Chris Barlow of Parallax Art Fair has written to me in response to my recent coverage of his venture. I’m also posting my response to him.
I hope you are well and in good health.
I rarely read forums, but I noticed last evening that you have a blog post mentioning [REDACTED]. I’m writing to request that you consider removing reference to her in your blog. She is a likeable and hardworking person. I appeal to you out of consideration for a young person who may become disconsolate. Removing her name won’t alter your narrative which is geared mainly to attacking Parallax and me personally. The Linkedin backlink will still be there to draw readers to your blog too.
Having read your posts and other writings across your website in general, you do come across as someone who has clearly been hurt in the past and is quite angry. Your anger isn’t to do with fighting a just cause either, but seems generally resentful and embittered. I realise you may defend some aspects of your website as humour, and others may applaud you for it, but such things often betray how writers (and readers) feel more about their own self esteem. I don’t know your personal history or what hurt/wrongs you may have suffered in developing your career, but I’m guessing there are things. Not everyone is cynically out to hurt people and nor is everyone obssessed with money, which truly is the root of all evil if it becomes one’s object, in the art industry. For what it is worth, I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I do wish you well and much success. I will do my best to answer the issues you raise about Art History and the idea that art is a series of solutions to new problems in a catalogue essay. Both these ideas stem from the marketing of dealers in the late nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries – Art History was virtually invented by them and it has done a lot of damage.
Lastly, the people that work to bring Parallax to fruition (including artists who are employed as technicians) are not wealthy as I am not. If it becomes clear to me that an exhibitor is borrowing money or taking out an overdraft, I put them off as anyone would. The same is true of those who have a serious illness, or who are going through marriage breakdowns, family problems or the death of a loved one. (There is a whole human and pastoral dimension to the event that most people do not realise and that artists involve me in because they are human. Parallax is not swanning around and posing in front of art making lots of money. If it were, it would be a waste of energy for me personally.)
Good wishes and take care to you,
I don’t want or expect any further reply or debate from you because you probably have better and more productive things to do, and I definitely have better and more productive things to do. I just wanted to answer a few of your points and give you the full and intelligent response you deserve.
I give no guarantees but I will at least give some thought to removing [REDACTED]’s name, although a likeable and hardworking young person should not be particularly “disconsolate” about a single mildly negative reference on the internet. If she’s happily working with you, then why would she care what I say about her, anyway? Like 99% of your exhibitors I don’t imagine she’s ever going to work with me, with anybody I know, or at any mainstream gallery, so our (art) worlds are likely to remain separate. If she has only one mildly negative reference about her on the whole internet she’s lucky. If [REDACTED] would like to contact me herself and offer me convincing reasons why I should remove reference to her, I would probably find her own arguments more convincing than another party’s attempt at gallantry.
I am not the slightest bit interested in attacking, ruining or upsetting her or you (or anyone) personally, in fact I would prefer readers to focus on the sin and not worry so much about the private lives of the sinners. I am not interested in you at all except as context for the business you run and my opinions about the potential negative effects upon the development and wellbeing of young or inexperienced artists, who seem to have a distinct tendency to let their ambition override their common sense. You are of course free to do anything you like within the law, but the law also ensures that anyone who wishes to is free to comment upon what other people do.
Thanks for your concern about my own mental health– my self esteem and the hurts I’ve suffered, etc.– but I’m afraid I’ve heard that one before because it’s much easier to engage in some kind of undergraduate psychology and assume I’m jealous, wounded and bitter rather than think about whether any part of what I’m saying could conceivably be valid. I can assure you I am not acting out some kind of elaborate arts blog-related revenge narrative. In fact I have been extremely fortunate, well-supported and moderately successful in my career, with no occurrences so ghastly they left me emotionally scarred in the way that you suggest. Most of the people I’ve worked with at galleries, festivals, commissioning agencies, publishers, magazines and universities have been absolutely superb. Likewise, the majority of my former colleagues at these places have told me it was an absolute pleasure to work with me because I was at all times courteous, professional, committed, and organised. Many of them have proved their praise isn’t just hollow politeness by asking me to work with them repeatedly, or by providing me with excellent references, or by commending me to their colleagues without any prompting on my part. You could even say I’m likeable and hardworking. At the end of last year I had so much work on in galleries that I unfortunately couldn’t be at all of them in person to see or install my own work. I’m currently (happily) working on a commission for a festival and (also happily) writing a book. I had no starting privileges, wealth or advantages, and several distinct handicaps when it comes to forging* a career in the arts. The most notable of these handicaps was probably the aforementioned lack of privilege and wealth, so I had to just work really hard instead. That’s how you build a career, not by trying to buy your way in.
(*Oops, that’s potentially ambiguous writing, isn’t it? I tell people off for that. I mean forging as in a metalworking analogy or “forging ahead”. I don’t mean “forging” as in “counterfeiting”.)
So I’m afraid the inconvenient truth is that I’m not a jealous, bitter loser. I don’t need the attention. There’s no tears of a clown scenario here. I have nothing in particular to gain from speaking out in the way that I do on this blog, except some pride that I didn’t let things I thought were wrong just go unremarked and unchecked. My anger is indeed in service of fighting a just cause by giving artists, who are perversely the most disempowered participants in the whole art world, the information and the mental armoury they need to defend themselves against the malpractice, exploitation, incompetence, greed and sheer stupidity that assails many of them at every turn. As you say, this is in some part due to the toxic effects of the art market/dealer/auction system that started to develop in the 19th century. The desperation of artists to be part of this system also brings a lot of misery, unwise decisions and disappointment, often needlessly, just because many artists don’t know of or can’t conceive of any other “art world”. Perhaps– if I may use a bit of daytime-TV-grade psychoanalysis on you in return– you could ask yourself if you and what you’re doing are part of the solution, or part of the problem?
It may well be true that you are not wealthy and that you don’t knowingly drive penurious, sick or troubled customers to utter financial ruin, but neither of these offer any meaningful riposte to my opinion that ventures like yours make promises they’re unlikely to be capable of delivering in terms of an artist’s career, practice and reputation. I think we both know there are certain companies that do blatantly squeeze artists for every penny and you may be referring to them obliquely, but refraining from outright immorality is not synonymous with acting ethically. If you paid more attention to the forums where artists share knowledge you might be more aware of the fact that many artists agree with me, most crucially including many artists who have in the past paid for their own exhibitions in private galleries, paid for “artist development” schemes, or taken paid-for stands at the many “art fairs” that exist to service this market. It’s not just ignorant outsiders sniping from afar; your own potential customer base is getting noticeably disgruntled by the perception of a disconnect between what’s promised to them, the money spent, and what happens in reality. Do you have credible, methodical, objective data regarding the trajectory of artists before and after their participation in Parallax? Sales or commissions (especially vs. the outlay of the artists) over the course of subsequent months or years? Subsequent exhibitions or representation by mainstream galleries (i.e. as opposed to just being on a treadmill of more paid-for exhibitions)? Long term maintenance and development of their practice as artists? I’d love to see that data if you have it.
I intend to publish both sides of this correspondence for the information of my readers, and to ensure you have been given a fair opportunity to reply and state your case in response to what’s on the site. I will refrain from further mention of [REDACTED]’s name until such time as I decide whether I intend to redact it from the other article. Otherwise, I don’t want to see, hear or write anything more about you or about Parallax Art Fair so let’s make this the end of our interaction.
PS: On the subject of ending communication: while I most definitely have your attention, can you at last make sure all my contact details are removed from all of your mailing lists permanently and completely, as I have requested of you in vain on several previous occasions?