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Friday, August 29, 2014

FNB JHB Art Fair 2015 - (Nearly) Knocked out by Norman Catherine

Gallery owners and curators seek artists who are “coy, cool or beating up someone in a bar,” according to the book on the work of artist Harriet Burden by Siri Hustveldt. There was plenty of each variety at the JHB Art Fair.

Zulu Lulus (winky dolls) by Ann Gadd and other work on the DTi stand

As for the work itself, some imported, important names - Hirst and Dine for example and some local greats such as Norman Catherine and William Kentridge, there in person on opening night, to sign his new book.

Top selling work (that I could see, as some prices were marked POA) was a Robert Hodgkins’ painting that sold for a respectable R800 000.

Its 16:00 Thursday. Five minutes before the ‘pre’ preview for only the most distinguished of guests. (The other lesser distinguished guests, only get let in at 18:30.) Tension hovers in the air, as last minute hanging and is happening. The electricity of large sums of money about to exchange hands pervades the air. Investors move quickly around the Sandton Convention Centre, staking their artistic claims, whilst out of their partitioned pop-up "galleries," curators and gallery owners are hovering and swaying like eels out of their caves, waiting to snap up a collector. 

Plastic smiles and plastic cards are exchanged. Complimentary champagne, wine and beer flow as easily as the cash does. Everyone is drinking, but no-one appears drunk.

There is entertainment too, in the form of art performances. You can arm wrestle with an artist or you can watch four naked people - two men and two women, pressing on opposite sides of a piece of glass, attempting not to let it fall. (The crowds on the weekend, only get a man in an orange work suit pulling a cart of broken dolls behind him with what resembles part of his entrails and a couple with gold pointed masks.)

This is an art fair and it’s more about selling than art. Stories swirl around the vast hall of sales made and collectors gained. The air is toxic with ego and alcohol, (sipped with feigned casualness in glasses that never empty.)

School children arrive on day one, scaring away serious collectors and filling the hall with giggles at some of more revealing work and having plans to seduce the equivalent talent moving around the floor, rather than adorning the walls. They annoy the galleries by taking the brochures and business cards, placed there for more well-heeled visitors.

Photography is the order of the day. People take photos of everything. Gone are the days of the modest "no photography" signs. Cameras flash, i-phones click - names, paintings, people, sculptures... nothing is sacred. Soon blogs will be uploaded, Twitter will tweet like the dawn chorus and Facebook will reveal the wild and the witty.

Critics stroll through the maze looking suitably bored by it all. Which star to brighten, which one to vent at and which to fade? Yawn. Seen it, wrote about it.

By day four, I have studied every piece of artwork closely (and then even more closely again). I have watched Kentridge’s latest video piece five times, listened to talks and ogled a War Horse horse. I am acquainted with each flavor of ice-cream available (dulce de leche is my confirmed favorite) but its finished by the final day.

Now there is the unenviable task of taking pieces off the wall that haven't sold. I am carrying my two paintings, (painful proof that I'm not as good an artist as I'd like to be, although I did enjoy some success), to the back area to pack them. I pause momentarily to allow two other artists to pass. A fraction of a second later an enormous (2m+) Norman Catherine glass framed print comes crashing down right in front of me. Someone on the other side of the partition had moved it causing the print to fall over. Seconds later and it would have shattered on my head.
 I have narrowly escaped death by art.

Painting by Ilana Seati

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pop-up Galleries

What would you do if you were invited to fly to the opposite end of the world to particiapte in several pop-up painting events staying with people you barely knew?
You would be required to pay for your flights, the rest of expenses would be paid for by the organisers.
This was the opportunity I received.
Wasn't sure what to do as it fell into the busiest time of the year for me. I had no idea what to expect, yet there is a part of me that enjoys the concept of bringing art to the people, rather than expecting people to find the art.
So I agreed.
Was a different experience painting under public scrutiny, rather than the quiet confines of my studio. I had to learn to accept interruptions and technical difficulties such as that paint takes a lot longer to dry in the chilly winter of Belfast rather than the hot summer of Cape Town. I had to be careful not to drop paint all over the place as I'm inclined to do. I learnt to paint in badly lit areas. Good news was I even sipped champagne, something I'd never do in my studio.I learnt how to paint even when I did not feel too much like it, whereas at home I'd find something to divert my attention. So, the process of painting live in public shot me way out of my comfort zone.
Good news was I made some great friends - the Irish are a great bunch of people and at last count had sold 20 paintings so I clearly made the right decision. So think about it yourselves maybe its time the art came to the people and not the other way round!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Swapping your paintings or art with galleries?

A gallery buys a body of your work. Several years later there are a few pieces which remain unsold. The gallery decides they want new fresh art or in my case, paintings. However, during this time your work has increased in price, so your paintings are now worth more. Do you do a direct swap or do you ask for the difference in price between what you sold them the original work for, and the new work? I tried the first approach and the gallery went ballistic. What's your view?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Not made in China!

