02/26/14 4:00am
02/26/2014 4:00 AM |

20 February 2014

Dear Readers,

This will be the last column I file at The L Magazine, and I have only a flurry of cliches to offer: all good things must come to an end, I’m sad to go, etc. I don’t know what it is about leaving a publication that turns my brain to mush, but after six-and-a-half years of writing for The L, I find myself at a surprising loss for words. I have no grand vision for the future; I just want to focus on
other projects.

I remember the first column I ever filed here: August 17, 2007. It was a reported piece on the flurry of joint exhibitions between large blue-chip galleries and smaller to mid-range galleries, and its mere conceit annoyed Team Gallery’s Jose Freire. “Gallery collaborations are a matter of public record,” he chided. “In the years that I’ve been working in New York, there have been myriad instances of these kinds of cooperative relationships.”

You can’t find that piece on The L’s website anymore—some of its archives were sacrificed to the server gods when the magazine redesigned its site a while back—but I remember writing that column like it was this one. It was among my first opportunities to do some real reporting for a magazine, and I found the job of talking to
people thrilling.

In a later column, I reflected on the jobs I’d had that taught me what I wanted to do. I thought about terrible experiences at galleries before realizing that it was an early job in a frame shop in the New York Public Library that was most influential—because it wasn’t a job as much as it was an excuse to talk to artists all day about art. (We didn’t have much to do, and everyone who worked there was an artist.) That’s pretty much what I made out of this gig at The L Magazine.

For that reason, it’s hard to write this goodbye. Sevenish years is a long time to work anywhere, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some supportive people. You never want to let people like that go. Certainly that was the case at the library. When it came time for me to do so—I had visa issues—I cried for nearly three days. I understand that emotional response a little better than what’s happening now, when I’m turning into a cliche generator. Why let the good people you work with get away? Sometimes life just gets in the way.

02/12/14 4:00am
02/12/2014 4:00 AM |

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.

01/29/14 4:00am
01/29/2014 4:00 AM |

Before I saw the Richard Serra show at Gagosian, I saw people photographing it. A man just out of the rain near the gallery’s entrance whipped out his camera, and I noticed several others taking furtive cell phone shots while the guards weren’t looking. (Gagosian doesn’t allow photography.)

For those unaware of Serra’s oeuvre, he’s made a name for himself by creating building-sized metal sculptures that often make you feel a little unbalanced when you’re next to them. He makes Art with a capital A, and most of us art folk are taught in our earliest art-school days that his sculptures evoke awe. When we photograph them, we’re not just trying to capture the sculptures but also pay the proper reverence we’re told such art is owed. Sometimes that reverence is paid in critical study, but it’s just as often paid in Instagram shares.

All that reverence and awe can get a little tedious, though, and that’s particularly true with Serra, who has been making the same work for almost 30 years. After having spent 15 years “being moved” by it—and I say that earnestly—you stop believing that the pious goals of high art have any tangible effect on the real world. Add to this that the show at Gagosian’s W. 24th Street location (through March 15) is made up of some smaller, less effective work, and you start to wonder why we still care about Serra at all. In one room there’s a long zigzag of thick metal sheets you can walk between; the pieces don’t lean, nor are they particularly overwhelming in size, so they don’t do much to activate the space. In another room, all we’re presented with is a labyrinth of short steel slabs. I still don’t know what I was supposed to take away from that.

Overall, it was the utter dearth of humanity that stood out the most. Slabs of steel are just slabs of steel, and even when they’re large and consuming, as is the case with 13-foot-tall curling sculpture at the W. 21st street location (whose Serra exhibit is up through February 8). From the 81 feet that that sculpture spans, you don’t ever get the sense of a human presence.

I suppose that’s its own kind of virtuosity, as it’s nearly impossible to remove the human presence from anything these days thanks to social media, but within the context of the Gagosian gallery it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to know that somebody was behind the 12-mega-gallery machine that hosted a bevy of blue chip artists, who often seemed just as mechanical in their output.

That’s why, back at the W. 24th Street gallery, it was a relief to see a blue bucket in the center of the gallery catching water that was pouring from the ceiling, which had sprung a leak. It wasn’t exactly a release of the awe I was diligently supposed to unleash upon the work, but it was at least a sign of humanity.


01/15/14 4:00am
01/15/2014 4:00 AM |

Art by Keith Mayerson

So far this season, the Farmers’ Almanac’s long-range weather predictions have been pretty accurate. It said this winter would be colder than normal, and boy was it ever. If the heavy storms it’s calling for in early February arrive, I may never check another source for my advance forecasts again. In that spirit, I figured I might make a few predictions myself. If the Almanac can do it for the weather, surely I can come up with something for the art world?

