Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

Mark Kostabi

Art Stars?

Mark Kostabi
In the Meantime

Mark Kostabi
To Be Titled

Saarinen dining table

Grass or astroturf?

Robert Morris

Mark Kostabi
Photo Patterson Beckwith

Simon Cerrigo

Not verbal judo

Philippe Starck
Lazy working sofa

Mark Kostabi
Escape Artist


Mark Kostabi
It's about Time


Mark Kostabi


Mark Kostabi
Second Thought


Mark Kostabi
L'Adorazione del Presente
Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi

Dear Mark,
How will 9-11 affect the art world's future?

Dear Frank,
Millions of things have already been said and printed. One thing that some friends and I have observed but that I haven't seen anywhere is that in New York, nice people are nicer, mean people are meaner and crazy people are crazier. People's personalities have become exaggerated.

In any case, the world is not safe but it's safer than before. We let down our guard and got a nasty wake-up call. Now we're awake -- so I'm not afraid of flying or traveling to New York.

I anticipate a massive outpouring of art about this war. War, violence, death, mourning and religion are the stuff of art history.

So far the art market seems strong. I'm selling as much as ever and many dealers say the same. And if that changes for the worse, everyone will just go back to making smaller paintings again. Remember during the recession of the early 1990s, when all the art stars known for making gigantic work suddenly switched to easel paintings?

Dear Mark,
I am showing at a very famous gallery but I have suspicions that my dealer is cheating me by selling my work for more than I'm actually told and thus giving me a smaller cut. I am nervous about leaving because the gallery is so prestigious but at the same time I have anxiety about being cheated. What are your thoughts?
Anonymous (to avoid libel)

Dear Anonymous,
Any dealer can cheat you, even at the most prestigious echelons of the art world. Look what happened at Sotheby's and Christie's. But that doesn't mean you should leave. We all do business with crooks every day. We still patronize cabs and delis, knowing that many of them will shortchange us, given the chance. We're just careful and count the change.

Your situation is simple to police. Collectors love to schmooze with "their" artists. Next time you're huddled around the Saarinen marble dining table, sipping Jacksons of Piccadilly Earl Grey tea and munching on some awesome delicate dessert from Balducci's or Balthazar, or maybe something fresh from an Entenmann's box, just ask the collectors what they actually paid. If you're 100 percent sure that your dealer is cheating you, sue the bastard and leave. Otherwise just be careful and count the change. And never let down your guard.

On the other hand, if you're simply not comfortable with your dealer for whatever reason, you can always consider switching, but often when you get to the other side of the street, that "greener grass" turns out to be Astroturf. I personally only know one artist who absolutely loves his dealer: Fred Tomaselli has no shortage of praise for James Cohan.

Dear Mark,
I am a young painter living in NYC. I am interested in working as an artist's assistant. How can I find out about any positions?

Rebecca Perez

Dear Rebecca,
The famous artist Robert Morris, who teaches at Hunter College, told his student Brent Howard to simply call up famous artists and ask for a job, explaining that "yes, they're famous but they're not celebrities -- so they're somewhat accessible." Flash Art publishes Art Diary, which lists the phone numbers and addresses of most established artists. So Brent called up a famous sculptor, who got mad and said no, and then he phoned Louise Bourgeois, who hired him immediately and now generously critiques his work on a regular basis and also pays him for being a studio assistant.

It's not a bad idea for an aspiring artist to work for an established artist, thus gaining experience and contacts. Caravaggio worked for Cavaliere d'Arpino; Anthony Caro worked for Henry Moore; Jacob Jordaens and Anthony Van Dyck worked for Rubens; Alexis Rockman worked for Ross Bleckner; Gary Stephan and Laddie John Dill worked for Jasper Johns; Sarah Morris and Rob Lazzarini worked for Jeff Koons; Mark Tansey worked for Helen Frankenthaler; Tracy Baran worked for Jack Pierson; Rick Prol worked for Wolf Kahn, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Mark Kostabi. I invite my readers to send in more names of well-known artists who worked for other well-known artists.

