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Mark Kostabi
photo by Ch Graham

Detail of Barnett Newman's signature on Third Station (1960), from Barnett Newman (Philadelphia Museum)

Mark Kostabi's signature, from Omaggio di Kostabi (Edizioni Graphis Arte)

Mark Kostabi
To Be Titled

To Be Titled

To Be Titled

In the Mix

A Firm Deal

Molly Barnes

Ruth Bachofner Gallery, installation view of "Stephen Greene: Select Works from Four Decades," at

John Baldessari at L.A. MOCA, 2002
Photo by Mary Barone

Jack Bankowsky, 2003
Photo by Mary Barone

Peter Schuyff with his new paintings at Bill Maynes Gallery, 2002

Conversations with Kostabi, Charles Tuttle Co., 1996

Mark Kostabi

Mark Kostabi's digitally altered Enasaurs image on a Ramones CD

The Ramones

Trash cans with lids, at

Mark Kostabi
Il Fuoco del Giro

To Be Titled

A sample "painting contest" -- vote for your favorite at

Andy Warhol
Orange Marilyn


Maurizio Cattelan?

Gino De Dominicis
Origini e Strane Tradizioni
Palazzo Montecitorio, Rome

Gino De Dominicis (left) and friend

Maurizio Cattelan

Chris Burden
F-Space, Santa Ana, Ca.

William Anastasi
Camouflage Proposal 1966
White Box Annex, New York

Mark Kostabi
To Be Titled


To Be Titled

Martin Lawrence Gallery on Rodeo Drive, from

Keith Haring
Best Buddies
at Martin Lawrence Galleries

Mark Kostabi
The Early Nerd Gets the Worm
at Martin Lawrence Galleries

Going out of business?


The "least wanted" painting in France, according to Komar & Melamid's "People's Choice" survey

Kostabi a Venezia
Techne Editore
Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi

Dear Mark,
Success in the art world requires "brand awareness." But when I signed a contract with my Chelsea gallery, the first thing I was told was to stop signing the fronts of my paintings, because it wasn't considered serious. What's going on?
Unfortunately Anonymous

Dear Unfortunately Anonymous,
I could write a book on the late-20th-century pretentiousness and hypocrisy of the taboo that dictates that serious artists should not sign the front of their works. Even Cecily Brown, who does sign the front (but not always), says she does so subversively, not sincerely. She says that Alex Katz once told her that if he were a woman, he would sign his paintings with his first name only. Hence Cecily signs her paintings "like a child" in careful cursive, "Cecily," as an ironic contrast to the macho scale and subject manner of her paintings. Picasso, de Chirico and Hopper all signed the front. So did Rembrandt. Even Barnett Newman did, in his early, very minimal Abstract Expressionist paintings. Later he switched to the "back only" mistake.

Canvas rots way before paint. Many Old Master paintings are transplanted onto new canvas. Bye bye "unpretentious" signature on the back. The proof that it's hypocritical is that while most artists say (as they were taught in school) that a signature on the front distracts from the art, they will then boldly sign their limited edition prints right on the front, in a manner that's even more distracting from the art. Maybe they don't consider their prints serious. How do print collectors feel about that?

My advice is just to make the front signatures subtle, almost totally imperceptible if you need to hide your ego.

However, it's against my interest to give this advice, because in the post-apocalyptic future, when I plan to go around and sign all the unsigned masterpieces with the name KOSTABI, it would be easier if I didn't have to erase anything first.

Dear Mark,
Your Artnet column contains by far the most entertaining writing about the art world. I hope you write them more often. And congratulations on all your success in Italy.

At any rate, we are once again planning our annual purchasing, this time for 2004. Please let me know if you are interested in resuming a dialogue about what we can offer each other. One thing I can definitely offer, and deliver, is a museum show (in 2005) where you will have great exposure in the United States.
Dealer X

Dear Dealer X,
Thank you for complimenting me on my column. I am sending you this detailed explanation of my feelings because it seems like your continued acts of reaching out suggest genuine humility, although I also wonder if they might only be unemotional and relentless attempts to resume doing business.

