Help Desk

HELP DESK: Not Enough/Too Much?

Welcome to HELP DESK, step into my office! Each week I’ll be answering your queries about making, finding, marketing, buying, selling—or any other activity related to—contemporary art. Together, we’ll sort through some of art’s thornier issues. Email helpdesk@dailyserving.com with your questions, or use a free anonymizer like Anonymouse.org to send an email to the same address. Comments are enabled, but be good or be gone! All submissions will be treated as anonymous and become the property of Daily Serving.

Your counselor, hard at work.

Some galleries provide artists with information on who is purchasing their artwork…others do not. What’s up with that? I feel like smaller galleries are super paranoid of artists selling out from under them while bigger more stable galleries offer full contact information to artists.

I’m not a gallerist, so I asked around to see if anyone could help me shed a little light on this subject. Catharine Clark, of Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, generously provided this information for me to share:

“We disclose the name of a collector to an artist when a sale is made. Often collectors and artists enjoy meeting one another, and we help to facilitate that when it’s possible. We disclose additional contact information when artists are in the process of determining what work can be available for a museum exhibit, for example, or if they ask for it because they want to write a thank you note or correspond in some way with the collector. Some collectors are very private, and the information about them is proprietary, so we evaluate each request as it is made and determine whether the use of the information will be respectful. We have had the unfortunate experience of the information being inappropriately shared and the collectors have then felt betrayed. Since we work on loan agreements with the museum registrars, collectors, and artists, usually it is at that point that all contact information becomes most transparent. We also maintain relationships with the collectors so that we are able to follow the whereabouts of work as people move or re-sell their collections.”

Nathan Lynch, Alternative Therapies, 2010. Found object, reclaimed fir

Of course, Catharine Clark Gallery is an established and highly professional operation. You might find a different set of standards at work with another, smaller or newer gallery. While I can’t speak to the “paranoia” of a gallery, I can offer some advice to artists just starting out: ask for a contract that specifically states that you need to be given collector information when a sale is made. I do believe that you have a right to know where your work is going.

I also want to stress that you don’t want to use collector information in an improper way. It would be indecorous and short-sighted to pester your collector, or to try to make a direct-from-studio sale next time and skip the gallery’s commission. If you’re represented, don’t ever ever do this; and if you’re not represented and the buyer connected with you through a gallery, then you owe the gallery a percentage of the sale anyway—unless you like bad blood and never want to show there again. But it’s not a bad idea to have at least basic collector information so that you can keep a spreadsheet on the whereabouts of your work. That way when PS1 offers you a retrospective and then makes you track down and then pick up all your own work—like they did to a certain unnamed young female artist recently—you can find it all. I also refer readers to Chapter 13, “Gallery Representation” of the excellent Art/Work by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, which goes into more detail about the ins and outs of working with galleries.

Kenneth Noland, Untitled (Target), 1963. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

I have large breasts. I recognize that this affords me some extra opportunities, considering most of the dealers I have worked with are straight men. I should add that I think my work is strong. Should I feel guilty about the advantages my sex appeal might grant me?

At first glance, your question seems rather straightforward: Can I use my boobs to get ahead? And the answer, of course, is yes, you can. But I worry about you, buxom lass, because I wonder what “extra opportunities” you’re talking about. Is this a euphemism for being shtupped on the casting couch or just an invitation to show at an art fair? If it’s the former, please do be careful, I’d hate to read a follow-up letter about a chesty misunderstanding. If it’s the latter, I’m not entirely convinced. Your assumption that large tatas give you an edge is a smidge dubious; how do you know it’s not just the power of your “strong” work? Because believe it or not, there are a lot of men out there for whom a pair of big knockers is a non-issue. It’s been forty years since Dow Corning first introduced breast implants to the market, so it’s not as if large breasts are hard to find these days, even in the art world.

Marina Abramovic, Balkan Erotic Epic, 2005. Still from video

Remember that a condition that is emphasized in the mind may not be such a big deal in reality. Consider this: you probably use your smile often. Your happy grin might possibly contribute to your sex appeal. When you smile at your dealers, do you consider the advantages of your teeth, which I’m guessing are clean(ish) and all still in your mouth? Do you feel guilty about using your lips and teeth? Probably not, but you have to admit that they are a physical advantage that others may not have. As ridiculous as that sounds, I want you to consider your breasts as just one more attribute, like shiny white teeth or your height or red hair, that may or may not have a bearing on your relative position in the world. Otherwise, I fear you run the risk of overestimating the advantage of your chest and underestimating the energy of your work.

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield

My final answer is this: you’re not going to feel guilty, Miss Balcony, because you’re going to continue to make good art and get it in front of the people who need to see it. If your breasts provide a pleasing place for a dealer’s eye to occasionally rest when taking a breather from goggling at your incredible work, so be it, as long as you’re comfortable with that. You may use this if you like, but I beg you not to believe, not for one minute, that this is the source of your power. You are an artist, not a stripper, and may you never mistake one profession for the other.

HELP DESK is sponsored in part by the generosity of KQED arts in San Francisco.

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