The power of shows

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Dear Artist,

I once had a solo opening on a day the stock market happened to fall out of bed. Arriving late, I was surprised to find a lineup in the street and a crowd of eager buyers inside. “What’s going on?” I asked my dealer as he rushed back and forth with his dots. “It’s always like this when the stock market goes down,” he said. “People put their money into art. And when the stock market goes up, they have extra money so they put it into art.” The event was one of my first insights into the remarkable phenomenon of the art show.

>Being flock animals, humans gain confidence when everyone else is flocking to a kill. Also, being predatory, we like to tear off the best cuts, preferably in front of others. It’s called “conspicuous consumption,” a term first used by the sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 and in evidence ever since.

Over my lifetime, shows have become more subtle and nuanced. In a lot of areas they are less frenetic and perhaps less effective. I’ve had shows where there were no sales at the openings; people discreetly phoned their orders the following morning. Perhaps there were sociologists in the crowd, but it may just be a Canadian thing — the desire not to expose our fangs in public.

Bringing artists and public together is a main function of shows. Actually, customers turn out to be real people, as do artists, humility and all, and George Bernard Shaw’s dictum, “When you know the artist, you think less of the art,” is often, but not always, laid to rest.

Then there’s the modern miracle of the Internet-telephone axis. Once a potential client has agreed to receive a show by email, a dealer in Toronto can sell work to a keener in Kapuskasing. The best galleries send their virtual shows to favoured customers just in the nick of time — like an hour before the opening. Nowadays, when you’re sipping your Chardonnay and the gallery phone rings, you know that foreigners are crashing the party.

And that reminds me of booze. Everyone knows it loosens the tongue. It’s a wallet shaker as well. Once, late in the evening when we had pretty well run out of cheese, a fellow said to me, “Thish is your worst show yet, Robert — I’ll take that one.”

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “I must discount the possibility of a show since I have nothing worth showing.” (Claude Monet)

Esoterica: The printed, mailed invitation, with its expensive postage and all that folding and licking, is currently going the way of the Tasmanian Devil. Evites are now acceptable and a lot cheaper. General online announcements viralize your efforts as well. Today, to help you and your galleries, we’re introducing a new feature on the Painter’s Keys site. It’s called The Art Show Calendar. Please take a look — it’s easy to put your announcement in, and you can include a piece of your art.

 

Check gallery credentials first
Mike Barr, Elizabeth East, South Africa
 

040811_mike-barr

“Between the flags”
acrylic painting by Mike Barr

Some galleries have an amazing list of clients which really helps when it comes to shows. But I remember one gallery opening I had where they asked where all the people were. In other words they expected me, the artist, to fill the place with clients and here’s me thinking it was the gallery’s job to do that! So, the lesson for me was, check the credentials of the gallery before jumping in.

 

Facing the fear again
Lynne Windsor, Santa Fe, NM
 

040811_lynne-windsor

“Fontblanche Lavender”
oil painting by Lynne Windsor

I have always felt it was worthwhile doing shows and have, in the past, had a lot of success either before the show or on the night. The thrill and excitement have always carried me along, even though I get very nervous beforehand. However, three years ago my husband Barry McCuan and I had a joint show of paintings created on our travels in France, at our gallery in Santa Fe, and sold one painting the night before and then nothing for ages. It was just at the time the stock market was plummeting but this didn’t seem to help us!

The effort and investment we put into this show was immense and the show looked incredible and Barry’s work in particular looked wonderful. I haven’t had a joint or solo show since as I just haven’t wanted to put myself through that kind of angst. We did eventually make sales and Barry sold about 10 to one person, but it was a long time coming! Still, this year I find that I have committed to two shows, so I guess I am over it and ready to face the fear!

 

Find out who your friends are
Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
 

040811_rick-rotante

“The feast”
oil painting by Rick Rotante

I’ve never had the experience of a stock market crash while showing in a gallery, so I can’t speak to this issue, but I can say that shows do serve several useful purposes. One, they let people know you still exist and are painting new things. Two, you get to meet some interesting people, some of whom you may never want to meet again. Three, there is ample opportunity for sales, especially after the participants start drinking. I always have wine at my openings. Lots of it! You also get a better handle on who exactly are your friends and those never to include in your will. If nothing else, it’s a pleasant night out and you leave with the knowledge that if nothing sells, you can reuse the frames for another show.

 

People-watching at shows
Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
 

040811_tatjana-popovicki

“Two Ravens”
acrylic painting by
Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

At an opening of a show, a good number of people came to meet and greet. Right in front of where I stood as I was talking with people, I could see one woman who spent a lot of time examining a painting. I gathered that she was important by the way the gallery owner tended to her. At some point the gallery owner came to tell me that this is a Russian woman and that she does NOT want to meet me. But, she bought the painting. I learned that she was a repeat collector and a good customer of the gallery. I suppose some people like to see and be seen from afar. Works fine for me.

