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Long Winded

People say if you want to be an artist you MUST move to LA or New York Do you agree?

Hogwash. We represent about 20 artists maybe 5 live in the Chicago area. The others live in L.A., Omaha, Santa Fe, southern Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, upstate New York, Washington, D.C. and all over the United States. None of them is from New York City.

I went to a large gallery in town, and no one would speak to me. I felt like I was in a hospital. How do I engage someone in a discussion about artwork?

Don't bother with stuffy galleries. Their heads are not into art. They are solely interested in capitalism and that is not enough to make them a good gallery. A good gallery balances their need for economic success with a genuine interest in aesthetics.

Young artists should not be intimidated by galleries and should be eager to take their work there, if only to say "Hey, I am going to get somewhere someday, and I would be flattered if you would have a look at my work. I don't want you to represent me yet, I just want you to look at it and tell me anything you feel like saying."

How can I get a gallery to represent me?

Proceed very slowly. I see the artist/gallery relationship as being very similar to dating. You don't walk up to somebody and say, "Let's do it tonight!" And you don't walk up to a gallery director and say, "Here are my slides. Do something." There is a courtship. Thomas Wolfe talked about the "Boho Dance." It's a process.

It is a whole lot better if the dealer asks to look at your work first. Two or three artists I work with now used to stop by every month or so, ask a question or two and leave. After a while we started talking about the art in the gallery. I respected their opinions about what I showed. Eventually, I asked and was told they were artists though it wasn't hard to tell. I asked if I could see what they were up to.

So I would advise you to first go visit galleries. Find a gallery that feels right to you where the aesthetic is compatible, and where you feel comfortable with the staff. Look around. Leave. Go back again. Say something sincere. Leave. Go back to see a third exhibit. Start slow and say something that indicates you like the gallery. Give the staff the opportunity to warm up to you. Try to find a way to let them ask you about your work. Don't expect miracles overnight. Follow your instincts. Above all, be who you are.

(When you do make those gallery visits do not commit the error that I see so many young and old artists alike make. All of us, dealers and artists, men and women, want to be liked and appreciated. When an artist who has never been to my gallery walks in for an appointment and does not first look around the gallery but instead barges into my office and says "I'm here for the one o'clock appointment," I'm have a negative opinion from the get-go. I want them to look around, walk in and say their impressed and that they've followed my shows on my website and they are so glad to see so-and-so's work in person. If this isn't common sense, I don't think you're ready for a relationship.)

What if you are not local and can't make all those visits?

A recommendation helps. Write a letter that says something like, "I have heard/seen a lot about your gallery that I really like, and (if possible) my friend (who is known to the gallery) says you might be interested in my art.

More and more these days, I realize that they people who tend to by art from me and predominantly local. I also know that almost all people who visit galleries have some level of insecurity about their aesthetic response. They need validation. Validation comes in the form a résumé that says the artist's work has been respected and that buying that person's art is not foolish (because they've gotten exposure elsewhere). If the résumé is not impressive I've heard many a member of a couple say to the other, "well, honey, they're local. At least we are doing something for the community.)

The point is that you are better off starting locally and then expanding from that base.

What if a gallery doesn't want to show my work? How do I handle the rejection?

Get over the fear of showing your work. If you get the opportunity to show your slides, do so. But know this: good dealers do not pass judgment on the quality of your work even though they may act like it. They are trying to determine if it fits their vision. It is about agreement. If they identify with what you are doing, a relationship is possible. If they don't, it isn't.

Think about the dating analogy again. Not everything or everyone is for everybody. If it doesn't work, it does not mean you are not worthy, nor does it mean they don't like you. It simply means your work is not for them at this moment.

Go through the steps. If they make you feel rejected I would conclude that they are jerks. It is not hard to find someone's work inappropriate for a given gallery without making the person feel rejected. It is not unusual that you will show your work to galleries for years before someone has the right response.

Isn't there an awful lot of politics in the art world? Shouldn't talent be enough? I don't think I should have to play the game.

