DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM
How does it come to pass that accomplished artists — both past and present — become largely overlooked?
The gauntlet through which artists must run in order to achieve recognition has not changed since the mid-nineteenth century. The stages on which artists have launched their careers have been art galleries, art centers, competitions, and the important annual and biennial exhibitions at museums. Without these venues and the concomitant exposure provided by the critics, an artist’s chances of being discovered and gaining lasting recognition in his or her lifetime are remote.
As art historians, we are intrigued and challenged: Why have certain artists been undeservedly overlooked? How many of them are there? What can we learn from them? Without doubt, the rediscovery (or completely new discovery) of such talent is the most exciting part of our mission.
In regard to artists active from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, one of the most common reasons for their disappearance is the destruction of large bodies of work. Disappointingly, our research too often finds that the artists’ works and letters have been lost to fire. Since the Civil War, it seems, a major fire has hit almost every city in the United States, and many artists’ studios were consumed: Portland, Maine, in 1866; Chicago, in 1871; Boston, in 1872; Milwaukee, in 1892; Minneapolis, in 1893; Baltimore, in 1904; San Francisco, in 1906 — the list goes on, well into the twentieth century.
During the Great Depression, in the 1930s, some artists were forced to change careers or at least to sublimate their artistic life to necessity. Despite the efforts of the federal WPA programs, many artists never fully recovered. Perhaps more of their works were stored away — or thrown out — during the Depression era than at any other time. The works of many European artists suffered for the same dire reasons.
While those special historical problems apply to earlier artists, certain problems are universal and transcend any period. The most common one occurs when artists die without having left a clear plan for preserving and promoting their life’s work. Their collections are often divided between immediate relatives, and those relatives often pass works down to their children. As a result, the collection is spread to the four winds. Worse, those relatives often hold opposing opinions about the inherent value of the works. With such differing viewpoints, it is often difficult to unite the disparate parts of the collection to present the fullest rediscovery exhibition. Thus, some artists’ contributions to art history remain buried forever.
Another problem is revealed by statistics and probability. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, in the United States alone there are more than 2 million full-time artists but the majority are commercial designers. The number of fine artists (painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers) is difficult to determine, but it seems likely to be closer to 500,000. That means that if every artist were to get a chance in the limelight, each of the country’s 7,000 galleries would have to represent at least 70 artists. However, the reality is that most galleries represent about 20 artists. That means that the great majority of artists won’t get effective representation.
Compounding these staggering statistics are a dozen other factors that that continue to complicate many artists’ careers. Some begin with great promise only to become victims of alcoholism or drugs. Still others are reclusive by nature, withdrawing altogether from the museum and gallery scene, if, in fact, they had ever been a part of it. Some are simply irascible characters, at odds with the world. Preferring to live their lives in seclusion, they choose not to exhibit their works. Still others are possessed of such wealth that they do not need — or want — to have their work promoted in galleries or in the important institutional exhibitions.
Finally, simply being a woman was (and can still be) a disadvantage. Before the 1930s, those disadvantages were greatly magnified. The National Academy and the system of juried exhibitions were clearly male-dominated bastions. It was not until the 1960s that the prestigious Prix de Rome for painting (first awarded in 1896) was finally given to a woman. During the 1970s, women came of age in the struggle against sexism in the art establishment and its attendant lack of exhibition opportunities. Then, in 1985, this issue was loudly exposed by the public protests of the Guerrilla Girls, whose secret members have remained vigilant. Since 2008, representation of women at the prestigious Whitney Biennial has improved significantly. Despite these gains, Jerry Saltz, the art critic for New York magazine, accused the Museum of Modern Art of “a form of gender-based apartheid” because only 4 percent of its permanent collection on display consists of works by women.” [Phoebe Hoban, “The Feminist Evolution,” ArtNews (December 2009): 87] Our feature, “Spotlight on Women” aims to further correct that inequity.
What follows is a series of questions and answers that best explain how we are committed to solving the problem of being overlooked or marginalized.
THE PROCESS FOR QUALIFYING
What does the term, “Late-Career Artist,” really mean? And, what about Mid-Career Artists? Emerging Artists?
