Friday, September 21, 2012


Don’t be a dick.

That’s pretty straightforward.  One does not need to belabor the point.  It’s either your show or your artwork is part of a larger show, so be nice, be friendly, talk to people and don’t be a dick.  It’s simple!

Recently I was sent an ‘Artist Agreement’ (contract) to participate in the 2012 Houston Fine Arts Fair.  It contained standard boilerplate language that ensures the signer of the contract (me) will cover the ass of the Big Corporation that wrote the contract.  It was fairly typical except for this:

 If Artist elects to attend Exhibition, Artist shall contact [redacted] at least 15 (fifteen) days before Exhibition. A representative shall be in communication with the Artist. If you elect to attend, you agree that you shall dress and conduct yourself in a manner which is within the norms of a conservative art exhibition. You agree to abide by the code of conduct to be sent to you by [redacted]. You agree that if you violate any provision of this paragraph and/or the referenced code of conduct to immediately leave the premises of the Exhibition upon request. You acknowledge that failure to honor the request to leave may result in your being involuntarily removed from the premises. You agree to hold [redacted] and the Exhibition harmless from any liability resulting from such action arising out of Artist’s conduct violating this paragraph.

Seriously?  How to dress and behave is written into a contract?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  I emailed the contract-writers with this question:

I've never seen anything like this in a contract before.  Do you have a lot of problems with poorly dressed & misbehaving artists?  I assure you as a mature adult over the age of fifty, I do know how to comport myself & dress properly for any occasion.  Could you please send me the 'code of conduct' and the 'dress code' for this event?  Go ahead & have your representative contact me.  I had considered traveling to Houston for this but should I?  Is there any benefit to my presence there?  Does the gallery even want the artist present?  Please let me know if my presence in Houston would be beneficial or even wanted.

And this was the reply I received:

This is a standard clause included based on what we witnessed at some of the openings we        attended - both galleries and exhibitions, especially the ones which had open bars. It is business, not personal.

Artists are welcome to attend. It is up to you if you would like to. If it were a solo show, I would definitely encourage you to attend. Since this is a group show, it is different -- we have to be respectful to all 5 participating artists and cannot have one artist promoting his/her work at the  expense of the others. I hope you can appreciate it and can relate to it.

There’s a whole lot wrong with both the contractual obligation and the answer to my question about it.  First of all, as a mature man of fifty-three years of age I really do know how to comport myself at an art show.  Secondly I am insulted; the last time I was lectured on what to wear and how to behave was when my Mommy was sending me off to Sunday school, and that was a very long time ago!  Thirdly, there are no ‘standards’ in the art business, so don’t try to sell me that ‘industry standards’ bullshit, this industry has no standards.  I’ve been in this business for over thirty years, believe me, if there were any standards, I’d of found them.  Fourth, it is personal!  Sure it’s ‘business’ but it’s ‘personal’ too.  You can’t tell someone how to dress and act without it being personal.  And no, I don’t appreciate it.  Sure, I can relate to the fact that you are afraid I might embarrass you but your contract has no clause preventing you from embarrassing me.  What if you act like a dick?  Can I have the ‘art-bouncer’ throw you out?  Ah, but here’s the tell:

                cannot have one artist promoting his/her work at the expense of the others…

That’s the real reason!  No, I won’t ‘step on the toes’ of the salespeople.  You don’t want me there.  I’m not attending.  Thanks for helping with the decision.

I had wanted to go to Houston and attend the Art Fair but now I’m afraid I might inadvertently piss someone off.  I was looking for an excuse to go to Houston for some positive reason and this Art Fair was a positive reason but ‘behavior rider’ of the contract kind of pissed on my parade.  Not that I’d planned on misbehaving, I just don’t need a lecture in the contract about how to behave.  The gallery really does not want me there.  This isn’t all that unusual.  They seem to be enthusiastic about my work, but not so enthusiastic about me.  And again, this is not unusual.  They are afraid that I might somehow screw up their ability to make money off my artworks that I paid them to exhibit. 

