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|Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi
I recently read your column in Artnet.com, which was very amusing. With regards to being in the collections of MoMA, the Met and the Guggenheim, I'm not sure that having your work in their storage counts as being taken seriously. The last time I spoke to GC and your name tripped into the conversation, I think the word he used was "arruso" (whatever that means). Oh, and by the by, I'm told that Inka already has a boyfriend. But hey, you gave it a really good try! Until next time.
Thank you for the positive compliment about my Artnet column. It's nice to have another famous artist endorse my work. I am aware that you have work in MoMA's storage too and that perhaps that's why you feel "not sure" about whether we are being taken seriously. Don't worry, if we weren't being taken seriously, then I'm sure MoMA wouldn't spend one extra penny for the storage space.
For the benefit of my readers I'd like to guess that "GC" means "Germano Celant," the curator at the Guggenheim. I couldn't find "Arruso" in my Italian dictionary so I asked my friend, the art historian Manuela Alessandra Filippi, who insisted that the word doesn't exist or is no longer in use. Next time Germano uses an unfamiliar word, ask him to define it and accurately spell it for you, otherwise you'll be left to your speculations about what he actually meant.
Thank you for the relationship advice but I always knew that Inka Essenhigh has a boyfriend, the talented painter, Steve Mumford, who shows at Postmasters. I've never tried to pursue her romantically. I only praised her as an artist, a glamorous media personality and as a nice person. Now we are phone friends. I praised Will Cotton just as much. Did you think I had a crush on him too? In our art world fraught with hidden agendas and subtle power moves, we can easily succumb to the temptation of jumping to conclusions, but sometimes a positive review is just a positive review.
Jeff, my column is an advice column. Next time you reach out for advice from me please pose your questions more explicitly so I don't have to read between the lines of what seems to be a snotty little statement.
Although it's nice of you to offer your advice to the provincial masses out there, let's face it, your time has come and gone. The East Village scene of the 1980s has produced many like you who made paintings that were purchased by the Metropolitan and Guggenheim museums, which are now stuck with them. Your observations on the scene are on the one hand correct but I am afraid that says very little about the current condition of New York today. I think that Philippe de Montebello and other curators would do well to dump their Kostabis and search for the latest and least trendy (Kiki Smith) art. Just remember when all those New York artists wanted to tar and feather Keith Haring. Mark, the tar is warm and the feathers are gathering!
For factual accuracy please visit my website, Kostabi.com, for a list of the major museums that are currently acquiring my work. I am trying to understand what motivates a person like you to send your hate mail. Does it make you feel better to vent some hostility? I don't see what you gain. I'm the one getting paid to publish your illogical yet entertaining rant.
Some painters I see showing in galleries and making a very good living are doing art that is, in my eyes, real crap. How much does the quality of the painting have to do with getting work acknowledged, shown and bought?
For the short run its 50 percent quality-of-the-work and 50 percent business. For the long haul it's 90 percent quality and 10 percent business. But if you don't devote 10 percent of your time and energy to the business of networking and promotion then you'll end up unacknowledged and forgotten like thousands of good artists working today and throughout history.
The quality thing is interesting because once you're at the top you become disproportionally deified. For example, Algardi, a contemporary of Bernini who is virtually forgotten today, was during his lifetime considered at least half as good Bernini, though now he's nowhere near half as famous.
Almost all of my art-world success is a result of the combination of the quality of my work and my attendance at art-world dinner parties. I get invited to dinner (and I invite others) because I circulate at art openings. On any given month the amount of money I make is directly proportional to the amount of openings that I attend. The more openings I go to -- the more money I make.
When I walk the streets of Rome and gaze up at magnificent textbook public sculptures I sometimes wonder, "What dinner party led to that commission?" The history of art is ultimately the history of extreme quality (as in the example of Bernini vs. Algardi) but it's also the history of dinner parties.
Your way of answering questions illustrates nicely that in order to survive in the "snake pit" you have to be a snake yourself -- or at least some crouching creature. Your proposed technique ("let them shine first") is as sneaky as it can be, as it only covers up your real intention of possiblygetting patronage from somebody higher up in the snake pit pecking order.
A frank request doesn't go well with you, as it is so primitive compared to your learned way of success. You display your rank as more successful ass-croucher by giving that less successful artist lessons in arrogance and sleaze. And here is my question: Did you acquire this kind of social intelligence or were you born with it?
