Tag Archives: galleries

FUNDEE

25 Apr

SOME NOTES AND CONCLUSIONS

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I’m seriously tardy because the event in question was several months ago, but SEVERAL MONTHS AGO I was invited to the artist-run Generator Projects in Dundee to talk about a-n’s Paying Artists campaign, which I have worked on over the past year or so. Generator paid me, by the way. Not very much, but proportionately more than some places have paid me when they could afford to do better. QED. In keeping with my observations about this subject over the course of many years finally, at long last, being on the agenda of artists and the organisations that work with them, the room was completely full and it didn’t take long for almost everybody to have something (often many things) to say on the subject. The conversation also bore out the same things that I and other people advocating for fair pay– or in some cases, any pay at all– have heard repeatedly when it comes to artists describing their experiences of publicly funded or otherwise not short of money institutions forming relationships with them. Generator itself is an example of how much artist-led, mostly volunteer, low-to-no-budget groups do and how important they are to the arts ecosystem in Britain, and with no prompting from me whatsoever conclusion one was:

Exactly… look how much artist-led, low-to-no-budget groups do without funding, FFS. There’s no excuse for larger and better funded galleries, museums or commissioners with full-time employees not to do at least as well in providing opportunities and support for large numbers of artists. Most of them don’t. Alongside this we should also remember, though, that just because most artists don’t do it for the money it doesn’t mean they should do it without any money. There’s a huge value in grassroots peer support (and in fact I’m putting together an experiment along those lines now) but the discussion in Dundee and a-n’s other national consultations have revealed a fairly firm consensus that small, self-organised and artist-led groups should not be held to the same standards as a formal organisation, nor should they be expected to compete with these organisations for funding and other resources. They also shouldn’t be pressured to take up the slack left by locally and nationally funded organisations not facing up to their responsibilities.

On the contrary, a number of people voiced another widely held view among artists: the large flagship institutions that grew up around the UK over the past fifteen years or so– often as Millennium projects, or as part of a regeneration agenda– could and should be acting as umbrellas for smaller organisations (and non-organisations). Self-organised groups of artists, and grassroots projects trying to revive dead buildings or moribund high streets don’t have PR people, administrators or technicians sitting around flicking themselves off in brand new custom-built offices, but the capital and regional flagship galleries do. I know from firsthand experience that people who work for small and barely funded non-building-based arts organisations all work their arses off, just as I also know from firsthand experience that some of their overpaid counterparts in the largest and most prestigious organisations wouldn’t know what hard work was if it hit them in the face. This is particularly galling when some of them offer “free publicity” or something similar as if it’s a fair substitute for not being paid. Why can’t they offer this PR and admin support unconditionally, say one day a week, since everyone knows it’s spare capacity anyway? And why don’t the likes of the Arts Council or Creative Scotland make it a condition of their funding that they do? This is, after all, the ostensible logic behind these big, purpose built arts hubs being built and supported in the first place: that they act as beacons for art going and art making in their vicinity. Again, they mostly don’t. This is especially cogent now, because to get Grants for the Arts funding, individual artists, Community Interest Companies and unincorporated arts groups are all now having to compete (unpaid, of course) not only with libraries and museums but also with huge commissioners or public galleries, all of whom have full-time staff.

At this point we started getting utopian and discussing the notion of artists just fucking it all off and simply seeking their validation and their connections with people outside of all these institutions. Cooperatives, mutuals, free love communes, etc. Actually we didn’t talk about free love communes, but I think we probably would have done if we’d been there longer.

Then we went back to misery a bit when we talked about unions and the remarkable fact that after many years of existence the Scottish Artists Union currently rejoices in having about a thousand members. I was a member when I lived in Scotland, and good for SAU, but that’s a shockingly low number of artists for a nation of 5 million people or so. Obviously they’re not all artists, but it’s still not a great number of members and therefore one major benefit of unionisation– collective bargaining– is hardly a factor. I likewise wish the newly formed artists’ union in England all the best in their endeavours, but it doesn’t bode well that they seem to be having so much trouble with recruitment. I can’t help thinking that old school unions have probably had their day anyway, because we need much more nimble, responsive and unignorable means of organising resistance and change if we really want it. Less Jeremy Corbyn, more Anonymous or Occupy.

