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

Mark Kostabi
photo Elisabetta Catalano

Matthew Barney in Cremaster 2

Too much?

Mark Kostabi
Escape Artist

The dealer?

Indivisible (Market Matters)

Listening to MDG?
Photo by Jean Kallina

Compound Theory of Legs

From Whittier to Fullerton

"Apologize but do it again."

"It's about show and puff."

Ulterior Motives

Faking a résumé?


On My Rocker

"Inka Essenhigh is amazing."

Another shameless pest?

Paul Miller
(aka D.J. Spooky)

The Pleasure

"Harp about" Chelsea

Greenwich Avenue (With Cynthia)
Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi

Dear Mark,
The best thing in the world is waking up in the morning, logging onto the Internet and finding a new Ask Mark Kostabi column on Artnet. It's been way too long since your last column. We miss you desperately! Life without your column is like a day without sunshine. We need another dose of your generous wisdom. When will you post again?
Longing and hopeful,
Annette Hoffman

Dear Annette,
I'm sorry. I needed some space. I needed time to implement some of my own principles, for myself, so I could become a better and more successful artist and then share my new discoveries with you. Even though I'm 40, and nearing the "mid-career artist" zone, I feel like I'm just beginning. I'm more ambitious than ever and I won't be satisfied until I'm clearly king. 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, reading Catherine Puglisi's excellent book on Caravaggio, strategizing, considering historical parallels. I've been painting commissions for Microsoft and a major TV production company. I've been studying the structure of clouds and the structure of breath on a pane of glass. But don't worry, I'll never leave you. We have all the time in the world. I'll write you every chance I get.

Dear Mark,
When submitting a portfolio to a gallery, what do you think about attaching a small box of chocolates, to catch a gallery director's attention? Too much?
David Dalessandro

Dear David,
You have the right idea but at the wrong time. Plus, not all dealers like chocolates. Art dealers were made to be punished and tortured. But first you must manipulate them to be your unaware slaves.

The artist is the enemy of the art dealer. At first the dealer controls the castle. The artist is the unwelcome intruder. At the front gate of the castle, the dealer has all defenses in place, so an obvious cheap trick like "chocolates with slides" will meet with instant failure.

First you must lure the dealer into your modest but art-filled studio. Your bait will be your semi-sincere friendships with whomever's hot and bought at the moment in the well-dressed, sweltering, 170-gallery Chelsea scene.

Eventually your modest-but-vital studio will upgrade to palatial proportions, with an elegantly furnished waiting area. There, on your Carlo Mollino coffee table, is where you'll place the bowl of individually wrapped, expensive chocolates. They will sedate certain unaware dealers with feelings of love, because chocolates bring feelings of love, thus enabling you to extract their cash with less effort and keep them as loyal, unaware slaves in your exponentially growing art empire.

At the beginning, the dealer will take you out to lunch. Never confuse this gesture with generosity. The moment you begin paying for lunch (with genuine authority) is the moment that you have conquered. From then on, the dealer will understand his role as servant, underling or wriggling worm, to be toyed with and squished at the artist's whim.

Dear Mark,
My ex-dealer told me that I didn't have the personality to be a major artist. After many other negative criticisms I finally left. Now my new dealer is telling me that my work has become "too commercial and repetitive -- mere shadows of something once interesting."

He said that I no longer have my "finger on the jugular." He told me that the art world no longer takes my work seriously and that while other artists like David Salle are also failing, at least they're "failing within the discourse." He basically said that I "don't matter anymore." Why must certain art dealers be so abusive?
Wounded Artist

Dear Wounded Artist,
Jealousy, power trips, bad moods, whatever. It doesn't really matter what motivates the evil art dealer. They simply must be crushed. It sounds like this dealer is looking for a justification to kick you out of the gallery, or to make you feel small so he can exploit you in business. Art dealers frequently show up to my studio with bad news about my career as a means to get a better discount. One common ploy they use is to bring an auction catalogue, with the pages marked where my work sold below the estimate. Then they insist on a lower price for the new work, even if, in the same auction, another one of my pieces sold for above the estimate. They will totally ignore it and focus only on the negative. If I try saying something like "even Picasso and Warhol had uneven quality, hence diverse auction results." They will say, "You're not Picasso."

