Wednesday, September 16, 2020

On creating art and not knowing where it ends

When I was in Miami doing the Miami International Art Fair a few years ago, I received a phone call from a very well-known poet. 

Once he identified himself, he explained that he was calling because he was interested in using one of my drawings, which is in his collection, in his next book. The drawing, he explained, which he hangs in his kitchen in New York, has managed to be come a stern and vigilant observer of his daily activities, and he has written a poem about it. 

I was honored by both the request (to which I gave my permission) and also curious as to where he had acquired the piece, which once described I recognized as a piece that I did maybe a decade ago. 

He told me that he had acquired the piece at an auction in New York, where he resides. We connected rather well and spoke for nearly 30 minutes, and I promised to send him more images of my available work. 

But the point that stayed behind with me, and something that I’ve been mulling for years now, is the curious travels and life of a piece of artwork once it leaves the artist’s studio and is acquired by someone. 

I first started dispersing my artwork back when I was a teenager in Brooklyn. Around when I was 13 or 14, I lived in a six apartment brownstone in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. 

The building was owned by my uncle, and part of my duties was to sweep and mop all three floors every weekend. As such I had access to the basement, which was used mostly for storage and had a rather sizable assortment of old paint cans of all sizes and colors. 

Those paints, along with regular commercial paint brushes and cardboard were my first canvasses, and I used to paint imaginary landscapes on them, which then I would take to Manhattan and sell them in parks around 14th Street, across the street from Macy’s. 

Then when I was in art school at the University of Washington, I was one of the many artists who sold artwork at Seattle’s wonderful Pike Place Market. It was there that I sold nearly every one of my art school assignments as well as hundreds of watercolors and drawings created specifically to be sold.

 After art school I moved to Europe, returned to the US for postgraduate school, moved back to Europe, returned again for good, and all through that time began to sell work at gallery shows and art fairs, and by my own estimates I believe that by now I have sold, given away, traded and dispersed well over 5,000 paintings, drawings, prints, reproductions and sculptures in the last 50 years. 

Out of that rather huge number, I have no idea where 98% of them are, although all through those same years I have never, ever, stopped producing art. Even when I was in Beirut, in the middle of a war back in the early 80s, I never stopped drawing and creating art. 

Every once in a while, like the phone call from the New York poet, a work’s location returns to me, and with the emergence of the Internet, more and more have been making their way back to me as often their new or original owners want to gather information on the creator. 

I’ve had emails from Europe, Latin America and Asia, with images attached, as someone who has come across and acquired a Campello wants to know more about it, or confirm its provenance. Works have been donated to universities and other to institutions. Collectors have bought them at auction (oddly enough mostly in Europe), and people have even acquired them at antique shops and other stores - including Thrift shops. 

It’s a fascinating trek that the art takes and that occurs without the knowledge of the artist. I often regret that I never kept better records of where and who owns the work (I still don’t), but then again, I also like the fact that these pieces are dispersed all over the planet and will probably be still around for centuries after I am gone. 

Some don’t even have owners. 

Between 1975 and 1992 I created about 100 small figurative clay sculptures that I then buried underground throughout Europe (mostly in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom). I wanted them to be “discovered” accidentally by future diggers. Some may never see the surface again. 

I’ve also done a “hotel art intervention” project where I would disassemble whatever hotel art was in my room and either create a new piece of art done on the back of the print or whatever was in the frame, or in the rare cases where a bad painting (usually one of those one of a million Chinese oil paintings), I would “add” to the painting, and reframe the work and re-hang it in the room. 

I did this dozens and dozens of times over the years and just did one during one of my last hotel stays. And in three instances, between 1977-1981, wearing a pair of white workman’s overalls, I installed three separate framed large watercolors in three different lobbies of three different skyscrapers in downtown Seattle.

I haven’t got the foggiest idea where any of that work is today. But they’re out there, most of them anyway, and years from now, when I’m no longer here, they’ll still be out there. 

It’s a good feeling.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Can art prices be negotiated?

That is one of the most common questions that newbie art collectors ask me and one that pops up all the time at the ubiquitous expert panels on collecting art, selling art, making art or whatever art. 

My first warning is to always advise everyone to beware of "art galleries" that have "art sales." Although art is a commodity, a reputable art gallery doesn't have "sales" with drastic price reductions. 

