to artists just starting out, regardless of their age whether they are recently out of school or someone who is starting a second life after raising a family.
I'm always surprised however when artists come to me and say 'How do I go about getting an exhibition? How do I find the right spokesperson for my work?' I've had 30 long years, both in California and New York and elsewhere, other places I have worked. And I've never ceased to be surprised especially at a mature artist, someone who ha been out in the world for a period of time about some of what strikes me as a sweetly naive response. I've had artists say to me, 'I went to such and such a gallery this morning and asked, could I leave my slides?' and the sting of the rebuff is a very powerful one in the telling of the story and I said, 'Well, what's your history with this gallery?' Well, it's the first time I ever was in this gallery. The space is beautiful. It's a good address. Maybe I've read one or two reviews of shows there. But I've never been in the gallery before.' And I said, Well, from my long experience of roughly 30 years, I would say to an artist, 'Unless you are living in Spain or Paris and coming to New York and have a few short days to try to find the perfect mate of artist and dealer, either get to know a gallery--' I've had many artists who come in my gallery. I know the face, I know something of their personality, interest and sometimes I don't know their name. You know, they can be visitors over a period of 10 or more years and I don't know their name but we have long conversations that certainly are enriching to me and I hope to some degree to them and they never once have asked me could they leave slides with me. They discuss in very sensitive ways the exhibitions. I get to know their thinking. I could tell when a particular exhibition I'm presenting speaks to them and when it doesn't. The silence is sometimes more deafening. And sometimes it strikes me as very odd to get to know these people. You know I'm aware that they have children, what their pose does professionally and yet very often I don't know the name if someone comes in the gallery. I just introduce them as a friend, a painter without ever being able to say this is . . . And I have had these wonderful period of years and find it odd--I always think that the artist makes the marriage between the artist and dealer, most important for visual artists--one of the most important things that could exist--you know, one of the great dealers, my heroes, Irving Blum, Alan Frumpkin, the dealers in Chicago to the degree that I know it, the dealers in Western Europe I hold up as my heroes because of their perseverance, the quality of the exhibitions that they've mounted over decades. I know that many of them have long marriages and I use that term deliberately with artists. Paula Cooper has been an extraordinary exemplar as has Alan Frumpkin. Leo Castelli, one would have to say. The kinship between Leo Castelli and Jasper Johns is one of the loveliest and most productive marriages I think, one could say, in the United States and I always find it astonishing that an artist, whether he or she is coming from Madrid and has the money to be in New York for five days--it is astonishing that an artist who lives in Williamsburg and comes, whenever they have the subway fare can cross the East River and speak to the galleries--I find it a little bit unusual. I am, the world knows, not the best businessperson but I do have a passion for artists and what they are trying to make and so, my artists that I work with often accuse me of frittering away my time when I could be advancing their careers--talking to artists.
But it has been a very illuminating life, I have to say and I'm surprised when they say to me that they will go to a gallery and be really wounded by being turned down when a dealer won't look at the slides, won't have a conversation, if they can indeed get any place close to the dealer, ever get past the stony-faced figure at the reception desk.
But my feeling is, and I always say to artists, I think it's very good advice, try in your own way, in whatever is right for your personality, try to establish a rapport. I'm presenting now an exhibition by an artist who--I'm presenting two exhibitions by two artists, both born and grew up in the city of Detroit which has the good fortune of not only having the whole history of the automobile but one of the great, great American art museums and they speak to me with great tenderness about growing up with the famous Diego Rivera--the extraordinary works in the Detroit Museum of Art. Jean
is one person I'm speaking to and the other is the painter Brenda Goodman in the first row.
It (Detroit) might not quite be metropolitan New York with its embarrassment of riches or Chicago with its great art institute and its contemporary museum but it's a good place to grow up. I remember meeting Brenda Goodman when I had first opened a gallery in Soho in 1987 and she became an increasingly frequent visitor to the gallery. We had wonderful conversations. She would respond in her own way. I got to know her well enough that I could tell even by her body language what her response was to a particular exhibition. She didn't have to say, 'It doesn't interest me,' I could tell by the slant of her shoulders or whatever. And I don't remember in those years her ever pushing herself on me to say, 'Look at my slides. Please come to my studio.' God knows, she's not a shy person. But anyway, we had wonderful conversations. My greatest education, absolutely greatest education, as a dealer and a curator has been in thousands and thousands of conversations I've had over the years with artists and I don't for a minute know that I'd be a richer person but only in the bank, not in any other meaningful way, if I'd either paid more attention to collectors and less attention to artists over the last three decades. Brenda and I had wonderful conversations where I would learn about her dreams, aspirations.
