Sunday, May 22, 2016

ART BIZ | Hot Dots and Collage Credit (Updated July 2, 2016)

Red-Hot Dot: Sheila Wolper, Enigma (1915), $1,800. One of
nine collagists from NYC exhibiting at Ashawagh Hall. All
photos by JT Marlin, taken with permission of the artists.
May 23, 2016–I was alerted by a friend, Ellen Rautenberg, that an unusual show was on its way to Ashawagh Hall in Springs, the hamlet northeast of East Hampton, N.Y.

Ashawagh Hall uses the old native-American term for a place where roads come together.
  • It's where Old Stone Highway from Amagansett meets Springs Fireplace Road from the village of East Hampton.
  • It's also where the 92nd Street Y in New York meets East Hampton.
Nine Ladies Lancing

If the art work on the walls at this exhibit could talk about the experiences incorporated in them, we would get an earful.

The nine women exhibiting have put mixed media to work sending messages. These mature women put the challenges, tribulations and joys of their lives into their art. 

Some of the collagists' techniques were startling, even puzzling. For example, I wondered how Judy Kaplan got that deep-black effect on her collages. (I will reveal her secret below.) I wondered whether there was a special kind of glue for doing collages. (Yes, there is.)

Some of the themes were challenging. What do we make of the various objects selected to surround a human face or faces? What messages are we supposed to get, and how does that differ in some cases from the messages we are actually getting getting? 

First, I will pick out a few of the artists, and then I will make a general comment on the overall effect of the exhibit and make some notes on the contradictory pressures faced by artists.

There is a strong unity to the show provided by the idea of these women creating art as their next act, better than the one(s) before. The show is titled "nextactART". If you want to reach the artists, their gmail address is the title of their show. 

Hot Red Dots

I have earned my living as an economist, so my interest in art starts with the marketplace. How is art sold? Why do people buy it? What is the purpose of galleries and exhibitions? Why do some artists get more for their work? When I go to Ashawagh Hall shows, as I have for 35 years, these questions pique me.

Recently I have had the impression of an uptick in what artists exhibiting in Ashawagh Hall are asking, and getting, for their work. I attribute the rising prices to the greater ability of artists to reach buyers through social media, without the intervention of an impossibly small number of gatekeepers. (Update, June 20: On the other hand, the latest plein air exhibit at Ashawagh Hall only sold three paintings out of about 75 items for sale. The improved sales are in selected genres!)

My bias in looking at art is toward the artists that have the red dots on their work, indicating they are hot–i.e., someone has purchased the art. This standard is considered crude, even unfair, by artists in my family, but that's how appraisers of houses and art make their estimates–sales records are the way we value houses, and so it is with the art that goes on our walls. However:
  • Being able to create art that sells is not for everyone. If you are obsessed with painting things that people don't get joy looking at, no one can say you are wrong or are necessarily a bad artist. And, who knows, you may be able to change public opinion. Think of what E. B. White did to rehabilitate spiders in the face of widespread arachnophobia. Think of what the moneyed buyers of the art of Jackson Pollock (who lived and painted a short walk up the road from Ashawagh Hall) did, after many years, to silence scoffers at his paint-throwing artistry. 
  • Some well-off artists trade purchases of one another's art. Maybe it is unfair because it depends on who you know. But if friends won't buy your art, who in the heartless world beyond can be relied on to do so? Vincent van Gogh's art-dealer brother bought all the art that Vincent produced. It wasn't charity; it was an investment. How much Theo was willing to pay his brother for his art materials and other expenses established enough of a value to enable his painting.
Here are three artists that were selling for good prices at Ashawagh Hall.

Sheila Wolper

This is, incredibly, Sheila Wolper's first show, and she took in $3,400 for three works of collage art. 

The art work that leads off this post above was Enigma (2015), commanding $1,800. The red dot was there on the first day. 
Sheila Wolper, Fragments (2015).

I would call Enigma a "Face-Plus" collage. The idea seems to be that you put a face on the canvas board or whatever and you surround it with images–in this case, hints of the men and women in the person's life, fantasies, aspirations and the large mixed textures of daily life. 

This Face+ approach of putting a face amidst associated images is used elsewhere in the show. It's a truly brilliant way of starting an art career, because each art work is different but organizes itself. 

All of these Face+ artworks are connected by the common thread of an easily understood set of rules of the game. What was Gilbert Stuart's Lansdowne portrait of George Washington if not the General surrounded by objects that were meaningful to him, like the inkwell featuring his coat of arms?