(RG note) Thanks, Tatjana. There was a particularly scruffy fellow at one of my shows. Everybody came up to him and shook his hand because they thought he was the artist. Decent fellow, though — he told everybody he was just there for the food and wine.

 

Hurt feelings ahead?
Beverly Ruth Bader, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, USA
 

040811_beverly-bader

Untitled
original painting
by Beverly Bader

I recently started an Artist’s salon in a former brewery warehouse where we have our studios as well. The purpose of this monthly meeting is to have more contact with other artists who paint near us, as well as a place to talk about our work in a creative space. Last week group members decided to bring in an art piece for our next meeting to critique each other’s work. I wonder if this can lead to difficulties in that each artist may have limited experience in knowing how to give constructive feedback. So I thought Painter’s Keys people would have some useful suggestions, as well as a “critiquing model” that I can bring to the meeting and have the members follow. Could subscribers kindly let me know some critiquing ideas, as well as thoughts about even having artists critiquing each other’s work at all! I wonder if this can lead to hurt feelings, thus leading to inter-personal difficulties.

 

You’ll never be sure
George Robertson, Mississauga, ON, Canada
 

This note was inspired by the Monet quote that ended today’s letter. Yesterday, I came across this W.S. Merwin poem. It struck me that the idea basically applies to any artistic discipline. For instance, just substitute ‘painting’ for ‘poetry/writing.’ The title, Berryman, refers to Merwin’s teacher, the poet John Berryman.

Berryman

as for publishing he advised me

to paper my wall with rejection slips

his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled

with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence

that permitted everything and transmuted it

in poetry was passion

passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read

I asked how can you ever be sure

that what you write is really

any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure

you die without knowing

whether anything you wrote was any good

if you have to be sure don’t write (WS Merwin)

 

Is beauty next?
Thierry Talon, Calgary, AB, Canada
 

An artist friend does marvelous, very large landscapes. A voracious reader, he mentioned that “art doesn’t know where it is going next.” I thought there was a good chance that art would start giving comfort. It would be good if art would now become less edgy and less challenging. Art could start giving comfort, beauty and an uplifting experience. Pope Benedict (I never thought I would mention him here) has called on an audience of prominent artists to embark on “a quest for beauty.” I hope this will happen. In ‘another life,’ I researched the economic prospects for the world in the coming years: they are not pretty, not comfortable and not uplifting. We will not need more ‘challenges.’

“I do not like to be a prophet. I like better to paint than to predict what the next painters will do. Though I have a feeling that consideration of order is very much in the air.” (Josef Albers)

 

Empty apartment gave ad-hoc show
Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
 

040811_peter-brown

“Entwined”
acrylic painting by Peter Brown

I have an attic studio and I rent out several apartments below. One of these went vacant rather suddenly in the middle of the month. I was looking at the place being unoccupied for six or more weeks, which is rather depressing. I also found that the empty apartment simply looked rather empty! So, just as a way to make the place look better, I brought some pieces down from the studio and just threw them up on available nails. The rooms did look better, and because the apartment has great natural light, my paintings looked great, too. A few days later, a friend called, and asked if she could borrow my empty apartment for an evening. Her idea was to have a dance party for the kids from her co-operative day care. I thought great, twelve sets of parents, a bunch of little kids, nothing to break, and word-of-mouth advertising for a big vacant apartment. It was a strange and wonderful event, and people took the flyer about the vacancy. Only then did it hit me! Throw yourself an art show! I sent out emails, kept gallery hours of noon to five on weekends, offered by- appointment-only hours, and I have had a ball. My neighbors have visited, old and new friends, and friends have brought their friends. The place accommodated 52 paintings, from the past two years. I have had about 200 visitors. There are a couple of camp chairs, a few choice carpets, and I ended up getting some folding chairs, which I keep in a closet, until they are needed.

 

Thoughts on the Art Show Calendar
Christopher Volpe, Newmarket, NH, USA
 

040811_christopher-volpe

“Evening hush”
oil painting by Christopher Volpe

I’m a big fan of your letter and I think the show calendar is great idea — brilliant. One thing: it needs to be searchable geographically to be useful. Scrolling through hundreds of shows in Alberta, Minneapolis and Cairo has little appeal to me. Even for online buyers there’s shipping to consider. Further, being able to filter by medium, style, subject matter would help a lot. It’d also be nice to set up alerts when my favorite artists post a new show. I realize this may be beyond current capabilities. I’d just like to see this thing become hugely successful.

