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    Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi
Mark Kostabi
Photo Ché Graham
Mark Kostabi
The Information Age
Jeff Koons
Karen Finley
Robert Storr
Photo Laura W. Lewis
Jerry Saltz
Andrea Rosen
Roy Lichtenstein
Photo Jean Kallina
Mark Kostabi
Jay Gorney
Inka Essenhigh and her fans at Mary Boone Gallery
Mark Kostabi
Hymn to the Sun
Andy Warhol
Flowers (yellow)
Publicists and page six
Mr. Kostabi:
I am truly upset that you continue to insist on causing the art world all these undeserved pains. You are arrogant enough to deserve the full truth, i.e. that your paintings are terrible and do not add anything to the glut of contemporary art. The poor museums and collectors who acquired your work may have done so in good faith, not realizing that your promise would remain unfulfilled. I beg of you to desist your ego trip and cease to write a column in an otherwise excellent magazine. You do not deserve it and its readers. I humbly believe you do not deserve the company that you cite, i.e., the other contemporary artists, many of whom are not only talented but also principled. I'm sorry but the notoriety of your art is an accident, a freak of history so to speak. A 30 seconds of glory, to be forgotten forever. Please face it, any talent you may have had has been wasted in the pursuit of commercial gain. Koons is morally as bad but I must confess, grudgingly, he has an ounce of talent. I just wish that, if you have a little bit of decency, for the sake of the values you may once have had, that you please desist from this and turn back into obscurity or inconsequence. Do not cling to life this way. Confront your nothingness for the good of us all. I'm very sorry for being so earnest, I know it is not fair since you cannot know and expose my own shortcomings, which may be as big as yours. But respectfully, adieu.
Mariano Pacheco

Dear Mariano:
A+ for your creative writing. F for your lack of any solid content or facts to support your opinion. Allow me to offer my next readers' response to refute your pathetic whining --

Mark, you rock!!!!
Who would have thought that someone like you could get the art world's blood boiling like it does? All you did was try out an alternate form of artistic production to gain success and no one wants to admit that you achieved your goal. Why is everyone so bent that you've been chosen to dole out advice on Who knows? But it says a lot about jealousy and other people's feelings of entitlement.

I mean c'mon, do you think people would be as bitter if Karen Finley or Keith Boadwee were giving advice on No way! And they stick all kinds of things up their asses to make art, which IS pretty alternative! (What kind of advice do you think they'd give?).

Almost every answer you dole out is hilarious. So I, for one, am very happy that chose you to be its resident advice columnist instead of some other "less controversial" artist.

Keep making them jealous. (Otherwise, your column could get a little tepid.)
Best, Bill Previdi

Dear Mark,
MoMA'S Robert Storr once said "If an artist's work was not worth arguing about, it probably isn't any good." You must be the greatest artist in the world! Just so you know, I am on the side of the fence that appreciates good art when I see it, regardless of who slathers the paint on.

My question involves approaching art dealers. Being online is all good and well, however to the best of my knowledge Jerry Saltz (and most other art writers) do not review art that is online. That being the case I would like to have a New York gallery show with the purpose of reaching a broader audience with my ideas.

You have already been very helpful in earlier columns about getting out and getting to know the others who are out and about. Your suggestion about letting others shine is excellent, not underhanded. Dale Carnegie who wrote How To Win Friends & Influence People offers the same positive message.

Here's my problem. I am VERY shy and have to force myself to go to openings. Approaching others who are viewing art and other artists is difficult for me and I would rather be painting. Sometimes I imagine myself walking into a well-respected gallery and right up to a Mary Boone or an Andrea Rosen with some photos of my work but know I would be stunned were I rejected out of hand. Is being an artist supposed to feel like Jr. High School?

How would you suggest I approach art dealers if I would rather paint that schmooze?
Thanks for your thoughtful consideration,
Stuart Montgomery Long

Dear Stuart,
You probably would be rejected "out of hand" if you approached Mary Boone or Andrea Rosen out of the blue, although -- Whitney Biennial star Josiah McElheny recently told me, over a Thai dinner in Chelsea, that he did exactly that: He walked into the Andrea Rosen Gallery, out of the blue, had a three-hour conversation with her, and got a show. Go figure! But unless you believe lightning will strike twice in the same place -- you must schmooze or lose.