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OCCASIONALLY THE VOICES ARE RIGHT

16 Apr

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A wee update on this story about a woman who attacked a fellow visitor to Art Basel Miami Beach last December, while onlookers interpreted the whole thing as some kind of performance art. The attacker, Siyuan Zhao, has unsurprisingly been found to be suffering from a serious mental illness. Eventually coming back to a somewhat even keel through therapy and medication after randomly stabbing a stranger, trying to kill a therapy bird (whatever that is) and hearing voices that said “she needed to protect the event from the Middle Eastern terror group ISIS”, Zhao has agreed to “deport herself” back to China where her family will take care of her.

“She was very psychotic,” Dr. Ilan Melnick testified. He also said: “She felt ISIS was going to be at Art Basel to destroy the art.”

Dr. Melnick possibly slightly stating the obvious there, especially in conjunction with his second statement. Is it very wrong of me to wish that ISIS would attend Art Banal Miami Vice and destroy the art? I mean, why can’t they make themselves useful instead of murdering people and wallowing in all their adolescent, medieval emo shit about caliphates, jihad and whatnot?

ISIS are probably unnecessary, though, if anybody wants art destroyed. With all due respect to Ms. Zhao’s considerable though misguided enthusiasm for defending the exhibitions, the artists and galleries at Art Basel are doing quite a good job of destroying art already…

Art Basel knife wielder pleads guilty, must return to China

ZOMBIE PROFESSIONALISM

11 Mar

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An interesting article by Daniel S. Palmer about what ArtNews calls the “hyper-professionalization” of some artists. I’d go further and call it something like “jobification”; the reduction of a vocation to a mechanical and wholly uncreative grind. As Palmer points out, it’s not even the best way for an artist to make money or for anyone to make money from an artist’s work, because it’s so shortsighted:

“The entire system seems designed, predominantly, to disappoint. What has arisen from these failures is a marked distinction between product- and project-based artists. Product-based artists have been led to think of an artwork as a product serving a demand, rather than a single step in a longer, sustained development, as is the case with project-based artists. Consider the most visible trend in recent years of Zombie Formalism, a kind of reductive, easily produced abstract painting, sold quickly to collectors queued up on waiting lists and hungry for innocuous, decorative works in a signature style, so much so that the name of the artist himself becomes the brand.

However, product-based art isn’t specific to abstraction or figuration (as an even more recent market shift may be demonstrating) but is the result of dealers and collectors encouraging artists to create more of the same kind of popular work. All too often, museum curators cave to these pressures, too, validating the trend by staging exhibitions of market-darling artists collected by their trustees with a lack of scruples that gives the worst insider traders a run for their money. The path of commercial success may be increasingly easy, but it narrows what could otherwise be probing, expansive, and serendipitous careers. This results-oriented focus can be contrasted to the idea that an artist should be allowed to follow a sustained project of creating art in a passionate and independent way, regardless of market feedback. That might mean changing styles over the years and being less commercially viable at points, but this long-term project will have a notable through-line of a consistent set of questions and issues. The project and its many manifestations are best identified retrospectively, but wandering and doubt are a generative part of it. With some notable exceptions (like Warhol and Courbet, who churned out work like machines), the most fascinating and important artists in history exemplify this approach by remaining true to what drove them to create, rather than caving to external responses. We should all be worried if these artists start disappearing.”

Read the rest here.

MULTIPLE SLASHES ARE SOUGHT AFTER

2 Feb

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I can’t believe they’re talking about this shit with a straight face” of the week goes to a recent article on Artsy (aforementioned) on ‘The Secrets of Art Pricing‘. If they’re meant to be secret, should you really be telling us? Never mind.