There are a lot of rules/conventions/b.s. that govern the art world. It has a bunch of attitudes that seem to propel it. The art world is comprised of significant galleries (and not so significant galleries) that have a bunch of rules to prop themselves up. It's all a bunch of baloney, but if you buy into you are a part of it.

My own attitude is that it's beneficial to know the "rules" and then sometimes play into them and sometimes play off of them. For example, the art world says it is important for artists to have dealers, that if they do not they are not part of the mainstream and they won't be taken seriously. The fact of the matter is, many artists don't need dealers. They sell plenty of stuff without shows. They don't really care about being validated by the museum structure and never gave it much thought anyway. No problem. So be it just don't expect the so-called establishment to jump up and down and salute you because you can get by handsomely without them (but they might).

To a large extent the art world is about relationships. Develop them. Know other artists. Know dealers. Know museum people. You will have the opportunity to help one another. Relationships will open doors for you. We do not exist in a vacuum. We are influenced by people we like.

It is important to realize that talent is not enough. Meet other artists. Socialize with them - share ideas, meet curators, be real, be a human, don't kiss ass too much, be yourself and realize everyone has something to offer.

You do not need to be successful overnight, and it is probably a mistake to want to be. Overnight success is scary. It is too easy to be a one-trick pony. What are you going to do for an encore? It is not sufficient to do the same thing over again.

You are an artist. Be creative. Apply your artistic creativity to other facets of your life, and particularly your career. Use what you've got and use it well.

What should I include in my submission packet to galleries?

I am only interested in looking at a limited number of images of current stuff the last 6 months, maybe 12. I don't want to see old stuff. I want to see what you're doing now. One page of slides no more than 20 images is more than enough. Slides are the norm, but snapshots are okay, and 4 x 5's are all right too, or even a disk with jpeg files.

Don't show everything you've ever done. Don't reveal you whole life history. (Think about the dating analogy again.) Let galleries ask for more instead of showing too much and letting them lose interest. Always, always, always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so the gallery does not feel imposed upon in returning your slides.

Only send work you are proud of. If I am interested in that, I may want to see more, i.e.: earlier work, or ask that you submit more images in six months or so. Send along a résumé even if it doesn't say much. I look at it, but have taken on artists who have recently completed school and have essentially no résumé, as well as established artists whose résumés are impressive. The résumé just gives me a sense of context.

What factors influence you when deciding whether or not to represent an artist?

I show art I believe in, art I wish I could have created. If you visit the Klein Art Works web page, you'll see we are interested in contemporary abstraction. But regardless of the aesthetic my gallery prefers, when looking at art I want to be able to get a sense of the artist who made the work. If the art is any good, I learn a lot about the artist who made it their issues, concerns, and what makes them tick. And in the process I learn about my self.

Besides responding to and liking the artwork, I've also got to anticipate liking what the artist is going to do for the next ten years. In addition, I've still got to like the person, and the director of my gallery has got to like the person.

There have been many instances where I became interested in artists' work because I liked them before I even saw their work. Liking them got me into a frame of mind where I was receptive to their vision. There have also been times I have liked artists and not responded to their work, but remained a friend and supporter though I have no desire to exhibit their artwork.

I like sincerity. I like artists who believe in what they are doing not artists who are trying to be au currant but artists who truly give a damn about what they are creating.

I also consider a whole lot of nebulous factors like do I want an established artist whose work is pricey; a young, local artist who doesn't yet have a following; or someone in between? How does the artist's aesthetic compare to mine? Will my clients respond to the work? Beyond that, I look for commitment on the artist's part. I have to mentally make the jump from what they are doing now to what they are likely to be doing at some point in the future. If the work is not focused it is hard to extrapolate.

I am always open to looking at slides, digital images or even snapshots. I look all the time. If you don't look you don't see it. I look at all the work that is submitted. Not much of what I get do I do anything about. Out of a thousand sets of slides mailed to me per year, I'd say maybe I take on one or two new artists a year. When I like the work but it doesn't fit the type of work I show, I sometimes steer artists to more appropriate galleries.