(RG Note) Thanks, Christopher. We’re working on it. We are particularly playing with the idea of geographical location which you and others have mentioned. One of the areas of interest to me is that many artists are located in remote areas. It’s been my thought that these people deserve recognition and featuring along with the ones who are exhibiting in New York, London, and other big centres. The Internet and the World Wide Web go a long way toward neutralizing the unpleasant label of “local artist,” and the other, even worse epithet, “small town artist.” I’ve had a couple of shows lately where people from Indonesia and Argentina purchased my work from a Canadian show, so I have had firsthand experience that it is possible to show to the world. Thanks for your encouragement on our new feature. I’d love to see our Art Show Calendar become hugely successful too — I particularly enjoyed just cruising through the illustrations and enlarging them. For those who haven’t been there yet, please take a look here.

 

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Featured Workshop: Janice Robertson

040811_robert-genn8
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040511_melanie-nogawski

Purple Glow

oil painting 11 x 14 inches
by Melanie Nogawski, CA, USA

 

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

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Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The power of shows

From: m. marsh — Apr 04, 2011

I love it!

From: Mike Barr — Apr 04, 2011

Some galleries have an amazing list of clients which really helps when it comes to shows. I remember one gallery I exhibited at asked where all the people where at the opening. In other words they expected me, the artist, to fill the place with clients and here’s me thinking it was the galleries job to do that!

So, the lesson for me was, check the credentials of the gallery before jumping in.

From: Lynne Windsor — Apr 05, 2011

I have always felt it was worthwhile doing shows and have, in the past, had a lot of success either before the show or on the night. The thrill and excitement have always carried me along, even though I get very nervous beforehand. However, three years ago my husband, Barry McCuan and I had a joint show of paintings created on our travels in France, at our gallery in Santa Fe and sold one painting the night before and then nothing for ages. It was just at the time the stock market was plummeting but this didn’t seem to help us!


The effort and investment we put into this show was immense and the show looked incredible and Barry’s work in particular looked wonderful. I haven’t had a joint or solo show since as I just haven’t wanted to put myself through that kind of angst. We did eventually make sales and Barry sold about 10 to one person, but it was a long time coming!


Still, this year I find that I have committed to two shows, so I guess I am over it and ready to face the fear!

From: John Ferrie — Apr 05, 2011

Dear Robert,

When i was in art school, back when the earth was cooling, I knew then I had to have shows. I didn’t have any money back then and my first show was held in the back hallway of an old building. I wrapped a giant ladder in white lights and I served cookies and milk at the opening. To my surprise, hundreds of people showed up. It was really fun. When I got out of art school, I could not find a gallery that would carry my work, but I knew I had to show my work. I began producing my own exhibitions. I made cards, hit the media and invited everyone I knew. One year I did a series of paintings with Drag Queens as the subject. I had international television coverage. I begged, borrowed and stole mailing lists and became well known for my marketing and media savvy. I finally had galleries that wanted my work, but the thing they really wanted was my mailing list. I found them to be bumbling with their marketing and I brought in more clients than they did. Galleries are a business and simply a stepping stone between the artist and the buyer.

In three days I am opening my largest collection of paintings titled “Harbour to Highrise”. I am showing in my own make shift gallery located on the main floor of my building. Several galleries in Vancouver are closing these days. It is still an exciting thing to show and communicate through art.

Shows are a crucial thing for artist. Beg, borrow and steal, but keep showing…John Ferrie

From: Thierry — Apr 05, 2011

Here’s a thought about the future of art, written by a good friend, who gave me permission to publish it here:


“An artist friend does marvellous, very large landscapes.

A voracious reader, he mentioned that “art doesn’t know

where it is going next”. I thought there was a good chance

that art would start giving comfort. It would be good if

art would now become less edgy and less challenging.


Art could start giving comfort, beauty and an uplifting

experience. Pope Benedict (I never thought I would mention

him here) has called on an audience of prominent artists to

embark on “a quest for beauty”. I hope this will happen.


In ‘another life’, I researched the economic prospects

for the world in the coming years: they are not pretty, not

comfortable and not uplifting. We will not need more

‘challenges’.


Let’s hope architects, artists, directors, musicians and

composers start feeling the same way. Two of the more

frequent comments I get on my work are ‘how peaceful’ and

‘how beautiful’. I sense an increasing need for this.


Locally, I have suggested that government, business and

people who can afford it, commission such work. This can

include music, sculpture and video. But our mayor’s wife

thinks art should challenge. One wonders how she thinks

Rembrandt and Velasquez fit into this thought.


“I do not like to be a prophet. I like better to paint

than to predict what the next painters will do. Though I

have a feeling that consideration of order is very much in

the air.” (Josef Albers)


From the Guardian :


Waldemar Januszczak has suggested a new movement in art,

a new-ism if you will – emotional minimalism, or emo art:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/


“Did we indeed identify one of those rare and marvellous

birds, to join surrealism and abstract expressionism in the

story of art? Certainly, in finding something sharp and

timely and new, we probably succeeded where Charles Saatchi

failed.


