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    Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi
 
     
 
Kostabi in Rome
 
Perusing the art press.
 
Mark Kostabi
The Keys of the Kingdom
1996
 
Albert Bierstadt
Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California
1865
 
Georgia O'Keeffe
Evening Star No. V
1917
now at the National Gallery
 
Inka Essenhigh
Western Print
1999
at P.S.1
 
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Self-Portrait
1987
 
Damian Loeb
 
Art in America
 
Louise Bourgeois
Untitled (Chair)
1998
at Galerie Karsten Greve
 
George Segal
Bus Riders
1962
 
Alex Bag
Untitled (Aries)
1999
 
Lisa Yuskavage
True Blonde at Home
(1999)
and Night (2000)
 
Dear Mark,
Mark, you're so lame -- except on your views regarding dealers. They suck!
jmascaro@medianone.net


Dear Mr. Mascaro,
I sympathize with your hostility but aggressive name calling, directed towards anyone, whether me or dealers, without the support of a comprehensible explanation is definitely a road towards frustration and failure.

Dear Mark,
Why is it that no one in the art world takes you and your art seriously?
Bob


Dear Bob,
You might consider asking your question to the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim, all of which own my work, as do over 10,000 collectors who have each paid thousands of dollars to own one of my paintings.

Bob's "question" explicitly illustrates the kind of unproductive, bitter, yet unfortunately very common negativity that we should all flush down the toilet as soon as possible before the smell goes into our own noses.

Dear Mark,
I was interested in your article on the Internet regarding ways to get work shown and dealing with dealers. You mentioned the idea of starting your own gallery. Here's the background to my question, which I will make direct at the end. I have a great passion for wilderness, as do many people here in the West.

On my backpacking exploits I do watercolor sketches of these spectacular areas of wildlife. I then base oil paintings on the sketches done with brush or simply painted with a knife. I am within three paintings of having what I would like to call a traveling show of 20 pieces. I will start with a local show in a small gallery to refine the final pieces for the final traveling exhibition idea.

My question is, if one has a theme show of 15 to 20 paintings on the environment and would like to exhibit to target audiences interested in the outdoors, what kind of art representative; an agent, a museum or a gallery would most likely be interested in showing the work as a unit?
Sincerely, Norman Nelson


Dear Norman,
This answer is not coming from a city-slicker New York art snob, but from an artist who was raised in Southern California and now lives in New York and Rome and who used to paint watercolors of wilderness himself on his own backpacking exploits. And my advice is simple: Don't stay local. Don't be provincial. No matter how specific your subject matter, if you really believe in your artistic vision you have to share it with the global art community.

You won't find outdoors-oriented painters like Charles Burchfield, Albert Bierstadt and Georgia O'Keeffe tucked away in provincial " target audience," outdoorsy art galleries. On the contrary, they are in major museums in the context of mainstream art history. Therefore you must concentrate on conquering New York like the rest of us, because New York is still the main nerve center of the international contemporary art world.

Others might argue that for the moment London is also extremely important, but remember, the "Sensation" show received truckloads more publicity when it finally rolled into New York. New York's dominance will eventually dissipate due to the Internet but if you want to become a successful artist within the next few years it's still very helpful to circulate in the New York art scene.

Which means you should try to attend Inka Essenhigh's opening at the Mary Boone Gallery in early May. Essenhigh, incidentally, happens to paint "American landscapes," according to the title of her exhibition of recent paintings at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. Anyone who can be and stay friends with Inka Essenhigh is definitely on the right track, but if she's too busy Charlie Finch will do.

Dear Mark,
I'm a young painter who lives somewhere in the wastes of Northern Montana. As you can probably imagine, this area isn't a hotbed of art activity. I just finished a series and am going through the tedious process of trying to find a gallery that is interested in looking at work from a young self-taught painter. I've tried communicating with a few galleries about submission guidelines, etc., but without much response. All I really want to know is who might be worth submitting to. I just want an honest look and an honest response, whether it's good or bad. If you can recommend anyone, please let me know. Thanks for your time.
Sean McKenzy


Dear Sean,
I don't have to imagine that the wastes of Northern Montana are not a hotbed of art activity. I know it. The hotbed of activity is in New York.

Hey, don't get me wrong, I prefer my relatively stress-free life in Rome, the most beautiful city in the world, and the Roman art scene is a pleasure as well, with all its fascinating characters like Achille Bonita Oliva, Pio Monti and Ludovico Pratesi, but if I weren't perceived as an artist who first conquered the New York media and art worlds I am sure the number of glamorous Italian dinner party invitations that I receive would be significantly fewer. (I can't get by with my unpretentious, charming personality and good looks alone.)