I never put out a call for slides (well almost never). Artists send them in all the time. There are times when I put out the word that we are doing a group show and I get a lot more slides than I usually do. In the process I discover some new people.

What do you find lacking in the slides you see?

When I review slides I often sense artist are hedging, holding back they are reluctant to put themselves in their art. This is a big mistake.

To be successful, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable and to share that vulnerability with an unknown audience. A difficult task. Art needs content. If there are no issues, if there is no content, it is not art it's decoration.

It also hurts artist not to have a knowledge of art history. You've got to know the artwork of the past, as well as what is going on now so as not to be derivative - not a good thing in the art biz. When you begin making your art not theirs progress happens. By digesting the art of the past, you will also answer questions about who you are by gauging your response to other artist's work. You can just be you and make art. Make it honest. Make it sincere. Make it good.

I like art that is fresh. Fresh does not mean earth-shattering. It means unique, interesting, honest. The art relates to what has gone on before, takes it a step or two further and introduces some new ideas some of it technical, some of it concept. Rarely do I see art I consider fresh but it happens.

How do I know if I am ready for gallery representation?

It frequently takes two years from the time an artist is out of school until a gallery dealer can feel pretty confident that the artist is making his own work as opposed to responding to various stimuli and or assignments from school.

Many artists who come out of college or graduate school feel they are ready to make a difference. In many cases I think that is a rushed judgment. Frequently they need to have more time making art before a dealer can look at the work and feel confident the artist is committed to it.

Some young artists I see are ready. They're focused. They've benefited from their school experience and are making their own art, not somebody else's. Whether or not you're ready to show your work, the important thing is to find yourself and your vision not worry about getting into the marketplace.

I am not convinced there are many artists under 30 who should be in a gallery. Their work is in a state of flux as it should be. Every young artist should have the opportunity to create good art, bad art, goofy art, without the pressure of having it be successful.

When a gallery enters into a relationship with an artist, what role does the gallery play in guiding that artist?

When we begin a relationship with an artist, I look at it as being a minimum of a ten-year relationship. The relationship with a young artist is different from a relationship with an established artist who has a track record. Once an artist is established, the gallery's strategy tends to be in place. You can have discussions about changing and tweaking it, or modifying it slightly. With the more successful (older) artists there is a periodical exchange of ideas, sometimes strong friendships and sometimes just a boring business relationship but we are excited by the art.

With younger artists there is a lot more hand holding advising and discussing. I avoid suggesting that an artist change his or her vision to accommodate mine. Too many dealers do this and destroy relationships. I am, however, very willing to discuss strategy, which I construe to be "how do we take this artist's vision/aesthetic and make some money?"

I see the relationship as a team effort the gallery and the artist applying our distinct and occasionally overlapping abilities and connections to augment the career of the artist, and by extension, ourselves. If an out-of-town dealer approaches one of my (local and probably younger) artists, I expect the artist to consult me so that together we can reach a consensus about the wisdom of the potential relationship. If the artist makes deals without consulting us, sells work from the studio without consulting us, I am offended and the relationship is in trouble.

When I have questions about what is good for an artist, I remember my priorities:

1. Do what is good for the art;

2. Do what is good for the artist;

3. Do what is good for the gallery.

Most of the younger artists we show tend to be local. We try to have them in the gallery more often and encourage them to talk to our other artists. We invite them to talk to collectors or introduce them to other folks, so they can get the kind of knowledge they didn't get in school. We try to give them a greater sense of the big picture and just be supportive.

Which responsibilities fall to the artist and which to the gallery?

Your job is to make good art. It's your gallery's job to do everything else. There is some latitude about who pays shipping, although in no case should you pay over 50 percent of the total of getting the work to and from the gallery in most cases the gallery should cover it all. But if it is cheap it is not a big deal for the artist to pay for getting it to the gallery. Advertising and promotion are up to the gallery. If you don't feel like they have done a good job for you once the show is over, get your stuff and leave.

Do you help artists with pricing their work?

In the beginning it is far more important to get work out than to get big money for it far more important to make art than to be concerned with selling it.