Artists of any age can create compelling images — images that speak to all generations. True artistic achievement rarely follows a smooth bell curve over time. However, since DIAA primarily champions the lives and works of older and deceased artists, we’ve brought upon ourselves the need to bring some clarity to the issue.
We want people to learn to really look at art, not merely at labels and ages. Significant art stands on its own regardless of the age of its maker. But ever since we entered the post-Warhol era, the art market has persistently labeled artists according to three absurdly broad age categories: Emerging, Mid-Career, and Late-Career. And, in the process, these designations have accentuated the dismaying fact that far too many accomplished but older artists have been passed over simply owing to what is often an annoying fascination with youth, thanks to clever marketing.
In brief, Emerging Artists are simply those who have just begun their careers. After the next ten or even twenty years have elapsed, and they have gained some exhibitions and critical recognition, one day they find themselves surprised to read reviews stating that they have become Mid-Career Artists. Therefore, purely from an age perspective, that means Late-Career Artists are likely to be in their late fifties and older. While we are not rigid, this is the general starting age for artists on DIAA.
Why focus on Late Career Artists and Artist Estate Collections?
In regard to emerging artists, we are certainly not reactionaries against youth. It’s just that we find delving into the lives and works of late career artists and deceased artists to be endlessly fascinating. In this light, we share a similar appreciation with New York Times art critic, Holland Cotter:
“My faith in youthful inspiration has been tested recently; by art, of all things, or rather by the art world’s fixation on barely-out-of-school talent. Not that my interest in new art has in any way diminished. It hasn’t. Still, these days I find my attention drawn to the not-so-new, to artists who are in midcareer and beyond, sometimes far beyond…They have one thing in common: their work has developed over time and maintained its presence for a number of years. In a fast-food culture, as capricious in its erasures as in its rewards, that’s the vote of confidence that counts.”
[“Artists in Midcareer and Beyond Are Showing That Experience Matters” New York Times, 21 April 2006]
At DIAA, we take Cotter’s feelings a step further because we know too well that the ability of an artist’s works to “maintain its presence” over many years can be interrupted. Our goal is to keep that presence on track and in the public eye.
How do you identify the artists who are featured in DIAA?
We are proactive in that many nominations come from the members of our Curatorial Board. We are reactive in that artists and their estates often reach out to us. Plus, we do our own research. Scattered throughout back issues of ArtNews, Art in America, ArtForum, and a host of others are illustrated reviews of works by critically acclaimed artists whose names are no longer instantly recognized by museum curators, gallerists, and collectors. Turning the pages, we see that they keep good company, for there in the same magazines are works by peers from several generations who have maintained their stature and high esteem.
The process by which certain artists have faded or even disappeared from the limelight, only to become forgotten by later generations, can be a fascinating one. These are artists who have been unfairly left behind in that continuous and curious shuffle between art history and art promotion. For some of them, critical recognition has been long overdue. Even if their contribution was only a slight chapter in art history, we are delighted when the beauty, integrity, and power of their works can be brought forward once again to stand up to the best of their peers. This process of rediscovery can help all of us to draw a better understanding of art and culture. And, with renewed perspective, we are better equipped to consider current artistic achievement and look to the future.
Once identified, how is an artist selected for DIAA?
Acceptance as a Member on DIAA is not easy. While we would like to help everyone we must be very selective. Working with our Curatorial Board, we direct discerning eyes to quality of vision and to the ability to express that vision consistently and with skill and integrity.
We are constantly immersed in research, fearing that an overlooked master will slip by us unnoticed. We scour the Internet and back issues of many art publications. We travel frequently, visiting galleries, shows, and artists’ studios. Owing to this exhaustive research process, we pre-qualify many of the artists on DIAA. However, we still warmly encourage any late career artists to apply via email and have their works reviewed by our Curatorial Board.
The large volume of applicants often means that the prospects for acceptance are not always encouraging. Nothing is more painful for us than to have to deny membership on DIAA to an artist who has clearly dedicated his or her life to their work. In the eyes of our Curatorial Board, some applicants may fall just slightly short. We find that unfortunate part of our task disheartening. However, for those who are accepted, we are particularly proud to present their lives and works to our audience of art professionals and collectors.