I guess I’ll save the expenses of a third trip to Houston in one year.  I’d gone to Houston to attend my Mother’s funeral last month, and my Father’s six months ago; hence the ‘positive reason’ for a trip to Houston.  But they want the art sans artist.

I ought to just go on my own.  Pose as a buyer.  I should show up at their booth and get all excited about Dale O’Dell’s art.  I should act like I’m going to buy.  I should ask them, ‘is the artist present?’ and then get all bummed out and walk away when they say ‘no.’  That could be fun! 

Or maybe I’ll call up an old friend in Houston and ask him to attend ---just to check out my gallery and make sure they’re behaving themselves. 

I suppose if I were a Big Sports Star with a twenty million dollar a year contract, then a ‘morals clause’ would be appropriate.  But this ain’t no multimillion dollar sports contract; in fact I paid them a fee just to look at my artworks, and I’ll pay a percentage back to them if anything sells.  They really have no right to tell me how to act.  They should trust that I won’t embarrass them or, more importantly, myself.

Oh well, like I wrote, I have been in this business for over thirty years, so I’ve seen a lot of stupid contracts; I won’t even get into the one that began, ‘…agrees to be your exclusive representative throughout the universe…’

How about I write into the contract that the gallery has to behave ‘properly’ just the same as me?  What’s good for one is good for the other, right?  No?  Really?  Why is that?  Oh right, you wrote the contract.

How ‘bout you people just sell my artwork?  And behave yourselves even if it’s not contractually mandated.  Meanwhile I’ll be in my studio behaving myself.

I participated in the Houston Fine Arts Fair as a part of “New Emerging Artists” and the Art-Variant Gallery in Chicago.  It didn’t work out for me & I won’t work with these folks again  ---I’ll tell you more in my next blog!

Monday, September 10, 2012


On Saturday September 8th I finally did a photography ‘portfolio review’ at the MEDIUM photography festival in San Diego.  MEDIUM is a new festival and this was their first year.  The festival was well-organized and efficiently run and although I only participated in the portfolio review, the overall experience was positive.

Perhaps I’d been a little too cynical about this but having low-to-no expectations meant my expectations were easily exceeded.  Everyone was friendly and cordial and no one was overtly negative.

I met with two museum curators, one gallerist and one graphic designer.  The graphic designer was someone who was not on my list and I don’t know why they assigned me the guy.  I even told him when I sat down that I “didn’t have anything relevant to show, and if he wanted, we could just blow off the meeting” but he was interested in my works and we ended up having a very nice conversation.  When he said, “I need to find a client so I can use you” that was an honest compliment and I’m glad I kept the meeting.

I’d been assigned the graphic designer instead the gallerist I’d wanted to see.  The gallerist I didn’t meet was one of the people doing reviews at the MOPLA festival earlier in the year.   I’d sent a digital press kit to this gallerist after being rejected by MOPLA.  I don’t know if this person was avoiding me or if there was an actual scheduling conflict.  One seldom finds out just how these decisions are made.  But, as it turned out, the meeting with the graphic designer was positive.

One of the museum curators did fit my expectation of not knowing just how to relate to my work and not being able to explain exactly why.  She was nice, but not especially enthusiastic about my artworks.  I suspect my works were just too outside her ‘comfort zone.’  She didn’t really have much information to offer.

The other curator was a person I’d been trying to meet for over a year.  I’m glad I finally got to meet her.  Again, like the other curator, she was more interested in ‘traditional, straight photography’ but she was engaged with the work.  She noticed the subtle humor that infuses my work and appreciated it.  She also provided some ‘outside the box’ information.  She told me that the museums and high-end galleries don’t really have an appreciation for humor and tend to reject it.  That was new and interesting news for me and is very useful.  She also provided good contact information for other alternative exhibition venues.  All in all it was a good meeting.

The gallerist I met was also positive and, although my work wasn’t right for her gallery (which is typical) she also provided a lot of good alternatives.  She responded especially positively to my new works-in-progress, Quantum Realism, and wants to see more in the future.  This is good!

