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|Ask Mark Kostabi
by Mark Kostabi
|Artnet.com is my second favorite website, after markkostabi.com. I am addicted to Artnet Magazine, especially when I'm in Rome, where I spend half my time. On the plane back to New York the other day I was thinking about calling Artnet Magazine editor Walter Robinson to propose that I write a column. I'm not so presumptuous to think I could rise to the brilliant level of columnists Max Henry or Charlie Finch but I know for sure that I can easily do as good a job as clowns like Anthony Haden-Guest, Baird Jones, Jerry Saltz or Donald Kuspit.
After losing my luggage on Delta flight 149, I cabbed it straight to Will Cotton's opening of first-rate paintings at the increasingly more interesting Mary Boone Gallery, where I discovered Walter Robinson in person -- who himself immediately proposed that I write a column. What can I say: Coincidence? Psychic synchronicity? Or "great minds think alike"? Walter suggested that I write a Dear Abby-style "advice to artists" column, inviting readers to submit questions.
When I told Mike Weiss, rising art-scene mover and shaker and editor of the soon-to-debut Smock Magazine (the George of the art world), over lunch at Lucky Strike that I agreed to write for Artnet he seemed intrigued but added that he sees me less as a "magazine writer" and more as a "brilliant, visionary, corporate-style manager of Kostabi World," my giant art studio, which has a vast painting distribution network.
Although I controlled my emotions (for once), I felt defensive and misunderstood, because I feel more aligned with Donald Judd, the wrongly labeled "Minimalist," who was arguably the most important artist and critic of his generation. Plus, with my assistants doing all my work, I need something to do with my time.
Some people might think I'm a bit delusional because I see my peers as Donald Judd, Robert Smithson and Piero Manzoni while they think I party with Peter Max, Leroy Neiman and Nechita. Actually, I am friendly with Peter and Leroy and recently had a two-person show with Nechita in Japan. But I spend more of my time talking with Dennis Oppenheim, Louise Bourgeois and Fred Tomaselli. (Informed art theorists might argue that my show with Nechita -- and proudly mentioning it here -- is one of the most subversive acts of conceptual art ever committed. Top that Jeffy boy!)
Question: How does one deal with all the B.S. of art-world politics?
Answer: The first thing artists must understand is that artists hold all the power. Not dealers, not collectors, not museums and especially not critics. Everyone else follows what we say and do. Other artists hold the key to your success. Never abandon exchanging studio visits and any other kind of healthy social interaction with artists whom you respect. The four most important words an artist can say are: "Let's trade studio visits."
For example, practically every artist at Will Cotton's opening loved the show. I would be amused to see some critic dare to try to give him a bad review. It would be embarrassing for the critic because it simply could not be done with any credibility. Most critics don't know how to paint and don't understand painting. With his compositionally exciting, exquisitely painted Caravaggioesque renderings of candy-landscapes, Cotton has revisited territory touched on by Wayne Thiebaud and Jeff Koons but has unquestionably surpassed them. Cotton has reached the top of the art game and won. He has set new standards for other artists to measure up to. And I'm sure his next show will be even better.
Another winner is Inka Essenhigh, whose upcoming show in May at the same legendary gallery will surely make this season one of the best that New York has seen in years. Inka Essenhigh is the real thing; a truly creative visionary whose imagination and technique easily rival related geniuses like Sue Williams, Yves Tanguy, Oyvind Fahlstrom and Matta.
Having seen glamorous photos of Inka Essenhigh in various glossy magazines and in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders excellent book, Art World, I was initially intimidated by her radiant presence at Cotton's opening. But ultimately undaunted by her art-goddesslike stature, I asked my friend, the great artist, Deborah Warner (also Cotton's wife) to introduce me.
I was thrilled and flattered to hear from Inka that although she was trying to "play it cool," she was actually "very excited" to meet me, having known and liked my work for years and knowing one of my ex-assistants, the intense performance artist James Godwin.
Now the reason I tell you this seemingly self-indulgent story of mutual admiration is that it illustrates how easy it is to make the kind of mistakes in attitude that millions of non-winner, aspiring artists make. Not that I was immediately invited to Inka's next dinner party or anything, but I could have easily stayed on the sidelines, as a bitter observer, blaming the "glossy art-hype system" for not recognizing my "true talent."
Instead I mustered up a little courage and asked a mutual friend to make an introduction to an artist whose work I sincerely admired. As a result, I found out that she is an extremely nice, down-to-earth person. And I felt better. 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.
Q: No matter what I do I just can't get a dealer to show my work. What do I do?
A: Dealers can be pleasant to work with if you are lucky enough to find one who is honest and loyal. But the chances are slim, so you might as well take your career into your own hands. If you can't join 'em, beat 'em!
The Internet has changed everything. Start selling your art and related material directly to the public through web sites like Artnet.com, eBay and your own website. If you don't, your dealer will (if you eventually get one). And they will take the old 50 percent instead of the new rate 1.25 percent that eBay charges.
The legendary conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim says that he believes in "anything that takes power away from art dealers." Therefore, he too recently began selling his work through eBay. I can easily sell all my paintings through eBay and Artnet.
Q: But what if I want people to experience my work in person?
A: With all the money you make selling your work through online auctions you can open your own gallery or museum in the physical world. Or you can sponsor museum shows of your own work, which will also enhance your internet sales. Tiffany funded the Louis Comfort Tiffany show at the Metropolitan Museum. Cartier funded the Cartier show, also at the Met. I helped fund my retrospective at the Art Museum of Estonia recently, which inspired record-breaking attendance.
It's not just the future -- it's already happening. When an artist has a gallery show, the artist is indirectly paying the expensive gallery rent and the mortgage of the dealers' house in the Hamptons.
Q: When can I start?
A: Today, but one very important thing to understand is not to be discouraged. I believe every artist will find their own particular internet solution. It took me two months of trial and error before I figured out how to successfully sell my paintings on eBay. (As opposed to just my postcards, posters, books, and prints, which clicked immediately.)
First I revised my system of digitally photographing and posting the front, back detail and signature of the painting. And then I perfected a style of professional, detailed, verbal descriptions of the paintings. But the clincher for me was deciding to start the bidding at the seemingly absurdly low amount of one cent -- something not even Sotheby's and Christie's have ever done. That's when the fun began. Sometimes I don't even have a hidden reserve.
Find out the true value of your art. And remember, the world is divided up into two kinds of people: winners and whiners.
MARK KOSTABI is a New York artist. Readers are invited to email questions to: .