You must either overcome or utilize your shyness. Art dealer Molly Barnes believes that shyness is selfishness and a feeling of omnipotence -- that shy people only think about themselves. I am more sympathetic: The excellent painter Tricia Keightly is shy -- but also very ambitious. She manages to conquer the epic challenge of going to openings and her personality is very appealing, precisely because she is not arrogant and pushy -- she simply attends consistently and is nice and therefore we are convinced of her dedication. Arm yourself with your weaknesses. Flaws are opportunities. Whisper but use a loudspeaker. Roy Lichtenstein was shy but he compensated by developing a terse sense of humor. Contrary to Abstract Expressionist mythology, de Kooning was shy; his legendary raucous behavior only occurred when he was drunk. Many shy people turn to drink -- not a good idea -- because your work and health will ultimately suffer, you'll have bad breath and you'll be a bad lay.

Dear Mark,
A woman named Danielle wrote to you asking for information about licensing her work to a wine maker. Your scruples regarding alcohol prevented you from helping her. Why not give her the information she asked for and let her make up her own mind? It's not too late -- she can use the knowledge later in other transactions with clients you don't disapprove of.
Tom Umholtz

Dear Tom,
Have you been drinking? I did give her the information she asked for and then gave her additional advice and information regarding alcohol.

It's an embarrassing sign of collective weakness that so many otherwise talented artists have allowed themselves to be eternally co-opted by certain vodka companies.

Dear Mark,
Love your column and generally think that your observations are right on. Your remark concerning no dealers majoring in "art dealing" is, I feel, a bit misleading. I know, for instance, that both Jay Gorney and Nick Debs both hold degrees in art history, which is to my mind a better education than one in "art dealing." I'm sure that there are others that I don't know about. I also know both of them to be serious and passionate promoters for art and artists. In general, I have to say that my experiences with New York dealers has been more positive than negative. Keep up the good work. And Inka is a lovely person, isn't she?
William Cullum

Dear William,
Like you, I look for the positive in everything. But let's not ignore certain unpleasant truths: Many art dealers put on one face to collectors with checkbooks -- and another for artists who they don't represent. This is stupid and self-destructive for the dealers, because we artists do hang out with each other, trade notes -- and sometimes boycott certain galleries that demonstrate excessive snobbism, and influence collectors to do the same.

A degree in art prepares one to be an artist. A degree in art history prepares one to be an art historian. Art students are also required to study art history. Dealers too should study art history but that is not enough. Instead of masking their insecurities by being arrogant, condescending snobs, many art dealers should let their secretaries run their galleries for four semesters, go back to college, and take classes in art history, studio art, business, marketing, ethics, etiquette and most importantly -- graphic design (for magazine advertising layouts).

As a fellow artist that has known you since shortly after you came to New York, and as one who has followed your work for years, I think it's great that you can still tweak the powers that be. As I've told you in the past, I'd always be glad to have your work hanging near mine in any gallery. It's an artist's prerogative to like or dislike a particular painting, but I must admit that I've always admired your skills as a "Mark-eter," which brings me to the points of this letter. As an artist who believes in independence and control of one's own destiny, I'm in the process of developing a line of graphics. Please give me your best explanation of marketing research, i.e., how to pick the most successful image, picking the most pleasing colors, who would give the most valuable advice, etc. My second question is: What's your view of press agents? Do you use them? What kind of deal do you think is equitable, and do you have anyone that you could recommend? Hope to see you around, and if you'd like a tour of the Williamsburg scene (gotta get you out of Manhattan) give me a buzz.
Stay positive,
Loren Munk