Don’t expect any major activity. Art students won’t come back until the end of the month. News during this month mostly consists of year-end roundups, whatever Mayor Bill de Blasio happens to be doing, and, ahem, predictions.

Expect to see names like Bjarne Melgaard, Charline von Heyl and Keith Mayerson floating around this month and next. They’re just three of the 103 participating artists in the Whitney Biennial this March, and that exhibition seems to make every artist’s work just a little bit more salable. Nobody will be talking long about the New Museum this month, as its main show, Pawel Althamer, is a bunch of cheeseball skeletons wrapped in bandages.

Photo via

Crystal ball time: will people give a shit about the Armory Show this year? I’ve got a cloudy read on this, but initial impressions don’t look good for the Armory. I’m receiving emails from friends who are planning to fly into New York in May for Frieze and NADA—but not
in March.  

01/01/14 4:00am
01/01/2014 4:00 AM |

Two days before Christmas I received a note from a colleague. He felt that much of the art getting made today is devoid of presence—that it’s self-serving, ego-tripping, and fails to contribute to contemporary culture. He wrote to me because he felt he needed to do more to address this problem, and he wanted to talk ideas. Now, I’ve never received an email like this, and you might say it sounds like the woes of a bitter or disillusioned artist. Who’s making this ego-tripping art anyway? The fact is that, like anything, the state of the art world isn’t so bleak.

That said, I wasn’t surprised to get his email. Art culture has become dominated by art fairs, biennials, auctions and celebrity ass-licking—the kind of culture that demands short, superficial viewing. That makes the field a whole lot less interesting for everyone except a small sliver of participants— and the likelihood of my receiving a note like this much greater. In that way, I found the letter a relief: another person working in the art world had a positive vision for the arts, and he’d reached out for help with steering the art world toward more responsibility to the cultural community.

What did I tell him? At first, I wasn’t sure. Art F City has a number of still-to-be announced community initiatives we need help with, but they have yet to be finalized. He couldn’t help with those. That said, I do run a blog, and I do have a column here at The L. So this year, I’m inviting my friend and others not just to talk about our market-driven art-world woes, but also to find a few answers. To that end, Art F City will work behind the scenes to help people in the art world seek out funds and other actionable solutions to the problems they identify. We’re writers by trade, but this year, we want to be active participants, too.

12/18/13 4:00am
12/18/2013 4:00 AM |

Photo via

÷÷÷÷ 5 ÷÷÷÷
Thomas Hirschhorn
Gramsci Monument, the Bronx

Forget the statues—the sprawling tree fort made of duct tape and particle board in NYCHA’s Forest Houses complex actively involved residents in daily lectures, radio broadcasts and a tuck shop, improving the quality of life for everyone who participated. It was incredible, and best of all, it got people from all parts of New York talking. The best public work this year, easily.

Photo via

÷÷÷÷ 4 ÷÷÷÷
Llyn Foulkes
The New Museum, Lower East Side

Foulkes would be an outsider artist if he weren’t so skilled. His paintings, particularly the later ones, are obsessed with the evils of Disney. It’s a simple message but good god is Foulkes ever a master of materials! He literally carves depth out of his figurative paintings, which typically incorporate real-world elements. These paintings are so detailed and strange that they’re hard to look away from.

12/04/13 4:00am
12/04/2013 4:00 AM |

Anyone who spends a lot of time at art fairs, either by profession or for shopping, knows they don’t change much: the locations are often generic borg-like structures; the type of work that sells is easily defined (“things that cats like”). Impromptu networking, dinners and socializing collide.

That’s not to say I’ve been reliving my 2006 Miami Basel experience, which involved spending way more time than I would have liked with a crazy dealer who flew me down and put me up in a hotel because he believed “in honest criticism.” (He didn’t.) One of his friends, a young collector, told me that any man who claimed he wasn’t turned on by trophy-wife attire was lying.

That comment made me unwilling to put up with anyone else that evening, so I left, and on my way back to the hotel I randomly ran into some acquaintances from the net art scene. We spent the night at the bar, and then the rest of the nights, too. Those nights cemented my interest in the field—and resulted in about two more years of coverage.

Those kind of spur-of-the-moment friendships occur all the time. At the fairs, you find new friends quickly, and end up with relationships that endure far beyond the week. Gallerist Allegra LaViola ended up spending a lot of time in Miami with dealer Meredith Rosen, who became her business partner. And I have more friends than I can count who ended up with girlfriends or boyfriends thanks to a particularly good party.

As reliable as the social dimension of these fairs are, though, so too is change to the industry. Take for example the once-ubiquitous hotel fairs that ran down Collins Avenue. In 2006, Bridge, Red Dot, Flow, ArtNow, Ink and Aqua all rented out tiny rooms to exhibitors promising to attract overflow from Basel. By 2008, I was seeing exhibitors emptying their rooms of furniture, setting up their own lighting, and covering the walls with paper. By the time hotel venues started to disappear (roughly 2009), it was clear nearly everyone had decided the spaces weren’t well-suited to exhibition.