By offering the museum show you seem to have understood my career goals, but what's more important for me is working with people I feel comfortable with. For us to resume working together I need a sincere apology for calling me an asshole and I need to believe that you no longer have that opinion of me. What have I ever done to you to create that opinion of me? I always thought that I was very helpful and generous to you, by giving you better prices than any of my other clients, and by travelling to all those shows to help you sell the art.

I do not think that you are an asshole, but I am not comfortable working with someone who thinks that I am one. I have always respected your passion for art and business. I truly do not understand why you've had, and perhaps still have, such hostile feelings towards me. This hostility makes me nervous and uncomfortable.

What's even more problematic is Right Hand Man's much worse opinion of me. I used to think RHM was a very nice guy, very smart and professional, and I recall introducing him with pride to a close friend who I thought would like him too. Then I find out he thinks I'm a "media whore, a hack as an artist and a weasel."

You once suggested that you and he were just "letting off steam" but I just can't buy that. His words (not just those quoted here) were theoretical and calculating. I can't imagine ever being in a conversation with Right Hand Man and feeling comfortable, knowing his explicit disrespect for me.

I realize it will probably be even harder for you to apologize after I tell you my new business terms, which are even further away from what you once hoped to get from me, but I feel I should let you know up front, to avoid the scenario of an apology followed by me saying, "okay fine now these are my new prices," and then you thinking I'm an even bigger asshole. I don't have high expectations of our doing business together because I'm accustomed to your expectations of paying very little compared to what others pay. But since you are reaching out, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you have changed, or maybe your perception of me as artist has changed and you'd be willing to pay the going rate, like everyone else.

Therefore, if the more important goal of making me feel comfortable, with a sincere apology, is accomplished (and I'm not sure what to say about the Right Hand Man situation, but that really makes me uncomfortable) then I will sell paintings to you at 50 percent of retail, no matter what the quantity is. The days of me giving dealers a 75 percent discount are long gone. A 60 x 45 cm painting is currently 4,400 euros: that's close to $5,000 for an approximately 18 x 24 inch painting. My prices will go up 25 percent on Jan. 1, 2004.

But even then, don't get your hopes up too high because it's conceivable that I might sign an exclusive contract with another Chelsea gallery in the near future. Maybe you had some other ideas about how we could work together, with the museum suggestion for example, which I will be happy to hear about, if the most important thing happens, which is for me is to feel comfortable.

You (or maybe it was one of your colleagues) once suggested that I will "come around" when things get tough. There are no signs of me getting desperate. I have plenty of dealers waiting in line to buy my work at 50 percent off, and even a few museum projects of my own in the works. If things ever do get tough, I have plenty of people, who do make me feel comfortable, to fall back on. No amount of money or museum show offers you throw at me will have a positive effect until you apologize.

You once condescendingly suggested that my need for an apology displayed "feelings of rejection." I do not feel rejected by you. I feel insulted by you because you called me an asshole. You are the one who repeatedly attempts to buy art from me and is repeatedly met with rejection. It's hard to imagine why you won't say you're sorry because, if you're worried about humiliation, you've already humiliated yourself beyond what an apology would do, with all your futile art buying attempts.

Maybe you've never said you're sorry in your whole life, perhaps because of parental pressure to be perfect. Maybe you'd look weak in Right Hand Man's discriminating eyes. Can't you just break down and say you're sorry? Then you'd have a constant stream of Kostabi paintings coursing through the veins of your gallery chain.

Just to let you know that I'm not perfect, I do in fact feel rejected, but not by you. I feel rejected by Steve Kaplan for not including me in his East Village reunion show at the Howl Festival this summer. I lost sleep over that.