At a recent show I met a great couple who were wearing these T-shirts whilst selling their locally made wall-hangings. Chatting to galleries as well, it seems like cheap Eastern imports are posing a real threat to certain sectors of the art market. When you can land a 'painting' here for less than the equivilant sized blank canvas would cost me, I get their point. I am tired of people taking photos of my work, in many cases to make prints of it no doubt. I caught a woman with a Hasselblad (seriously high-end camera) shooting images of my work the other day not, as she told me, because she "likes taking photographs" I'm sure. I've even had monks in orange robes snap away merrily, not to mention the endless i-phone snapping others. To add insult to injury overheard two woman walk into my stand and say: "these of course all are copied art from China."
Gallery owners report people coming to their galleries at night and shooting paintings through the windows no doubt to be send overseas and turned into cheap production line replicas, which no artist could hope to compete with price wise.
Point is if the practise continues, it could seriously affect creativitity - what's the point if every idea/style you have gets stolen from you and replicated in 1,000s before your paint has had time to dry? Most of the work I've seen is seriously bad 'decor' type work, so not giving me sleepless nights yet, but at the lower end of the market ie. for people wanting to break into the affordable art scene it could have a very negative effect.

The Good, the Bad and the extremely Ugly - ripp-off artists

Tales of artists being taken advantage of abound, as do stories of artist's work being copied. Here's a true example of both:
The Good: Take a quaint tourist town, a gallery owner and an artist. Things initially go well.
The Bad:Then the gallery owner starts stalling payments to the artist, his rent falls into arrears etc. Enter the sherrif of the court who seizes the gallery and its consigned contents. The artists are unable to retrieve their works, which get auctioned off to reimburse the landlord. Fleeing debt and disgrace, the gallery owner dissapears to a foreign country.
The Ugly: A few years later a new, flashy gallery opens in the same town, the owner (now bouyant it is said from family $$), being the self same badass. Only there is now a twist:- he is the artist as well as the gallery owner. His 'inspiration' none other than the artist whose work he had previously hung. This is not just 'similarity' but straight ripp-offs, however not being an artist, his lack of skill does embarrasingly come through to even the vaguely skilled eye. (Unfortunately it must be said vaguely skilled eyes are not always common in the general public.) The true artist does not have the funds to sue (as is the case with most artists), so our parasitic pal continues his practice. Given the art though, I doubt it will be for long - such people have a way of parting with their money.
As an aside, neither party is known personally to me, was just one of the worst cases of artistic abuse I've come across.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Getting conned out of cash - gallery scam

Here is an interesting scam from my pal Stephen regarding galleries and markups:
I made a little discovery which I would like to share with you, which you can then pass on. I am arithmetically challenged, as are many creative people, and I always assumed galleries weren't out to screw me. I was wrong. Apart from some of the other tricks art dealers pull, there is a subtle one that can slip by unnoticed, and it always leaves the artist out of pocket. The culprit is the mark up structure used by some galleries.
An artist in the fortunate position of being able to sell a work with immediate payment, has no concern about what happens to the work thereafter. The gallery can mark it up any way it any it likes. It can add on as much as 100% or as little as 2%, or even throw it on a bonfire.  The artist has been paid, end of story.
However, those poor souls who leave work on consignment are the ones at risk. The scam works like this:
The artist wants R1000 for his piece. The gallery agrees to carry it on consignment, and puts on a mark up of - for example - 30% This means the piece will now have a ticket price of R1300.

 Some time later, the piece is sold. The gallery claims it's 30% of the ticket price of R1300.  And here is where it goes a bit wobbly. 30% of R1300 is R390. Subtract the R390 from the ticket price of R1300, and the artist is getting only R910. Not the R1000 they were originally asking for. Some galleries do this through ignorance, some do it intentionally. It's easy to be caught. For purposes of my example, I used relatively small sums of money. But if the artist wants R10 000 for a piece, and the above flawed system is used with a mark up of say 60%, you get the followng result:


GALLERY 60% MARK UP = R6 000


 Then, when the piece is sold, it is incorrectly worked back as follows:


GALLERY 60% "MARK UP" = R9600



 The correct way to work the percentage back is as follows:


HOW GALLERY SHOULD WORK OUT 60% "MARK UP" : Ticket price R16 000 divided by 1.6


This is the same method used by SARS to calculate VAT
On top of this, the gallery might make all sorts of deals (10% off for cash to the gallery's client, for example) which my little brain simply can't even begin to work out. 
Have you experienced this? I have, and once I allowed myself to accept this kind of warped arithmetic, I couldn't escape the "bullying" tactics of the gallery.
Hope this is useful to you.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Galleries loaning art out

An artist called me the other day very distressed. Appears that she had got an email from a client who wanted to buy one of her works. She called the gallery who had the work on consignment, only to be told that the work was out on loan. It appears the gallery was hiring work out to clients who whether for financial reasons or variety did not want to actually buy the work. This is common in New Zealand for instance and should benefit all parties except for this galleries 'omission' to inform the artist (and part with some of their loan fee.) Fees for hiring to film sets in particular, can be considerable, so make sure that you inform your gallery (preferably in writing), that should they loan your work out you want to be informed as well as receive a say 50% portion of the fee.