Back then, there were a total of 12 fairs, a number that excludes renegade fairs such as Frisbee, which advertised exclusively through flyers (a marketing effort that would feel a lot more renegade now than it did then); this year, there are 21 fairs, again excluding the renegades, which means that while it might once have been possible to see all the art, it’s now a lost cause. That’s not such a bad thing, though, as I’ve found that seeing all the art in Miami was counterproductive; I saw too much bad work, and it made me hate art.  

Normally, I’d offer a few fairs I recommend as a way of avoiding that burnout—and The L Magazine and Art F City staff will certainly do that—but for the first time, I’m not in a position to offer those recommendations. That’s because this year, I’ll man the Art F City booth at UNTITLED. We’ll be selling a football-field sized printout of the exquisite corpse Tumblr Collaque, and since I want people to come to this particular fair and buy it, I’m no longer an impartial observer. That’s ok with me—as I said, the fairs themselves don’t change that much. I know pretty much what to expect: crazy dealers and collectors, lots of art, and a few new good friends.

11/20/13 4:00am
11/20/2013 4:00 AM |

After the recent spate of record-breaking contemporary auctions, it might be worth asking, is there an art market bubble? And if so, how far does it reach? Based on the auction results—Christie’s sold a record $691.6 million worth of art—and last year’s ubiquitous articles about the middle-tier gallery squeeze, it’s easy to assume that the money’s at the top. If you have a gallery or auction house selling Jeff Koons or Andy Warhol, there’s lots of money to be made. But those working with emerging artists, struggling to pay the bills? Well, if last summer’s articles on the shrinking middle tier are to be believed, there aren’t hordes of collectors for every price point. (The story was so ubiquitous that the Times even had war time correspondent Graham Bowley on the beat.)

But wait. Is that true? Within the last two years, Lisa Cooley, Bureau, Invisible Exports, On Stellar Rays, Rachel Uffner, Miguel Abreu and Canada have all moved into new, larger spaces. None of these LES galleries seem to be suffering badly. “From my point of view, there’s been steady development” on the Lower East Side, gallerist James Fuentes told me. He arrived in that neighborhood in 2010 after a three-year stint near City Hall, and was quick to point out that growth can be measured both by real estate and new business ventures. “This year, we’ve decided to produce books for artists, like a 500-page book for Joshua Abelow. Project Projects is putting out a book for Jessica Dickenson. And John Macallister—we’re putting that one out ourselves.”

Development also means more sales. “I can only speak for myself, but every year I’ve managed at least to double my sales—or more,” Allegra LaViola, a partner in Sargent’s Daughter, said, sharing a story similar to those I heard repeatedly. “At the same time, it’s feast or famine. One show you sell everything; other times you don’t sell anything. It’s hard to predict. Sometimes artists you’ve worked with before who have done well don’t sell.” And she’s not the only one that reports an increase in sales. “We’ve done better every single quarter,” Invisible Exports’ Benjamin Tischer told me. “There is growth. It’s in the numbers.”

So what accounts for the growth of this market? Nobody I talked to mentioned a boom, but Ann Fensterstock, the author of Art on the Block, a historical account of gallery migration in the city over the last 50 years, was quick to note the number of LES dealers that came to the job with an MBA and a business plan. “They are sophisticated and have backers,” she said. “It’s not a naive endeavor. You read their pedigrees, and most of them come out of five to eight years of experience.”

All this is true, but that may not make for a more stable network of businesses in the neighborhood. Rents on the LES are rising. “It’s at a juncture where expansion [on the LES] is becoming less possible or maybe getting harder,” Fuentes told me—and, upon doing so, reflected back my the original question about middle-tier galleries. “I think it’s a good conversation with real issues. After all, bigger galleries are bound to absorb artists who could be showing somewhere else.”

11/06/13 4:00am
11/06/2013 4:00 AM |

“How can we get more places like Flux Factory?” City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer asked Kate D. Levin. Van Bramer is one of the biggest arts advocates in the city, and Levin is the commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs; at that moment, she was also a spokesperson for the bulk of the city’s non-profit arts institutions. His question was central to a recent public hearing about how New York could be made more affordable for artists, and Levin’s reply started with the facts. “It’s a challenge to manage real estate for residents that are somewhere between a stable and transient population,” she said. Fundraising has been an issue; so too has finding the non-profit expertise needed to run these kinds of spaces. (Still, the commissioner saw progress in the philanthropic community’s understanding that the pipeline for emerging artists is important, too.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody who presented came prepared to answer why there aren’t more places like Flux Factory in Long Island City. I suspect that’s because nobody wants to replicate another arts organization. The latest non-profit that has people excited is Spaceworks, which makes affordable studio spaces available to artists: visual-art studios from 200-300 square feet rent for $250-$400; rehearsal spaces range from $10-$16 per hour, executive director Paul Parkhill said. All are awarded based on how intensely the artist will use the space. 