So, all in all, it was a good experience.  Here are some of the things I learned:

·         It occurs to me that there are some times in one’s career that are better than others to have your work reviewed.  I probably waited too long to do this.  At this point in my career (35 years, so far) I know who I am and am comfortable with my own works.  I’m not ‘seeking’ and I’m not going to change what I do at this point in my life.  My work reflects who I am and I cannot be someone other than me.  I also think that having your work reviewed too early in one’s career isn’t especially beneficial as the ‘experts’ information might be confusing to a young artist.  It seems to me that the best time for a review is early/mid career.  Too soon and you risk being overwhelmed, too late and the information you receive has diminishing returns.  Work for a decade, get yourself somewhat established and then go for a portfolio review.

·         I asked all four reviewers if my work ‘is photography.’  The graphic designer said he didn’t care; the work was cool, which is how I like people to respond!  The other three declared my work as ‘definitely photography.’  I still disagree but it looks like ‘the system’ wants to put me in the ‘photography-box’ anyway.  I suspect there are a couple of reasons for this.  One is this was a photography review so all the reviewers are naturally inclined to view things in photographic terms.  When I mentioned influences from outside the photography medium they were out of their element.  This speaks to the insular and self-referencing nature of photography that I’ve written about before.  The other reason I’m lumped-in with photography is because ‘digital’ is closely tied to photography and it’s such a new medium that doesn’t have its own history and therefore is more easily considered to be ‘photography.’  I mentioned to one curator that I felt that ‘photography’ is a term that is descriptive and the viewer has a certain expectation.  My works violate one’s expectation of what a photograph is supposed to look like and my use of the term ‘photo-digital’ is more honest.  She seemed to ‘get’ where I was coming from, but still said my works were ‘photographs.’  I’d like to discuss this in a more in-depth context with other ‘experts’ because it’s them and not me that will determine future definitions of what’s a photograph and what’s ‘digital art.’  I still think ‘digital’ will eventually be declared a separate medium and I still don’t consider myself a ‘photographer’ any more.

·         I told the gallerist:  “I want to work with galleries that are as enthusiastic about selling art as I am creating it.”  She got that.  I suspect the gallerists that do these portfolio reviews are more serious than the ones who don’t.  That means these are the folks you want to exhibit your works.

·         Having a lot of shows is good.  Having shows in prestigious galleries are even better.  Apparently I’m at a point where it’s more important where I show than if I show.  The cliché it’s who you know remains true.  I guess now I’ve got to figure out who’s important and convince them to exhibit my works.

·         One portfolio review session is probably enough, unless you want to meet someone specific.

OK, now I’ve done it and got it out of my system.  I don’t think I need to do another one.  These things are supposed to be good for ‘networking,’ something that never seems to work for me.  I intend to follow-up with all four reviewers but I don’t expect anything beyond.  Maybe it’ll be different this time (like I said last time).

The only “Wow” I got came from another photographer.

September 10, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Photoshop World & the Medium Festival of Photography

I’m off to the annual PhotoShop World expo in Las Vegas later this week.  I attend this expo every year to see the new hardware & software.  Last year’s show wasn’t so good; fewer vendors & everyone there seemed rather surly.  I hope there are more vendors this year & everyone’s in a good mood.  I hope the manufacturer representatives have some product knowledge this year.

I’ll post a report here in two weeks.

Immediately after PhotoShop World I’ll be heading to San Diego for one day at the Medium Festival of Photography.  On Saturday September 8 I’ll be participating in four portfolio reviews (see the blog that precedes this one for more info.).  This will be my first (and perhaps only) ‘portfolio review.’

I have mixed feelings about the portfolio reviews but feel I must do this since I’ve never done one, even after being in business for 30+ years.  I’m not sure if ‘photography’ curators are the right people to be reviewing my works.

I’ll make a prediction now; I’ll follow up in two weeks & see if my prediction comes true.  I predict:
·         Only one of four reviewers will respond positively.
·         The other three reviewers won’t care for my work, but won’t be able to articulate exactly why.
·         They say these reviews are good places to ‘network’ and ‘make connections’ but based on the past, I doubt anything of much use will come from it.

I’ve earned my cynicism; I’ll let you know how it goes.

September 3, 2012