What is the submission process?
The artist, or an authorized agent for an estate collection, must submit the following:
- Images: At least 20-30 color digital images that best represent the nature of the collection. The more images, the better. Since high-resolution images can get stuck in outgoing email, we recommend using services such as Opentext or Dropbox. Alternatively, you can mail us hard-copy color photographs. But please note that we will only return items mailed to us that include a self-addressed stamped envelope — but, ultimately, we will need digital images.
- Works Info: Each work’s image label must follow this sequence: Last name, title or description, year, dimensions (height always precedes width), and medium.
- Biographical Info: Essential biographical and career information, including the artist’s statement, education, memberships, awards, and any museums that own examples of the artist’s works. Any previously published essays and reviews are very helpful.
- For Collections: Initially, provide a brief description of the approximate number of works in the collection, according to their approximate size ranges, their mediums, dates, and their physical condition. Include a group of photographs that best represent the collection.
Who decides, and when?
Our Chief Curator, Peter Hastings Falk, connects with those members of the Curatorial Board who are the most appropriate judges for the particular work. Our board members have been known to us and respected for many years. The team is comprised of art historians but also include some brilliant artists and others with deep experience in the art world. Over many years, each member has become sensitive to recognizing the highest accomplishments of visual expression. Each is well versed in the movements and “isms” that define art history — especially the formalist and conceptualist precepts of the twentieth century. Each is highly attuned to composition, color, style, and technique. Equally important, each is perceptive when it comes to reading meaning, content, and conceptual intent. Each is passionate about art, and balances aesthetic preference with intellectual background. Together, they form a trusted sounding board. The review process normally takes 2–3 weeks and all candidates are notified immediately thereafter.
ALL ABOUT PROMOTION & MARKETING
Once an invitation is offered and accepted, what are the next steps?
Ours is a personalized service. We want to get to know your collection as thoroughly as possible so that we can be of the greatest help.
- The Chief Curator will contact you directly to discuss your several options for proceeding. Because every case is different, it is important to tailor the very best plan for you. Once you have settled upon the options we will clearly describe the subsequent steps.
- We will review the images and suggest those images that should comprise the strongest thematic exhibition(s).
- Our Registrar will begin the process of uploading your images and their descriptions directly online.
- For each artist we prepare a short introductory essay at no charge in which we explain why the artist was accepted. Our Editorial staff may decide that the longer biography or essays you have provided will be acceptable as-is with some minor editing. On the other hand, information is sometimes sent to us in fragments — biographical sketches, articles, or catalogues — that need more extensive editing to make the strongest and most cohesive presentation. It may be in your best interest for us to start over, using your sources to prepare a new biographical/critical essay. As art historians, we take a scholarly approach — avoiding hyperbole and striving to make your case effectively and professionally. In the event that you desire a longer biographical essay, or a series of essays treating thematic issues, we will discuss such projects and their additional costs with you in depth. In any event, all newly-written materials will be submitted to you for your review and approval. There are never any surprises, and our policy is to maintain total transparency throughout the process. Our primary aim is a consistently high level of presentation of each artist’s life and art.
How are exhibitions formed?
We have decades of experience in making curatorial decisions in the mounting of compelling exhibitions. For us, this is an immersion process. We absorb and become thoroughly familiar with the nature of your collection. Our purpose is to understand your work so that we can have substantial and clear conversations about forming the most compelling thematic exhibitions.
We also tag the artworks with their attributes so that they can be easily found by our readers. Plus, we create special thematic exhibitions to introduce your work to museum curators and gallerists. For example, a curator planning a show on New Directions in American Landscape Painting would do a search on works that have been tagged with “American” (nationality), “Landscape” (subject matter), and “Painting” (medium category). This advanced search allows curators, gallerists, and collectors to quickly spot their own special interest.
The selection of particular images, and how many are needed to most effectively make the point, is critical. We place the work into categories and then implement an A-B-C grading system whereby aesthetic quality and innovation are weighed relative to the artist’s entire body of work. After all, not every painting that has come off an artist’s easel is an “A.”
What do you do to promote a collection?
