Help Desk

Help Desk: Support for Artists

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I espouse fair labor initiatives like W.A.G.E. to pay artists.[1] However, my own projects are often un- or under-funded; if a stipend covers a significant portion of my expenses, that seems like a success, even if I take a loss on my own time and labor. As a consequence, I’m unable to pay myself, much less collaborators, contributors, or volunteers. In return, I try to offer sincere thanks and credit lines, as well as social media links. First, how do I navigate this paradox? Am I being a hypocrite? What more could I do to support fellow artists? How will I know if I am taking artists’ energy in exchange for an exploitative promise of “exposure”?

Sigmar Polke. Untitled, 1971. Paint on fabric.

Sigmar Polke. $-Bild, 1971; paint on fabric.

Nearly every artist I know navigates this ambiguous and complex territory in some way or another. The paradox you experience operates on a tacit, institutionalized presumption—that artists’ work is a “labor of love” and consequently our primary goal is to have that work “exposed” to the world. This logic dictates the primary model of success and failure within the art world (cf. Melanie Gillman’s “If Other Professions Were Paid Like Artists”). It also plays into the affective conditions of being an artist, namely that a legitimate artist should have an obsessive impulse to create that suppresses all other drives (including the ones to pay rent and eat); ergo, if you care about compensation, you must not be a real artist.

To combat conventional thinking, you must advocate for yourself at every opportunity. To start, each time you are offered a gig that doesn’t mention payment up front, you can ask, “Is there a stipend?” Importantly, the act of asking raises awareness of the problem. You can take this further: “Thanks for inviting me to be part of this exhibition. As you may know, I work with collaborators. Is there room in the budget to compensate them for their time and labor?” The answer may be “no,” but you’ll have shined a light on a dark and oft-unspoken issue.

Since you mention W.A.G.E., I thought it would be best to get some expert advice from the source. I connected with Lise Soskolne, an artist and core organizer of W.A.G.E., to see what she would say about your question. But before I move on to her thoughts, I want to point out that an uncompensated exchange can still be ethical. I acknowledge the irony of asking another arts worker to contribute her time and energy to this column for free and, in fact, should note that in the three years that I’ve been writing “Help Desk,” I’ve never paid a contributor for a quote (likewise, no one has ever asked for a stipend). Like you, I offer my gratitude; obvious credit in the column text; and, links, tags, and write-ups on social media. And similarly to arts work, writing an advice column isn’t famous for being a path to considerable profit, but I’m willing to put in my time and labor because I sincerely want to help artists and the art community, and I suspect that the contributors have felt the same. As Soskolne herself notes below, “that is part of how solidarity and community are built within the field.”

Read More »

Share

Mexico City

Verónica Bapé and José Porras: Filtros at Diagrama

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. For the next four Sundays, our Shotgun Reviews will come from the finalists for the Daily Serving/Kadist Art Foundation Writing Fellowship in Mexico City. In today’s edition, author Marisol Rodríguez reviews the work of Verónica Bapé and José Porras at Diagrama in Mexico City.

VeronicaBape

Verónica Bapé. Investigación del color sobre el retrato (Investigation of color over portrait), 2015 (detail); oil on wood, acrylic paint, acrylic sheets, and wood; 78 x 248 in. Courtesy of Verónica Bapé and Diagrama. Photo: Andrea Martínez.

In Filtros (Filters), Diagrama presents the work of Verónica Bapé and José Porras, two young Mexican artists whose take on painting and sculpture is one of formal deconstruction and a refreshing detachment from local historicity. Traditionally, Mexican painting is difficult to separate from the monumentality of the muralists, an influential all-male group of militant painters consolidated in the 1920s. Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, “The Big Three,” not only created a didactic and distinctively Mexican form of representation, they also provided the country with an ideology that turned their art into an institution, thus dividing the 20th-century local art world into followers and angry detractors.[1]

Far from past and present parochial feuds, the characteristics defining Bapé’s work come from 19th-century Romanticism and its scientific approach to color. In Investigation of Color over Portrait (2015), Bapé works from a found black-and-white picture to create a small color painting punctuated by warm tones. The canvas is then divided, the side containing the most defining features of the face detached and replaced with evocative rectangles of colored acrylic. The work is a delicate physical transaction between representation and abstraction; it hovers between expression and an ultimate detachment that favors rationalization over straightforward emotion.

Read More »

Share

San Francisco

Doug Hall: The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described at SFAI

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of Doug Hall’s The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described, currently on view at the Walter and McBean Galleries of the San Francisco Art Institute. Author Maria Porges notes: “Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Hall’s seminal work is its quality of timelessness.” This article was originally published on May 21, 2015.

Doug Hall. The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described, 1987; video still, San Francisco Art Institute, Walter and McBean Galleries. Collection of SFMOMA, purchased through a gift of the Modern Art Council and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. © Doug Hall. Photo: Gregory Goode.

Doug Hall. The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described, 1987; video still, San Francisco Art Institute, Walter and McBean Galleries. Collection of SFMOMA, purchased through a gift of the Modern Art Council and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. © Doug Hall. Photo: Gregory Goode.

