A New York Opening


Dear Artist,

It’s Monday night. My friend Jill, a Wall Streeter, (Columbia,’96) invites me to an opening in Manhattan. A friend of a friend of a friend. We hop the subway to a cool part of town. Jill says that the “restaurant/gallery for one night” is popular right now. They’ve removed all the tables and chairs — all that remains is the free bar. The place is packed. The beefy waiters are dressed in gas-jockey uniforms and carry trays of melon and prociutto over the heads of the youthful crowd. Spandex. Leather. Suede. The bag matches the shoes. Full Armani rosy-cheeked broker-guys in the blue shirts with the white collars and cuffs. People talking about money. “This is New York. No one can save here. $200 is like — a handbag. Or dinner, forget it. See you after at the sushi bar with the extra long line-up, you’ll know the one.” A girl comes up and takes our names. She says it’s because the artist wants to follow up with all of his potential collectors. We’re handed an artist’s statement about how his work evolved since moving here from London. How his creativity exploded in New York and why he’s working with felt-tips. On two floors there are maybe 15 paintings, two sizes: foot squares in groupings, $250 each (he’s young) and 4 by 4 feet at $2000. Prices on price-list only. Titles too. Numbers beside paintings. Some small ones sold. All works are abstract, either felt-tip wobbly stripes that turn corners in a few colors on primed white or gray, or slubby oil goobs with pen-width stripes dragged into the impasto. Sort of monochrome Miroesque minimal, uninvestigated. Photographers circulate and snap. Mostly possibly celebrity girls in white teeth with the smart artist draped and toasting.

Back in the flat I see a sculpture Jill’s friend made out of six or eight boxes in which they brought their books up from Columbia. They are stacked and taped together into a column. Everyone who comes is told it’s an important work by a renowned artist who works with cardboard boxes. “After all,” Jill says, “New Yorkers will buy anything!”


Wall paintings by Sol LeWitt

Best regards,


PS: If you would like to see selected correspondence relating to the previous letter “They said it was hopeless,” about quadriplegic painter Robb Dunfield, please go to http://painterskeys.com/disabled/


The following are selected correspondences to the letter “A New York Opening.” Thank you for taking the time to write.


Numbered paintings
by Andre Malcol

The reason for this seemingly awkward practice is to alert gallery staff of the potential of interest and perhaps sale. People are required to refer to their list to find out title and price. When the dealer sees they are looking at price then they know it’s time to come over.

Another reason for numbering paintings is to help distance and mystify the connection between the sacrosanct piece of art and its commercial and practical considerations. Strangely, the idea of “user friendly” does not always work in galleries. Many dealers feel it’s best to get the client to jump through a few hoops before he or she gets the satisfaction of acquiring the sacred object.


Restaurant gallery
by Walter Davidson, New York

The restaurant gallery-for-a-night concept may catch on, particularly if dealers continue to ask ridiculously high commissions and fees for staging shows. There a lot of savvy young folks out there these days who know that it’s really no big deal to attach hangers to the back of paintings and drive a few nails into walls. The restaurant environment is sufficiently similar to the commercial gallery space that it’s worh while giving staff a semi night off on an otherwise slow night.


New York Taste
by Anne Van Pant, London, UK

The denizens of such concentric centers such as New York, Paris and to a lesser degree London, tend, with their urbane and bloated egos, to think they have a sinecure on what is acceptable. It’s soon noticed that anything goes. It’s easy to see why, in such an environment, a pile of cardboard boxes can be passed off as art. And in the broader picture of things, it is.


Photographic evidence
Nameless person

I notice you mention having the artist’s picture taken with guests. This is important. It creates an atmosphere of inclusivity and honors the art patron. Furthermore, if the girls turn out to be starlets, models, or simply rich, then it may be possible to date them or at least take them into your circle of influence. Obviously, works of art sell better when they are associated with or collected by known celebrities.


The eternal question
by Elizabeth Britton, Oregon, USA

Ok Robert, help me out here… I, too, have been into galleries where similar types of work are displayed with the usual crowd attending. It makes me angry & depressed when my stuff (in my mind) is really good, but doesn’t go anywhere! Now, granted, I need to really do my publicity homework, but how is it that so much questionable additions to the art world seem to climb in status? Seems like the Emperor & his new set of clothes…


The principle of the thing
by Harry Booker, London, Ontario

I have long divided art into two camps, those who spell it with an uppercase A and those who spell it with a lower case a. Recently I was involved in a discussion about the definition of art and came to this conclusion, art is whatever the “creator” says it is. If someone piles dog dung in the middle of the street and arranges it in some deliberate form and says “that’s my art,” then that’s his art. I may not agree that is has meaning or is “good” art, but that is simply my opinion to which everyone is entitled. It is, nonetheless, art because the “creator” proclaimed it as such. We all need to differentiate more clearly between proclaimed art and our opinion. As for galleries and openings, after many years of working with a few galleries as well as selling my work directly, I’ve also developed strong opinions regarding the art market. I’m frequently asked how I set a price for my painting. Another artist once said, “a work of art is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it, no more and no less,” and I agree. I also read another artist who wrote that you must set a price for art which the public will pay. If you overprice your work, you won’t sell, and in his opinion, its better to sell 5 paintings at 100 dollars each, than sell one at 400 dollars. Makes sense to me. Art markets are very fickle. I have no argument with the price an artist realizes from selling his work or even what the work consists of, including cardboard boxes. That is, I have no argument as long as the transaction remains between the artist and the buyer. In that context, I believe anything is acceptable and is honest dealing. It’s when the middlemen start working, the self absorbed critics, the ultra-intellectual museum functionaries, the profit-driven gallery owners, that I become disturbed. I once placed my work in an “upscale” gallery which promised large prices and consequent large payments to me. The avarice in me was attracted for a short while, till I learned how my work was being hyped to the collectors. There was a great amount of dishonesty in the presentation of myself personally and of the techniques and inspiration and honest value of my work. I was being sold like a used, repainted, Edsel. No thanks. I pulled my work from that gallery and haven’t gone back. I’m too old to allow my work to be sold like a vacuum cleaner or junk bonds. It’s too personal and too dear to me, as the painter. I work hard to keep the paper and canvas clean as I work, I don’t need it dirtied by some shyster art dealer.

My present gallery which has been handling my work for the past seven years is very dear to me. We have a close and personal relationship based on trust and friendship. I consider myself fortunate. I am not an Artist, but an artist. I consider it an honor that people buy my art to hang in their homes and I enjoy meeting them and their families and sharing their thoughts about art. For me art is a personal statement from one person, from one heart and mind, to another. I’ve given many paintings away, sometimes to strangers, simply because the work has struck such a strong chord in them and they have expressed that feeling to me in a way that I want them to have the painting. Bad business? As a marketer, sure. As a human, I don’t think so. Art is too personal to be treated as another commodity on the open market. That’s not why I paint.


Trendy business
by oliver, Houston, TX, USA

Marketing of art is and to my mind has always been trendy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean there is any real long term value. As an artist I do what I like. As a collector I collect what I like. I hope others like what I make and that I get lucky and some of the things I buy are liked by enough people to increase in value. If not — I still like it.

I’d love to be on the catching side of a trend for my art and hopefully it will establish itself as more than a fad.


by Robb Debenport

From the “hopelessness” of Robb Dunfield to the nonsense of the New York art scene. Whether this point was intentional or not, it was well made. The same holds true in ther disciplines, from music to politics. A further reminder that we produce our work for ourselves and our own judgment, not the wandering masses.



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