All that would accomplish is to destroy the price base of an artist. 

Leave the "sales" approach to rug stores. 

A collector can always try to negotiate prices, as some dealers are open to it and some aren't. Most dealers automatically give known or returning collectors a "collector's discount", and artists should be aware of this industry policy, and it should certainly be specified in the contract. 

Most reputable dealers will try to accommodate a client's requests and will often consult the artist on specific pricing issues, such as the case (in my own experience), where a collector wanted to acquire 40 paintings at once from an artist, but clearly also wanted a major discount. 

If you are a collector, beginning or not, and really want that particular piece of art, but because of your financial issues cannot afford the offered price, be honest and say so and see where that leads. Often the dealer can offer you other work by the artist in your price range. 

Be weary of price reductions of more than 10% as huge discounts hurt the artist's sales record and most reputable dealers will not do them. It is also perfectly reasonable to ask for a small discount if you are buying several pieces of art at once. 

And the most common mistake made by artists themselves: selling their own work directly at vastly reduced prices from the gallery price. This is perhaps the most fatal mistake that any artist can do to destroy his/her work's price base. 

Prices should be aligned and essentially the same regardless of where they are sold, at the gallery, at the studio or at the art fair.

Monday, September 14, 2020

How to make Fufú

 Fufú: This is how you do it 

PlatanoThat image to the right is not a banana, but a plantain (in Spanish platano). 

The plantain is most commonly eaten as a side dish in many Latin American cuisines, where it is simply boiled and then served as a side dish with perhaps a little olive oil and salt to add some flavor, especially if it's a green plantain, which are rather tasteless by themselves. 

The ripe ones are quite tasty and sweet, and are usually served sliced and fried. A few years ago you could only find them in Latin American bodegas, but now most major supermarkets carry them. 

But let's look at the green plantain. 

In most Latin American restaurants where it is offered, it is offered as a boiled side dish. In Cuban restaurants (and many Miami art galleries) it is also served as tostones, which essentially involves slicing up the plantain, frying it in olive oil for a while, taking it out and crushing it, and frying it again. Add salt and you're done. 

But Fufú is the real king of plantain dishes and it is rarely seen in any restaurants, even Cuban ones.

I think that maybe it is because Fufú possibly developed in the eastern part of Cuba (a province once called Oriente), and it may not be as well known or served in Havana, which is the only place that most tourists visit when they visit that unfortunate island and contribute money to the Cuban Armed Forces, which is who owns most of the tourist industry.

With its massive forests and mountains, a large African population from Spain's terrible slavery trade, coupled with its large French immigrant population which migrated to Cuba after the Haitian independence wars, a lot of Chinese working on the railroads that connected the sugar mills, and its concentration of Galician, rather than Castillians, Catalans, or Andalucian Spaniards, Oriente evolved into a very distinct region in Cuba, quite different from Havana and the other Cuban provinces, and so did its Cuban Spanish language and its cuisine. 

Oriente is where Bacardi rum was invented, and where Hatuey beer was created, and where the mojito and Daiquiri were invented... get my drift? 

And in Oriente the humble plantain is eaten as a very delicious side dish called Fufú, with the accent in the last "u" like in Hai-ku.... foo fú

Start with a couple of green plantains. Wash then and cut out the tips of the plantains, but leave the skin on. Cut the plantains into three equal pieces per plantain and bring to a boil in water and boil for a few minutes until the green skins start to peel away. 

While they are boiling, in a frying pan heat a generous dose of olive oil with a seasoning dash of salt and pepper (or Goya Sazon is you really want some exotic spices). 

Add chopped fresh garlic and chopped (very small pieces) onions to the hot olive oil and fry the garlic and onions; lots and lots of garlic. 

While the onions and garlic fry (don't overcook), the plantains should be ready, so pull them out, throw away the green skins and put the cleaned hot plantains on a large flat plate and mash them as you would do for mashed potatoes, but not to an extreme - they should be lumpy. 

Once they are broken up some, add the frying pan mixture of oil, garlic and onions and mash it all into the plantain mixture. Salt to taste and this culinary work of art is ready to eat!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The curious and disgusting case of H.G. Carrillo

Via The WaPo, GWU Professor Lisa Page sounds very apologetic as she reveals that a guy from Detroit passed himself off as a Cuban for years and years, and only after his unfortunate death, did his immediate family "out" him.  Read Page's "explanation" here.