Dear Mark,
I recently began exhibiting in the L.A. art scene. At one of my group show openings, one Claremont graduate student started giving me a whole routine about "bad" galleries that will taint your career and "good" galleries that are career pushers -- no one's ever talked about it quite like that to me. I've heard from you and Molly Barnes about unscrupulous galleries but not dclass ones. My friend Daniel Brice said he's heard such things but doesn't really believe in such talk. When I told him his gallery, Ruth Bachofner, was on the Claremont grad's "good" list, he laughed. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Wayne Coe

Dear Wayne,
Based on my Internet research, it seems like Ruth Bachofner is a good gallery that shows lots of wonderful abstract and representational paintings, and Daniel Brice is a terrific artist, but as Thomas McEvilley has said, when entering the serious New York art world, Los Angeles credentials are often perceived as almost an embarrassment. Even international L. A.-oriented art stars, like John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha, first made their names in Europe, before conquering New York. Their European credentials had some weight. I started out as an L. A. artist and was already in many top L.A. collections when I moved to New York but nobody cared. I had to start all over.

Your problem is an interesting case study. My career has been tainted for sure, for showing at some of the world's worst galleries and many other non-serious venues, like restaurants and even delis. On one hand I don't mind: I'm rich and I have an Artnet column. On the other hand, I suffer from profound feelings of rejection. Just last night I had a hopeful dream where Jack Bankowsky was willingly speaking to me, but then suddenly walked away, fading into an ambiguous mist, with me standing there painfully calling out to him: "What's the matter? Do I have bad breath?" And he just turned away.

In the early 1980s, when I was a rising star, along with Mike Bidlo, David Wojnarowicz, Rick Prol, Ellen Berkenblit, Peter Schuyff and others, Schuyff told me, while we were chatting on the corner of West Broadway and Spring Street on an overcast day, after I had just carried another wet, 6 x 4 foot painting to the respected Semaphore Gallery, which was selling my work like hotcakes, that he totally disagreed with my attitude of showing anywhere, including in un-prestigious galleries and restaurants. He said: "Art is not rock-n-roll." Maybe he was right. He ended up showing at Leo Castelli and I did not. More recently we both showed at Stux Gallery and we share some dealers in Italy. Ultimately I prefer my career path, despite the occasional disturbing dreams, because I love my art and I know that it looks great, whether in MoMA or McDonald's.

My advice is like Robert DeNiro's, who says that at the beginning, actors have to take the roles that they can get, and gradually they can be more picky. Think of how many great and respected actors did all sorts of lousy parts before they made it. This dynamic is less obvious but also exists in the art world. Just be careful not to sign a long-term exclusive with a gallery that's not your dream gallery.

Dear Mark:
Thank you! During the normal course of art research, I had a flashback to your brazen TV appearances in the '80s, complete with your assistants, happy collector couples and fashion crossover. I therefore proceeded to the library shelves to find, intriguingly, a copy of Conversations With Kostabi. Since reading this book and all of your advice columns, my attitude has improved, gallery interest is rising, and I have sold an amazing amount (to me) of art.

This leads to my question. After my buyers have cherry-picked the latest offerings, I am left with weaker works, flawed student work and assorted lemons. This forces me to look at these with disgust. So I must ask: Should I rework them with fresh coats of paint? Or concentrate all my efforts on new work? In what ways have you dealt with the "lemon logjam" in your storied past?
Lawrence Trujillo

Dear Lawrence,
Great question. I once had a client who insisted on buying only my worst paintings -- the ones that no one else would buy. He said this openly. Maybe it was this private dealer's negotiating tactic, thinking he'd get a bigger discount from me (because finally someone would take away the lemons) and knowing that his already committed clients were buying Kostabis only for the name, so as long as they were authentic, that was fine with him. Now I'm buying back these lemons, which I sold in desperation during the early-'90s recession. I'm buying them at auctions for more than I originally earned, just so I can rework or destroy them, to firm up my market.

On the other hand, I painted a "lemon" in January 1984, in the driveway of my parents' house in Whittier, Ca. It was a 6 x 4 foot painting of two dinosaurs wearing party hats, called Enasaurs, which was named both after my brother, Paul Kostabi, who is known in the punk rock music world as "Ena," and after the painter Ena Swansea, who used to wear a bracelet like the one I painted on one of the dinosaurs.

I couldn't sell Enasaurs at my January 1984 one-person show at the Molly Barnes Gallery in Los Angeles. Nor could I sell it later in New York at the Hal Bromm Gallery or at Semaphore. I might have destroyed it as unsaleable lemon, but I personally liked it and it had sentimental value. How can you destroy a painting dedicated to your brother?