Dear Mark:
I notice that my name is finally appearing in Artnet Magazine after all these years, albeit in the unfortunate context of your column and in a slightly pejorative light: "I've just had enough of Steve Kaplan, Simon Cerigo and Bernd Naber for a while."

Considering that your editor is Walter Robinson, I would not expect any different treatment, and so am not particularly disappointed that you neglect to cite my keen mind, my good looks and my long-term moderation of the radar arts calendar:

What I do find interesting (from a psychological viewpoint) is your supposed sense of humor, which can give rise to passages such as: "I need Robert Gober, Matthew Barney, Bruce Nauman and Mike Kelley to bow to me. At the moment, I'm only worshipped by the likes of Giles Lyon, Will Cotton, Donald Baechler, Jeff Koons and maybe Gary Stephan. I've been hiding away in Rome ... but don't worry, I'll never leave you."

I suppose we are meant to be charmed by this parody of megalomania, and perhaps to wonder how close it cuts to your "real" personality. That is, if we had the time to think about you at all. Speaking for myself, but I'm sure also for many of your "worshippers," let me urge you to leave. At once. And stay there.

Steven Kaplan

Dear Steven,
I'm pleased that you find my column interesting. Thanks for your thoughtful, well written and generous contribution. You have contributed exactly 228 words, for which you will not be paid. I, however, will be paid for your generous contribution. Having known you for almost two decades, and knowing how cheap you are, I know this fact of my being paid and your not, for your work, will upset you somewhat, and that gives me pleasure, as I type these words while reclining on my new Philippe Starck Lazy Working Sofa, which you helped pay for.

Hi Mark,
Good column. I like the way you are dispatching your cretinous attackers with verbal judo -- letting their own nasty momentum send them flying.


Dear Mark,
I believe that you are insane. Your work is obviously so horrible -- yet you insist on endlessly making more of it. All you do is paint that same, stupid, faceless figure over and over and over again, sometimes sticking it into bad copies of famous paintings hoping to give your imagery some kind of credibility. And then God knows how you convinced Artnet to let you misguide all those poor, untalented junior hustlers to follow your twisted, self-serving "advice." Your work is so bad it even subverts the good name of bad painting. What do you honestly think you're doing?


Dear Simon,
I want my paintings to be so good that people will go against their better judgment to look at them. I want people to beg for my paintings. I want my entire oeuvre to be scrutinized fanatically with unprecedented intensity, even my few bad paintings. I want legions of art students, scholars, critics, collectors, dealers and art historians to seriously consider why on one particular morning I decided to drink Twinings English Breakfast tea instead of Jacksons of Piccadilly Earl Grey and what the ramifications were on that day's creations.

My relentless desire exists in part because of my anger and frustration of working with certain dealers. My great art would not exist without my desire for power and revenge through success. And I am determined to fill the world's museums with it.

Simon, I am not the first to say that a little insanity can help one be successful. Almost all of the most successful artists actually believe, either secretly or openly, that they are the greatest. This seemingly insane self confidence contributes enormously to real world success. Trust your lust and use your illusion.

Dear Mark,
Last night I dreamed that Nancy Hoffman gave me a show but didn't want my mailing list because she only wanted to sell to her collectors, assuming that my previous collectors would bypass her gallery and go directly to my studio. My large paintings sure did look good in her spacious gallery, though. I frequently have dreams about art-career anxiety. I want so badly to be accepted and praised by the serious art world but it seems so competitive and fraught with immense obstacles. I'm worried that maybe I can't live up to my own expectations. How do you deal with the anxiety that envelopes ambition?


Dear Alexander,
I know the feeling. I consider myself a serious artist, and rather successful. But the other day I ran into an acquaintance, a famous older Conceptual artist, at an opening. We spoke for a half-an-hour, seemingly as peers, and my self-image and self-confidence were boosted. However, at the end of our discussion he said, referring to our talk, "What a pleasure -- like a little supplement to my martini." Suddenly I felt like a student. A fawning dolt, gently dismissed as a pretzel or a peanut or an olive or whatever they supplement their martinis with.

