THE PARALLAX VIEW

9 Jan
Mr Barlow the vampire, from "Salem's Lot' It just seems appropriate in some way.

Mr Barlow the vampire, from “Salem’s Lot’. It just seems appropriate in some way.

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.

Dear Alistair,

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,

Chris

Mr Barlow,

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.

Alistair Gentry

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?

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16 Responses to “THE PARALLAX VIEW”

  1. Alistair 09/01/2014 at 3:24 PM #

    One more thing. Despite the already excessive length of my response to Barlow, I should also have picked up on his “human and pastoral” care comment. Good relationships between artists and galleries, agents or commissioners absolutely are caring, humane and mutual ones, and if you’re lucky they might end up being your friends as well. Ultimately, though, they are not the same and shouldn’t be the same as your partner, your parent or your friend. Their main job isn’t to be your shoulder to cry on, your therapist or your lawyer.

    I’ve said similar many times before, but if you’re an artist and you need counselling, legal representation, psychotherapy, training, or careers advice then there is absolutely no shortage of fully trained, accredited, professionally objective people to do these things for you and I strongly suggest you use them instead of unloading it all to somebody who might have another agenda.

    Britain is a mess and public services are being closed down or privatised to death at a more frightening rate than most people even know, but we still have the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. You can still get a short, free initial consultation with a solicitor or a therapist to see if they can help you. If you’re religious then your vicar, priest, imam or rabbi (etc.) is part of an organisation that more or less invented human and pastoral care. If you’re a student then your ridiculously expensive education comes with careers advisors, counsellors and experienced people who currently work or recently worked in the profession you’re training for, and furthermore they’re probably just down the corridor from your studio, classroom or lecture theatre. Use them, that’s what they’re for.

  2. Alistair 09/01/2014 at 3:35 PM #

    Not about Parallax, but somewhat relevant to the underlying issues:
    https://careersuicideblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/the-dunning-kruger-effect

  3. Alistair 09/01/2014 at 6:27 PM #

    Don’t worry, dear readers. He’s not quite done:

    “Dear Alistair,

    Thank you for considering taking [REDACTED]’s name off your blog.

    We do actually agree about the “art world” and where its problems arose. I agree that most artists do have a unrealistic desire to be part of this “art world”; it is fed to them through the pedagogical system. Perhaps where we differ is that you wish to replace one hierarchy with another. You think there is such a thing as good artists and bad artists. But I see the ultimate conclusion of exposing Art History (basically metaphysics in the arts), and educating artists about this, as resulting in all hierarchies being pulled down. Complete freedom. To believe that there is “presence” in an inert object that can be measured and compared is the height of fancy since the ancient Greeks, but the entire art industry is built on it. It is this that creates hierarchies and false realities amongst artists when there is no qualifier there at all. This is what the word Parallax metaphorises and I do intend to make the space free as soon as that is possible. The whole point of it as a concept is to deconstruct the art market and its specious hierarchies, and put complete freedom into the hands of makers; freedom from other artists’ power groups too.

    I have no idea about your mental health. I only referred to the tone across your blog. What is health but one’s own interpretation anyway? as Foucault would have posited.

    I would request that you do not publish private correspondence. If you are happy, I may discuss some of the issues you have raised about hierarchies, art history and the notion that art is a solution to a series of problems, on my own blog and in the impending catalogue essays.

    Good wishes and take care to you,

    Chris”

    • Alistair 09/01/2014 at 6:29 PM #

      My blog seeks to engender honest debate and facilitate informed choices, so it would be hypocritical and counterproductive if the way I operated and communicated with people was not also transparent. Correspondence that comes to me regarding my public blogging or published journalism is and always has been published when I think it informs the debate and helps people to make up their own minds. I suggest you bear that in mind if you insist upon communicating with me or having the last word when I’ve already asked you to cease.

      The rest of your points seem like exactly the same kind of garbled quasi-marxist-quasi-postmodernist undergraduate thesis material that can be trotted out to support almost anything you might choose to do, but of course you’re welcome to debate it with yourself if you like. Are you really suggesting that what you’re doing is an intermediate stage to everybody being free of hierarchies? You’re abolishing the value of unique objects by running an event where the aim of most (paying, i.e. expending disposable wealth to gain preference over those who can’t pay, irrespective of their merit) participants is to put value on unique objects and sell them? These are rhetorical questions, please don’t bother answering.