A few years passed and suddenly Warhol's printmaker, Donald Sheridan, insisted on making an edition of serigraphs of the image. The serigraphs sold out instantly, including one to the Brooklyn Museum. Then Fotofolio, the respected art postcard publisher, asked me to if it could make a postcard of it, along with five other Kostabi images. The Enasaurs postcard sold the best by far. Then a Chicago based t-shirt company made and sold tons of Enasaurs t-shirts.

The ultimate triumph was when the Ramones used a digitally altered version (cowboy hats instead of party hats) of Enasaurs for their final album cover, Adios Amigos. I entered rock 'n' roll history with a painting that no one would buy. (As a curious side note, the painting is still wet. The alizarin crimson paint, for some reason, just won't dry, after almost 20 years. Maybe a conservator can e-mail an explanation.)

My theory for its unsaleability as a painting, despite its popularity as an image, is that most adults don't want to put a brightly colored, 6 x 4 foot painting of dinosaurs in their living room, whereas kids who can't afford paintings, but can afford postcards, t-shirts and albums, will snap it up. I imagine the prints were bought by adults who put them in their kids' rooms.

My advice for you is to first ask yourself if you really love the lemon. If you do, keep it. If you're not sure, ask a committee of many people whom you trust (include Donald Sheridan if possible) for their opinion of what might be wrong with the piece. Their reactions might inspire you in how to rework it. If they say it's not worth the bother, I recommend a box cutter and make sure you dispose of the fragments in separate trashcans in different locations so that certain hungry collectors can't dig through your trash and sew together the pieces. I knew a prominent Minimalist art collector in the '80s who told me with pleasure how he dug through Schnabel's trash looking for treasure. Basquiat's dumpster was frequently visited by shameless collectors too.

Dear Mark,
How important is quality as an ingredient for salability? It seems like so much bad art gets sold at galleries while truly great, intellectually stimulating work goes back to collect dust in an artist's storage. It seems like everything is measured by the bottom line: If an artist doesn't sell, he or she will experience a dealer's "benign neglect" or simply be dropped by the gallery, with the last communication being a trucker's bill for the return of their work, while artists who can't even spell "Bottino" end up there for glamorous dinners, where they network themselves into the next show.


Dear Lawrence,
Good is much easier to sell than bad, but bad is also salable. There are occasional exceptions to this rule (and some people claim exceptions are the rule). But the people at the top end of the art market, the dealers, the auction-house owners and experts always say that in good economic times both good and mediocre material will sell but in bad economic times only quality sells.

I take surveys on a weekly basis, where I ask about 40 people who I trust, to vote in painting contests, where each of my 20 assistants are asked to paint variations on the same drawing or on a verbally expressed theme. I have a lot of respect for my thousands of collectors and for the people who vote in my contests. My collectors really know their stuff and simply won't buy my last-place paintings, except for the occasional exception, or in the case that all the paintings in a contest are good, including the last-place painting. But the first-place paintings always sell immediately, with no exceptions so far.

The difficulty of selling great, intellectually stimulating art, is often simply a case of not knowing where the right store is. No matter how high the quality, it's hard to sell meat in a vegetarian restaurant. Everyone knows that Mercedes Benz cars are of high quality and they sell -- but you can't sell them easily in a poor country. If you offered an Andy Warhol Marilyn, which easily would fetch millions in Sotheby's, to a group of brilliant, but not wealthy philosophers and college professors, it would not get sold, even for a few thousand dollars.

It's just common sense. You have to bring your goods to the proper market. I don't complain that my local shoe repairman, pizza seller or small bookstore owner aren't buying my paintings. I might discuss the weather or politics with them, but I offer my paintings to people who I know buy art. Quality sells. Bad quality things are harder to sell. The complainers who say otherwise are insulting people in general and making excuses for their own failure.

Collectors are not as stupid as many cynical artists and critics think. Most collectors are fairly intelligent. They've achieved something in their own work that gives them the time and money to explore art. Kids think they know more than their parents until they grow up and realize that their parents weren't so dumb after all.

