I was recently out of town when I walked into a ‘reputable gallery,’ thinking if I found a small ‘gem’ I might buy it. Yes, as an artist, I like other work as well as my own and will trade with an artist or, on occasion, buy another artist’s work. As I walked into the beautiful space, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the owner placing her hand on the forearm of her assistant as the assistant stood to grab the artist’s cheatsheet, the owner stopping her in mid-reach and clearly indicating that I should not be approached, shown, and/or told any information about the artist. I walked around the gallery perusing the art, taking my time. Had I found something I’d have considered owning that day, based on what I witnessed of the gallerist, I would not have made the purchase.
On my way out, I walked over and asked, “Excuse me, do you know what time it is?” As the dealer looked at her watch, I said, “Oh, never mind. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t the roaring 80s anymore. For a moment there, the way you chose to ignore me or perhaps anyone you surmised wouldn’t buy or shouldn’t have the art, I thought I was in a time warp.” Despite the fact that I am likely a little younger than she is, I gave her a gentle, almost grandmotherly smile, as if to say, “really, honey—this is how you conduct your business?” She was speechless. I walked out.
I wasn’t at all surprised to hear the following month that the gallery had closed. For a brief moment, before leaving the gallery that day, I thought about telling this dealer my “Elaine de Kooning story,” which could have have been helpful to her, but I’m afraid I just didn’t fit her profile of someone worth listening to, let alone speaking to. I do not mean to suggest that building a mystique about an artist or a gallery is wrong, obviously. The question is how to do it–with good or ‘bad magic,’ to quote the character Queegueg from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
This case was very sad really, as the artists she carried had obviously been neglected for quite some time. So, the moral of the story is—for artists—act as a potential buyer at a gallery with whom you are considering having a working relationship as an artist. Witness all of it, or as much of it as you can. Pay attention to the way and respect with which the dealer handles the artwork, as well as she how handles (or neglects to handle) potential buyers. Talk to other artists about how they are treated. Gallerists, I love you and what you do for artists. You can be such brilliant storyteller-sales people, elucidators and promoters of artist’s work. You are very important to many of us. However, if you don’t know my “Elaine de Kooning story,” you should. Eh, but what do I know? Who the hell do I think I am, anyway?
(If you want to know my ‘Elaine de Kooning’ story, send an inquiry—I’ll post it.)
Update: Several readers expressed interest in hearing the Elaine de Kooning story. I have posted it here.