Another ploy is when one dealer badmouths another competing dealer, claiming the other is underselling your work in the market. I once dropped one of my Japanese dealers because a new dealer, full of promises, said the old one was dishonest and weakening my market. After I dumped the allegedly dishonest old dealer, the new one disappeared, leaving me with neither. Now when I hear MDG (Manipulative Dealer Gibberish), I patiently listen, letting it go out the other ear, and I simply don't budge on my prices. I've even gotten in the habit of firmly establishing the price on the phone, before the appointment, saying that I don't want to hear a word about discounts during the studio visit. Some of them still think they can convince me in person. If they try, I immediately hand them a chocolate and begin playing the piano.

Sometimes dealers march into my studio so totally determined that they are right about knowing what sells. For example, many have recently concluded that only smaller, lower-priced work sells, so even if I have my finest paintings ever created available in my studio, if the paintings are large, they will be ignored. These know-it-all dealers, with their small-paintings-only blinders on, will happily buy up any lemon, small-and-signed, and leave behind all the large masterpieces. A few more serious dealers are especially interested in complex, major work that doesn't necessarily sell immediately. They are more interesting to work with.

I recommend that regarding your work, you consider the comments of other artists whom you respect -- not so much those of sadistic dealers. And stay focused on what your heart desires.

Hello Mark,
We've met a couple times and you have a great column. Please do not use my real name if you print this.

I'm an artist still trying to make it and while I've had a few shows and some publications I've not attained the commercial success I want, nor have I obtained that elusive tenure track job. I'm sure a better résumé would help in getting a few things and my question is this: We all know the world is becoming more about show and puff, image is everything.

So I'm thinking it would be better to make up a fake resume, lots of good shows etc. and then use that. From what I've seen in colleges nobody ever fact-checks. The art world may be small to someone like you who everyone follows, but nobody will really look into my shows.

So I'm thinking, why not make up a great résumé, fake my way into better shows and jobs and call it a day. Obviously the trick would be don't list a fake show for a gallery I am applying for. Didn't ethics go out the window with Modernism? And besides, if I ever get caught I can play a Clinton and apologize but do it again. Do you think this is a good idea?
Just sign me,
Frank Faker

Dear Frank Faker,
I pride myself in my honesty. But I must confess to certain maneuvers of tactical exaggeration and perhaps downright deception in my years as an insatiable publicity puppy. For example, during my second major media blitz, (the first being Kostabi as Openly Predatory East Village Artist, 1984, replete with aphorism-laden manifesto, and the second being Kostabi as King of Kostabi World, 1987-1991, with its many mindless minions making many masterpieces for the malleable masses), I was asked to be on the then hugely popular TV show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

The producers were doing a short piece about my many assistants churning out paintings for the eager, gullible middle class. However, I only had six painters at the time. I wanted to be bigger. So I asked all my friends to show up at my studio on the day of the interview and pretend to be Kostabi painters. I figured the TV producers could care less whether the assistants were authentic or not, because as you said, it's all about "show and puff." I figured that if I gave them good ratings, they'd give me mythic, historical, pop-culture status.

Indeed they ate it up. They loved my festive, made-for-TV art studio and changed their minds about doing a short piece and decided to make a long feature. With all the ensuing publicity, which generated a sales windfall, I was able to actually hire 20 more assistants and it all became real!

Fake it 'till you make it. Was I lying or was I predicting? To me it was just another way of "painting." And I figured, the press is going to lie about you anyway, so why not help out? International art superstar, Maurizio Cattelan, is known for completely baffling the press with all kinds of fictions about himself and his past.

Advertising is high-tech graffiti and graffiti is low-tech advertising. Where is the distinction between lying and creating and performing? How pleasant is your lie, or your crime? One graffiti artist goes to jail and is forgotten while the other gets a retrospective at the Whitney and is adored on Sesame Street. If you're a criminal who defaces public property and the public likes your style, then you're okay and the public will defend you like a saint. If they don't like what you spray, get ready to pay.

Despite the above pondering, I wouldn't advise you to lie to your girlfriend or the IRS. Don't even lie to art dealers, even though they will lie to you. Kant might disagree, but it's okay to lie to murderers and gossip columnists in self-defense. Your fake résumé idea sounds interesting. It could be art ... if you package the concept interestingly, like photographer Iké Udé's fake magazine covers featuring himself as a star. I'd like to hear more. Perhaps, ethically, it's no different than Marcel Duchamp, when he "lied" and claimed there existed an artist called R. Mutt. Was he not "faking" a résumé?