Page asks in the headline: When writer Hache Carrillo died, the world discovered his true identity. What does that mean for his legacy?

Seriously? That's in question?

I can tell Professor Page that - at least for me - it (a) upsets me for a reason that I'm not 100% sure as to "why" and (b) leaves me perplexed that a guy from Detroit could get away with this for a large chunk of his life.

Lisa Page is co-editor of “We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America.” She is also assistant professor of English at George Washington University, where Carrillo also taught.

Five gets you ten that he never participated in a single event in Miami.  He would have been nailed as the impostor that he was within the first few seconds of a conversation with a 10 year old Cuban kid.

How about his writing about the "Cuban immigrant experiences" - from which I can see how a lot of reviewers fawned over?

I've had never read Carrillo - in fact, I had never heard of him until he was outed and THAT made a story in Cuban-American circles, as most of us had never heard of him either.

Shouldn't that have raised an alarm somewhere?

The Babalu Blog notes:

I doubt he visited Cuba, and he apparently steered clear of real Cuban exiles and Miami. According to newspaper archives, he was never featured in Miami’s Nuevo Herald and only once in the Miami Herald (a 2004 review of his novel, but only about the book, not him). In 2005, he visited a college in central Florida to present his novel, and the Orlando Sentinel ran a brief interview with him. Asked who’d had the most influence on his writing, he named several authors–who included no Cubans, not even Reinaldo Arenas, but did include Gabriel García Márquez, who is anathema to the Cuban American community. It should have smelled fishy, but Orlando is not Miami.

 Let's read Carrillo/Carroll and see how long before he starts sounding fishy...

I found a short story titled "Cosas" here, and by the third word in the story my alarms already went up! 

The story starts like this: "Esteban y Casamiro were headed for a place that did not exist and they were out of cigarettes." 

I've never heard of any Cuban named "Casamiro" ---- "Casimiro" with an "i" yes... but "Casamiro" - but maybe it's just me...

I'm on page 2, and it is clear to the most casual observer that this impostor is not Cuban - at least through his writing, which uses Spanish words like "pinche" and "vatos" that are NOT part of Cuban slang (not to mention that he misspells "cerveza" as "cervesa." 

On page 23 I grudgingly give him a "maybe" on his use of "Santo patron" -- doesn't sound "Cuban" - more Mexican, as Cubans usually just say "mi santo" to refer to whatever saint's day it is on their birthday. Also on that page he writes: "Esculpame Padre" - when he should have written "Disculpame."

Page 30 he refers to Cachita as "La Virgen del Cobre" which (maybe it's just me) but sounds very odd, as she's usually referred to as either "La Virgen de la Caridad de El Cobre" or "La Virgen de la Caridad"... but the "del Cobre" bothers me... should be "de El Cobre." He also calls her "Señora", which sounds weird to me in praying to Cachita, which is how Cubans refer to the Virgin. Perhaps I'm being overly cautious now...

Page 30: He refers to a whore as "la maja" - I don't even know what that means? Unless that's a weird reference to Goya's Maja?

Page 33: "Chingao" is a Mexican curse word, not Cuban - If anything Cubans would say "Singao" with a very soft "s" sound.

In page 35 Casamiro curses these words: "Buche! Chancho!" - no idea what those curses mean, but they're not Cuban slang... a "buche" is a "swallow/sip" as "un buchito de cafe" (a sip of coffee).

Page 36: The cursing here is Google Spanish... makes me cringe that somehow this passed as Cuban cursing... any reader of Cuban ancestry would immediately start dialing numbers in Hialeah.

Last page: Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish - not Cuban -- this is the ultimate insult!

I'm torn by the fact that this fabricator of a false identity perhaps got where he got - including a faculty post at George Washington University - by eschewing his African-American identity in exchange for an Afro-Cuban identity, and in the process perhaps... what?

Lisa Page (and others) seem to give him a "pass" because he was clearly a nice guy and loved by his students.  It saddens me that his family, and his mother (who after his death was quoted as saying that she was "really hurt by the whole façade" had to live through this fakery and most immense of cultural thefts.

It saddens me that Herman Glenn Carroll - his real name - had to live for over two decades with the weight that this immense lie must have carried on his conscience. I feel sorry for him.