      • Alistair 09/01/2014 at 6:30 PM #

        Chris “What’s a rhetorical question?” Barlow replies. Again. Sigh.

        Hi Alistair,

        Your second paragraph demonstrates that you are not interested in honest debate about the key issues. You appear to confuse relativism and postmodernism. In fact, the word “Parallax” is a pun on this classic error in the arts.

        I will be publishing material on some of the things you have said in my next catalogue essay and will publish your correspondence too. I agree that the debate needs to be informed properly; I do not think you are particularly interested in fighting for ALL makers, only a few. It is just another hierarchy you are interested in and this comes across in your hegelianisms: art is a solution to a problem. No it isn’t at all. It is a metaphor.

        Good wishes,

        Chris

        It should be a warning to artists that you are not about freeing things for them, but are about supplanting a new hierarchy.

  4. Alistair 09/01/2014 at 6:56 PM #

    Pretty sure “supplanting” is the wrong word to use there and I’m a bit confused by it, but I can clear up my position on this subject anyway. You’re right. I’m not interested in fighting for all makers, because some makers are talentless time wasters and they should do themselves and the world a favour by finding something more productive and worthwhile to do with their lives. They’ll be happier. Some makers are total arseholes who don’t deserve much consideration from anybody until they have the guts to take a good hard look at themselves. Some makers don’t want or need me (or anybody else) to fight for them, and I wish them luck. I think the idea that any one person can represent, speak on behalf of or know what’s best for absolutely everyone is both arrogant and futile. I wouldn’t presume to.

    This blog is subtitled “gonzo art criticism” for this reason. Whether objectivity truly exists in any part of the arts or media is a huge debate, but anybody who wants at least a pretence, a principle or a veneer of objectivity had better look for it elsewhere. I’m not interested in arid theoretical debates. I’m not writing a PhD thesis here. Everything I write here is deliberately, sometimes wantonly subjective and pragmatic.

    Happy to clarify all this, with apologies to that vanishingly small consituency among you who are as deeply offended by Hegelianisms as Mr. Barlow seems to be.

    Some of you may also have noticed that Barlow utterly avoids actually answering my criticisms. First he tries a tactic combining distraction with what you might call “let’s make this ad hominem”: Leave the young woman out of this, it’s between the two of us. No, it isn’t. I don’t know Barlow and my only concern is what he does and says, not who or what he is. When that fails he goes to an actual ad hominem attack, suggesting that I must be disturbed, unwell or otherwise acting out inappropriately. When that doesn’t work, he resorts to a pseudo-philosophical and conceptual tack (also failing to embroil me in that subject), and finally to concern trolling about the bad effect I may be having upon all the people he apparently thinks I’m collecting into my cult to follow me blindly and drink the Kool Aid like Jim Jones.

    He doesn’t tackle, or even attempt to tackle, the main questions:

    Why artists, who are generally not rich, are charged so much money for what looks to me like a pretty shoddy, amateur service with absolutely no guarantees or even likelihood that it will turn out well for the customer I MEAN ARTIST.

    How anyone can have the brass neck to bluster about abolishing hierarchies and being against the art market while running a business that appears to deliberately mirror (albeit on a petty scale) the art market’s worst excesses, greatest iniquities, grossest errors and above all the art market’s celebration of the power of capital and the investment value of the unique prestige item over the personal merit, talent or qualification of artists and the social, intellectual, emotional, political or aesthetic value of art.

    Why a supposedly professional service persists in issuing emails and websites that are riddled with errors, weird or daft statements, incomplete information, vague promises and unconvincing testimonials. I remind artists that your reputation counts for a lot. Don’t let anybody screw it up, especially if you’re paying them.

    Why a supposedly professional, successful, in-demand service needs to persistently send out unsolicited enticements to all and sundry.

    What objective data or evidence there is for Parallax Art Fair being a positive thing for an artist who pays to be involved in it. I’d be convinced by the artists moving on to sales, representation or exhibition in legit (i.e. not paid-for) galleries, or by a sustained upward trend in their independent sales or commissions, if there was hard data to prove it and not just Barlow’s say so, or the say so of some semi-anonymous random on Parallax’s own site.