Forget about submitting your slides through the mail to galleries (or even in person). Only one in a million artists get a show that way. Forget about "submission guidelines" -- why be submissive? No one is worth being submissive to!

The "honest response" that you are seeking is that your work is neither good nor bad. It simply does not exist. According to the current art world you are an inconsequential artist living in the sticks and you do not matter. And now you can either get mad and fret and fume, have a hissy-fit, be bitter or boil over, but like a tree that falls in the sticks, will you make a sound?

Here's what to do: immediately start your own website that illustrates your work and includes relevant information about it (look at mine, markkostabi.com, for format ideas. I basically copied mine from artnet, which has a smart, no-nonsense look, but the great photographer, Jean Kallina, insists that Matthew Marks has the best looking website).

Then print your address on business cards and move to New York (or at least travel there for a few months during the art season (October through June). Start going to the openings of the galleries that you like and the galleries that are considered important. Eventually you will meet Charlie Finch and things will start becoming clear. Inka Essenhigh's opening at Mary Boone in early May is the most important opening left this season because Inka is one of the world's best and most interesting new artists and it's her first show at the Fifth Avenue gallery of the successfully reinvented, legendary star-maker Mary Boone. I won't be there because I have my own show in the Milan Art Fair at the same time.

While circulating at New York Art openings be sure to avoid talking about yourself as much as possible unless you are asked to. Wait for the right, non-pushy moment to invite people to your New York area studio. If your studio is still in the sticks then give them your business card with your web address and invite them to lunch at Bottino or Jerry's in Chelsea. At lunch avoid talking about yourself.

Ask questions about Inka Essenhigh, Will Cotton, Cecily Brown, Damien Loeb and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Don't be a fool by complaining that Greenfield-Sanders' photographic portraits are dull and lifeless (De Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and 697 other important art world figures didn't seem to think so). Just try to get photographed by him and be happy that you've met the father of the great artist, Isca Greenfield-Sanders, who will have her first one-person show at the prestigious Galleria in Arco, in Turin in June.

Dave Hickey is also a good topic of discussion at an art-world lunch. If you don't know who he is yet, ask. Don't be afraid to show you naiveté. Not knowing is a great opportunity to ask for information or advice, which makes you less threatening. Don't be a know-it-all. Ask questions about art world things that interest you. Information is power. People love to give free information and free advice.

Dear Mark,
Out of all of the art magazines published, which do you feel are the best for an artist to read? It seems most of them are ads and a bunch of muck, with the exception of Art Issues!
Melesa Klosek


Dear Melesa,
My favorite art magazine is Flash Art, because it's the most international, least pretentious and least cliquish and it's publisher, Giancarlo Politi, has an immense, almost irrational passion for art and new ideas and no fear of alienating advertisers with his controversial "Letters to the Editor" column. The New York Times said that Flash Art is "a must-read for all do-it-yourselfers," and almost all of the successful people I know "did-it-themselves," with the exception of me of course, with my 18 studio assistants.

But an artist should read (or at least page through, slowly) all the major art magazines, which in the United States are Artforum, Art in America, Art News and Flash Art. Art Issues is also very important because everybody's talking about Dave Hickey. The best online art magazine is the one you're reading now, artnet.com, with its up-to-the-minute breaking news coverage. It's like the CNN of the art world.

Also read the art reviews in the New York Times every Friday. It's even valuable to read the art reviews in the New York Observer and the Village Voice, at least to be informed about the uncool opinions of reactionary critics like Hilton Kramer and Jerry Saltz. Anything that they complain about is worth investigating. To be an artist who makes a historical difference it's important to have all the right enemies. Hilton Kramer and Jerry Saltz qualify. (I mean in the press, Jerry. You can still pretend to be friendly to me at art openings and pick my brains for ideas for your reviews, while you bash me in the Village Voice and on national TV).

Don't be negative about the advertising and "muck." Granted the ad design is ironically staid for a world that claims to champion visual invention, but it's all information, and information is power. Whether you see art as a game, a war, or a spiritual quest, the more that you know about your opponent, your enemy or the colors in a Kandinsky can only help you achieve your objective.

Dear Mark,
I'm an older, not-very-successful artist living in Vancouver, B.C. I've admired your work for years. I'm planning a trip to New York City this June and I'm bringing along samples of my work (mostly collage paintings). Would it be possible to meet you and show you my work? Thanks, for your time and effort.
Sincerely, Stewart Paley


Dear Stewart,
Your sincerity is not enough to conquer the snake pit of the New York art world. Your problem is one of self-esteem. Why put yourself down in the first sentence? What do you mean by "older"? Are you older that Louise Bourgeois, who now in her later years is successfully making extremely fresh, cutting-edge contemporary work that easily holds its own next to any 30-something's multimedia video installation? Are you older than Leni Reifenstahl, who in her 90s regularly went deep-sea scuba diving to take her underwater photographs? Are you older than Beatrice Wood, who lived to be 105 and continued to exhibit and make art successfully during her entire life? Don't claim that you are "not-very-successful" in the first sentence, either! Or in any sentence! The loser thing was hip in the early '90s and even then only in the faux-loser writings of winners like Sean Landers.