Just in case I was only being paranoid, I called the same famous Conceptual artist a few days later to see if he'd like to have dinner with me and a mutual friend. He said he didn't have time for dinner but that I was welcome to visit his studio for a drink. I said yes. Then he added, "You won't mind if I continue working will you?" I said, "No, not at all," but I definitely understood the hierarchy. When visiting his studio, while he worked and sipped his martini, this pleasant little supplement stole his best new ideas. Ultimately I felt more illuminated than humiliated.

To succeed in the art world you really have to humble yourself sometimes. Once a major New York dealer was about to cancel my upcoming show and I literally cried, which caused him to reschedule it. Sadness sells.

Condescending, know-it-all behavior runs rampant. You just have to let them do what they have to do, treat it like water off a duck's back and don't lose sight of your goals. Persistence breaks down resistance. Eventually that same person who made you feel bad might give you what you want, or something else you value. But only if you don't relent. If one person isn't worth the effort, pick another. When you fall in the gutter, get right back up and keep walking. Sometimes you have to go straight before you can turn right.

Don't be bitter -- be careful. Relish your small victories. And build on them. Chess is a great analogy for business and war. Chess games are not won by one brilliant move. A chess game is won by a gradual accumulation of small advantages. And by always accepting the current position -- never dwelling on past mistakes. In chess you must always anticipate all the possible responses to your moves and be prepared for each response. You must also know all the openings, understand tactics and the endgame. This requires intense study and practice. To become a chess master, assuming you have above average chess talent to begin with, you must study four hours a day, plus play in two serious tournaments every month -- for five years. And then to become a grandmaster: another five years of even more intense study and practice, totaling ten years of chess as a full-time job.

Same in the art world. The more you know about art history, current trends, technique, how to network, how to follow-up opportunities, who's who, how to be organized, openings, openings, openings, tactics and the endgame (your own goals) -- the better. Orchestrate a whirlwind of power and knowledge around yourself.

What do you think about selling art on the streets of New York? Any advice you can give?

street smart

Dear street smart,
Don't do it. Having myself shown in scores of restaurants, nightclubs and theater lobbies, I enthusiastically embrace alternatives to the gallery system. But I draw the line at selling art on the street. Does your artistic dream belong next to all those tacky trinkets and insipid souvenirs? Why align yourself with those crooks who peddle fake videos and stolen stuff? I only like the book vendors. If you can't convince a rent paying gallerist to show your work, then eBay is much less offensive, less humiliating and MUCH more profitable. Plus rain is not a problem.

Hi Mark,
You are a riot. I came into the studio this morning after a wonderful long weekend in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, and read your column. It gave me a good laugh and a quick pick-me-up!

So, I've found a new way to get myself working with new enthusiasm .... I go to visit the studios of older, famous and successful artists. In the last two weeks I've been to Eric Fischl's and 'Bob' Rauschenberg's. Of course neither of these two artists knows who I am, I just happen to have friends who schlep and work for them ... but, it's nice to see what a life of dedication and hard work can bring an artist. So, have to go and adjust my lighting in the work space. I got a great idea when at Eric's.

Lots of love, hope you're enjoying Italy.
Lisa Stefanelli

Dear Lisa,
I totally agree with your approach and enthusiasm. It's wise to always continue visiting other artist's studios, even after you've become "older, famous and successful" yourself. The "older, famous and successful" artists often enjoy the visits from younger, lesser known artists. They like the energy and feedback.

Dear Mark,
I'm an artist who loves going to openings. Occasionally I bring my girlfriend, but she hates it. She's a successful lawyer and has no professional connection to the art world. She loves art but hates going to openings because people ignore her as soon as they discover she can't do anything for them. Should I just go alone?

George Franco

Dear George,
Go alone, unless it's your own opening or unless your date is also in the business. I've seen relationships suffer because artists confuse openings with normal happy social events rather than the business meetings that they are. You can get a lot more done between six and eight on your own -- and then meet your date for human interaction and dinner at 8:30.

Until next time,
Mark Kostabi

Readers are invited to e-mail questions to:

MARK KOSTABI is an artist who lives in Rome and New York. He also writes a monthly "Artist's Pick" column for Shout Magazine. For more information visit