    Anyway, here’s where I stop replying, bearing in mind George Bernard Shaw’s wise words: “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

  5. Carl C 10/01/2014 at 12:46 PM #

    Reminds me of the exchange I had with the good doctor a couple of years ago – particularly his expert psychological insights and fondness for high-level academic ramblings. So interesting, and so much more useful than honestly addressing the issues in hand.

    And he’s offering prayers now, too. Better and better.

    Carl

    • Alistair 10/01/2014 at 4:23 PM #

      Actually I thought of you, Carl, and your comments on the other article. Definitely fits the template you described. One might almost begin to suspect he doesn’t really listen to what other people say and doesn’t care what they think so he just deals with all dissent, argument and criticism in exactly same defensive, deliberately off-topic, obscurantist manner. Another tactic seen here that I’ve seen from others of his ilk: making the critic into the villain for criticising instead of looking at what’s being criticised and honestly assessing whether it needs to change. Sounds like you’ve experienced that, too, as I daresay others have even if we don’t yet know about them.

      If somebody is genuinely pious and wants to pray for me that’s great, feel free. I’m an atheist, but don’t let that stop you.

      On the other hand, is there anything more sanctimonious, hypocritical, diversionary and passive aggressive than saying you pray for somebody, saying “bless you” or “best wishes” and so forth when you don’t really want to pray for them and never would because you’d prefer to wring their neck?

      • Carl C 12/01/2014 at 9:29 AM #

        Yep, Barlow was in just this mode with me, too. Your characterisation of his responses as defensive and deliberately off-topic, etc, is spot on, I think, while his pious flourishes seem as insincere as you suggest. The kindest interpretations I could come up with – based on his baffling willingness to prattle on uselessly over a number of emails (apparently imagining that some actual exchange of information/ideas is taking place) is that he’s not too big on self-awareness, or perhaps just doesn’t understand how conversations work.

        More likely, though, as you say, is that Barlow knows very well what he’s doing, and, with an irony that he himself could no doubt write a verbose, impenetrable essay about, he’s positioned himself as an energetic part of the very industry he claims to disdain, blanket bombing unsuspecting marks with praise and promises, taking the cash of those who fall for it, and washing his hands afterwards – and all with a veneer of intellectual and cultural worthiness.

        Since being involved with Parallax in 2011 I’ve been trying to warn people I hear of who’ve been approached by Barlow – describing the show I took part in and advising caution, etc, but it’s only recently that I’ve seen your site, and the Linkedin thread. It’s great to find these points of reference online. They should make things easier.

        Thanks for all your work on this, and top marks for maintaining your poise in writing to him. Mine kind of unravelled towards the end (as I asked for the umpteenth time to be removed from his mailing list), and I found myself resorting to the kind of language my mother wouldn’t approve of.

        Regards.

      • Alistair 12/01/2014 at 3:42 PM #

        You’re welcome. I can understand why you would get more angry with him than I did and I don’t blame you. This would not be difficult, actually. Barlow detects an “angry tone” but I’m definitely not angry with people like him because I’m too busy laughing at them.

        It actually benefits everybody when people of his ilk break cover to deal with criticism, because whenever they’ve done so re: this blog they’ve always in one way or another shown a bit more of their true character than is probably advisable for their own good.

        Anybody is free to do what they want (any old time) and spend their money however they wish to, but they could at least do it in a more informed way if more of us stood up for each other and left honest advice for other people when our experiences of certain places or individuals are not something we’d wish upon anybody else. People do it quite readily for bad books or films that probably cost us no more the £10. Let’s build a culture of doing the same for bad arts venues and service providers, not least because our bank balances, livelihoods and reputations are at stake there instead of just a few quid and several hours of our time.

  6. Alistair 11/02/2014 at 6:49 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

  7. Alistair 14/07/2014 at 12:11 PM #

    He’s still at it. Despite these articles (and various others by other people online, and general negative feedback from many people who’ve dealt with him) I’m still getting “I am the director who oversees the largest artists fair in Europe called Parallax Art Fair” spams. Even the previously mentioned grammatical error is the same (it should be artists’, not artists, unless he really means that it’s a fair consisting of the largest artists.) The unsubscribe procedure does not work, probably in violation of his ISP’s terms, and almost certainly in violation of UK data protection and marketing laws.