If you had read my text more carefully and without a biased predisposition towards high-minded muck-raking you would have acknowledged that I said "of paramount importance is to only seek out artists socially whose work you truly admire -- not just because they're successful, otherwise your phoniness will eventually be exposed and disrespected." Your idea of a "frank request" is in reality presumptuous, pushy and selfish. Why should a successful person automatically dole out help to someone with a "frank request"?
Seek out those who you admire without any expectations. Whatever you observe simply by being in their presence should suffice by way of information. Information is power. In fact go to them with the attitude of helping them or at least giving them specific, sincere positive feedback in appreciation for whatever they did to merit your admiration. They have already helped you by being visible examples of success. If they choose not to be additionally helpful then be grateful just the same. If they ask about your work and choose to help you or point you in a useful direction, then be extra grateful.
In 1996, when I decided to live in Rome part time, the famous Italian artist Mimmo Rotella, who lives in Milan, gave me a list of names and phone numbers of important art world people who live in Rome. He said I could call them and use his name. Some of those people I have become close friends with, people like the art critics Achille Bonito Oliva and Laura Cherubini, who have both subsequently promoted my work without my making a "frank request" or any kind of "request" beyond suggesting to meet for coffee.
Others, like the great painter Enzo Cucchi, who invites me to have coffee from time to time, have never concretely helped my career and I would never expect them to, let alone make a "frank request," although I am happy to promote Enzo simply because his paintings are so great and he's nice. Once he casually invited me to an opening of another artist's work, which I attended, and there I met someone who ended up becoming one of my best friends. I see nothing "arrogant" or "sleazy" about this approach to life.
Ultimately I'm not sure how I acquired my "social intelligence." But I suspect it has something to do with my clear thinking process, which results from the fact that I don't drink, smoke or take drugs. I'm a vegetarian and I exercise. How did you acquire your negative, cynical and bitter attitude or were you "born with it?"
I went to the Will Cotton show at Mary Boone and I was confused. These photo-realistic paintings reminded me of something from Meisel Gallery. Who is this Will Cotton and why do his paintings sell for $40,000? Does he have any kind of exhibition history?
I am familiar with the art shown at Meisel and also with the paintings of Michelangel Merisi, aka Caravaggio. Cotton is closer to Caravaggio with his brilliant orchestrations of lighting effects, rigorous command of form, exciting compositions and fresh contemporary subject matter.
I first saw Will Cotton's paintings in a group show at Exit Art in 1995. I was so impressed with the quality of his work that I asked someone to introduce me to him at the opening. We traded studio visits. Since then he's had a few solo shows at Silverstein Gallery, a group show appearance at Annina Nosei, some appearances at 1-20 and recently he joined the Mary Boone Gallery where his first show there sold out.
Despite this seemingly meteoric rise to art-world superstardom he's been painting in New York since 1983 and says his success is due to his painting to please himself, instead of following trends. He also says it's been important to "get out there" and circulate in the art scene with other artists. His interest in the work of other artists is so sincere that recently he stopped painting for a year because he thought other people were making better work than he was. He needed time to reflect and appreciate the investigations of other artists.
By the way, he does not use an airbrush, as the otherwise brilliant Charlie Finch wrongly announced in Artnet Magazine recently.
With all your gushing about the new Mary Boone artists, you'd think she was paying you. Care to comment on even one artist in another stable? Most of Mary's new breed paint mediocre one-liners with cleverness substituting for true insight. Let 'em buy up, I say. We'll all be asking who was Damien or Inka soon enough!
Best regards, a true collector,
I counted all the non-Mary Boone artists which I commented on in my previous two Artnet columns and the total was 46. Hardly the "not even one" that you wrongly accuse me of. Since you are a blatant liar your credibility for "true insight" was just shot out the window.
Your prediction of someday wondering "who was Damien or Inka" reminds me of what the critic Eleanor Heartney predicted about 12 years ago on national television after calling me "an art whore." She said, "in five years people will be saying, Mark who?"
Heartney, that's H-E-A-R-T-N-E-Y, she used to write for a major art magazine called Arts, that's A-R-T-S. Ask me what it feels like to have the last laugh. I assure you, my allegiance is to Damien and Inka, not Thomas Brenn.
