Impressions

Frieze Art Fair: 2013 prowl-through

N and I were able to attend the Frieze Art Fair thanks to O (whose pass spared us each $42 entrance fees). I convinced her and M that the cross-Triboro Bridge walk would be lovely. It was, but I neglected to consider that once we got to the fair we’d be on our feet another 2.5 hours. Weary-legged and short on cash on an island where a bottle of water costs $4, I had little time or attention to really engage the artworks.

(When I used to go on long runs, I’d carry hydration and fuel—AKA water and snacks—with me. I should have the same mentality when visiting fairs can take as long as an endurance race.)

Mostly, as in past fairs, I looked at methods of display, uses of materials, and forms related to upcoming projects—which now are banners and textiles.

Andrea Bowers, in both booths housing her work, shared this useful statement that sheds light on Frieze’s use of non-union labor. (One thought about the lack of mass response to OWS Arts & Labor’s call might be attributed to this: NYC’s unions are very active in picketing non-union business. In fact, it’s common enough that one might see the inflatable picketing rat a few times a week. New Yorkers just keep walking.)

Bowers’ drawings on cardboard of Victorian icons of liberation were quite lovely, and much looser than her photo-realist graphite drawings, interestingly.

Open letter from Andrea Bowers regarding Frieze's use of non-union labor.

Open letter from Andrea Bowers regarding Frieze’s use of non-union labor.

Photolithographic etching on copper-clad plastic by Sam Lewitt at Miguel Abreau Gallery (NYC). Having just worked on a vinyl sculpture, I thought this way of displaying floppy plastic was really smart.

Photolithographic etching on copper-clad plastic by Sam Lewitt at Miguel Abreau Gallery (NYC). Having just worked on a vinyl sculpture, I thought this way of displaying floppy plastic was really smart.

Handmade crochet by Servet Kocygit at Rampa (Istanbul). This is just pretty and in-your-face. Though I'm not sure what it means, I thought it was useful for thinking about how to frame textile text works. The crochet looks like it was treated with a glue, such as a matte medium, and pinned in place to a (removed) substrate, so it lays flat. The substrate it's now on is a woven fabric.

Handmade crochet by Servet Koçyiğit at Rampa (Istanbul). This is just pretty and in-your-face. Though I’m not sure what it means, I thought it was useful for thinking about how to frame textile text works. The crochet looks like it was treated with a glue, such as a matte medium, and pinned in place to a (removed) substrate, so it lays flat. The substrate it’s now on is a woven fabric.

Cameron Platter's monumental wood text at Whatiftheworld/Gallery (Cape Town). Another puzzle in terms of content, and yes, the scale suits the obviousness of fairs. But it is pretty smart to appeal to people's love (or fetish?) of wood type, and use condensed gothic typography.

Cameron Platter‘s monumental wood text at Whatiftheworld/Gallery (Cape Town). Another puzzle in terms of content, and yes, the scale suits the obviousness of fairs. But it is pretty smart to appeal to people’s love (or fetish?) of wood type, and use condensed gothic typography.

Amir Mogharabi at Ibid Projects (London). Things. On shelves. This is like a little poem, with mother-of-pearl.

Amir Mogharabi at Ibid Projects (London). Things. On shelves. This is like a little poem, with mother-of-pearl.

Maybe the collection of works where I could have spent a lot more time and gotten a much richer experience: Catherine Sullivan and Valerie Snowbeck's installation of texts on laminated fabrics and sculptural works at Galerie Catherine Bastide (Belgium). The materials and typography were so unusual, and I suspect the works told a well-conceived narrative. I regret the momentum that propelled me to march onward, instead of lingering and looking more closely.

Maybe the collection of works where I could have spent a lot more time and gotten a much richer experience: Catherine Sullivan and Valerie Snowbeck’s installation of texts on laminated fabrics and sculptural works at Galerie Catherine Bastide (Belgium). The materials and typography were so unusual, and I suspect the works told a well-conceived narrative. I regret the momentum that propelled me to march onward, instead of lingering and looking more closely.

Lily Van Der Stokker's installation at Kaufman Repetto (Milan). This is just kooky and happy. The chest in plaid is so humorous. In working with fabric I've been wondering how to distinguish my work from craft—more specifically, something crafty, cute and consumable from Etsy. Van Der Stokker seems to tackle this distinction head-on with these works. What makes a painting on canvas art, a textile design, and a painting on a cabinet any less a painting?

Lily van der Stokker‘s installation at Kaufman Repetto (Milan). Kooky. Happy. The chest in plaid is so humorous. In working with fabric I’ve been wondering how to distinguish my work from craft—more specifically, something crafty, cute and consumable from Etsy. Van Der Stokker seems to tackle this distinction head-on with these works. What makes a painting on canvas art, a textile design, and a painting on a cabinet any less a painting?

Mmm, banners. Matthew Brannon's banners at David Kordansky Gallery (NYC). With their stylish design, Brannon's screenprints on paper were always charming; it's interesting to see larger works in textiles that are also a bit more open-ended.