Dear Mark,
Having read you advice column for about a year now, I've concluded that you are the one who needs advice. You should consider therapy. Sure, you function fine and have successes, but trust me, you could go a lot further if you examined some of that stuff buried down deep in the belly of your soul. I suspect that you're not entirely honest with yourself. I think you're hiding things from yourself -- things that are not beautiful and happy and pleasant. You would benefit to let a little ugliness show now and then. And your work would probably take totally unexpected leaps. I realize that you're a successful artist as you are -- but why not go further?
Pat Montgomery

Dear Pat,
Why should I go to a shrink and pay to give away all my good material? Even though therapists had to go through all that intense schooling to get their licenses, I include them in the category with psychics, lawyers and real-estate brokers. So you can imagine my delight when I was recently invited to participate in a group show where artists were asked to interpret psychoanalysts, rather than the traditional opposite.

I tried my very best to create a painting that would offend psychoanalysts: The painting depicts a deranged, hulking therapist, clutching wads of cash in each hand, with toes awkwardly crossed, seated in the foreground, ignoring the blabbering patient who lies literally chained to the couch. A cash register is hidden in a shelf in the foreground, with two of Freud's cigars above it. A realistic portrait of Freud adorns a shadowed background wall, partially obscured by red Caravaggesque drapery, while more money flies out an open door. THREE boxes of Kleenex grace a coffee table in front of the patient, for LOTS of crying.

At the opening of the show, "Interpretando la psicoanalisi," held at the Roumanian Academy in Rome, I was prepared for the many present psychoanalysts to hate me -- for being so brashly and simplistically critical. Instead they all loved the painting and one of them wanted to buy it! I asked him why. He said, "Because the therapist has the money. And because it is so well balanced." I asked, "In what way balanced?" He enlightened me, "Because the therapist has money in his left hand and he has money in his right hand." Then he added, "And you can see that the patient is in pain. I like that."

When I told this story to a New York friend who has a therapist (everyone in New York has a therapist), I was informed that "One great thing about shrinks is they tend to not take themselves too seriously." I, however, must take my finances seriously so I think I'll tell my twisted tales to Artnet readers and get paid for them while letting the Tony Sopranos of the world fill the shrink's till.

Hello Mark,
Reading your advice is like reading The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli! I read Machiavelli's book and substituted the idea of "The Prince" with that of "The Artist." It is amazingly insightful this way and I would recommend it as a must-read for any artist.

Flash Art is the best art publication and it is also how I first became aware of your work. I have had a subscription for a year and a half now! What do you think of Matthew Ritchie's work? Inka Essenhigh is amazing. I would love to meet her and Matthew!

I currently live in Indianapolis, where it seems that I am the art scene or the only person of any interest and I make frequent trips to both Chicago and New York City. I rent a studio gallery space in town and book out-of-town Indie rock bands to play in there. I am making money doing all of this but it just doesn't seem to be enough. I NEED MORE! "It is the asshole of the universe!" to quote Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a former Indiana resident. The problem seems to be that I have become an important part of this town's however insignificant art scene. I moved here a mere four years ago from the cornfields and it only took two years to know everyone of importance in the local art community. I am going to leave in October now that I have finished school.

Should I move to Chicago where I already have connections and then move to New York City or should I move straight to the source? What do you think of Walter Anderson's work? He is from Chicago and having an opening at the Ten in One Gallery in New York in May. When I first saw his work I thought it was just transferred photocopies but then I found out that he painted them. We discussed it after a lecture he gave in Indianapolis.
Thank you,
Jeremy Tubbs

Dear Jeremy,
You sound like an obnoxious art student. My readers are probably wondering why I am publishing your letter. I do so because you are like so many aspiring artists who I've encountered in my 20-year adventure in the professional art world. My advice is skip Chicago and go directly to "the source." New York could use another shameless pest, enthusiastically redirecting the course of art history. Daniel Silverstein is waiting to give you a show. You'll meet Inka and Matthew at a rooftop art party at the I-20/Stux building. You'll miss me, however, because I've safely escaped to Rome. I've just had enough of Steve Kaplan, Simon Cerigo and Bernd Naber for a while. But you, Jeremy Tubbs, the next art sensation, should go to them, with your tales of Walter Anderson and the Ten in One Gallery, and soon all of Europe will be pounding on the door of your palatial, sky-lit studio, begging for your non-photocopied works.

Dear Mark
I've been reading your column for about a year now and I have yet to hear you give much, if not any, advice to the African American artist. It is obvious, by the lack of attention that black artists receive in this country, that black artists can use the advice of a well-established and quite well-heeled art superstar such as yourself to get past the obstacles placed before us. I recently read an article in ARTnews that commented on the lack of African Americans visiting galleries these days. I believe this is because there is not one single African American art star in this country today. This is not because of lack of talent but because the galleries won't show them. Do you know of any African Americans on the verge of stardom or is the white art world waiting around for another Basquiat to emerge from the streets again?