Many artists and critics see collectors like kids see their parents: as the ones with money and power who just don't get it. Once they start to mingle with the collectors and learn that they are people who have achieved something who then expand into art, they change their minds.

It's very true that an artist who networks well will have better opportunities than one who doesn't network well. But great networking skills without great art won't change art history. Many artists who are very charming, know all the right people, constantly go to dinner parties with influential people, and even get into important shows sometimes, are really not taken seriously as artists and are ridiculed, behind their backs, for their bad work. They might even sell a painting here and there, but are ultimately are not in the discourse. If you don't have quality work, your impressive schmoozing is likely to backfire and make you the subject of negative gossip.

Dear Mark,
Transcontinental bon vivant, Maurizio Cattalan, has been described as the today's most successful European artist, and he recently upstaged everyone with his remote-controlled child self-portrait on a tricycle at the Venice Biennale. But is it true that many of his ideas were explored first by the late Gino De Dominicis?
David Lee

Dear David,
I've heard a lot of grumbling amid the Italian avant-garde scene about this, but when I asked three experts on Gino De Dominicis for their on-the-record opinions, I got a different story.

Art critic and curator Laura Cherubini said there is very little connection between the two artists, and that despite the undeniable similarity between Cattalan's skeleton sculpture, Love Doesn't Last Forever, and De Dominicis' Il tempo, lo sbaglio, lo spazio, she observed that both artists have made many other works that have no connection to the other artist. She said that fundamentally, Cattalan desecrates the aura of art while De Dominicis considered art the highest form of existence. She also pointed out that De Dominicis gave great importance to painting while Cattalan doesn't paint.

Art dealer Pio Monti said that Cattalan is more spectacular, more contemporary and more actual than De Dominicis, who he said was more intellectual and more social. He said the relation of Cattalan to De Dominicis is similar to that of Kostabi to De Chirico. He added that De Dominicis worked entirely within the art system while Catalan works both inside and outside the art system.

Laura Cherubini however, said the exact opposite: that Cattalan works entirely within the art system and De Dominicis worked outside it. Go figure. It's great when artists can inspire these kinds of debates. I can see Laura and Pio passionately arguing this issue, arms waving, till 2:00 AM at an outdoor restaurant in Rome, with artists like Felice Levini and Tommaso Lisanti throwing in their opinions, while cigarette butts sizzle in the nearby damp gutter and wine stains the red and white checkered tablecloth.

Art historian Italo Tomassoni did insist that Catalan owes a great debt to De Dominicis, but aside from the skeleton pieces he didn't cite others that convinced me. He praised De Dominicis' legendary piece that used an actual butterfly as a bow tie, but that seemed more an antecedent to Damien Hirst than Maurizio Cattalan.

There is a great reverence for Gino De Dominicis in Italy, similar to the reverence for Robert Smithson in America. Both were very serious, intellectual artists and there is much nostalgia for their standards of dedication among 60-somethings who lament that all is merely flash now.

Laura Cherubini is convinced that in the long run, Gino De Dominicis will receive his international due, because she fundamentally believes in his work.

Dear Mark,
Is controversy the best way to get recognition as an artist nowadays? Or do too many people do it that they get lost in the ocean of shock art?

Dear Edgar,
For the art-historically informed, no art has truly shocked since November 19, 1971, when Chris Burden had himself shot in the arm by a friend, at F-Space in Santa Ana, Ca. Sliced cows and surgically altering one's own face is aftershock art.

But press is press. And if you can convince Page Six that you've just created the first completely abstract painting, in 2003, you will get press, which will help you sell it. Being first doesn't guarantee recognition. Even William Anastasi, who is on the record for anticipating dozens of important Conceptual and Minimal artists, doesn't have anywhere near the acclaim of the brand name artists who made similar work years later.

I recommend that instead of pretending to make new shock art, just make whatever you want but have a story. The press needs stories constantly. No need to bleed, just feed. Controversy is a commodity. Branding will keep you standing. Get press not stress.

