In Your Face
at Stux Gallery
Caravaggio as Goliath in David
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
A Brush with Immortality
at Stux Gallery
Black Dog in Cage
at Galerie Asbaek, Copenhagen
editor of the New York Post's Page Six
Reporter on deadline?
Photo by Ché Graham
Mark Kostabi with Steve Martin
Photo by Baird Jones
Tra Le Nuvole
Kostabi: The Early Years
sold on eBay for $25,000.
drawing in conte crayon, offered for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $10
Hugh MacLeod cartoons on business cards
photo Penni Gladstone
|Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi
"Get over yourself," as Jerry Saltz says in his column. Your mean-spirited self-aggrandizement and self-referential lunatical barrage of greedy haute bourgeois pretense is bullshit. Who cares if you are sitting on a Philippe Starck couch? Where you really are is in a parking garage for art-world dinosaurs. Nothing could be as tacky as your meaningless self-absorbed mimesis of society's worst traits.
Dear Jerry Saltz fan,
I imagine that you are one of those awful parents who discourage their kids from becoming artists. I also enjoy reading Jerry Saltz (and he better review my upcoming show at the Stux Gallery, Jan. 12-Feb. 9, 2002), but I don't agree that artists should use Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood as role models. Many of history's greatest artists had abundant self-confidence: Picasso, Caravaggio, Dalí. Just because some artists are politically correct by being selfless and humble, doesn't mean I'm going to think they're better than Caravaggio. By the way, if Jerry Saltz doesn't give my show at Stux a positive review, I will have him kidnapped and permanently transferred to Kapland, a distant island populated with 10,000 Steve Kaplan clones.
Actually, my feelings would be hurt if I didn't also get letters like the following:
I absolutely cherish seeing how you boost yourself, and was concerned that you are going through something, as your posting was so late. I suppose the worst is over, seeing you're communicating again. I realize that I should have written you before. Lots of people think of you.
There's been a lot of writing since Sept. 11 about resultant broad and deep changes in the culture. Among phrases I've seen in these commentaries are "the new sincerity," "the end of irony," "post-modernism is dead," etc. What are your thoughts on these particular issues, and, perhaps, on the broader subject of cultural change and trend-spotting?
Not even the Holocaust could bring on the end of irony. People tend to not tell jokes at funerals, but their sense of humor doesn't go away forever. More than a "new sincerity," I see a "new sobriety" -- people are tougher and more prepared. We were all surprised by Sept. 11, but if it happens again no one will be surprised. We'll be angry and active.
Regarding cultural change and trend-spotting, so far, all the same TV shows and types of movies that did well at this time a year ago are doing well now. And great art is still great art. Cultural change will be dictated by the state of arts education and the rebellious personalities of the brightest young students.
I offended one of the most influential art dealers in Australia (the imbecile did not know who Pierre Bonnard and Otto Dix are) and as a result I not only do not have a dealer but the rest of them are ignoring me. As far as I am concerned, 99 percent of art dealers are parasitic, lazy con men (or women) who are totally not accountable to anyone. However, the reality is that without a gallery an artist does not exist. Any constructive thoughts? (No preaching Mark, thank you.)
Your ex-dealer doesn't know who Pierre Bonnard and Otto Dix are, but you probably don't know who Norman Dubrow and Eli Broad are -- they're important collectors of contemporary art. Don't judge people by what they don't know -- consider what they do know. I once worked with a dealer who didn't know who Duchamp and Kandinsky were, and admittedly it was frustrating at times, but he sure knew the names of many art buyers, and I sold a lot of art. Many top art dealers have huge libraries of art books in their offices, but have they been read? I doubt it. It's all in the service of creating the illusion of expertise. There's so much information out there -- it's impossible to know everything. Even brilliant art historians are usually limited to their specialty. When someone exposes their lack of knowledge, take the opportunity to gently share yours, but never condescendingly.
A time-management question. Many young artists (older ones, too) face a classical time-management problem: maintaining an effective breakdown of available time between making the art, promoting and schmoozing (contact-making, networking). I read a piece by a popular author who said that 30 percent of his time was spent writing, 30 percent promoting and 30 percent recovering, with the remaining 10 percent spent doing laundry, paying bills, etc. With a lot of writers and artists working at a "real job" or "day job" as well, the time really gets crunched. What has been your experience over the years, and what do you recommend?
When I'm overwhelmed by "too much to do," I do the dishes. Then I organize my desk, eat a Godiva chocolate, sit in my Verner Panton Cone Chair and consider my priorities. In other words, I take a deep breath and do the simplest things first, to clear my mind while still accomplishing something, before making a major decision. Like many artists, I want to do it all.
But that's just not realistic. It's much better to do a few important things really well. So in addition to my art and music careers, I only write for two magazines, Artnet and Shout Magazine, even though I have offers from many others. I gave up my chess career despite having great potential. Prune your temptations. Doesn't it feel great to get rid of clutter?