Dear Loren,
If your goal is to sell prints quickly and easily: Assemble a committee or committees to help inform your decisions. Show them the options and have them vote. I like to mix all types of people on my committees -- collectors, artists, writers, the Fed Ex guy, the UPS guy. When I'm in Rome I ask the pizza guy and the French 50s-furniture guy downstairs from my studio to help select images. But don't let numbers alone rule -- watch the level of enthusiasm of the voters. An image that has a passionately divided 50-50 response (like my image in general) is more marketable that an image with a ho-hum 75 percent approval rating. As for color -- basically, red sells. Red and blue together is good. Red, blue and metallic gold together is killer. Warhol did wonders with turquoise and orange. But orange can be risky -- Warhol and Francis Bacon took the risk and succeeded. Black-and-white has a passionate 50-50 split among collectors. Dealers don't understand this highly marketable quality and generally reject black-and-white out-of-hand. It's their loss. Bright green is tough, unless it's a golf course scene. Bright yellow-green is difficult to sell, unless it's used as an accent or combined with a hip, plastic '60s sensibility (limited audience). Subtle, grayed or pastel colors and mauve have an audience -- but Michelangelo and McDonald's used bright colors for a reason. It's great to have an intelligently orchestrated range of subtle-to-bright in the same picture.

Press agents: I've used individual press agents and big, prestigious firms. Don't use big prestigious firms. Only use individual publicists and only if you are their only client and their office is in your studio. The best approach is to offer a slightly better salary to a proven good publicist who works for a big firm. That way you'll get eight times more work out of them for the same amount of money that you would pay the firm, because these publicists usually handle eight accounts each for the firm -- plus they're encouraged to spend the time you paid for rounding up new suckers.

It's also fun to do it yourself. I love calling up Page Six or New York Magazine to pitch a good story and then see it in print a few days later. Basically you have to do the journalists' job for them. If you have a good story -- they will print it -- as long as you don't call them when they're harried and on deadline. With a little practice you'll learn at which hours to call which journalists and you'll develop a nice rapport. Most of them prefer to talk directly to the source instead of a publicist. Generally, publicists (whose vocabularies usually consist of the two words, "fabulous" and "retainer") belong in the same category as art dealers, lawyers, real estate brokers and psychics.

Dear Mark,
I'm telling all my artist friends at Hunter's Point Shipyard here in San Francisco to read your column -- I laugh out loud -- it's very good, very funny. And you are absolutely right about eBay. I've had four auctions of my art there -- but I have to alert my collectors. Keep up the great work.
Carolyn Ellingson, artist

Dear Carolyn,
I alert my collectors too -- with mailings and ads -- but most of my eBay clients were already shopping for art online. EBay is so huge and growing, a day doesn't go by without my hearing someone talking about it in public.

Giles Lyon
Gavin Brown
Will Cotton
Mark Kostabi painting in his studio at 5 Rivington Street in 1984.
Photo Lawrence Horn.
From left, painter Keiko Bonk, Mark and Kiki Smith, in their East Village heyday from Omaggio a Kostabi
The most common criticism is that people will never spend more than a few thousand dollars for an artwork on eBay because they can't see it in person. But recently, as I was peddling on a Netpulse stationary bike in Crunch, on Lafayette Street, I watched the bidding on one of my paintings rise to $40,100 on eBay. The exhilarating sensation of triumph inspired me to increase the "effort level" on the Netpulse and furiously peddle harder and longer than usual. If my eBay sales figures continue to inspire me like this -- soon I'll be as cut as Giles Lyon, the brilliant painter who shows at Feigen and also passionately believes in clean living. He can sometimes be spotted at Passerby, Gavin Brown's ultra-hip bar on 15th Street, inspiring artist friends to order a round of water.

The enigmatic sound installation artist Debora Warner also works out at Crunch and after I told the great painter Will Cotton over lunch at Lucien that one can surf the net while exercising, he said: "That does it -- I'm joining!"

The mythic image of the 20th-century artist was that of the quasi-loser, smoking and drinking or drugged-out social misfit, battling both inner and corporate demons in the quest for artistic freedom and same ambiguous sublime esthetic transcendence. The 21st-century artist joins a health club, drinks a classic smoothie with whey protein, forms a dotcom and attains true artistic and economic freedom with the only ambiguity being the decision of where to build the palatial studio: New York, Rome, Tuscany or somewhere in Ohio.