In 1989, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) acquired The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described (1987), a large-scale installation work by Bay Area artist Doug Hall, known internationally for his work in a range of media. Combining multiple video images and projections with sculptural objects—a massive, tilted barrier of steel mesh and two oversize steel chairs periodically enlivened with spectacular arcs of electricity, courtesy of a real Tesla coil—the piece was shown at the museum’s old home in the Veteran’s Memorial Building that year.

Since the opening of the SFMOMA’s Mario Botta–designed building in 1995, however, the piece has been unseen here in the Bay Area. Rumors suggested that the high voltage generated by the coil could not be accommodated by the complicated electrical/HVAC systems of the new building. Whatever the reason, SFMOMA’s closure for expansion in 2013 has allowed for programming at other institutions around town (“SFMOMA on the Go”), creating an opportunity for the current co-presentation of Hall’s piece at the San Francisco Art Institute’s McBean Gallery.

It is worth an extended visit. Until eyes become accustomed to the gloom of the darkened gallery, the most visible element is the six monitors perched on 8-foot-tall stands along the left wall, each hosting a continual program of video, which can also be seen in a large projection on the adjoining wall, above the entrance. Consisting of three channels, the twenty-minute-long loop spreads across these seven screens. Sometimes the same scene plays on two or three monitors, sometimes not, as the piece progresses through a sequence of sections that suggest the movements of a musical composition. Dawn on a farm’s fields, the sky filled with black-and-white static, segues into multiple tornadoes. Surging masses of ocean waves and massive waterfalls fade into wildfire, then boiling clouds of smoke. The clouds shift and reveal a blast furnace or maybe a foundry, where glowing ingots slide by in slow motion and giant machines move on gantries in showers of sparks.

Read the full article here.

Share

London

Tutti Frutti at Turps Gallery

Painting is to art as royalty is to democracy; it defensively justifies its own significance while continuing to hold court. There are many reasons why painting continues in this coveted pretense, but perhaps it can be mainly attributed to the limitations of its purpose. Any painter knows that the enchantment of painting lies in its classification. No matter how far the medium is pushed, as long as it can be called a painting it will never not be art. It cannot be mistaken for something utilitarian, like a urinal. In an age where context changes intent, painting remains singular in function—and the result is a lot of group shows on painting.

Carla Busuttil. It Ended in Houghton, 2015; oil on canvas; 40 x 30 cm (15.75 x 11.81 in). Courtesy of the Artist and Turps Gallery, London. Photo: Adam Rompel

Carla Busuttil. It Ended in Houghton, 2015; oil on canvas; 40 x 30 cm. (15.75 x 11.81 in). Courtesy of the Artist and Turps Gallery, London. Photo: Adam Rompel.

Painting’s supposed crisis of relevance does not come from the medium itself, but emanates from its practitioners. Painters assume the right to make a piece that can be nothing but an artwork, and the resulting privileged angst could be defined as Painter’s Guilt. The easy way forward is to be unapologetic about it, and this is what Turps Gallery in South East London has done. Birthed from the defunct The Lion and The Lamb Gallery and with the help of the painting magazine Turps Banana, the gallery is the next incarnation of a space devoted exclusively to painting. Tutti Frutti is its inaugural show and brings together a collection of work from fourteen artists. Former Lion & Lamb directors Katrina Blannin, Juan Bolivar, and Caterina Lewis selected the artists and asked each to choose a work to be shown; the only restriction was that it be a painting. In a conversation at the gallery, Ms. Lewis stressed that the show is not curated but organized. As the artists were chosen for what they are stylistically doing in the field, the directors were left to hash out the hang until they were satisfied with the results.

Read More »

Share

New York

William Larson: Fireflies at Gitterman Gallery

The constant stream of digital information traveling around us over wires and airways is an increasingly recognized phenomenon. Over the past two decades, many artists have begun exploring the seemingly limitless possibilities of digital communication. However, long before the integration of once-mysterious electronic media into the art world in the 1990s, William Larson used a Graphic Sciences DEX 1 Teleprinter to produce some of the earliest digitally generated artworks, in his series Fireflies (1969–78). The DEX 1—a sophisticated predecessor to the fax machine of the 1970s and the computer technology developed in the 1980s—allowed Larson to translate sound (music and voice), text, and photographic elements into electronic signals that were then transmitted over a telephone line and burned into carbon paper by the device’s stylus, rendering what he calls a high-definition “electronic drawing.” Each unique, grayscale print combines graphic marks and photo collage to produce a visual stutter of image, text, and line; like a cross-section of a hurricane, Larson’s work highlights possible instants in the continuum of images electronically whirling around us everyday.

William Larson. Untitled, c. 1969–78; electro-carbon print; 11 x 8 ½ in. © William Larson. Courtesy Gitterman Gallery.

William Larson. Untitled, c. 1969–78; electro-carbon print; 11 x 8 ½ in. © William Larson. Courtesy of Gitterman Gallery.

