When there are more people in the room sporting suits than the speakers, you know it’s no ordinary art lecture. That is what we encountered when attending The Business of Art, at the Wharton School of Business, presented by the ICA, featuring two of the biggest names in the art world today. Jeffrey Deitch, gallery owner, advisor, and writer, and Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York magazine and formerly of The Village Voice had a conversation about art, money, and what it means to us. Melissa McFeeters and I decided, what better way to write on a conversation than to have a conversation ourselves. [Kati Gegenheimer is an artist living and working in Philadelphia, as well as a staff writer for the FunnelBlog. Melissa McFeeters is a graphic designer, who lives and works in Philadelphia, and is the creative director at Funnel Pages.]
Kati Gegenheimer: I keep looking at my note on what Jerry Saltz said about MOMA. He said, "MOMA is only giving us mountain tops. You have to see the whole range."
Melissa McFeeters: Oh I LOVED that. The exact quote was "If you only see the mountain tops, you'll never know how tall they are," which makes me want to cry, it’s so dead-on.
K: I thought that was so true, I wanted to give him a high-five. I always think about those books that are like...coffee table books with like one page per well-known artist.
M: Oh yeah, The Art Book?
K: Yeah. Well that book seems like art is so simple and easy to access because you're just seeing so many major art pieces thrown together, but you don't see the other 100 pieces each artist made to get to that point.
M: And it sums up like 20,000 years of art in like 200 pages.
K: I guess museums, like MOMA, are also this summary, which is strange to think about since, as we were saying before museums seem so grand and all knowing. Which also brings me to when Saltz and Deitch were talking about how you can't go to a museum and get a feel for the art world from the 1980's to the present because it's all so wrapped up in the auction houses.
M: You have to think of the artists in museums as figureheads of movements.
K: I would say the most interesting thing to me, that I certainly didn't realize, is how priced out the art market is and how museums can't even afford to buy a piece anymore due to the control the auction houses have over the art world.
M: I know, I had no idea. I guess we've grown up thinking that museums are these indestructible giants, when really they face funding problems too. Which means that museums will only have lesser-known, (perhaps mediocre), affordable works that don’t “summarize” anything. How many people are going to go through those museums thinking that those works are the pinnacle of what was created that year? Not that affordable art is always mediocre.
K: I don't think that money is bad for art, but as an artist I obviously believe in art as a form first and foremost as opposed to an investment, as that one business student was so interested in it as.
M: That was insane. It’s unfair how many people wouldn't even try to look at unknown artists work because no one paid $10 million dollars for it.
K: That is what makes me really uncomfortable, is the truth of the art world that only say, ten people do "make it," do get the attention, and I’m sure that there are at least another ten noteworthy artists that could've been in the same position if they were in the right place at the right time, met the right people, etc. I think now for artists it's easier to get exposure with the internet, things like that, but there's a difference between being an artist and making a living at what you love to do, and being an artist that is trying to get attention when the machine just isn't working for them.
M: That’s true, but then I feel like maybe artists have a hard time marketing themselves in a way that doesn't sacrifice their art, but still works enough to make some money.
K: Do you feel like you have more insight on that as a graphic designer, since graphic design is more business oriented and product oriented.
M: Totally. Well, no, I mean I don't have the design world figured out.
K: I was thinking about that when they were talking about the artist as a product, and how concise and edited graphic design portfolios seem in order to show exactly who you are, and what you specialize in doing.
M: It would be nice if things just worked out in the art world, where talented artists make money no matter what, but nothing on this planet works that way. You can be a great designer, but if you don’t try to make connections and get yourself out there, no one’s going to pluck you out from in front of your computer and give you a job at The New Yorker. The same goes with artists, but the difference is the personal connection, and being able to achieve a balance. But I think you have to have some kind of strategy and game plan, (which doesn't have to sacrifice anything), otherwise you're just throwing yourself to the wind.
K: I agree with that. I don't think you're going to get anywhere money-wise if you are just going to sit in your studio and work and not market yourself in one way or another. It's important to have some sort of plan to promote yourself.
M: But with some people its like "marketing" is a bad word.
K: Well yeah, because as an "artist" you're not supposed to be interested in profit, you're only supposed to be interested in the art of making. I think that's this idyllic, romanticized idea of what an artist is, and I don't think it's very reasonable or profitable.
M: You can make money and help support yourself with art without making wild profits though, I think.
K: Yeah, I think so too. It's how everyone wants to do it, so I mean, you can also not make money at all and if you're happy with that, well, that's another option and that’s fine.
M: And like you said, it’s not money that’s bad for art, its people who are abusing the gallery/auction system who really twist the art world into a different reality.