Dear Mark,
In response to "Ensor's" derisive attack on East Village art, I find it to be contradictory that he would recommend Kiki Smith as a viable alternative. Kiki was involved in the East village scene, as was Jeff Koons, Peter Halley, Meyer Vaisman and Ashley Bickerton. International with Monument was the East Village gallery representing these artists. Jay Gorney began his gallery in the East Village. The "do it yourself" gallery scene of the East Village movement gave many now-successful artists a springboard into the "real world." Mike Bidlo, David Wojnarowicz, McDermott and McGough, Jean-Michel Basquiat and yourself, to name a few. Mind you, Keith Haring was tarred and feathered because of his success, having migrated to Shafrazi from the East Village, people perceived that he had "sold out." Would these artists have had a chance at their wildly successful careers without the phenomenon of the East Village gallery scene as a springboard? Though it was once fashionable to deride the East Village scene, does this derision make any sense today, given the distance we now have on this phenomenon? Is the "conceptual vs. neoexpressionist" dichotomy a valid one? Does the East Village scene deserve a reassessment in terms of art history?
Jim C.
Dear Jim,
Absolutely. It's unfortunate that some artists are actually taking their East Village shows off their resumes. These insecure losers are denying their heritage, like the children of mixed-marriage parents who pretend to "friends" that the "inappropriate" parent never existed. With its intense concentration of galleries and art activity, the East Village was an unprecedented hyper-energetic scene, surging with an optimistic do-it-yourself spirit. It was like a giant quasi-collective, conceptual art project -- one giant alternative space masquerading as 120 galleries. The do-it-yourself spirit of the East Village died in 1986 but has been reborn on the Internet: EBay is the new, improved East Village. I consider my entire eBay presence to be a gigantic conceptual art poem, a digital economic performance piece, with all its elements sharing equal esthetic importance: the written descriptions of the offerings; the prices; the digital illustrations; the feedback profile; the creative URL names of the collectors and the links to other websites.

Dear Mark,
Do you pay such a low wage because you know people would probably even work for free to get you on their resume, or is it sheer economizing, or is it to keep anyone from becoming too comfortable in that job forcing them to get their own art world together and get off Ramen noodles as a way of life? Or what?
Peter Nevins

Dear Peter,
I've tried hiring "professional" billboard painters and other self-professed "better" painters at $20 per hour and more -- but none of them could do as good a job as my other employees who are willing to work for less. Consequently, I've discovered that the going rate for the best academic realist "production" painters is $8-$12 per hour plus bonuses. For anyone who puts me down because I'm cheap -- let me ask you: When you go out in the world to buy anything or hire anyone for a service, do you want to pay the going-rate or less; or do you feel like automatically offering more because you feel they are being underpaid? Also pay attention to the word "bonuses." I have painting contests with cash awards every week and therefore, based on merit, my best painters end up actually getting paid more than other assistants working for other famous artists. Plus, my assistants never have to wait four weeks to get their checks when their boss is in financial trouble like the assistants working for another famous artist whose last name also begins with a "K."

Dear Mark,
Do you celebrate the loss of authenticity and critical representation in today's society? If so, do you believe art has triumphed as commodity and sign?
Paul Elliker

Dear Paul,
I never think about stuff like this, I simply commodify my signs and I sign my commodities.

Dear Mark,
I enjoyed reading your May 8th column, but I would like you to clarify something for me. You state that a huge amount of your success is dependent on attending openings in NYC. Later in the column, you stress the importance of an Internet presence and refer to the future obsolescence of the art dealer. Do you believe it is now entirely possible for an unknown artist to gain collectors and notoriety solely through the Internet, or must one still network in NYC? As a painter living in Ohio, I am very interested in your response.
Best regards,
Sally Porter