At what point in one's career does quitting one's day job become a possibility? Is it monetary? Or will the answer one day shoot out of the sky, striking me like a bolt of lightning? How will I know, Mark?
You should have quit your day job yesterday. But today is not too late. All your time should be devoted to art and the things you love doing. But how is this possible when you must eat and pay rent?
In 1982 when I moved to New York as a totally unknown artist, I survived for a year and a half on 25 cent packages of Raman noodles and I was always late paying my $400 a month rent. Visitors to my tiny apartment observed that there were absolutely no signs of traditional domestic comfort, but my paintings covered all the walls. They knew I was totally focused.
I didn't have a "day job," which gives you a false sense of security. I spent all my time making art, visiting galleries and museums and figuring out ways to sell my drawings. Even for five dollars each if I had to. (That's 20 packs of Raman noodles! Twenty meals for a drawing that I made in 20 seconds.) I felt rich because wealth is a state of mind.
I visited the Met almost every day. My suggested donation was one cent and I was surrounded by all that great art and inspiration. I never felt cheap about my "penny to get in" because I know that one day I would donate a major painting. Five years later I gave a lecture at the Met in front of my painting, Requiem (1987), as it hung near Picasso's Portrait of Gertrude Stein and some Max Beckmann masterpieces. I donated Requiem through my then-dealer Ronald Feldman and a collector.
If eBay had existed in 1982 I would never have been late with the rent. You guys have it so much easier. Make 100 quick drawings one afternoon and sell them on eBay for $10 each. Hey, you might even get $100 for some of them. Since you're not famous yet, how will people know to look at your work on eBay? Write a clever description with lots of appealing words that will show up in many categories. Example: "Jennifer Seymour drawing, sexy angel with cat," or "Jennifer Seymour oil painting, portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio."
If you're a devoted, theoretical minimalist type instead of an ingratiating figurative painter, try, "Jennifer Seymour abstract painting, modern decorators dream." Soon you'll build a loyal following who won't be able to wait to get online every night after work and "see more Seymour."
Does starting the bidding at 1 cent sometimes mean you sell your paintings at real bargain, giveaway prices, or are they so popular that you always get a lot of money? Do you always have a set amount extra for crating up if, say, for example, you send the painting to Australia? Unfortunately I'm not so good at the nuts and bolts of the business and I almost always end up giving everything away because I don't factor in all those sensible things! Stay cool, hang loose and just keep admitting the truth.
At first I started the bidding at about $3,000 for an 18 x 24 inch painting. But nobody bid, even though the gallery price was $4,500. My brother Paul told me that people who sell punk rock CDs usually start the bidding at one cent. I was once the leader and bass player of a punk/art band called "Squirt Gun" in Whittier California, ca. 1980. Since I'm a punk at heart I gave it a try.
The one-cent quickly rose to two and three thousand dollars and I was in business. I usually got below retail but always above wholesale. This angered one of my dealers, who said I was just taking a bigger piece of the pie for myself and that the only reason I can get above wholesale is because galleries are out there promoting a higher retail price.
He said that I was undercutting the galleries, who would all eventually drop me and my prices would go down and my "internet strategy was sure to fail." I passionately disagreed, realizing that the Internet art buying public is growing rapidly in size, a phenomenon that is only at its beginnings. Now I get new bidders every day and the prices are starting to go for above retail.
My history is the history of proving art dealers wrong. For example, way back in 1981 when I made 20 to 30 simple line drawings a day, while still living with my parents in Whittier, Ca., dealers in Los Angeles warned me of the "dangers of flooding the market." This bogus advice was repeated to me by dozens of dealers in New York throughout the '80s. Now, 19 years later, in the year 2000, even with my 18 assistants feverishly painting away down at 90 Ludlow Street, and with me drawing all day, every other day, here in Rome, I still can't meet the explosive and growing demand for my work.
Anyway, Sarah, I suggest that you indicate on your descriptions that the buyer must pay for packing and shipping. This is normal. Also, you might consider offering works on paper at first, or works that you are comfortable "almost giving away" in order to start an Internet awareness for your work. I have a growing clientele of devoted regulars who bid on my paintings every day. It's a dialogue.