I haven't had a "day job" since I was in college. I never hated my day jobs. I just sort of did them while daydreaming of being a soaring successful artist. The thing I remember hating was not having enough money to live on my own -- not being totally free. I love my parents but I hated being dependent on them at age 20. I had a burning desire to be free and taste the glamour and excitement of New York. I believed that if only I had money I would be free and totally happy. And when I finally got money I was free and totally happy.
People say that money can't buy happiness. I disagree. When I have money, I'm happy. There's just something about it. I especially like it when it comes from an art deal. I feel a magical pleasure when watching my left hand handing over a freshly finished painting while my right hand accepts a wad of cash. There's something beautiful about it. Like a wedding or something. And then I like to celebrate by taking my friends out to dinner at Bottino. It's all so delicious and simple.
Don't get me wrong -- I get happiness from things other than money, too, like Oreo cookies, chocolate soufflé, love and great art -- but it's really nice to have more cash in the bank than you need. Warhol's estate was decided by the courts to be worth, conservatively, over half a billion dollars: $509,979,278. So even if you like your day job, get rid of it. There's no time. Marketing and painting are the left and right foot of walking. Get rid of the crutch. Julian LaVerdiere is waiting to say hi to you at one of the tables opposite the bar just as you enter Bottino. Get in the picture.
Much of your advice seems most applicable to artists who are outgoing, comfortable in the company of strangers, and willing to make the "cold call." Not to overlook such qualities as "resilient" and "able to bounce back." How about the shy, introverted and reclusive artists ... what do you suggest to them?
Jean-Claude Mur Dubois
Over lunch at Bottino recently, Dennis Oppenheim told me that he found it interesting that Andy Warhol, an extremely shy person, went endlessly to party after party after party, where he invariably behaved shyly. If you can't immediately change your personality from shy to outgoing, go out anyway, like Andy Warhol. Get with the program. You can always be a recluse in your golden years, after you've achieved your empire of fame.
As for being resilient and able to bounce back: you simply must. You must give constant, relentless attention to your work and the details of your career. And you must reach out. Call, call, call. If they reject you, call someone else.
I like to see my name in the paper. But it doesn't just happen. My most impressive publicity has been the result of my pitching story ideas to magazine and newspaper writers. If they're remotely interested, I make as many follow-up calls as needed until the story is published. Minutes ago I got off the phone with Page Six of the New York Post to see why it hadn't published the great item that I gave the editor last week. He said it's definitely on board for publication but since it's not a "time sensitive" story, they would slip it in on a slow day. I said "Okay, then I won't give the item to anyone else." "We appreciate that," he said.
Dennis Oppenheim says his best sculpture commissions or museum shows are always the result or his "reaching out." He says his projects that come on their own are not as good. Dennis has hired special people to work in his studio whose main job is to make calls proposing projects.
You seem to have a direct pipeline to Page Six. How do you manage to get so much publicity in New York's gossip columns?
Dear publicity puppy,
When I was in journalism class in high school I became editor of the school paper simply because no one else wanted to do it. This was an early lesson in proactive media manipulation. Little kids tend not to say, "When I grow up I want to be a gossip columnist," or "a newspaper editor." They want to be firemen, rock stars, dancers, artists, novelists, scientists, baseball players -- not gossip columnists or editors. So their job is a "lousy job" and if you do it for them they'll be happy. They get paid to fill space with interesting material. Give it to them. The only requirement is that it be genuinely interesting or entertaining material. If it's only moderately interesting that's okay too, but they'll publish it on Saturday or Sunday, when fewer people read the paper.
Now, what if your life is not interesting? What if all you do is make great art and want to be famous? Well, maybe Page Six is not for you. Try the art magazines. I've been in Page Six many, many, many times. 99 percent of the time it's been because I've called them -- they've only called me once or twice on their own. I also regularly supply the New York Post's photo archive with photos of myself, so my picture is frequently published along with the item, not because I'm a more famous celebrity but simply because I've made their job easier by giving them photos in advance.
As you get to know the columnists you'll learn things like the best time to call (usually not when they're on deadline). If you call late in the day on Friday, with a really good story, you're sure to avoid the useless Saturday or Sunday placement, and almost guaranteed an early weekday slot because by Friday afternoon they've already finished their weekend columns.
When I call, no matter how interesting my story is, they always try to rush me off the phone. The trick is to not be intimidated and to shove the story at them, quick and simple, before they can hang up. They always cut me off before I can finish giving them all my material, but they always run my stories. It's better to have more than they need. They've heard so many stories pitched at them that they know exactly when a story clicks. They also frequently sound like they've drank four cups of coffee so get ready for a fast-paced exchange.