Dear Mark,
I am a young artist and I've been a bit of a bitch in my approach to galleries. I've done all the wrong things: popping in during lunch to make my contribution to the mountain of slides that collect on their desks, bugging them, calling them, and all the other similar mistakes that artists make fighting for a nibble at the tit. Your column solidified the advice that my older more successful artist friends have been saying all along; "look sexy at openings, know when to be the party and when to shut up, and most importantly -- PAINT." Thanks a lot.
Nathan James

Dear Nathan,
A female artist friend of mine recently told me that she was advised to "look more slutty." I asked her boyfriend what the equivalent advice for a man would be. He said to be more muscular. That made me rush to the gym.

Dear Mark,
To watch an artist one values insinuate himself into the cultural landscape as effectively as you have is to glimpse the perplexities of artistic priority up close. I have enjoyed all of your columns on Artnet for the past several years. The call and response of these pieces is unparalleled as an elemental debate about the place and value of art. You unflinchingly embrace even the most difficult questions about a part of human activity that has become ever more desacralized over the centuries (hence less authoritative) and therefore more open to question and challenge.

My question is about context: you have exhibited in many prestigious galleries and are collected by major museums. You've also shown in poster galleries in shopping malls and schlock galleries on Rodeo Drive. From your unique point of view, as a card-carrying member of the avant-garde, what was it like to also traverse the world of Leroy Neiman and Peter Max?

Dear Alan,
While I no longer seek schlock exposure, I don't regret the adventure. It all started around 1987 at the suggestion of my then dealer Ronald Feldman, the quintessential serious art dealer. In addition to promoting lots of very difficult, often political art, Ron also worked closely with Andy Warhol, publishing numerous editions of very salable prints. Warhol also worked directly with the very commercial Martin Lawrence Galleries, as did Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Rodney Greenblat. Warhol publicly spoke highly of Martin Lawrence. The door was open for a crossover into the commercial realm.

Feldman arranged my first appointment with Marty Blinder, co-founder of Martin Lawrence, although I had already met Marty on the streets of the East Village around 1984 when he was enthusiastically scooping up Harings, Scharfs, etc. We began negotiating a print deal, which didn't happen, because Blinder wanted too much exclusivity.

A few years passed, I became a bold-faced name in the gossip columns, and Blinder started showing up at Kostabi World to buy large quantities of paintings at generous bulk discounts, as he'd been doing at Warhol's studio. I liked the simplicity of $100,000 checks and the excitement of immediately seeing my work impregnate suburbia from coast to coast (at the time, Martin Lawrence had 45 galleries and was a hot public company).

Soon other gallery chains followed, Hanson Galleries being the next biggest, with 15 galleries. Truckloads of Kostabis crisscrossed the country. But what amused me most were the very bad galleries, those with only, say, two branches, one uptown and one downtown, which were really no different than those "Going Out of Business" electronics or tchotchke shops. Remember, I was a bad-boy artist and I took the calling earnestly. Evidently the irony went too far and I was promptly dismissed from various hallways of seriousness.

I began a new lifestyle, like a rock star on tour. The galleries would typically arrange three or four openings in different cities on consecutive nights, for example, Thursday in Santa Clara, Friday in San Francisco, Saturday in Beverly Hills and Sunday in Newport Beach. The gallery directors picked me up at the airport and drove me to the hotel where a box of chocolates with a welcome note from the company owners would await me. I was always accompanied on tour and my every move would be faxed back to "corporate" for analysis. Memos were issued to keep a special eye on Mark Kostabi, perhaps because I was too curious and not exclusive.

The large commercial gallery chains have the art of selling art down to a science: The opening is at 6 pm. I show up at 5 pm for a meeting with the sales staff, which, for the opening, can exceed a dozen, because staff and directors are summoned from the company's other nearest galleries. I charmingly tell stories about my latest museum conquest, latest celebrity collaboration, and how Kostabi World works. I discuss the specific paintings in the show and answer questions.

