The art industry’s expectations of artists’ professional relationships are changing. Two years ago, I made the mistake of asking Hauser & Wirth Director Marc Payot whether the gallery had stopped working with an artist who had once seemed ubiquitous there. Payot looked at me with horror and told me Hauser & Wirth had never left an artist, nor had an artist ever left them. “Gallerists who stick by their artists over the long haul are the better ones,” a friend told me.
But, now, only a few years later, I doubt this is the norm, especially after attending Sharon Louden’s Living and Sustaining a Creative Live (at the 92Y), a book tour and panel series that seeks to identify successful survival strategies in the art world. Forty artists from all over the country contributed essays to the book about how they built their art careers; the interviews between Louden and artists Will Cotton, Bill Carroll and gallerist Edward Winkleman provide a broader picture of the gallery landscape.
During the panel, which included collector Wynn Kramarsky, artist Michelle Grabner and Winkleman, the gallerist made clear just how unusual Payot’s position was, disputing the idea that lifetime relationships with artists were realistic in this market. “Most artists’ careers are only profitable for four-to-five years,” he said. Winkleman also told us that he'd heard famed dealer Jeffrey Deitch say at a panel at the New School that he’d never work with an artist who had a day job. But that’s also unrealistic. Who, other than trust fund kids, could afford to do that? Most gallerists simply expect artists to work jobs flexible enough to accommodate a studio practice.
Deitch’s sentiments have stronger roots than many of us might realize, though, as Maureen Connor, a feminist artist who contributed an essay to the book, described her anxiety about taking a steady part-time job during the 70s. She was an anomaly among her friends, and she worried her decision would impugn her credibility as an artist.
Connor’s essay did a good job of making the dates of her stories clear, a lead I wish more artists in the book had followed; it was sometimes difficult to discern the political and social contexts that would have informed their choices. A few artists mentioned leaving the city without writing when, but I would have appreciated knowing that. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how New York rents are squeezing creativity out of the city; just how long this has been going on?
Whatever the answer is, Chicago resident Michelle Grabner and collector Wynn Kramarsky both agreed that New York has become a better place to watch the market than anything else. “The ideas aren’t great in NYC right now,” Grabner said. And of course, those of us who live here know she’s right. Much like the assumed loyalty gallerists should afford their artists, it seems many artists are reevaluating whether their relationships with New York promise everything they once did.