    But perhaps because of these articles (and various others by other people online, and general negative feedback from many people who’ve dealt with him), the director in question has mysteriously morphed into somebody called “John Travis”. Travis may be a real person (i.e. not just a pseudonym of Barlow’s), but I can find no evidence of him in terms of his qualifications or experience in running an art fair. Nor do they seem to have any previously documented association with each other, or with any other reputable business or institution. The marketing and texts are likewise identical with previous spams, apart from mentioning a “new concept”, which seems to be the same as the old one as far as I can tell. Could it be that the supposedly nothing-to-be-ashamed-of, all-legit and pastorally caring “Chris Barlow” name has become irreversibly tarnished?

  8. Alistair 11/08/2014 at 9:22 PM #

    (NB: a comment moved here because it was originally left on my biography page where it wouldn’t be so useful or relevant to other people. Hope that’s OK, Elaine.)

    11 August 2014 20:32

    Elaine Allender

    Hi Alistair
    I’ve just been contacted by Parallax Art Fair inviting me to take part in their October event in London. I was, though neither desperate nor particularly ambitious, contemplating accepting their invitation. Having read your blog (as well as others’ comments) I’ve decided against it. So, thanks for saving me several hundred quid and a huge headache. Excellent and very amusing prose, too.
    Cheers
    Elaine

    • Alistair 11/08/2014 at 9:24 PM #

      Another satisfied non-customer.

  9. Alistair 20/09/2014 at 2:17 PM #

    They’re clearly still up to their usual shenanigans because there are still people finding this page. This fact– combined with something else I’ve recently been writing on the subject of faulty logic– made me realise that these businesses positively thrive on it, either by accident or design. Often it’s a combination of the two, because many of the would-be exploiters you’ll encounter have a kind of psychopathic cunning but are nowhere near as intelligent as they think they are. If they were as intelligent as they think they are, they wouldn’t need to deceive people in order to make a living. So use your head. If you find the claims of businesses of this kind (not only or specifically this one) confusing or ambiguous, it’s usually not a bug; it’s a feature. To them, anyway.

    Let’s take Barlow’s responses to me. How many logical fallacies can you spot? In one short communication I see:
    The straw man (misrepresenting me and my argument in order to supposedly make me easier to attack).
    Ad hominem and tu quoque, two Latin tastes that go nicely together (attacking me as a person instead of tackling my criticisms, and saying that I must be sick or jealous to criticise in an attempt to deflect attention from him to me).
    Appealing to emotion (in this case, covering the failure to answer criticism by emphasising his supposedly caring nature and motivations)

    Just because art tends to come from an emotional, creative, instinctive place it’s very tempting to treat your artistic career in the same way. Don’t. Ever. Don’t fall for the romantic bullshit idea that artists should be wild and take leaps in the dark, not when it comes to the pragmatic parts of being an artist. And don’t assume that any gallery or (so-called) “art fair” has your best interests at heart until they prove otherwise or you see firm and incontrovertible evidence of it… i.e. not just vague testimonials from people you never heard of or sketchy talk about major galleries or high net worth individuals or whatever. Legitimate, professional and credible galleries don’t ask for money up front, for anything, ever. End of story. Paid art fairs with a genuine national or international reputation accept artists represented by galleries, not individual artists, and these art fairs are incredibly difficult to get into because their art world reputation is everything to them. Rightly or wrongly, they don’t just let anyone exhibit at their events. Any “art fair” that occurs more than once a year and/or is too easy to get into as an exhibitor should make you extremely wary.

    Save the emotion, creativity and instinct for the art itself. In your career you need to be logical, methodical and think hard about what you’re doing and where you’re expending your (usually very limited) financial resources.

    • robmunroblog 07/01/2017 at 2:49 AM #

      This is exactly the same lesson I have learned with my writing hat on – the only publishers worth a shake are those not asking for any money from a writer, rather providing funds in the form of an advance or simply a percentage of book sales afterwards (aka “commission”). For my artworks, I approached art fairs here in Australia, but all the ones I encountered demanded up-front fees to cover booth costs, etc, much like you have described in your posts regarding UK art fairs. I’m trying to use my art (and writing) as a way to lift myself from dire financial problems, so up-front fees are not really an option – I put what scarce money I do have into my art supplies and writing resources. Sadly Australia’s art scene is only a pale shadow of the what you’ve described in the UK and Europe, so I’ve found online as the best way to sell what I do have. I’ll continue to keep my eyes peeled for fairs and exhibition space that doesn’t charge the artist, continuing to build momentum behind my creative efforts.

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