Two other collages by Wolper are more like puzzles. They sold for $800 each. Fragments (2015) above has pieces of maps and photographs cut up into an 8x7 checkerboard with enough information to connect each square with another one. It's like a CrossPic puzzle, something to hang in a waiting room to keep clients occupied while they wait to be called. 


Sheila Wolper's Artist Card. Stork
with children (too many?).
The nine artists have clearly been prepped to prepared a promotional sheet and business card announcing their status as artists. 

Wolper's card is appealing. On one side of her card is a collage called Transport, a large stork bringing children. The tragedy is that the stork has so many children to carry that at first sight a couple of them are falling off at the front end.

But no, those are faces of older people. Are young people pushing out older ones? Is the message that the planet can't carry us all? Whoever buys the painting presumably will have the last word on how to interpret it, unless Sheila Wolper goes public with her intent. 

My late mother, Hilda van Stockum, who made a good living during her long life as an artist and illustrator, several times refused to sell a painting to someone who wanted to buy it for the wrong reasons. For example, she wouldn't sell a portrait of one of her children because the wannabe buyer said it reminded him of someone else. 

But by and large, if someone buys a painting, they have bought the right to decide what the art means, unless the artist contradicts them. 

(Interestingly, in the United States and subscribers to copyright conventions, the owner of art does not own the right to control how the art is reproduced, unless this right is specifically sold to the buyer independently. So when a museum takes a picture of a piece of art by my mother, they own the photography but to reproduce the art they ask for permission from me, as my mother's executor, to reproduce the art. I have obtained permission from the artists whose art I have photographed for the specific right to reproduce their art on my blog.)

Judy Taylor
Judy Taylor, No Problem. (Also, No Date.)

Judy Taylor is another artist who sold several of her art works at the show. I mentioned that she achieved an impressively deep black background on her collages and I promised to explain it. 

An example titled No Problem is at right. Her art uses a process called dye sublimation on aluminum. The advantage of the technique is that no framing is needed. However, there is in fact a problem or two:
  • The aluminum may dent if dropped.
  • Someone has to be hired to produce the final products for sale. You have to find this person. Taylor found someone in a photo shop who moonlights doing these sublimations.
  • If it costs $100 per piece of art (an educated guess), one-third of the $300 for this collage goes to producing the final item for sale.
  • This piece of art was one of a set of eight. So if it cost $100 per item to produce, the artist has to lay out $800.
Judy Taylor writes on her collages. That breaks down the silos of writing and art. It's one of the short-cuts available in collage–if the message isn't coming across right, just write it on the piece of art. 

Taylor's artist's card says: "We need two lives to get it right." That seems to be a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald and the feasibility of second acts. People think Fitzgerald said there are no second acts but in fact he argued against that statement.

Ronnie Grill

Ronnie Grill's artist's card has a 631 number on it, which suggests she is the local connection for the NYC artists. She does interesting things photographically and also does traditional collages.

Grill is the only one in the show with art work that is traditionally shown in Ashawagh Hall, i.e., scenes of bays and rivers. Her Napeague scene is on the front of her artist card at right and her Falling Falls is below. 

The Napeague scene features fishermen's nets.

The falls scene features shredded paper to indicate a waterfall. It's an eye-catcher from across the room.
Ronnie Grill, The Falling Falls.
Other Artists

The other six artists at the exhibit were Stephanie Suskin with multi-media sculptures, Barbara Brier, Rena Diana, Patricia Miller, Maddie Goldman with hanging sculptures, and Madeline Farr with groups of people with an international flavor.


Collage Credit 

The nine exhibitors met through an art class for collage credit at the 92 Street Y. I promised to provide a couple of clues to what they teach in these courses. One of the guidelines is that the paper quality used in collages must be archival – no one wants to see their expensive collage artwork start to yellow after a few years. Glue is important and Weldbond was recommended for most things, although it depends on what is being glued.

Based on attendance at the show, interest in the collagists' art work, and sales of art, the exhibit was a success. The show was thought-provoking, even overwhelming. A couple of artists I spoke with at the show said they found that the intensity of the messages was deafening. How does one deal with that problem? I have a thought on this.

I talked with Wolper, who was I think the star of the show, especially because she is such a newbie. As I said to her, one way to deal with the possible noisiness of collage art is for artists to explore a kind of collage and then move on. The voices of that period of one's work then become contained by markers at the beginning and end of the period.

There is also commercial value to defining one's work by a period. My mother said of Picasso that he was a good artist but a commercial genius, because by exploring a kind of art and then moving on, he created scarcity for the art of each of his artistic lives.

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