Dear BKM,
While the white-dominated art world is still unfair to black artists, the situation is improving and is already dramatically better than two decades ago when famous young black artists could be counted on one hand, or maybe with two fingers. I recommend that aspiring black artists carefully research the careers of the following successful black artists, who are all seriously included in the contemporary art discourse: David Hammons, Nari Ward, Ellen Gallagher, Lorna Simpson, Chris Ofili, Yinka Shonibare, Doug Aitken, Paul Miller (aka D.J. Spooky), Lyle Ashton Harris, Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Chakaia Booker, Leonardo Drew, Ouattara Watts, Michael Ray Charles and Glenn Ligon.

Dear Mark, It seems that everything moves so slow in the art world. What advice do you have for someone who craves instant gratification?
Lucia Aratori

Dear Lucia,
The watched pot never boils. Have many pots on the fire and do something interesting in the other room. I used to HATE waiting in lines and taking long train trips. Now I love them because I get to read or chat on my cell phone.

Dear Mark,
I sculpt and paint model horses. I want to get to the top of this small but very political and cliquish niche.

I have an image, all right. They love to gossip about me and say I am a flake and a wacko. It seems just when I am starting to take off in this niche one of the loudest of the clique will mention in public that I steal money from people or some other outlandish lie about me to make people afraid to buy from me.

This got so bad that I was banned from the major model horse lists where people advertise, etc. The list owners told me, "We get too many complaints about you and you cause too much trouble so we won't let you back on." Funny thing is I would barely post anything at all. On one list the owner said that anyone consorting with known rip-off artists would be banned from the list. So they intimidated the other members so much that they won't even talk about me -- which was their plan. Yes, the list owners ARE competitors! I laid low for a few months and created an entirely new image as a man and people where fawning over my work and everyone wanted it. When I changed to this new persona the prices of my work more than doubled and people wanted it. So I know for a fact my work is top-notch in this niche. Then the group of harpies figured out the new person and I were the same and so they started their HOT, which means "hobby ostracizing techniques," and once again I am almost back to where I started.

Any ideas on how to break through this wall? I live and breathe sculpting and painting model horses for two years now and I know this is my passion.
Thank you,

Dear Liz,
Change your persona again. Make fine art inspired by model horses and invade the contemporary art world, using your "baggage" from the model horse world as interesting ammunition. Venice Biennial star Ron Mueck came from other professions. Self-taught, he worked for two decades in children's television, animatronics and the movie industry before making his first work of art in 1996. Artist Fred Tomaselli says, "Have interesting hobbies. It will make your work better." To generate press you must have a story. Your "Wacko flake from the model horse world reborn as a Chelsea artist" has a lot of potential. And when you even have a minor triumph in Chelsea, the old harpies will be extremely jealous and you won't even notice because you'll have new, better dressed harpies to harp about.

Dear Mark,
I'm a second year student of sculpture studying and living in Croatia. I recently discovered your column, and I have some comments:

1. It's very nice to have someone on the Net to whom to one can send all sorts of questions and comments, especially about first exhibition experiences and "how it works out there."

2. I personally think that you have nothing of that "talent and success" which you speak of. You're just imposing yourself with no real credit -- just look-a-like paintings. Again -- personally, very booooring and ugly (I don't like the word, but...) -- but then again, everybody has his own opinion, and could be wrong ... right? -- It's just that your "art" doesn't do much. And the last thing:

3. I believe that you have Koons' e-mail address. Would you be so kind and send it to me: I thank you in advance. Continue to inform young people and those older ones. Say Hi to Cindy Sherman when you see her.
Stefan Haus, Split-Croatia

Dear Stefan,
I'm impressed with your ability to artfully create the persona of a total jerk. The art world is filled with types like you. And more subtle versions of you -- meaning people who simultaneously insult and try to use others. I'm amazed that you exist! Characters like you add drama and contrast to the picture. You make the average jerk seem almost appealing.

Dear Mark,
I am writing with a couple of points:

Firstly, if your art is so bad then why are you so popular? Because you're a charmer? If people want to be charmed they can watch TV for free. Because you're controversial? Maybe 15 years ago. Because you're a manipulator? Nobody is that consistent.

Or is it maybe that your work is high quality, imaginative, well priced and accessible?

I think we all know the answer to that!

Dear Sarah,
Thanks, and on that note, everyone have a nice summer and see you all soon.
Mark Kostabi

MARK KOSTABI is an artist who lives in Rome and New York.
Readers are invited to submit questions to Send Email.