Strongly influenced by László Moholy-Nagy and Constructivist collages from the early 20th century, Larson treats both image and text as decontextualized signs. While their original denotations cannot be ignored—body parts, plants, clouds, and lettering remain recognizable—the combination of these references in the untitled compositions become a garbled visual language that speaks as if in tongues to our cultural understanding of what images signify. In one print, negatives of faces become floating black masks while the majority of a nude male torso and legs hang from the top edge, and a man with a black bar over his eyes is positioned at the bottom edge next to a corner of clouds. Scraps of words form uneven horizons; the legible sections read, “documented medical evidence indicates that’s exactly what,” “Noo,” “see,” and “does.” A viewer’s natural impulse to decode these fractured messages echoes the sensation of trying to recall a disintegrating memory; it feels like there must be a relationship between the elements, but the points are too far apart to make any real connection.

Read More »

Share

San Francisco

Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975–2015 at Fraenkel Gallery

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Brian Karl’s review of Richard Misrach: Being(s) 1975–2015 at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. Karl notes: “Misrach’s technical and compositional treatments produce a distancing effect that imbues the human figures with a kind of impotence.” This article was originally published on May 19, 2015.

Richard Misrach. Kodak, Donna, Debra, Jake, Oregon Coast, 1984; pigment print; 61 1/2 x 76 1/2 in. © Richard Misrach. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Richard Misrach. Kodak, Donna, Debra, Jake, Oregon Coast, 1984; pigment print; 61 1/2 x 76 1/2 in. © Richard Misrach. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

This Fraenkel Gallery survey of more than thirty years of Richard Misrach’s photography primarily features small, isolated human figures in larger land- or seascapes. In much of the artist’s most famous work (not included here), for example Cancer Alley (1998) and Desert Cantos (1981–2001), human presence is indicated through occasional signs of intervention: tire tracks, contrails, an abandoned-looking building. By contrast, in Being(s) 1975–2015, the presence of humanity is marked by actual human bodies. Ultimately, however, the vastness of the natural expanses (large bodies of water, parklands, deserts) and the conditions of weather (wind, tide, clouds) relentlessly prevail, overwhelming the tiny, tenuously balanced figures.

The prints are mostly large-scale, and some, such as the nearly twelve-foot-long Playas de Tijuana #1 (Crowded Beach), San Diego, California (2013), are vast. A couple, including IPS #0134 (2011) and Untitled (Silver Reverse) (2002), are more modest in dimension, barely more than twelve inches high or wide. Many of the works were shot years ago and only recently printed for this show. Misrach has left visible frame-number marks from the decades-old film in some prints to highlight the shift in photographic tools and techniques from analog to (increasingly) digital.

Read the full article here.

Share

New Orleans

Amer Kobaslija at Arthur Roger Gallery

In his 1971 essay “The Function of the Studio,” conceptual artist Daniel Buren defined the artist’s studio as a metadiscourse of “frames, envelopes, and limits” imposed upon the working artist in the age of advanced capitalism.[1] Claiming that this privileged space had become nothing more than an “ossified custom”—a “commercial depot” for curators and dealers to ship works out into the world (and thus detach the artwork from the conditions of production and site of creation)—Buren stated that artists could only resist the domestication of their work by preserving it within their studios forever (like Constantin Brancusi) or abandoning the four walls of the studio altogether for a life of art making away from institutional repression and commodification.

Amer Kobaslija. Sputnik Sweetheart of New Orleans and the End of the World. 2007. Oil on two panels. 85 x 124 ¼ in.

Amer Kobaslija. Sputnik Sweetheart of New Orleans and the End of the World, 2007; oil on two panels; 85 x 124 ¼ in.

Buren’s provocation turns on the idealized notion of the modern atelier, described famously by Honoré de Balzac in his 1831 Romantic tale of artistic failure, “The Unknown Masterpiece.”[2] Setting the story in a cramped, skylit room cluttered with the detritus of an artist’s struggles—the idealized working environment for the solitary male genius of 19th-century literature and art—Balzac dramatized the central dilemma of the studio as both a mental and physical space that encloses the corporeal and psychic “energy essential to art’s existence.”[3] Thus, Buren’s desire to reconnect the studio with social life seems to fall in line with our current era of “post-internet artistry,” where nomadic career paths, collaborative practices, work-from-home jobs, and overnight internet art stars are the norm, and notions of passive aesthetic contemplation and private retreat are interpreted as oppressive and old-fashioned.

A quick trip to any café exposes the ominous cloud that hangs over Buren’s call for a “post-studio” age, as Starbucks and pay-as-you-go office space evolves into the new office for artists, students, and creative professionals clicking away on their laptops. Yet the mythology of the sacred atelier persists in our contemporary culture, as Amer Kobaslija’s current series of paintings at Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans indicates. Taking up the weighty legacy of the artist’s studio, Kobaslija’s work explores the studio as a concept, a locus of artistic identity, a space of sociability or private retreat, an alchemical universe of transformation, as well as a psychological construct.

Read More »

Share