At 5:45 I'm ushered out to the food court, accompanied by a the gallery director, for a tea and cinnamon roll. But as I'm brought out for my Cinnabon, I look back and see what began as a semi-serious art meeting, taken over by a regional director and turn into a veritable high school type pep rally, with chants about selling and closing. At 6:30 I'm accompanied back to the gallery where throngs of families, newlyweds, my mom and dad, two Hollywood screenwriters, three punk girls, two punk guys, Axl Rose's assistant, and Kurt Jensen, who somehow got a ride out to Beverly Hills from Whittier, are waiting.

They know well enough not to try to sell my work to my own parents, but invariably one of the dozen salespeople, who are referred to as "art consultants," tries to sell my older brother Allan a new Kostabi painting. I sign a few plungers (which a couple of collectors always bring since I'm known for painting images of plungers) and then I'm quickly escorted into a "viewing room" where two sets of newlyweds are waiting with their art consultants. Behind the scenes, the viewing rooms are sometimes referred to as the "closing rooms."

The viewing rooms have shaded glass doors, which enhance the clients feeling of specialness: They get to be in the quiet exclusive room, sitting on a large soft black leather sofa, with a glass of wine and the artist himself, and they get a diffused glimpse of the eager crowd outside, the chatter muffled by the gray carpeted walls. But only for five minutes max. I'm needed in the other viewing rooms and corporate has figured out that five minutes with the artist is all that's needed to close the deal, which happens right after I'm out.

During the five minute schzmoozette, enhanced by a light show where a dramatic spotlight, aimed on the seductive serigraph, is gradually dimmed with a dimmer switch, to bring out the reds, the newlyweds ask me what the serigraph, depicting two lovers embracing, means. I'm not sure, but even if I was, I know it's better to let them participate, so I say: "I'll tell you, but first, I'm curious, first tell what you see in it?"

They always come up with a better story than I could have and then I say: "Yes, that's it!" and at that point I can usually add a little of my own elaboration since I then understand my audience better and they've genuinely inspired me.

Sales are all about listening -- and then kicking in at just the right moment. And only for a moment. I repeat this process a few times with other newlyweds and a few well-off families where the kids influence the purchase. Only one of the two screenwriters buys something. The punk girls buy catalogues, which I sign. Axl Rose's assistant doesn't buy often but he always promises to say hello to Axl for me. My mom helps sell a painting and the charmed collectors want her to sign the back of the painting too.

Unlike in the avant-garde art world, there's usually no dinner after the opening. Also unlike in the avant-garde art world, most of the sales happen at the opening. The shows aren't really even shows, they're more like showings, or events. Much of the unsold work from Beverly Hills on Saturday is added to Newport Beach on Sunday. I did this for years.

It was fun, interesting, and I liked many of the sales people. But eventually it got too repetitive and I understood why many rock groups hate touring. I could change my art, but the malls were all the same. The galleries identical, and the goals of everyone involved were the same: sell art. These types of galleries never get reviewed and rarely lead to museums.

Interestingly, the owners of these highly commercial galleries are sometimes major league art collectors, their homes filled with blue chip art with no evidence of the art they sell in their galleries. It's all very strange. Two separate art worlds, often with nothing in common but also overlapping more than you'd think. American shopping malls, with their vast parking lots punctuated with occasional olive trees or a cactus, can be lonely places. Sometimes I feel like a green blade of grass, being carefully cultivated in a surreal shopping mall/nursery, occasionally clipped for my own good.

Sometimes I miss my Cinnabon. But it has the same sugar as the sweets that Louise Bourgeois serves at her salons, where Robert Storr once passionately critiqued me for not measuring up to the "better anarchists," Koons and Warhol. So, as ironically amusing and profitable the mall art world is (Komar and Melamid once tested the waters too, with their Peoples Choice project, although with far greater critical success and far less commercial success) I've chosen to come home to MoMA -- the ambience is less predictable and more challenging.
Mark Kostabi

Readers are encouraged to e-mail questions to

MARK KOSTABI is an artist, composer and writer who lives in Rome and New York. An exhibition of 180 recent paintings opens at Scoletta dei Battioro in Venice, Italy (San Stae), Oct. 25-Nov. 16, 2003. His new CD, Songs For Sumera, is available in record stores, bookstores and on A new book, Mark Kostabi and the East Village Scene 1983-1987, by Baird Jones, is available in bookstores and