So my feeling is that the best advice from my fairly long career that I could give to any artist--you can sense, you know, when you go into galleries, you can sense which dealers have a sympathy at all for young unknown artists. It reveals itself in ways: Do you ever actually physically see them in the gallery. Are they always behind closed doors. Do they come out in the light being a dealer. And I think the reason I decided on being a dealer and not trying becoming a museum curator is I love the day-to-day contact. And this has been my whole life--the daily dialog with all of these marvelous people--the creators, the thinkers, the writers, the chroniclers of the world of the visual arts.
So, my best advice would be to try to establish a rapport, find one or more dealers that you feel have an openness to you and to artists in general. It doesn't matter if you are recently out of Yale. If you have given birth to and raised and put through college four children and you just now want to develop the public phase of your life as an artist, try to find some person that you can have a meaningful ongoing dialog. Don't walk through the door and think that lightening is going to strike--that this dealer is just going to automatically think that 'Gee, I think I've found a marvelous artist.' Try to establish a dialog over a period of months or even years and that I think is good advice.
I'll just say in brief that I'd love to take some more questions, that the artists that I've worked with, I've always come to them by recommendation of other artists. So when Jean referred earlier to artists helping each other, that's the most important conduit, I think, to having your work get out into the world, is with the advice and help of your fellow artists.
AUD (Vernita Nemec): Michael, I just wonder if the panelists maybe could address pitfalls to avoid?
MW: Would anyone want to start off that difficult subject?
VN: Maybe just one each or something?
DR: It's problematic. When I was younger I used to teach young adult art students. And, as much as I would try to teach technique, or as much as I would try to encourage them to think, I also got involved, as inevitably you must, with them as a people. And one of the experiences I had at that time as a teacher was that I had a young student who was a particularly gifted picture-maker. You could lock him in a room and he would make marks with the heel of his shoe on the wall. You know, he was just one of those people who naturally made images. And he was a thrill to teach. And was an elevating experience to teach this young man.
Many years later, probably three years later, I saw, after we'd lost contact, after he'd gone on from the school, I met his brother and I asked about him. And he said, 'Oh, you didn't know. He died on a motor bike.' And it so distressed me that for years after that I would go to classes and say, 'Does anyone here ride a motorcycle. Because if you do, you can leave now. Because I'm not going to waste any emotional strength on anybody who's got such a short fuse.' And what I would try to say to people is, if you want to be an artist, look after yourself. Because nobody else is going to. It's a fraught life; it's a difficult life. You know, there are immense joys; there are immense blessings; immense satisfactions. But also, it is one of the most dangerous contemporary lives to lead. So, if you've got problems now, sort them out. You know, if you drink too much, sort it out now. If you've got any other problems, do drugs, sort it out now, because these things are like centrifugal machines. You know, at the start of the cycle, or a small problem, it doesn't look much, but by the time it starts getting on a larger cycle, it becomes immensely destructive, so just look after yourselves. So that's always the pitfall--always with young artists. I always encourage them to look after themselves.
MW: Would anyone else (care to comment?)
DM: Making art is really a sort of solitary occupation. It presents a kind of paradox for artists in terms of getting yourself seen, known, etc. I can resonate with it because I think that doing analysis as well is a somewhat solitary business and I say to a lot of my analytic students the worst thing you can do is really to become solitary about your work and not share it in a certain way and not talk about it. And what your problems are in doing the work, as a therapist. And I think that's also a lesson for artists that one of the things that you can do, and I'm sure you all know this, and I think you really have to make an effort at it, is not to be so solitary, because as you've heard tonight, most of the referrals that you get come from other artists.