Now I make some paintings with the URL names of my high bidders playfully written directly on the surfaces of the canvas. It's both a blatant marketing ploy and a document of the Internet era. My clients love it. "Cool Arturo" just bid up Double Clique to $5,100 in the first hour it was posted. The retail value is -- was? -- $4,500. Double Clique is filled with names of eBay clients, but Cool Arturo's name isn't even in it!
You seem to believe that a high price paid for an art work, specifically your own, is enough to grant the artist the title of SERIOUS. Well, living in Santa Fe, N.M., I see innumerable artists creating horrendous, regurgitated works for which benign tourists (usually from Texas) pay outrageous sums. I could easily name names, but let's be nice. So, having established that buying patterns do not always correspond with quality, we can say that just as there is probably a mate for every unfortunate human being, so there is a buyer for many unfortunate art works. By the way, do you show here in Santa Fe? You should consider it. Busloads parade up and down Canyon Road.
You are well-versed in the NYC gallery scene (Loeb, Brown, et al.). Do you hang with those folks? Also, the restaurants you mentioned are a bit passé by now. An artist wishing to woo clients, dealers, etc., should meet up at Pastis or that newish restaurant under the 59th St. Bridge. You need to get out more.
The restaurants I mentioned are Bottino and Jerry's. Your letter initially stung me. Being a touristic, superficial product of a price-obsessed, media-controlled society, there's no worse fate than being passé. I thought, jeez, my readers are getting more formidable with their vicious little jabs, even from Santa Fe!
But alas for you, I win. I consulted with Will Cotton and he said that although his dealer, Mary Boone, has recently held all her post-opening dinners at Pastis, for Inka's dinner she's switching to the newly re-opened Brasserie in the historic Seagram Building at 53rd Street and Park Avenue, which is frequented regularly by Jill Brienza, director of the Roger Smith Gallery. He said that as far as he's concerned, Botttino is still the most popular restaurant to gather in after openings.
The place under the 59th Street bridge is called Guastavino's. It has the underside of the bridge as its gloriously high ceiling, but is more fashion-world than art world. Larry Gagosian eats at Sant Ambroeus at 77th and Madison.
Does all art revolve around NYC? Can you only be considered a serious artist when residing in NYC?
No. Bruce Nauman, Mike Kelly and at least three other artists live outside New York and are considered very serious, but the fact that you can seriously even ask your question is testament to New York's extreme hegemony. Try substituting any other city in your question and it would be an absurd joke.
I am, at the moment, writing an art history paper on YOU, and I wanted to fling a couple of questions your way. I was interested to know how, if at all, you would compare yourself to Andy Warhol and his factory? Andy Warhol created a persona for himself and made works about the loss of identity for the individual. I see similarities in the featureless figures that inundate your work, and was interested to know what your feelings are on this.
I was also interested to know how you felt about Jeff Koons. He also rose to fame in the decadent 1980s and was criticized for not creating his own work. I realize there are great differences in how you approach subject matter, but I also see similarities in that you were both contemporaries that relied a great deal on the media as a forum to get yourselves noticed.
Do you feel that your success is based on the idea that if you price it high enough or convince people it's great they will buy it? For instance, if you act the part and dress the part people will assume you must be worth investing in?
In the art business we are always selling images. Not just the images in a representational painting or the images inspired in the viewer's mind when he or she contemplates a Lawrence Weiner wall text or the social image that rich collectors display by installing a monumental, red Calder mobile in the sprawling green grounds of their country houses -- but we are also selling the image of the artist.
I am constantly thinking of things to do that massage my mythology, whether it's publishing lavish coffee-table books of my work, or placing amusing gossip items about myself in Page Six of the New York Post, or posing for myth-evoking photos by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Jean Kallina, Christopher Makos, Ché Graham or Elisabetta Catalano.
On my eBay postings, I always make sure to offer a number of signed postcards, posters, catalogues, books, even cancelled checks and my old clothes that I wore on my legendary television appearances. (Of course I always sign the Yohji Yamamoto and Gaultier labels). Even though these items don't bring in nearly as much money as my paintings, they add credibility, excitement and mythology and guarantee that when you search Kostabi after logging onto eBay you'll usually find at least 50 items available, which makes me seem more huge that I actually am -- but then I actually become more huge!
When Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous interviewed me in the '80s about my working style of using assistants to paint my paintings, I only employed six painters. Just before the shoot I asked all my friends to pose as painting assistants in exchange for the chance of being on national TV. When the show aired it looked like 25 people were painting for me. The awesome publicity immediately enhanced sales, which made it possible to actually hire 25 assistants.
So yes, your observation is very astute: if you act the part and dress the part, people will assume you must be worth investing in and you will be the part.
As for Koons, a big difference is that before I started using assistants I already made and exhibited thousands of artworks executed by my own hands, whereas Koons started with fabricators from the get-go. This might account for some of his hostility and jealousy towards me because he never learned how to make a great artwork by himself. He has publicly confessed that he cannot sculpt personally but that he can paint because he was trained as a painter. This wasn't the smartest thing to admit, since his sculptures are widely considered to be better than his paintings.
As for Warhol, I've answered that question too many times. Please read my book, Conversations with Kostabi (available through the Artnet.com bookstore), where I answer in depth. Incidentally chapter six of the book is called "How to Become a Rich and Famous Artist," and makes good supplementary reading to my Artnet columns. Also, good supplementary reading is the book How To Get Hung by Molly Barnes.
How you doin'? How does having a huge ego give one an edge in the artworld?
I'm doin' just fine. "Huge ego" is a bit pejorative. I prefer to call it "extreme self-confidence" and yes, it gives you a decisive advantage. No matter how much money or social status you have, confidence is accessible to anyone. Leonardo da Vinci said "painting is a mental thing." Kostabi says "confidence is a mental thing." All you have to do is think a little.
You might think I live in my own world of illusions, comparing myself to art historical giants like Leonardo da Vinci, but even if you're right I prefer to take the advice from the title of my own extremely famous painting, Use Your Illusion, which Axl Rose bought and used for the covers of two Guns 'N' Roses albums.
a) What was your first thought when Axl Rose asked about using Use Your Illusion for an album cover?
b) The band was then considered "underground" or "grunge" or "alternative." In other words, did that cross your mind? That it would give you credibility then?
c) Any thoughts today, looking back on the album and cover-art?
An admirer from Denmark,
Dear Weexy, A) Awesome!
B) The band was already huge and I knew that it would put me in another stratosphere of exposure. I knew that it would give me more credibility with the younger, general public but I was surprised to discover that the owner of 303 Gallery suddenly showed me a little admiration and respect.
C) I'm glad my signature is clearly visible and since my painting is an interpretation of a detail from Raphael's School of Athens, it gives me an amusing personal doorway into learning more about art history.
Have you considered a new title for your column? If not, perhaps you might consider "Synchophant.com" or "Careerism.com"? Or perhaps "TowtheLine.com" or even the punchy "PettyTyrant.com?" I will be sure to invite you to my next opening, where I would be happy to help you with other potential titles or even topics for your column. Please don't be discouraged, Mark. Many people suffer from a poverty of the imagination! Just remember you are not alone!
I don't believe in being a "sycophant" but since negativity is a waste of time and energy, I choose to focus on and associate with people who I sincerely admire and therefore my statements to and about them tend to be positive. I'm impressed that you can find time at your own openings to help another artist with their work. At my openings I'm always too busy signing autographs, selling paintings and posing for photographs with other celebrities. Thank you for adding a little entertainment value to my column.
Good job on the Artnet website. I like your candor and lack of sympathy. You seem to be the embodiment of what the art world is. I imagine that Warhol was like you; knowing the right people, etc.
Underneath your veneer and brashness is some good solid advice. You seem to marry the glitz with the practical. Perhaps your best asset is your solid understanding of human nature. "Let them shine first," indeed!
We all have to follow our own paths. I suspect that much of your advice will be enthusiastically embraced in theory but the practical application of it will be minimal. However, those few individuals who do follow it will probably be richly rewarded.
I have been trying to comprehend the entirety of the "art market" for many years, especially since I started painting two years ago, and the paintings are piling up to the point of annoyance. I am actually quite happy that I cannot comprehend it. How boring that would be.
I hope you like my candor when I display my lack of sympathy for you, too. Despite your seemingly positive letter I am not impressed with your lazy, too-comfortable and self-congratulating thinking process. Get off your jaded, dilettante ass and go to art school. A few grad students slamming your growing pile of paintings might give you a little intensity, which the "art market" likes.