I wonder if you could give your views on a subject I have been thinking about for a while, and about which I feel uncertain: How should artists handle giving gifts of their own work. Is it expected, acceptable or inappropriate to give work to someone who has been or might in the future be helpful or supportive, such as a critic, curator, dealer, fellow artist, etc.? What about friends outside the art world who are hoping to receive artwork? I'd appreciate hearing your opinions.
Generosity, in all its forms, is the key to success. Don't be cheap. First and foremost, you must be generous within your work. Art itself is a gift. A museum visitor doesn't really pay much to view an individual art piece. It's a gift. Give them the time of their life. Put your very best into every art decision and brush stroke.
Now, as for paying off the critics, do it. Yes, as much as some critics pretend to not be on the take, they are -- in some way or another. The best art critics accepted gifts: Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg. It's just part of the game. If you only make four paintings a year, consider making prints or drawings as gift items. Now that I write art criticism myself (for Shout Magazine, every month) I see it from the other side. Artists frequently offer me a gift after I've written them up. I just take it. I feel I'd insult them or be condescending and inhuman if I said something like, "It's my policy not to accept gifts." Lighten up. We're all in the family.
In 1990, after I sold a truckload of paintings, I spent around $350,000 to publish 5,000 copies of a huge, 524-page, 11-pound art book about myself called Kostabi: The Early Years. Each book cost me about $70 to produce. Although I continue to sell individual copies at a profit, I've given away perhaps as many as a thousand copies to critics, collectors and dealers. Sometimes these gift copies end up at the Strand bookstore, but usually, with KOSTABI blaring on their thick spine, they dominate important bookshelves in important places.
Once, a dealer who bought over 200 paintings from me told me that he would not have done it without the existence of my giant book, which helps him sell the work. At $225 per copy retail, art-book publishers told me that I could never sell 5,000 copies of such an oversize, heavy book. But I approached it with the spirit of generosity, not caring if I sold a single copy. Sparing no expense, I chose the best paper, the best printing, the best everything -- all in service of my art, which I believed in wholeheartedly. The book is now almost sold out.
So be generous in giving gifts, but beware of the greedy opportunists who expect a gift without having the intention of reciprocating, like people attending your openings who ask for a "quick sketch" instead of just an autograph. If you do one, they'll all line up expecting a freebie. With other artists, it's best to do straightforward trades instead of gifts. And with friends outside the art world, wait for their birthday or Christmas.
Several times you have made reference to artists selling their work on eBay as an alternative to conventional galleries. However, there are literally thousands of artists on eBay with tens of thousands of listings every day. It seems to me that the only artists who really are successful on eBay are those who established a name and reputation in conventional galleries before they began selling on eBay. How would you suggest that an artist on eBay make his work stand out in order to increase his audience and exposure?
Relentless posting. Experimentation with different types of products and price points. Constant attention to your audience's behavior. Willingness to sell at very low prices but in large quantities. There are many "unknown" artists who make their living from selling their work online. Here are just two of the many letters I've received which prove this:
I continue to read your column on Artnet.com, even though you hardly ever write it and you don't reply to my e-mail messages. I know you're busy. I wanted to write, though, to thank you for what I've come to call your Ramen Noodle Story. At some point you wrote that you came to New York and painted and did everything you could to sell your work and ate only Ramen Noodles, but that if you were starting out today you'd never have to eat Ramen Noodles because you'd be selling on eBay. "Do a bunch of drawings," you wrote, and "put them up on eBay with low starting bids, and you'll start to build a following."
I finally took your advice and in less than one month I've sold 12 drawings on eBay and in private sales to people I met through eBay. EBay has gotten my work more notice than just about anything else I've done on the Web. It works! People will really buy art from an unknown artist on eBay if it interests them and the price is right. I won't be retiring on my proceeds any time soon, but it's only been a month and I am greatly encouraged by the response. The best part: Each drawing took me less than ten minutes. Add in scanning and posting time, and it's less than 20 minutes per drawing. What a great return on such a small investment! So, thank you, Mark. Thank you. I'll remember you when I'm rich and famous.
P.S. You can bid on my work too: Just put "rywalt'' into the eBay search box and there I am.
I'm an artist, and careerwise I'd say I'm not doing too bad -- not as good as I would like, but better than I deserve.
I started selling my work online a little while ago, and frankly, since I'm doing so much better than I ever did with galleries, I'm contemplating giving up galleries altogether.
I find most gallerists unable to deliver on their promises, which would be fine if they didn't insist on my treating them like their word was gold. But it isn't, so I don't.
I used to live in New York, and I found it a very expensive way of doing business (rent, networking, dating in N.Y., etc.) compared to hiring a bright kid who knows how to put a decent website together. I have since moved to the boondocks, where I find my income has risen, my costs have quartered and the profit margins have spiked through the roof. Any time I need to be in New York I have a friend who lets me rent out his spare bedroom by the week. Much cheaper than putting down a deposit.