It sounds promising—albeit untested—but it’s hard not to have some reservations. The organization isn’t purchasing property, which means if property values continue to rise, it won’t be able to address the larger financial problems artist face. And since New York is already too expensive for many artists to live in, a slightly below-market rate may not be enough today, let alone a few years from now. 

Sheila Lewandowski, the executive director at the Chocolate Factory and a Spaceworks partner, brought up this issue. “Sixteen bucks an hour is more than most make in their day jobs” she told the City Council. “If we’re charging them more money than they make per hour, are we providing a service?” (Many artists live in constant economic uncertainty—and without healthcare.)

Still, it’s a start, and a needed one at that.  Perhaps better than any administrator, Lewandowski was able to articulate best, in human terms, the problems that creatives face. “What is unique about artists is that they subsidize their own industry, and in doing so they subsidize every other industry in the city,” she said. “Without its cultural identity, people would not choose to set up businesses in New York, and it would not attract tourists whose money fuels a large part of the economy.”

10/23/13 4:00am
10/23/2013 4:00 AM |


The auction room at Phillips was filled with so many chattering people on October 10 that employees had to shush them just so you could hear the auctioneer. This wasn’t a typical auction. A typical auction is a quiet affair at which you can buy a selection of secondary market work (art objects that have have been sold at least once before), thus they’re of little interest to struggling artists.

But Paddles On, curated by Lindsay Howard and presented in partnership with Tumblr, was unique—and not just because of the noise. It was the first digital-art auction, and also the first in Phillips’ history to sell exclusively primary market work. The only other comparable contemporary example was the 2008 Damien Hirst sale at Sotheby’s, which made a bit more money—$198 million as opposed to Phillips’ $90,600—but for something so untested, insiders have guardedly judged its take positively.

Steven Sacks, the owner of bitforms gallery in Chelsea, said that while he thought the auction was a wild success for artists that weren’t well-known, “financially, it’s more difficult to say.” Nine of the 20 lots sold for less than their estimated bids, and four of those were bought-in by the auction house. “Obviously, the numbers weren’t through the roof,” Sacks said.

But Phillips was extraordinarily happy with the auction, its head of sale, Megan Newcome, told me. And by its metrics, that’s not just PR. “We were very clear-eyed about this: no matter what the results are, if we’re able to bring these artists to a mainstream audience, then the auction is a success,” she said. About this there is near unanimous agreement. “This auction was great for opening up people to digital art,” art consultant and collector Myriam Vanneschi told me. (Full disclosure: Vanneschi once bought a digital portfolio from AFC.) “For the collectors that I work with… it takes me a lot to even get them to consider digital art. Because the auction took place at Phillips, a big name and brand in the art world, it gives them some sense of assurance.”

And it was helped by Phillips’ decision not to take a cut of the sales. Instead, they donated 20 percent of the auction’s revenues to the digital media non-profit Rhizome. “There are trust issues with auction houses, but that wasn’t an issue here because they didn’t get any money,” Vanneschi said.

The rationale behind individual purchases was predictably varied. “I’m very proud of purchasing Molly Soda, which is an hour-long performance,” Vanneschi told me. “I think it’s good to consider buying things that aren’t necessarily objects.” Benjamin Palmer, the CEO of the Barbarian Group and a self-described “medium serious” art collector with his wife, was similarly excited about his purchase of Rafael Rozendaal’s website “It’s fun that it was the first website sold. But more than that, it’s the most accessible piece of public art I could have purchased.”

That kind of altruistic collecting was not unusual. Julia Kaganskiy, the founder of #artstech, told me she purchased the works of Silvia Bianchi and Ricardo Juarez simply because she wasn’t familiar with them. “And it was in my price range,” she added. Like many in attendance, she was there to support the artists in
the auction.

Much of this suggests that the emerging digital art collector community may have broader interests than investment, and perhaps it indicates a greater shift in the market place—that Phillips could now be in competition with galleries. But Sacks downplayed that concern. Phillips brought in a benefactor for this auction, so without a profit, it’s not competing. “It’s definitely a competitor if an auction house starts to do this on a regular basis,” he said, going on to explain the different roles of galleries and auctions. “The auction is a culmination of the gallery’s work,” Sacks said. “The value of the work is contingent upon an artist’s exhibition history, provenance, and the collections they’re placed in. If you remove that element by selling exclusively through the auction house… the whole system breaks down.”