A great concept, this column! I have a question and could use some advice. I'll try and make it short. I have a client who bought several paintings. He showed one of them to clients of his, who own a Wine Company, and they want to know if I would "allow" them to use this painting for what's being termed "branding, business identity and advertising."
I don't "own" the painting but I'm the artist and they want my consent. I'm soooo out of touch with all this and just don't know what to do. I realize it could help me and my little fledgling career if they decide to use it, but I'm at a loss as to how this works. Do they just copy my art and use it for their own advertising? Do I still have "rights" to this work even though its been sold to someone else? No mention has been made of any type of compensation and instinct tells me I need to at least make sure my name is mentioned or printed as the artist.
I apologize for all the questions, but I hope I have given you a good idea what's going on. Any advice at all would be a Godsend, as they are awaiting my answer. Thank you so much!
When you sell an original artwork you do not lose the copyright. That's a separate negotiation.
However, you should say no to this wine company because alcohol is the second biggest cause of death in the world, after smoking, which holds first place. When I said no to $60,000 from Absolut vodka in the late '80s, I felt decisive and empowered and have subsequently turned down numerous other endorsements for unhealthy products.
They need you more than you need them. Remember, they're approaching you -- not the other way around. You'd be better off financially and idealistically donating art to an anti-drug charity and getting a tax deduction!
My name is Cynthia Chapman. I'm a third-year painting and drawing student at the Ontario College of Art & Design located in downtown Toronto. Recently I have read your manifesto in Flash Art magazine. I appreciate your views of art dealers and the ways in which the art world works. I also appreciate your sincere concern towards other artists, as your studio in N.Y. employs 18 artists and soon they will have their own titles after working under you. How would I go about applying as an intern for the summer in your studio? Or maybe I should just ask how you go about selecting your artist staff? Just in general how would one go about finding a position to work with a respected artist, national or international? Thank you for your time.
I am not currently seeking interns. I prefer to pay people for their contributions to my growing empire. To apply for a job at Kostabi World (which pays $8 per hour plus bonuses) send slides of academic realist oil paintings with a S.A.S.E. to Kostabi World, 90 Ludlow St., New York, N.Y. 10002. For other respected artists, send a sincere letter with resume, or try to meet them at Bottino.
Warning for artists considering interns -- they can be very draining. Make sure they are getting school credit. Otherwise they'll expect ambiguous payment from you in the form of "friendship, hanging out, long advice sessions or introductions to your influential art world friends.
I have read your comments about the future insignificance of dealers and disagree. You may well argue that as a dealer, I am biased, but it is my honest assessment that emerging artists need the context of a gallery to bring their works to the attention of collectors. Sure, eBay has been good for you, but you are an established artist and your work reproduces well. Do you really think unknown artists will be able to support themselves by adding their images to the millions already online?
My works reproduce well but they still look much better in person than on a computer screen, so when winners of eBay auctions receive their Kostabi at their doorstep by FedEx, they are delighted by the pleasant surprise. They happily bid on their next painting later that evening. On the contrary, works seen in the flesh frequently look better at galleries than at home because of the carefully orchestrated theater of the gallery sales pitch -- perfect lighting, perfect installation, the simple vase of white tulips next to the attractive receptionist dressed in Prada, wine -- and "for important collectors only," the unparalleled thrill of finally gaining privilege to pass beyond the velvet rope.
I sense your insecurity about your future employment. Don't worry; there will be other art related jobs. You could be a secondary market dealer, or if you have a sincere interest in helping emerging artists and if you actually know something about art, unlike most art dealers who come from other professions (I don't know anyone who majored in "art dealing" in college) you could work in a museum as a curator, docent or a guard.
I also recommend that you also stop misleading artists with your condescending "honest assessments" about their "needs" and your gloomy discouragement about joining the "millions already online." Artists don't need dealers. We don't even need collectors. But let's be realistic, collectors are nice to have. However, collectors don't need dealers, either. You're right about there being "millions of images already online" But fortunately so are millions of collectors. As Goethe said, "Collectors are happy people." Welcome to the real world Jay "Grimm."
See you next month!
MARK KOSTABI is a New York artist. Readers are invited to email questions to: .