An old friend calls, he's in Scottsdale, "I'm having a solo show here, would you mind if I visited you in Santa Fe for a couple of days?" This guy and I have known each other through a mutual friend in NYC for about fifteen years now, we partied together and worked on several pubic art installations as part of a team. Even though we knew each other for a long time, I was never particularly drawn to him, except in the beginning, and then I got to know him very well.
It turned out that he is the type of artist that intends to break the system, you know go straight to the top, while burning bridges all along the way. As a performance piece it might work, maybe not. In the art world, definitely not, we've got to pay our dues and it can be years before any kind of recognition is bestowed upon us and our work. While this man, my age, has been prolific and is genuinely talented, there is always something that derails his ambition.
He was out of the city for a while when I was still living there, off to finally get a solo show somewhere in the Middle East, a grand exhibition that would incorporate a huge installation along with his paintings, a really terrific idea and it was executed with finesse, never any doubt about that, but something went wrong. There was conflict and lots of it, his expectations being gargantuan I sincerely doubt that they could have been met unless somehow he magically appeared on the cover of artforum.
Well that is about the time that we started corresponding via email and facebook, with that distance between us I could drop in and out of conversation, offer some level headed advice, I was a gallery director in the city and had a way with calming artists during their solo shows. While the opportunity is fantastic I think that for the most part nearly every artist that I dealt with lost their minds just a little during the process, that's cool, understandable. We are putting ourselves out there, butt naked and maybe just looking for some respect, sales and credibility.
For one's first solo, or even second or third, things may not always go as planned. A gallery represents a roster of artists, certainly they will focus on the exhibiting artist, but there is still the others to deal with, along with maintaining the gallery's reputation, the amount of work the dealer must undertake, the cost to them, and various outside factors, the economy, the competition, and again honing the relationship with the artist on hand. There is no clear single force at work, all the cards played add up to what one has been dealt.
So this fellow has a couple of other shows, and somehow they all end up being disasters, what is the missing part of this equation? Still we stay in touch and when I leave New York we continue our electronic exchange. I have always been the type of guy who would never turn anyone away, so I say sure come stay in Santa Fe for a few days. Turns out we have a wonderful visit and soon my friend is back on his way to Arizona to wrap up his show then return to the East Coast afterwards.
I went to Las Vegas then to visit with family, while there I get a call from my artist friend in Scottsdale, everything has blown up, the gallery owner spits in his face, bad bad bad. Sure you can return to Santa Fe and stay at my place till you get your bearings, I'll be back in a week. I return and he is settled in, certainly not uncharacteristic, he's done it before, and while being so broke I almost looked at it like a status symbol in a weird way, that being that most of my friends can take someone in and would gladly.
This artist friend becomes enchanted by Santa Fe, happens all the time, but he doesn't like the way things are run and he is going to change everything and rise quickly. I am a professional schmoozer, have been negotiating within the art world since the early 90s and believe me it doesn't happen like that here and it doesn't happen like that anywhere especially if one is flat broke and does not have any social connections. He grows frustrated and manic, I begin to lose my patience, one week turns to two.
In his effort to conquer Santa Fe he ventures out with a bag of paintings in tow to show the neighboring galleries. At first he sweet talks them, then when they say they don't have time to view work he storms out shouting. There are guidelines and protocol in place, sweet talking a gallery is fine, but they are busy folks and even though their job is always to be on the lookout for a new artist, just dropping in and demanding that they see your work is most likely a sure fire way of never being shown in that gallery, ever. Smooth talk the gallery, be prepared to share a good website and wait for a studio visit.
We as artists surely can sell out of our studios, we don't necessarily need the gallery system to be productive or find buyers, but if one wants to work in the business there are just some things that always need to be kept in mind. The gallery is a business, a contemporary re-working of a very old system, one that has evolved with the times and there is a way of obtaining representation, but one must certainly be aware and not ruin the opportunity.
So my friend finally left, not before making me feel like an insane landlord and causing quite a ruckus that left a pall on my place. I have no regrets and I surely will take someone in again, but not this guy, not right now or in the near future.
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