Mmm, banners. Matthew Brannon‘s banners at David Kordansky Gallery (NYC). With their stylish design, Brannon’s screenprints on paper were always charming; it’s interesting to see larger works in textiles that are also a bit more open-ended.

I like Peter Liversidge's conceptual practice. His work appears in a lot of fairs, but every project is unique to the fair, which makes the encounter a little more special for audiences. Liversidge typed the letter at left describing the work to be produced, adjacent. That this type of conceptual practice still exists is great. The fact that it appears commercially viable is interesting; it's one of those questions that perhaps better remains unasked. At Sean Kelly (NYC).

I like Peter Liversidge‘s conceptual practice. His work appears in a lot of fairs, but every project is unique to the fair, which makes the encounter a little more special for audiences. Liversidge typed the letter at left describing the work to be produced, adjacent. That this type of conceptual practice still exists is great. The fact that it appears commercially viable is interesting; it’s one of those questions that perhaps better remains unasked. At Sean Kelly (NYC).

Rudolf Polanszky's vitrines of decrepitude at Ancient & Modern (London). These, on purely emotional levels, worked for me.

Rudolf Polanszky’s vitrines of decrepitude at Ancient & Modern (London). These worked for me, formally and emotionally.

Standard
Values

What kind of art world would you want to participate in?

It can be easy to feel dis-empowered as an artist. You make your work and hope someone notices. You wait for a powerful gallery, curator or critic to make you a blue-chip artist so you can do biennials nonstop and live happily ever after.

But I don’t think it’s like that. Creative Capital‘s professional development workshop taught me that it’s better to focus my energy on my own agency: on the aspects of my art and life and career that I have power over. I learned that it’s possible and necessary for me to envision and shape an art world that I would like to participate in.

When I became a full-time freelancer, I gained a profound respect for professional practices. Two books were tremendously useful for shaping my principles: Marketing Without Advertising and the Graphic Arts Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook.

Professional practices are about people

Marketing Without Advertising, by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry (NOLO Press, Berkeley) is a handbook for small business owners and the self-employed to develop good reputations and encourage customers to recommend their businesses.

I appreciate its anti-advertising spirit, common sense advice and values-based principles:
transparency (Chapter 6: Openness: The Basis of Trust), and
respect in the workplace (Chapter 5: The Treatment of People Around You).

This is obvious, but it bears repeating:

The way you treat employees, suppliers and friends is an important element in gaining and keeping the trust of your customers…. One of the easiest ways for anyone to learn about your business is by talking to your employees. Because your employees’ lives are so intertwined with yours, and because affect them so directly, your treatment of them will almost automatically be communicated to their friends and family, even if inadvertently.

–Phillips & Rasberry, Marketing Without Advertising

The authors also identify common employee complaints, and how an open management style is better than developing important business policies in secrecy, resulting in the perception of arbitrariness of management and low morale.

Sometimes artists are given advice like, “You should be nice because you never know: the gallery intern you treated poorly a few years back might start their own gallery.” I agree with the principle — treat people decently — but not with the rationale — unabashed self-interest. What a travesty when people in the art world need to be reminded to treat people decently.

Agency through knowledge

The Graphic Arts Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook is a must-read for aspiring freelance illustrators or graphic designers. It provides an overview of current market rates, copyright issues, and how to create professional client relationships and fair working conditions. It also includes a useful series of contracts for services and licensing. Its basic principle is this: even though freelancers necessarily compete, it’s better for everyone — clients, freelancers and the industry as a whole — when freelancers operate professionally and have the agency to be treated fairly and create the conditions where our work is respected.

I wish there were a similar book for fine artists. [CARFAC is a great start.]

There are several books on professional practices for artists, but we rarely feel as though we are in positions to hold the institutions that we work with accountable. Few artists have the nerve to press the issue if a gallery refuses to use a contract, much less the leverage to collect debts punctually.

It’s been said that trying to organize an art show is like herding cats. The takeaway is that artists are too independent and flaky to organize. But you could say the same thing about freelancers, whose ranges of professional experiences and industries are equally disparate. The GAG doesn’t assume it will standardize the industry, nevertheless the Handbook provides landmarks for individuals navigating shifting seas and a bit of leverage in client negotiations.

A similar ethical guidelines handbook for artists would help individuals see the bigger picture. We’d feel more invested in the collective good of artists. We wouldn’t let our fear of being seen as temperamental stop us from advocating for being treated with respect and professionalism. We’d see ourselves as partners with agency, rather than lucky souls at the mercy of powerful institutions. We’d see developing these professional relationships not as acts of provocation, but as steps for setting up the conditions for shared successes.

Bargaining

There are, of course, options for collective bargaining. The art workers at the SFMOMA are represented by the Office & Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 3. Unfortunately, some arts institutions are more challenging to unionize than others. A lot of preparators are on-call temporary workers who haven’t got the benefits of salaried employment nor the pull of freelance wages to afford much leverage in when and where to work. (One alternative for itinerant preparators is to join the Freelancers Union, though the nascent organization focuses on insurance provision, and is largely based in New York.)

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