One of the important benefits is our review and consultation process. It’s crucial for us to come to understand the nature of your collection intimately. And it is the only way to develop a promotional plan specifically for your art. That’s why we first determine if enough work of high quality exists to merit our full commitment to a more thorough appraisal. Then we get right into the presentation process. This means selecting works for your special exhibition. It can often mean our writing of a new biographical/critical essay.
Our most desired objective is to secure interest from museum curators and then to act as liaison in organizing retrospective exhibitions. At the appropriate time, we act as managing agents in consigning exhibitions of the works to leading galleries around the country. In addition, collectors are encouraged to purchase selected works directly from us. Our convergence of promotion and marketing runs the gamut from social media marketing to special e-mail alerts to old-fashioned phone calls to further qualify the interest of a gallery, curator, or collector.
Which curators and galleries do you contact and why?
Our staff has identified all of the fine arts curators and gallerists in the United States. Owing to curatorial job changes and gallery movements, this map is in gradual transition. Our editors keep careful track of all comings and goings in the art world.
After examining the nature of every gallery, our staff analyzes and documents their interests and collecting direction. We conduct the same process with museum curators, coming to understand their mandate and special focus. A second, deeper level of understanding comes when those same gallerists and curators are encouraged to directly register even more specific “want lists” and profiles on our site. Finally, we follow up with personal phone calls to every curator and gallery owner and meet with them at every opportunity.
How do you attract art collectors?
Our primary mission is to encourage museum curators and the most suitable galleries to host exhibitions, and we reinforce their efforts. At the same time, certain select artworks will be made available for sale directly through us, as indicated by the “Inquire” button. This is acceptable to the galleries to whom we consign shows because we will have entirely different sets of works — and we work actively to promote those exhibitions. Even when an artist is represented by one gallery exclusively that’s quite okay because these galleries are our affinity partners. We qualify every collector inquiry before passing them on directly to the gallery. Thus, we are reinforcing galleries, not competing with them. We are also writing feature articles that commend their discovery efforts. After all, it’s our common mission in this special niche that matters.
How do I know that your promotional emails will really get any sustained attention?
We know that the attention span to emails is quite brief. That’s why we’re not boring. And we’re not into wasting anyone’s time. In our emails the lead image, the headline, and the tease to the back-story are compelling. We’re presenting such a different and refreshing message that our followers look forward to receiving our e-mail alerts. When they click on that email and get linked to the artist and the back-story they will be intrigued to really look deeply and get more educated about what they’ve been missing all these years. DIAA is so specialized that we will never lose customers owing to frustration or wasted time. Plus, when followers register they request to be notified when works that match their interests are posted.
What is so different about the way the artworks are registered?
Whether our client is a gallerist, collector, or curator we define their interests according to a combination of factors such as nationality, medium, work date, subject matter, style, and gender. For example, a curator planning ahead for an exhibition on American Women Abstract Painters in the 1970s would search by simply clicking on the pertinent attributes from our various “pick lists,” as follows:
Work Date………. 1970-1979
Accordingly, this is why the same search logic is used to register all artworks being exhibited or sold. Each artwork is specifically “tagged” so that its profile can be automatically matched to all pertinent buyers who, in turn, are alerted via e-mail. Amid the overall flood of e-mails sent to our clients, these DIAA alerts are most welcome.
AN ART MARKET PRIMER
How many Art Dealers are there in the United States?
There are two basic types of “art dealers.” There are gallerists (with brick-and-mortar galleries), and there are private art dealers (available by appointment only). Both types can also serve as corporate art consultants and private advisors.
Based on the most recent U.S. Economic Census, the number of art dealers in the United States can now be projected around 6,500–7,000. These are dealers in original unique artworks and original limited editions — not reproductions. No art dealer is ignored simply because the business may be small and regional. Sometimes, such galleries can provide a good start for you. The ultimate goal toward which we strive, however, is to secure the most prominent. We estimate that there are 2,100 top dealers. And of these, we estimate that 1,500 are gallerists and 600 are private art dealers. These are the ones who will be not only the most effective marketers but are also listed in the most popular national art directory, which is published annually by Art in America magazine.