Submarkets for individual artists, and markets within different periods for those artists, require their own brand of unique pricing lore. Case in point is the oeuvre of Lucio Fontana, who began puncturing the surface of paper or canvas in the late 1940s, developing the idea over the next two decades. “At different times, different colors are more or less popular,” wrote Melanie Gerlis, Art Market Editor at The Art Newspaper, in her 2014 book Art as an Investment?, referring to Fontana. According to Fontana specialist Luigi Mazzoleni, founding director of Mazzoleni London, “regarding the slashes,” the most popular colors on the market are white and red. Various other factors also come into play. He added, “The quality of the cut is very important as this gives a different rhythm and effect to the canvas. The quantity of cut is also important. A single cut is very minimalist and therefore very sought after, but multiple slashes are also sought after on the international market.”

“Unique pricing lore”? Are you a wizard? As for Mr Mazzoleni, a single kick up the arse is very minimalist, but I think with the way he’s talking he is really seeking multiple kicks up the arse with a pointed shoe. Anyway, just in case you were in any doubt, the content, beauty, emotion, craft and artistry of your art are not important at all. It’s all about being red or white, and the slashes.

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NOBLESSE OBLIGE

19 Jan

 

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“Unfortunately we have no budget to pay fees or expenses.”

a-n the artists information company have just published their draft recommendations and guidance on the payments and fees that should be due from publicly funded galleries to artists. FYI I’ve worked on the Paying Artists campaign and I work for a-n sometimes. I also think artists based in the UK should have their own look at it, so I won’t offer too much commentary except to pull out:

NOBODY IS ASKING FOR MUCH

Despite stiff resistance from an insignificant and usually bonkers minority of the public and a significant minority of people who work for public arts organisations, all of whom are baffled or bitter (or both) that an artist should get paid anything… the suggested fees for artists are far from outrageous and usually amount to no more than a few thousand or even a few hundred pounds. Bear in mind that it’s rare for most artists to have more than one show per year in a publicly funded gallery in the UK. Although many public galleries do pay properly, some still don’t even clear the very low bar for pay set by these guidelines. Some don’t bother trying. And if a gallery in receipt of public funds can’t even budget to pay the equivalent of one artist’s salary for a year across all their shows– the bare minimum this guidance suggests– then they need to take a good look at their finances in general, and so should their funders.

Indeed their funders are beginning to do so, because apparently they’re exasperated too. After all, mentioning no names, it’s not unknown for very large flagship Arts Council-funded organisations *cough English National Opera… cough… Firstsite* to mismanage their finances and general governance so severely that they lose millions and have to be removed from ACE’s national regular funding portfolio with a warning they’ll be cut off permanently if they don’t sort themselves out. Nobody, including the Arts Council, wants to hear five or six figure-funded places whining about being pushed into the red if they paid artists a bit more for their work.

Even in the absence of more funding, many gallery directors or senior curators (for example) could take a pay cut they’d hardly notice to make a significant difference to the incomes of numerous artists. Obviously this is rarely a popular suggestion, or indeed a suggestion at all, when the grown ups are attending their endless round of conferences, art fair collateral events and talking head panels that no artist or self-employed arts worker could afford to attend even if they were invited, which they aren’t.

INTANGIBLE BENEFITS SHOULD STILL ACTUALLY BE BENEFITS

“Activity that is part of the gallery’s day to day work should not be treated as an in kind benefit (e.g. marketing and publicity around exhibitions.)” In other words, you don’t get to act magnanimous by offering something that you’d do anyway. So many arts organisations and venues really need to take this on board, not just in the publicly funded sector but also across all of the arts. Genuinely valuable intangible benefits do exist, but doing the job you get paid a salary to do is not an onerous burden or a favour you’re doing for your contractors, customers or audience. “We offer desk space and marketing support” is very often one short step away from the heinous “We offer exposure”, because if you employ someone to do marketing or administration then the workload they incur in the course of their jobs includes dealing with artists and other freelancers working for the organisation. And anyway, if marketing and exposure and whatnot are really worth so much money, in a contest between exposure and just having the money we’d prefer the cash in a brown envelope, please.

Funnily enough, some in the arts rely upon more or less the same dodge of intangible benefits that are so intangible they don’t really exist; i.e. that thousands of artists will do for nothing what they should be getting paid for, thereby piddling away their own bargaining power and that of artists collectively.

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