And I still cannot comprehend how... in the age of information, this happened - did not a single "real" Cuban-American or Cuban scholar ever read anything that this guy ever published and raise an eyebrow?

Does it say something about the critics that reviewed his work and the organizations the heaped prizes on him?

Makes my head hurt.

Update: I've expanded the article here.

Jacob Lawrence

When I was in the Navy, moving every 2-3 years was part of the deal - and I hated each one!

One of the few good things about moving is when you find things that you had forgotten that you had stashed away. And a nice surprise during one of my last moves was the re-discovery of this small (7 inches x 5.5 inches) portrait of one of my professors. 

It's a portrait of Jacob Lawrence that I created back when I was a student at the University of Washington School of Art many decades ago.

He is/was of one of the most influential and courageous American artists who's never been given a show at the National Gallery of Art  -- although the Phillips Collection did step up to the challenge of a major Washington, DC area art museum actually focusing on a great artist who just also happened to be an African-American, and put up a great exhibition a few years ago.

Jacob Lawrence

Saturday, September 12, 2020

On Referral Commissions

Artists and art dealers should always remember this rule (especially in a small town such as the Greater DC area is): You reap what you sow. 

A few years ago, a well-known DMV area curator emailed me to let me know that she had referred to me a collector who was looking for figurative drawings. 

The usual referral commission in the business of art is 25%, so I emailed her back and asked to verify that percentage and she did. The collector then came to my studio (a.k.a. the laundry room of my house) and bought a couple of drawings, and I immediately sent the curator a check for her commission. 

She then emailed me back a few days later and thanked me for my promptness.

Conversely, a while back a couple of different curators approached me asking for help in finding some artists for a specific acquisition project. I spent some time with each one of them, and then gave them a list of artists, as well as the artists' contact information. 

I then contacted those artists and/or their gallery dealer, and told them that I was referring curator so-and-so to them in order for the curator to view and possibly purchase work from them. 

There were about 15-20 artists that I referred and who were then contacted by the curators of these two separate projects. 

Some of the artists are represented by us, and thus they know (because our contract is very clear on that issue) what a referral commission is. Several of the other artists (whom are not represented by us, or in some cases by any other gallery) emailed me to thank me for the referral, and subsequently even a few of them emailed me to let me know that the curators had purchased artwork. 

Some never even emailed or contacted me to thank me for the referral, but most did. So far only one of those artists has asked what our referral commission is, and I am sure that if/when a sale is made, that the gallery will get a check for that commission from that one artist. 

Let's see what happens with the rest of them... you reap what you sow.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Lest we forget

Studio View, 9/11 Oil on Canvas c. 9/11/2001 by David FeBland

"Studio View, 9/11"
Oil on Canvas c. 9/11/2001 by David FeBland

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Artists and Art Fairs

Years and years ago I related how now almost two decades ago, the founders and organizer of a European art fair called Art Basel (which of course, takes place in Basel, Switzerland), decided to try an American version of their successful European model and started an art fair in the Miami Beach Convention Center and they called it Art Basel Miami Beach or ABMB for short. 

And I also told you how that one mega art fair spawned a few satellite art fairs in Miami at the same time and how by last year, before the Covidian Age disrupted the world, there were over two dozen art fairs going on around the Greater Miami area and art collectors, artists, gallerists, dealers, curators and all the symbiots of the art world descended on America’s coolest hot city in December and art ruled the area. 

I also pointed out, that if you are a visual artist in the 21st century and are not aware of these events, and are not trying to get there (get your artwork there is what I mean), then something really big is missing from your artistic arsenal -- unless you’re happy just painting or drawing or photographing or sculpting, etc. and could care less who sees and possibly acquires your work – if that’s the case, then skip the rest of this post and more power to you! 

But, if like some of us, the commodification of your artwork doesn’t bother you, and the fact that when you or your gallery sell one of your pieces, you feel honored and pleased that someone laid out their hard earned cash to simply add one of your creations to their home or collection, then Miami in December should be in your radar once the art fairs (hopefully) get re-started after we defeat the Covidian monster. 

But how to get there? 

The fairs are mostly gallery-based – that means that galleries are invited or juried to exhibit; not usually individual artists --- more on that later – but there are some other ways to begin to crack the Miami art fair presence, and today I want to share some of my ideas. 