How many Art Museums are there in the United States?
Art museums are either public or private and run by states, cities, colleges, universities, private boards, or foundations. Keep in mind that there are also regional art centers that do not have permanent collections but are important because they actively host exhibitions.
According to the American Association of Museums, there are about 17,500 museums of all kinds in the United States. However, only 8,300 of them are sanctioned by the AAM and are listed in their Official Museum Directory. But for your purposes it’s important to cull from this number only the fine art museums, of which there are about 912, the approximate number listed in the annual directory of Art in America magazine. As additional validation, this number is also reinforced by the membership of the Art Libraries Society of North America, which totals about 1,000, and of which we have been a member for decades. Our job is to understand each fine art museum’s mission and collecting direction, which usually is led by the museum director and implemented by the chief curator. The larger the museum, the more departmental curators there are on staff. Again, our job is to identify those departmental interests so that we can present your collection to the most pertinent curator.
How many Art Collectors are there in the United States?
The number of collectors is difficult to accurately quantify, but if the term “collector” also means “serious” and of high net worth, then we agree with the most commonly reported figure of 8,000–10,000 collectors. Any definition of the art market must eliminate the many millions of people who buy reproductions and posters as home décor at shopping malls, small framing shops, and online. That’s a $27-billion market in the United States alone, but it’s not for us. Our focus is upon serious and regular buyers of original fine art, whether unique works or limited editions. We also can’t be overly impressed by the fact there are more than 2 million millionaires in the United States who are counted as art collectors. The 8,000–10,000 figure suggests that just 1% of those one-percenters are the most serious buyers, and they tend to buy many works. We also can’t forget the large group of passionate collectors who, while not millionaires, form the vast base supporting the art market and buy works in the $5,000–$50,000 range. Together, this broad group of collectors has been spending more than $8-billion on fine art every year for the past decade. The states with the heaviest concentration of collectors are California, New York, and Florida.
How does this compare with the international art market?
Many reports on the size of the art market can be confusing or misleading because while auction sales are public records gallery sales are private and must be estimated. The leading resource on the auction part of the art market is Artprice.com. Its art econometric team produces the Artprice Global Art Market Report. The billions of dollars are head-spinning, led by the Modern segment (think Picasso et al) followed by Post War and Contemporary (which is pertinent to our artists) and accounts for about 36% of the total auction turnover of $3.5 billion in that segment. Of most interest to us is the encouraging fact that only about 5% of these artworks sold at auction exceeded $50,000. Beyond auction statistics there are gallery sales and private sales. About 37.5% of the grand total in global art sales are made at auction whereas galleries, private dealers, and brokers account for about 62.5%.
THE NUTS & BOLTS ABOUT SERVICES
Do you charge an annual fee to artists and estate collections?
We are not one of the many “pay to play” sales platforms out there.
Nor do we charge a subscription fee to our readers.
Plus, you won’t be annoyed by any paid display advertising.
Instead, our compensation comes solely from transactions. These are commissions earned either from sales we conclude directly or sales made by galleries to whom we have consigned exhibitions.
All elected artists receive the following:
- Assessment: There is no fee for the initial review and assessment made by members of our Curatorial Board, which are based on viewing digital images and your supportive materials.
- Synopsis: We review all of your biographical materials and produce a brief essay of 300–400 words that effectively summarizes the “why” of your acceptance.
- Curating: We curate and present your first online exhibition.
- Uploading: We upload your images and “tag” your works with key words so that visitors can easily find them.
- Marketing: It’s quite simple: Content really is king. We attract the most pertinent collectors, galleries, and museum curators through scholarly content that’s both compelling and educational. We’re picky about our artists because we know that both their art and their back-stories have to be significant. Accordingly, when we send e-mails our followers really look forward to receiving them. We go even further by targeting special e-mail alerts only to those followers who have registered as having an affinity with particular styles, subjects, and themes.
- Management of Exhibitions and Sales: We follow up with phone calls to further qualify interests in order to secure exhibitions and direct sales. At the appropriate time, we provide you with a consignment agreement advice with galleries and museums.
- News: Our news section features breaking news on your exhibitions. We also draw attention to newly posted essays, articles, and reviews.