I know as a curator, when I've done theme shows, that I will go to the studio of an artist and they will make two, three, four suggestions for a particular day and I'll follow up on that day and call up and see if I can go to those studios. And the only way I would get to those studios is through an artist suggesting other artists. And I think that's really important. The pitfall, I would say, is . . . remember Ivan Karp once saying, talking to a group--any of you remember Ivan Karp? (laughter)--around the late 70s, early 80s, he said, 'You've got to be careful when you deal with art dealers; it's not a licensed profession, you know. Really rather,' he said, 'the only requirements for being a dealer are four white walls, a desk and a plant.'
So, the thought of gaining direct access to this think called the dealer is really rather remote. Michael Walls is much the exception. His business prowess is very well known because of that but he's much the exception in terms of dealing with artists and also curators, teachers, etc. Over the course of 20 years, I've found every gallery he's been in he's been very willing to engage himself in dialog, which has been very rewarding for me as well. And I would suggest, it's really simple but it's really this networking thing. It's much more difficult to present yourself, in my opinion, if you are alone. It's much easier if you have support. In analysis, we call this having self-objects. And it's really very important to have good self-objects who are there, not necessarily to agree with you, but to be there to enter into a supportive dialog with you and that you can share and reciprocally support each other by way of galleries, etc.
RM: Part of what I do, I'm a professor in art history and in art and I have an Mfa and a PhD and I fly back and forth every week between Rochester and Pratt and I come into contact with a lot of art students and people in art history and a lot of theoretically oriented people and my advice is, you know, one thing you don't learn in art school, even in post-art school in Soho or West Chelsea, or Williamsburg, particularly in the United States is (that) a little charm and relaxation can get you a long way. (applause)
MW: I would say that's splendid advice.
AUD: Hello everyone, my name is Cecile Brunswick. I'm an artist and I've heard a lot comments this evening to the effect that you must have a gallery to represent you. One has a show very infrequently in galleries. There's a select time in which to get curators, writers, critics and other dealers to come. So I wondered, any advice about representing oneself, having people come to your studio . . .
MW: Norman, do you have anything to say on that point? You mentioned that you buy only from galleries.
ND: I buy only from dealers and I know that there are a lot of collectors who go to artists' studios and they like to collect that way. But I rely a lot on dealers to do a lot of the filtering and I rely a great deal on the judgment of dealers.
It's been very interesting listening to some of the things that were said. I talk a great deal to artists about how they obtain their gallery shows and I ask dealers, 'How did you find out about this particular artist?' And it's through all different kinds of roots. Very often the artist is recommended by an artist in the gallery. I was talking to, you mentioned O.K. Harris. I was talking to an artist who was very recently shown at O. K. Harris, Victor Rodriguez. He told me about his experience in getting a show in New York. And I thought it was very interesting. And what he said, #1, he's Mexican. And he was doing all of this from Mexico City. He is a photo realist. He put together packages of his work, slides, photographs. He sent out perhaps 100 or more packages to galleries and I'm sure that was a costly operation. He's in his middle or late 20s now. And from all the galleries he either got no response or a form letter, for one dealer, and that was Ivan Karp. Ivan Karp answered him saying, 'I would be interested if you come to New York, I would be interested in seeing your work.'
He got the impression that nobody else paid any attention to what he was saying but Ivan Karp did so he hopped on the next plane and came to New York with a package of pictures and went into the gallery and he thought that he was talking to Mr. Harris. He thought that there was a real O. K. Harris and he kept addressing him as Mr. Harris. (laughter) and he unrolled the paintings and Ivan Karp looked at them. So this is rather unusual. He's a rather unusual man. And Ivan Karp said to him, 'I don't care for this. I like this.' If you make 20 paintings like that one I'll give you a show.
So Victor went back to Mexico and started work on the 20 paintings. And he made the 20 paintings and he brought them to New York to Ivan Karp. And went to the gallery and showed the work again and he said Ivan Karp did not remember who he was. But he immediately started to talk to his gallery people and what they were talking about is when they had a vacant date to give Victor Rodriguez a show. So that is how Victor Rodriguez got his show in New York. That is how he did it. He is one of the very lucky ones, I would say.