Let’s start with gallery-based artists. If you are already represented by a gallery, why not discuss Miami with them? The enormous expenses associated with the art fair scene are the main reason that most art galleries do not consider them. And this is a darn good reason, as most galleries are run by the skin of their teeth and the expense associated with doing an art fair are enormous and could wreck an entire financial plan in less than a week. 

But, what does it hurt to bring it up to your gallerist? Who knows where that may lead? I am still shocked at how many art dealers are not even aware of the potential financial and exposure rewards of doing an art fair. Let me be clear: I don't want to hype this issue as a surefire path to moving artwork. 

But, this much I know… for roughly the same amount of money that a gallery spends on a full page ad in a national art magazine, you can get a small booth in some of the satellite fairs and the return on their investment has a lot more avenues than taking a chance with an ad. 

Gathering information is the key thing… bring the subject up to your dealer, and if they want more info, have them email me… the best thing for art is more art. 

How about if you are a cooperative gallery? Why not consider applying to one of the art fairs and spreading the cost of the booth amongst the exhibiting artists? A word of warning: the better fairs are juried and that means that someone gets always rejected. But the same key that allows cooperatives to survive for decades (spread the expenses) should and must be the key to give them a presence at the art fairs! And many, many co-ops are routinely showing now at art fairs in Miami, NYC, LA, London, Madrid, etc. The fact that they are returning to the fairs means that they’re having a positive experience there. 

The look and feel of the fairs is different as well. Many of them are booth fairs – that means that a white cube booth of plain white walls, ready to be drilled and hung with art, is the main model. 

Fairs such as the original Art Basel Miami Beach, Volta, Scope, Art Miami, Context, etc. are on this model. Some of the other fairs allow individual artists to apply - and as the art fairs get re-invented past Covidian Age, we may see more of that.

There are also hotel fairs. These are fairs that essentially take place in a local hotel, where the room is often emptied out and turned into a temporary gallery by the out of town galleries. The best hotel art fair in the world, according to many, is the Aqua Art Fair, held at the Aqua Hotel in Miami Beach, and having participated in it in the past, add my name to the list of people who thinks that this is the best hotel art fair on the planet. And at past Aquas I saw at least two cooperative galleries.

There are also individual artists-based fairs – after all, with 22-25 art fairs around the area, new models are apt to develop – and they have! Although not yet in Miami, the family of Superfine! Art fairs is in this model.

 A little Googlin’ of Miami art fairs (or just art fairs in general) will reveal just how many fairs there are and where. The key thought to leave you with: think art fairs and think Miami, New York, LA, Chicago... and think of a way to get there.

Monday, September 07, 2020

New uniforms

 When I was in the Navy I did dozens of illustrations for newspapers (such as The Stars & Stripes), and sketches of his shipmates and other US Navy sailors in ports in the US and European ports.  Most of these drawings and paintings were given away to his shipmates, but I also kept many of them - this one has been in storage for over 40 years and was recently found!

In the mid 80s the US Navy started a transition to switch back to the old, classical uniforms...

Funny 1983 US Navy cartoon by F. Lennox Campello

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Art ethics in the Age of Google

Today is my birthday!

I started to sell other artists' works while I was an art student at the University of Washington in beautiful Seattle. As I've noted many times, while I was there, I sold my own works at the Pike Place Market, helped to start a Student Art Gallery, and helped to connect buyers with some of my fellow artists. Then in 1996, my then wife and I opened the Fraser Gallery in Washington, DC and subsequently a second Fraser Gallery in Bethesda, Maryland. I left the Fraser Galleries in 2006 and the same year Alida Anderson Art Projects, LLC was created in Philadelphia, and in 2009 moved to the DC region, where it remains.

In all those years I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of artists, and I can count in one hand the number of artists whom I would call unethical due to their behavior in a business gallery relationship. I thank my lucky stars for that, but I also think that a vast majority of artists, for whatever artistic genetic reason, are good people.

But we are humans, and in any "industry" there are also bad apples, and my own 2-3 bad experiences with artists, plus the dozens of anecdotal stories from other dealers all add up to the fact that just as there are some unethical galleries, there are some unethical artists.

The art fairs' paradigm gives these artsy deviants a powerful new way to use their lack of decent ethics.