Pricing is really only an issue with young artists those who have never shown or have essentially no track record. If they sell, prices go up. If they don't, prices remain the same. From then, it is merely a question of extrapolating from previous prices and size (square inches) has a lot to do with it.

When thinking about pricing your art, do not think about what you deserve for it. Think about what it deserves. Get objective. Envision your art as if it were made by someone else who has a comparable résumé. Odds are that it is far less than the value you would assign it if you had to stick a meager per-hour price on it for how long it took you to make it. Hopefully, by the time 10 years are up, the equation will be totally flipped and you will be getting far more than $100 per hour for your efforts.

What are the qualities that make a good artist?

The basic prerequisites are having talent and having something to say. Talent is easier to accomplish than vision. Talent you can learn in school. Talent you can learn from other artists. It comes from knowing one's media. It is very important to be fluent in your media and explore it's nuances. Learn everything you can about what you are doing.

Having something to say comes from living life and having the guts to express yourself. Part of the problem here is that the art world wants what you have to say to be unique, fresh and new. It is not enough to paint an Impressionist painting. That has already been done. Don't repeat what has already been done.

Gimmicks are shallow trying to figure out what someone else will buy is very tricky. Come from yourself, your experiences, what you know, what you love. Seek to either reveal or discover yourself. It is best, easiest, and most genuine to do what one believes in.

As a human being, you are unique, somehow different than anyone else on the planet. Strive to be who you are. Look for yourself in your artwork. Become one with your art.

How can artists do this-- become "one" with their art?

DO IT! Make art. Do it again. Make more. Seek to discover yourself in your art. Put everything of yourself into it. Be vulnerable. Be honest. Be real. Take chances. Notice that I did not say sell it or exhibit it. This matters some but not as much as all the other stuff. Ultimately, sales only need to be sufficient enough to let you keep doing what you want to do!

Supposing an artist has been accepted into a gallery. Should he expect to pay for any of the expenses incurred during an ad campaign promoting his art by the gallery?

I think the answer is no. But I very strongly believe that the artist must use his or her creativity to advance their careers. For example, my norm is to print a post card announcement, stick it in an envelope and mail it to my clientele. One artist I was exhibiting came to me and said I want a brochure instead of a post card. I said I'm willing to cover the fist $1500 of the mailing but this goes way beyond that. He said he'd give me a painting if I did what he wanted. I said okay and called my printer and asked if he would trade a brochure for a $10,000 painting. The deal happened. Everyone who got the brochure was clearly impressed with our commitment to this artist and sales were very good.

What expenses (if any) should an artist expect to share with a gallery?

In some cases I think the artist should pay to get the art back, but if the gallery is good the artist shouldn't have to cover any of the expenses.

That said, I believe the artist and the gallery should aspire to be a team, and that an artist's credibility is enhanced by the relationship with that gallery. If a new gallery comes along (from a distinctly different region, of course) and expresses an interest in that artist, I firmly believe the artist should discuss this with their "parent" gallery and that the "parent" gallery should get 10% of sales from the new gallery.

What kind of art does your own gallery accept (abstract, figurative, etc.)?

For years I've emphasized abstraction, even made it an issue. Now I think the abstract/non abstract issue is irrelevant and that I will focus on showing what I like (which will probably be mostly abstract but it is no longer an issue).

Are you accepting new art/artists at this time for your own gallery?

No, I am not looking to add new artists, but I look at work that is submitted and if something blows my socks off I'm interested. Keep in mind that I want artists to be local and/or have a substantial résumé.

What should an artist do to contact you?

An awful lot of artists send me emails. I used to look at them. Because 99% of them are sending crap to as many galleries as they can find, the work is almost always inappropriate for my gallery. I find it rude and offensive for someone to expect me to work (look at their images) when they haven't looked at my web page first or visited the gallery or checked me out. I expect artists to be creative and to do their homework. If they are thorough and conscientious they can expect the same from me.

KLEIN ART WORKS    400 North Morgan Chicago, IL 60622    (312) 243-0400