People have been trying since the nineties to discover

and describe the next thing in art after the Young British

Artists generation. Saatchi was first over the top with his

“New Neurotic Realists” show at the end of the 1990s – and

it was a disaster. Critics mocked the attempt to manufacture

an -ism from nowhere.


Similar efforts all crashed. An uneasy compromise has

since prevailed. Everyone wants to hail the new, but the new

has not really moved on since Damien Hirst’s era; it’s just

become an art fair lucky dip.


The 2009 Turner prize created the image of a genuinely

new moment in art.”

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Apr 05, 2011

I believe I suggested this a while back. I’m sure others have as well. Thanks for finally making it a reality! I’ve a show coming up in May and another in September. I’ll post shortly!

From: Arnold Winsor — Apr 05, 2011

It is only natural human nature to show and exhibit widely. And more than one work is more effective than just one. A show denotes seriousness and commitment. It is perilous for a serious artist not to have shows. UK

From: Cliff Hosking — Apr 05, 2011

I really enjoy your columns however I feel I should stand up for the Tasmanian Devil. While its numbers are declining due to a transmissable virus causing mouth and face cancer, it is still here. I think you were probably referring to the Tasmanian Tiger which is, sadly, extinct.

From: A.J. Meek — Apr 05, 2011

I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your letters. These last couple are classics. When I was teaching at the UNM in Albuquerque last year, I told the students about their work “I am not longer in the criticism business, I am in the make your dreams come true business.” They seemed to like that policy.

From: Keiko Couch — Apr 07, 2011

I just wanted to tell you and your staff that your twice-weekly art letter is the only thing that connects me to art world nowadays. Cape Cod, MA. Thanks so much.

From: L. S. Williams — Apr 07, 2011

The art exhibition business may be becoming redundant. Year by year they get less exciting to people. In our area it has something to do with the cost of gasoline. And people are getting used to buying on line, especially if they know the artist and have seen the work before. Restrictive liquor laws and fear of drunk driving has something to do with it too.

From: Boris Dahl — Apr 07, 2011

No, people still like to get together, and pretentious surroundings and classy galleries are not the intimidating surroundings they used to be. Good art can be found in an artist’s living room, and this may be the way of the future.

From: Corliss Cornett — Apr 07, 2011

The death of the solo show has been greatly exaggerated.

From: sandy schultheis — Apr 08, 2011

Our community holds Spring and Fall YART (Yard Art) sales. I’ve sold some of my rejects for $10 to $30 each. I do not sign my name to these pieces so don’t feel I’m endangering my “reputation” but am getting back the cost of canvas and paint, if not time.

From:Nancy Paris Pruden — Apr 08, 2011

I had a one person show at Harris Gallery in Houston with over 40 painting on March 5. I had not had a show in 3 years but only sold 4 paintings at the show. It is hard to not get discouraged but from that show I got 3 galleries so you never know… Put yourself out there!

From: Jean W. Morey — Apr 08, 2011

As to what I do with so-so watercolors. I tear them up into random shapes and put them in bags of like colors to do collage’s one day.

From: Jean McDavitt — Apr 11, 2011

Laura, keep the apples,bin the rest. Move on.Good luck

From: Janice Robinson-Delaney — Apr 11, 2011

Every time I read your letter, it brings me back to a dilemma I’ve either addresses or ignored since I started, getting objects to what might be a potential customer, I guess it’s somehow a pity-party of mine since I don’t have a car, nor a scale for UPS pick-up, etc.,but then I guess that’s just the procrastinator in me! I guess the question is do I buy shipping material before or after I put myself in a position to sell stuff? And of course there’s the issue of to frame or not to frame, which is still unaffordable to me. Well thanks for the think tank you provide, it’s priceless!

From: Tom Bowler — Apr 11, 2011

I like first three but not 4. What are sizes of work? You don’t post sizes maybe because you don’t know from pictures submitted?


Couldn’t make pi symbol in first sign in test.

From: Norma Bradley — Apr 13, 2011

I enjoy each of your letters and specially appreciate the dialogue about shows and the importance of showing work and the power of shows. I have shared it with the director of an Arts Council whose board wants to eliminate shows because they don’t bring enough money. This was mentioned to me during a reception of a group show that includes my work.


Several artist friends of mine did not want to show at at local university because they felt it was not a good venue for selling work. I sold four pieces at my reception and one student wrote a paper about the show. I received a message from a professor who went to see the show and brought his art students to see the work. I enjoy sharing the work and also to know that showing offers a constant education.

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