By Claire Molek
I’ve been brainstorming, talking with colleagues, reading and mapping out some thoughts for a while, but at this point the whole thing seems like common sense. It amazes me that the industry works within a completely outdated structure that isn’t empowering for most artists. Regardless, I think we’re strong and brave and open enough to start making these changes in Chicago—there’s a massive potential for change here.
1. Get polyamorous. Exclusive dealers are a phenomena of the past. Wouldn’t you rather have ten people selling your work than one person? We’re seeing more and more diverse platforms emerge for artists to establish market value, and it is both the rep’s and the artist’s responsibility to take advantage of every platform that he or she feels is in alignment with their work. Those platforms include partnerships with both non-art and art-centric cultural production houses and events, musicians, filmmakers, theater productions, private and civic projects, civic services such as DOSE Market and online marketplaces. If the majority of artists maintain this mode of operation, everyone at the top is going to have to start having a little bit more fun, doing a little bit more research, a little bit more work, and get a little bit more friendly. At first we’re going to make a ton of dealers really unhappy. But soon they’ll understand that they are there to serve artists; not their 401ks and their collectors.
2. Shout-outs. Once you make strategic partnerships, publicly acknowledge them! That’s right, be clear and transparent about who you’re working with and who you respect, and then dole out some public cred. Don’t get me wrong, a little competition never hurt anyone, and it’s likely going to keep all of us moving at a much faster and smarter pace. But you really can’t do it alone, and it’s better for you, too, to work well with others, and be proud of who you’re working with.
3. Stop working for “exposure” at the count of three. One, two, three. Okay, now when I ask you if you will lend your work to a “prominent” space, say it with me: Show me the money, or show me the advertising plan, or what can you do for me in return? If you don’t care about being properly acknowledged for what you’re making you need to get back to the studio and keep working until you’ve made something that you value. This notion includes donating to auctions. Why would a collector buy work from you if they could look really important in front of all their friends and get dressed up to buy it at half price? In lieu of donating a piece, offer a private studio visit, or a walk-through a museum with the donor. If you really want to donate, make sure the price is right.
4. Demand that the artists or their estates receive at least 10 percent of every second-market sale. And third- and fourth- and fifth-market sales. This is a simple contract; it can be written by you or any decent lawyer. Once a work is at auction or in the process of being resold, it’s generally being resold for a much higher price—sounds good, right? Well, sure, sometimes flipping can be great for an artist, but other times it ruins everything that the artist has worked for. I’d say more often than not, the buyer isn’t flipping it for you, and they’re flipping it prematurely to boost the value or prominence of their collection. Remember that value grows over time. It should be completely up to the artist to acknowledge and agree that said artist is ready for auction.
5. Throw out International Art English. In other words, start speaking like a human who acknowledges that not everyone is a linguist or reads Artforum. That means being cool with explaining why a price is set at a certain number and kindly explaining the work, with unassuming sentence structures and basic words both on the wall and in the essay and interpersonally. Frankly, if it needs that much explanation, the work is probably not yet worth anyone’s time. Don’t get me wrong, I dig incomprehensible work, I dig complicated conceptualism. But the way to present that is not by making people feel inadequate.
6. Make all museums free all the time. And up their advertising budgets while we’re at it. Listen, I understand this is a tall order, and everyone I’ve spoken to about this agrees but starts making excuses for these invaluable cultural institutions. My mentor is an all-star development director and the first thing he taught me was that there is Always A Solution. Find it. I’m not going to bother explaining why this is important.
7. Lastly, have fun, keep learning, and believe in yourself—seriously! If you’re constantly exhausted, stressed and upset then you’ve become a part of the problem and your work is going to take that hit. If you don’t believe you can do it you probably can’t. I hear so many complaints about the nature of the art world, and I’ve certainly done my fair share of complaining, and it’s definitely not easy to be a part of it, but at some point it’s time to take responsibility and positively embrace the privilege that is being able to contribute to the cultural landscape. How the art world works depends on how we work. I want the art world to serve artists. Don’t you?