Now, he also told me that he went to Meisel--Louis Meisel--because not only does Louis Miesel show photo realists, he is the author of the two big picture books on photo realism and what Victor was interested in as much as anything else is if there was going to be another volume dealing with young photo realists. He wanted to be in the book and he wanted Meisel to look at the work. And he was treated very rudely in the gallery. So there are dealers who will treat you very rudely. There are dealers who will treat you very courteously. He was very lucky that he found a man as wonderful as Ivan Karp.
DM: I don't have quite the faith in dealers that Norman has. I think there are alternative routes and I know a lot of artists who do show in their studios. But there are certain realities about it as well. One is that there are so many artists especially in the metropolitan area that there are so few opportunities to show in galleries to begin with, I suspect that a lot of the dealers that got Rodriguez's slides weren't being rude, they probably were just inundated. That's one of the reasons I said, 'Don't take it personally.' I know I get any number, between three and 10 different sets of slides unsolicited a week to look at and I will do a lot of studio visits but somebody has to be really persistent with me. Because I don't have that much time and I hope it's not that I'm being personally rude to them but I hope that really they will pursue it because the only way that I feel that I can see work is to go to the studios to actually see the work. But I find that it really is a matter of persistence. I might say, 'Call back in two months. That's when I'll have some time,' and if the person calls back in two months, like Ivan Karp, I might not remember their name but they might have to refresh my recollection, but I'll try and do it. I think there are other people who do that as well. It is not that it is going to be all and as I said, there are so many artists in New York that just the law of supply and demand is going to mean that most artists aren't going to be seen very much.
AUD: Okay, perhaps my question is naive but as a young developing artist, is there such a thing as prematurely showing your work, or wanting to go public?
MW: I'd like to respond to that. I remember years ago when I was a dealer in San Francisco in the late 1960s and I was green as grass. Looking back I'm astonished that I opened a gallery knowing as little as I did about what a dealer's responsibilities and functions actually were . . . and San Francisco's blessed by a really superb art schools, art departments, the famous San Francisco Art Institute, the art department at Berkeley, Stamford, etc. Because I showed primarily very young artists, the word got out in San Francisco area which had maybe one-and-a-half collectors and maybe 18 galleries and was a very strange place to be trying to do business for someone with no money in the bank which was true of me at the time and so most of my visitors--also the gallery was on the fourth floor up three long flights of wooden stairs and so most of my visitors perforce were young artists and I was astonished at the relative naivete. They would say that they had gone to such-and-such a gallery in either Los Angeles or San Francisco with slides and actual small works to inquire about the possibility of having their work put in a group show or being represented and I would say, 'What did you know about that gallery in advance?' And they would say, 'Well, nothing. I was never there before.' And I'd say, well it was really like Russian Roulette, a shot in the dark. If you can and as I referred before, coming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, trying to make an artist/dealer marriage in a few days is a daunting task but if you live in the city and you are trying to find a gallery my advice is again, seek out the galleries. See if the exhibitions that are done on a month-to-month basis, is there any connection there. In other words, if you were an art painter, does it make sense . . . I've had artists say to me, I would love to be the only painter in a gallery that specializes in sculpture. That's you know, quite a quest. I would say, 'Look for galleries where the sensibility shown has something to do with your own.' I think there is a certain amount of groundwork and homework that has to be done. It's not just a matter of finding the one.
Now Ivan Karp is an extraordinary person. He's comes as close to being a genuine humanist as anyone. He probably makes more studio visits and has just about the biggest heart of any dealer in New York. It makes me sad that he's not held in higher esteem as he's probably helped more artists than any other dealer.
Do your homework. Just don't pick a glamorous space and go out and go out and do your homework. Look at the exhibitions over a period of six or 12 months and say, 'Can I actually see my work, see my sensibility in this gallery or is it just a pipe dream.
Doug Sheer, chairman ATOA: Michael, I was just going to say that you took on in organizing this panel, a nearly impossible task but I think that you came very close to crafting the perfect panel, if not elucidating exactly what the perfect artist is. (applause)
Donna Marxer: Just before you jump up. I agree with Doug, this is my favorite panel and I'm going to do a column on it in Art Calendar in a few months. It's perfect. It's the perfect panel, but I want to say, some of you are interested in practical advice. Caroll Michels has written a great book called, How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist. It's coming out in the fourth edition next month. She will be here as a speaker on January 30th so circle that on your calendar and be here. It's the best advice you'll ever get for $6.