- Annual Report: We prepare an annual report on the viewing statistics of your collection and works. We review the report with you and discuss strategies for going forward.
Additional Project Development
As part of our initial assessment we may recommend additional services that would best help you achieve your objective. This is a menu of services aimed to expand and enhance the effectiveness of the promotion, marketing, and sales of your work. Depending upon the task, these services are carried out by our staff, members of our Curatorial Board, or even affinity partners who specialize in such tasks. Fees vary according to the task. Sometimes the person providing the service may even accept art in trade. You’ll find we are flexible problem-solvers. Together, we may determine that any one of the following may be advisable:\
- Curatorial Visit: We’re sure you agree that fully and properly judging art requires our visual and tactile senses — which means we always want to see the art in the flesh. In planning a visit, we’ll let you know if your collection is located conveniently near one of our Curatorial Board members. This visit may require a full day or just a few hours. Therefore, the fee will vary depending upon the travel and estimated time needed for such a visit.
- Planning for Now and the Future: What is the fate of my collection? After our initial assessment and our conversations with you we will have learned your desires and therefore be able to suggest appropriate solutions to the many facets of planning for both the present and future. Physically, these include restoration, conservation, and storage. Also to be considered are cataloguing and possibly the creation of a catalogue raisonné. You may need advice on forming the proper legal structure, one that anticipates estate planning (trust, foundation, incorporation). A corollary is licensing and copyrights. We also discuss a realistic market price structure for your art. When that art finds success in the marketplace a whole new fair market value becomes established and gradually grows — and this moving equation must be factored into the updating of appraisals. Gifting of art to qualifying non-profit institutions is yet another part of collection management process. And then there’s accounting. Clearly, there are many planning issues that need careful consideration. We can execute some of these tasks while others require top specialists whose expertise we are pleased to bring to the project.
- Scholarly Essays: All pre-existing essays are considered as part of our editorial review. Sometimes these may be accepted with little or no modifications. Sometimes it’s clear we need to start from scratch. Together, we discuss your case in depth and advise the most effective solution. In the event that you elect to engage us to produce a larger and more extensive monograph, we tap a broad field of art historians known for specializing your particular style, subject, or theme. Sometimes an exhibition catalogue may call for several thematic essays. Any additional editorial work that we may recommend will be discussed with you in advance and the price quoted separately for your approval.
These additional marketing fees are not a profit center for us. Instead, our primary objective (in terms of revenue) is to work hard to earn a commission from sales. That means we are always invested in your collection. We really won’t earn much unless we can gain exposure for you and earn the sales commissions described next.
Because there are many variables that can affect the commission structure, it’s important to define our strategy and plan first. At the same time, we need to determine the need for any for additional expenses and the source for that funding. Once this plan is agreed upon together the commission structure will make sense.
When your works are sold directly by us, you’re paid as soon as the transaction has cleared. In some cases, we also assume the care and storage of your work, which means we also handle fulfillment. If you are handling care and storage then you are also handling fulfillment after the artwork has been paid for in full.
When your works are sold by one of our affinity galleries who have taken an exhibition on consignment, we earn a modest commission on the amount you earn. That commission is also negotiated with you in advance. Once we have secured a gallery, our objective as your manager is to reinforce a long-term relationship with that gallery.
Doing it without us
Why can’t late-career artists or owners of estate collections just carry out the promotional process themselves?
Inevitably, artists or their estates find themselves confronted by large quantities of art that has been in storage for many years. Can artists detach themselves from these wonderful children born of their own creativity and think of them as inventory in a business? Are they or their families inclined to promote their art, and are they capable of doing so effectively? The answer, with art historical perspective, ranges between “sometimes” and “never.”
Some artists or their heirs may begin by seeking out art-knowledgeable people in their region and using them as a sounding board. But what if that sounding board were to be expanded to a team of experts around the country? And what if those experts had solid professional relationships with museum curators and gallerists? That’s real networking with DIAA. We know that most late career artists and owners of estate collections need a partner who knows the inner workings of the art market — a partner who will work as a powerhouse to secure exhibitions, publicity, and respect. A partner who will deliver.