Julian LaVerdiere
Chakaia Booker
Chakaia Booker
Homage to My Mother (Landscape)
Dear Sally,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify an apparent contradiction. We are in a transitional period. Although it is entirely possible (and easy) to gain collectors and notoriety solely through the Internet -- for maximum results, at the moment, it's best to attack on both fronts: New York and the Internet. Plus, despite the cut-throat maneuvering, shameless backstabbing, rip-off prices for everything and general spiritual bankruptcy, New York is still a fun place where one can spontaneously join artists like Julian LaVerdiere for breakfast at LeGamin, and, over granola or fruit crepes, debate whether Chakaia Booker's tire piece at the Whitney Biennial was a masterpiece -- because of its formal beauty, or meritless -- because of its apparent lack of a conceptual underpinning -- or, where one can spontaneously run into British, conceptually based hologram artist, Anthony James, at Margot Bistrot Cafe at Prince and Mott Street after an inspiring day at the studio and discuss whether Julian LaVerdiere himself has much of a conceptual underpinning in his otherwise irrefutably well crafted, mixed-media techno-sculptures.

I have pleasant, romantic memories of my several visits to Columbus, Oh., but let's face it: Human beings are basically masochists -- and what better way to suffer than to submit to the whipping of New York real estate prices and the charming personalities of the brokers who utter them?

Dear Mark
I first saw your paintings at a friend's house. He is an attorney and over a period of time, I guess, he traded services for several paintings. They are witty and striking. Can you tell me a bit more about the ability of painters to trade their artworks for services or goods? Is it common in your experience and with your artist friends?
G. Nelson

Dear G. Nelson,
I have traded art for almost everything; office supplies, art supplies, legal services, restaurant tabs, etc. To find people with which to trade: As soon as someone expresses appreciation of your work -- find out what they do -- and if they have a product or service that you want -- offer to trade. You can also join a barter club like Global Trade or BXI. Trading art with other artists can be as rewarding as "trading studio visits." Tricia Keightly told me, over goat cheese salads at Rivington 99 Cafe, that she became represented by the Derek Eller Gallery partially because someone saw her work in another artist's collection, with whom she traded.

Dear Mark,
I recently opened a gallery in Williamsburg. I'd prefer to remain anonymous. While the first few shows have been successful and received some press, I am having a hard time finding any artists to show here. One artist recently visited the gallery and made a point of informing my assistant that the current show is "too aggressive" and that she would never show her work in such a place. While I have received offers from artists from as far away as Poland who want to hang paintings in my much admired Scandinavian-designed space I can find no one who is willing to show the unsalable. "Unsalable" is the charter theme for the art I have set out to exhibit. I have a lot of money. I have a job after all. Right now the walls and floor are painted with Benjamin Moore LL-32, MC-16, TL-8, otherwise known as Silver Wing. Do you think I should change the color scheme in order to attract more artists? Thanks for your time and consideration.

Dear Anonymous,
Benjamin Moore does not make "Silver Wing" or any colors beginning with LL, MC or TL. "Silver Wing" is a light gray produced by Parapaints (number 2024-4). Your letter is amusingly ironic and creative but because of your lack of credence concerning paint colors and descriptions, I believe you are a total fraud; another effete smart-ass prancing around the art world, begging for a reality-check slap-in-the-face for excessive indulgence in the hoity-toity and the artsy-fartsy. Your pretentious praise for promoting the "unsalable" reminds me of something that a major art dealer, (who would prefer to remain anonymous), once told me: "I'm suspicious of anything that I can sell too easily." This common, knee-jerk negative reaction against accessible art is typical of dealers who enter the art world as an escape from seemingly more corporate or spiritless professions -- dealers who hope to engage in the discourse of a more elevated ideology. Meanwhile, we artists have to pay the rent like anyone else. I am sure that your wish to remain anonymous will be granted. As for attracting "aggressive, unsalable" artists -- try puke green.

Dear Mark,
I don't believe there's any validity to a questioning of your greatness. Anyone who cannot see the genius in your work clearly possesses such a microscopic understanding of ART that the sheer ignorance of his or her arguments only enhances the irony. For what is an artist if not the sum total of the creative ego? The Dasein that is Kostabi is so inherently self-actualized that any attempts to diminish it, increase it. Perhaps this is the solution of their meaninglessness...
Artist, Danielowich

Dear Danielowich,
Thank you. And on that note -- see you next month.
Mark Kostabi

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