Thank you for you compliment but no, I cannot meet you and look at your work when you make your trip to New York. It doesn't work that way. Famous artists get countless requests such as yours. We can't meet with everyone and you're asking for too much up front. When I first arrived in New York in 1982, I too contacted artists that I admired, like George Segal, but I simply said: "I like your work and I'd like to meet you." I didn't say that I was an artist who wanted to show them my work. I got the appointments because the subject was them, not me. During the studio visits I spoke and asked questions only about them, until finally the curiosity reversed and they asked about me. And only then did I unveil the slides in my pocket. Let them shine first.

Dear Mark,
Here it is Saturday morning 9 a.m. and I just read your article, which I thought was excellent. You told it how it really is. What is interesting is how to get the work out there. I will try eBay. I have been around so many years, and have no gallery representation. My paintings always sold at benefit auctions or group shows, even solo shows. I have all different styles. There are so few women artists in good galleries or any galleries. There are 117 paintings I have on Artnet and JustOriginals.com. Thank you.
Sincerely, Elissa Dorman, artist on line


Dear Elissa,
While you may consider it an asset, claiming to "have all different styles" is generally not a good move for an unknown artist in our world of specialization. People want to see "focus" and a strong, recognizable "signature style." After you declare your singular identity, then you can safely introduce other styles or even other professions, like science, music or writing, like Leonardo da Vinci and Mark Kostabi did.

Regarding "so few women artists in good galleries" you are simply wrong. The best artists who have emerged in the past ten years have mostly been women: Inka Essenhigh, Sue Williams, Alex Bag, Pipilotti Rist, Vanessa Beecroft, Cecily Brown, Lisa Yuskavage, Jennifer Reeves, Elisabeth Cooper and Shirin Neshat, to name a few.

Dear Mark,
Some critics I know don't accept art gifts from artists -- they buy the works, so they can sell them later with a clean conscience. Others say, "I don't buy art -- I'm an art critic." My question is, do you think it makes sense for an artist to give an artwork to a critic? Is it a good move commercially? Is it a good move ethically?

Thanks, Walter

Dear Walter,
My initial reaction to your question was to say that the only thing unethical regarding this subject is for art critics to claim to be objective, free of conflicts of interest, as the reason for not accepting the gifts. I've always believed that art critics are paid publicists, who can be bought, and should be used by artists accordingly. Dave Hickey says, "Criticism is the weakest thing you can do in writing."

But I began seriously considering your question further, realizing that other opinions exist. Your question would make a great subject for a panel discussion.

So I decided to call some friends for their thoughts: Sam Hunter (famous art historian, critic and ex-MoMA curator), Giancarlo Politi, (publisher of Flash Art) and Ugo Nespolo (famous Italian artist).

Hunter said that he frequently accepts gifts from artists and, at his age, he has no problem with it but when he was an art critic for the New York Times in the 1940s he didn't accept gifts, " because no one offered any." He told me that he remembers being in de Kooning's studio, watching de Kooning help legendary art critic Harold Rosenberg pick out gift paintings. "How about this big one over here?" asked Bill.

Politi said that the situation in Italy is "totally corrupt" and that almost all the critics in Italy accept and in fact expect gifts and extra payments from artists and dealers. He said that he was surprised when New York Times critic Roberta Smith refused a free trip to Italy "simply to see, not to write about," a museum show that he was involved with. Perhaps if sexy Bill de Kooning had been in the show, waiting to offer her "a big one," she might reconsider.

Nespolo said that the problem with giving a critic an art gift is that "in two months it will end up on the market, so it's better to give them a crystal vase, or just money."

When I told Sam Hunter about the openness in Italy regarding gifts and payments, he said that the Italians are closer in spirit to how things were in the United States in the 1940s and '50s when the members of the much, much smaller art community were all working together, outside the mainstream public, promoting art that they all believed in. Exchanging gifts and favors was part of the art spirit. I told him that Politi called it "corruption" in Italy. Sam Hunter replied, "Yes, well, corruption is part of the art spirit too."

We, in the art world, are all part of one big happy family of corruption, and colors, and money and fame and irony, and breathtaking compositions and dark, thought provoking, video installation pieces, and big ones and little ones. Until next time.


MARK KOSTABI is a New York artist. Readers are invited to email questions to: Send Email