K: What Jeffrey Deitch said about how the “nemesis” is the person who seems sincere, but takes advantage of the gallery and sells work out to auctions rather than appreciate it, really made me think, “okay, so they are in it for the love of art, the relationships it can make.”
I was really sincerely impressed when Deitch was talking about how "selling is not like speed dating, it's like developing a relationship." I thought that was really lovely, because I have no idea if selling art is like selling shoes at Macy’s or selling stocks at the stock market. I had no idea if galleries still cared. I think it's really nice that at least Deitch's gallery, Deitch Projects in New York, is still looking to build relationships with collectors who want art that they can love and live with and not just sell out and use as a commodity.
M: You know, I felt the same way about him. Even after his market-speak at the beginning, by the end I did feel like he cared, and I trusted him. However, I listened in on a conversation at an opening Friday night, and apparently not everyone feels the same way. Some people came away from that lecture convinced that Deitch was full of shit.
K: Really? I felt like we were all on the same team, which I didn't expect, him being a business man who went to Harvard for his MBA. I thought he was genuine, maybe I am a bad judge of character, or just naive.
M: Yeah, his response to the question of regarding art just being sold and traded like baseball cards...some would say he wasn't upset about it being sold to a dealer who didn't care, he was upset because he got gypped out of a lot of money that could have been his. Conversely, Saltz also made the promise that if you keep working, you will be successful. That goes back to my whole thing about being able to market yourself.
K: Yeah, Saltz pretty much guaranteed that if you continue to work at something for the next ten years, you will be successful at it. I totally believe in that, and I’d like to take him up on that challenge. Deitch said, "Someone with a vision can start with nothing." He also said, "Great galleries are built out of nothing." I feel like that’s something that we often forget, it’s a really hopeful and inspiring reminder that we really can do anything.
M: That’s why Philadelphia has so much promise, it’s a blank slate.
K: Yes, and Philadelphia is exciting in that way, and everyone can make galleries the way they want them, and show who they want to show rather than have the art worlds' opinion breathing down their neck. Deitch said, "Everyone can do it their way," when talking about the art world, and I feel like Philadelphia certainly does that.
M: So I guess what I'd like to know, in terms of Philadelphia is how much money does a gallery need to sustain itself, and how can they get that? Because as far as I've heard, most places have to shut down because of lack of money.
K: I mean it seems to me that the surviving galleries seem to be co-op galleries, like Nexus, which is one of the oldest co-ops in Philly, where the artists sustain the gallery and the gallery shows the artists.
M: At the end of the day, I think local artists should think about how the art world that we're directly affected by, in Philadelphia, can be sustained without being sucked into the New York, capitalistic sensibility. Did you read the article in the Inquirer, about how artists are moving to Philadelphia specifically because it can offer many things that New York can’t? [Full Article]
K: Yeah, I did.
M: I found it interesting because on Friday night at the Flux show I talked to a friend for awhile, and he said that he's itching to get out of Philadelphia because its "stagnant.” But then an article like that comes out, and its like, wait, Philadelphia is the ideal place right now.
K: What Saltz said about, "If you build it they will come," seemed so Philadelphia to me. I feel like the Philadelphia art scene is all about being for artists, by artists.
M: I think one major thing that Philadelphia doesn’t have going for it, and lots of people would agree, is that it’s too spread out. It’s impossible and annoying to get to more than two openings on one First Friday.
K: It seems like most galleries that are showing the more exciting, challenging work, were just made by artists looking to show work, and then, as Saltz and Deitch were saying, they had immediate credibility with the art community and were able to attract quality artists.
M: Yeah, and there's no lack of people willing to open galleries like that.
K: At least every artist I've met in Philadelphia is so excited about making and sharing their work, and I feel like what is lacking in big money and big dealers in Philadelphia is made up for tenfold in genuine interest and enthusiasm by the artists.
K: …And I think if anything, Philadelphia artists/galleries do have, or are developing credibility, because as far as I can tell, most people aren't in it for the money at all.
M: But all the enthusiasm in the world won't pay for a gallery's rent in a decent location every month.
K: Yeah, so then do we compromise money for the homegrown love of art. I don't think money is bad, but do you think Philadelphia would rather the big money stay in New York so that we can foster this community that is able to grow in Philadelphia? It is such a balancing act.
M: I know!
K: And from the model in New York it seems very off-balance.
M: New York is warped in regards to EVERY facet of life, why would art be any different?
K: That's true. “Go big or go home.”
M: Go big or go to Philadelphia!
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[Kati Gegenheimer is an artist living and working in Philadelphia, as well as a staff writer for the FunnelBlog. Melissa McFeeters is a graphic designer, who lives and works in Philadelphia, and is the creative director at Funnel Pages.]