Frankly, the gallery system reminds me a lot of a naked emperor. My question is: do you think it's too early in the curve to drop off the gallery scene and delve straight into the wonderful world of online? Or do you think people like me should endure these horrible people for another few years, just to be on the safe side?
I think your advice column does artists a great service because you write about the way the art business actually is, not the way the PR guys would like to have us believe it.
I really hate to brag, but, about a year ago, when most everybody was whining about the bursting of the internet bubble and "dot-bombs," I just kept posting and selling on eBay and reading Artnet Magazine and the New York Times on the Web with great pleasure. I never told anyone to put their retirement funds into tech stocks. I just said eBay works for me and many others too. It still does.
And now we're hearing that fewer dot-coms are bombing. The second, more surfable wave of the internet phenomenon is upon us. But for me personally, even though I've earned a lot of extra money through eBay, I'm switching attention to working with serious galleries, because at this point in history, working with galleries is still the easiest way to get reviews, museum attention, into art history books and ultimately, onto Richard Polsky's radar screen.
Andy Warhol once said the sober truth: "The way to make it in the art world is to have a good gallery." So my advice to you, Hugh, is to keep as many doors open as possible. There's only room for thousands of artists in the gallery system, but there's room for millions online.
I spend almost all my time in Rome, which may as well be "the boondocks" relative to the New York art scene, yet I was recently able to sign a deal with the prestigious Stux Gallery in Chelsea. Stux is now my exclusive New York Gallery and I'll have a show there which opens this month, Jan. 12, 2002. I wouldn't have been able to accomplish this without frequent trips to New York for both casual and formal meetings with Stefan Stux and Stux Gallery director Mike Weiss. Weiss put the deal together, partly because we've had a good working relationship over the past few years on various projects while he was an independent curator and the editor of Smock Magazine. I've also frequently had pleasant short chats with Stefan at openings over the years and he's always said nice things about me and my work.
Yes, there are "horrible people" in the gallery world, as you say, but there are also nice ones. Simply find the ones you like and stay in contact with them. Be nice, enthusiastic and professional and things will happen.
I'm a fan of yours. Not of your paintings, but of your column. I laugh a lot. I think it's funny, but more than that, and although you only do it because of the money and self promotion, I think it's very useful. I've been learning a lot about how the art milieu works.
I've only one complaint: three months without Mark Kostabi? No, no, no. Why do have so many assistants? Aren't they supposed to do the work for you? So give us some more of your time!
Okay, I'll write more columns. But it sounds like I'm the one who needs advice: I really like my paintings. How come so many of you think they're bad? I hear so many comments like yours. People praise me for practically everything else I do except my paintings. They praise me as a manager, a writer, an adviser, a self-promoter, a marketing genius. They say that my "persona" is a great work of art, that I'm a great performance artist. They even praise my drawings. But when it comes to oil on canvas, I'm simply the worst! I'm starting to get a Stravinsky -- Ravel -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle complex. Everyone says that Stravinsky's early ballet music was his greatest, but he thought his later works were much better. Ravel dismissed Bolero -- his most popular piece. And Sir Arthur considered his widely derided "serious" literature much better than Sherlock Holmes. Am I as delusional as they? People say that Paul McCartney and Billy Joel should stick to what they do best, pop music, instead of trying to be classical composers. Should I just forget about Kostabi World, which churns out 1,000 hated paintings every year, and just be a magazine writer?
How interesting that, in your reply to my letter in your last column, you chose to deal with not one of the issues regarding your troubling persona that I hoped to bring to your attention. You are in serious denial, and are even worse off than I had thought. But at least we now know why you insist on continuing your letters column. It's for the money.
Dear Steve Kaplan,
In about two billion years Earth will become uninhabitable as a gradually warming Sun produces a runaway greenhouse effect. In five billion years the Sun will swell up and die, burning the Earth to a crisp in the process. At about the same time the Milky Way will collide with its twin, the Andromeda galaxy, now about two million light-years away and closing fast, spewing stars, gas and planets across intergalactic space.
Any civilization that manages to survive these events will face a future of increasing ignorance and darkness as the accelerating cosmic expansion rushes most of the universe away from us. Our ability to know about the universe will decrease with time. The longer you wait, the less you see.
Happy New Year,
P.S. for artists and dealers: Remember, every time you sell a painting, take all your friends out to dinner at Bottino. Or if you're really smart, take them to Nino or Trattoria Monti in Rome.
Readers are invited to submit questions to email@example.com.
MARK KOSTABI is an artist who lives in Rome and New York. His next one-person exhibition will be at the Stefan Stux Gallery, Jan. 12-Feb. 9, 2002, at 529 West 20th Street, ninth floor, New York, N.Y. 10011 (212) 352-1600.