As I've noted before, for your average, independently owned, commercial fine arts gallery, signing up to go to an art fair not only opens up the gallery to a whole new set of predators in the art fair scene, but also requires a significant financial environment, which, if not returned by sales at the fair, often causes a gallery to close its physical space.

Most good, ethical and decent art galleries are more often than not run by the skin of the dealers' teeths, often financed at times by Mr. Visa and Mr. Mastercard, and nearly always a labor of love on the part of the owners.

You drop $10,000 to $35,000 bucks on an art fair, and come home with little or no sales, and an empty bank account... that often means that it's lights out for the gallery. I've seen and heard this happen multiple times in the decade that I've been doing art fairs.

As I've also noted before, there is a curious after effect to art fairs; I call it the "wake effect."

A ship leaves a wake on the ocean as it moves through the water; that wake can sometimes be hundreds of miles long and discernible for days.

I define an art fair's "wake" as events that happen days, weeks, and even years after an art fair has taken place.  These events can be sales, exhibition offers, curatorial interest, press, etc. The "record" for this is currently held by DMV area artist Judith Peck, who was approached by someone who saw her work at a Miami art fair years ago and later got in touch with Peck. As a result of that fair years ago, Peck made a sale, and was also included in an art exhibition in Puerto Rico.

That's a heck of a long-assed wake!

The wake effect is important and nearly always present after a fair closes. It is part of a gallery's business prayer plan to survive the economic investments in attending an art fair.

In the Google age, the art of buying a piece of artwork has been Googlified and in any art fair one sees a huge number of people taking photographs of the art being exhibited (a tiny minority of these photographers ask permission first... cough, cough...) and then (here comes the "new" part) they take a close up of the wall text card with the name, price, media and title of the piece.

Potential collectors, art students, art teachers, other gallerists, and nearly every fair visitor from the People's Republic of China does this - it happens in every art fair.

Within minutes, a potential buyer can then Google the artist, even the piece, discover related works, other dealers representing the artist, etc. Minutes later, direct contact with the artist often begins, closely followed by emails to other dealers and/or the artist requesting price quotes and availability.

Some of this is very smart, as there are unethical art dealers who inflate artists' prices at art fairs in order to then offer huge discounts to potential buyers. An ethical buyer armed with good information is an informed buyer, and ethical art dealers have nothing to fear when dealing with them.

Approaching an artist directly undercuts the gallery's investment in the art fair and in promoting the artist's work. However, one can make the case that some novice buyers do not understand this relationship and thus their "direct" approach to the artist, rather than working with the gallery where they saw the artist's work, can be somewhat excused and attributed to a simple lack of understanding... cough, cough.

Experienced collectors who know and understand the commercial fragility of most art galleries, and how the artist-gallery relationship generally works, and yet bypass a gallery and go directly to the artist, should know better, but what can I say?

I know that this happens because I am nearly always one of the artists being exhibited at the fairs, not only by AAP, but also by multiple other art galleries in multiple art fairs. And I get emails from people who tell me that they "saw my work at the such and such art fair and love it" and want to know "what else I've got?" or what's "the best deal" that they can get on this or that piece.

I also know this because I've had our represented artists pass the emails back to us; this is what an ethical artist must do.

Our contract sets an arbitrary time limit on how long a commission exists after an art fair for a direct sale made by the artist as a result of someone seeing their work at the fair. It is all on an honor system, and I am happy to report that as far as I know, no one has ever screwed us out of a single shekel in "wake effect" sales.

I also know this because I work with multiple other galleries, some of which represent the same artists whom I work with, and they too understand the "wake" effect and let us know that someone has been requesting price quotes on an artist that we share.

Enter the unethical artist.

By know I am sure that you know where I am going... The unethical part comes when an artist is approached directly by someone, during or after an art fair, and associates the query with "seeing the art at such and such art fair..." and the artist does not pass the contact to the gallery and makes an independent and direct sale and excludes the gallery from its fair commission (pun intended).

Or the artist is suddenly approached directly by someone, during or after an art fair, and that someone is from the city/area where the fair is being/was held. And the artist does not pass the contact to the gallery and makes an independent and direct sale and excludes the gallery from its fair commission (pun intended again).

Real life example: A gallery exhibits artist Jane Doe in an art fair in Santa Fe. It is the first time that this artist has been exhibited not only in Santa Fe, but also the first time that Jane, who lives in Poland, has exhibited in the USA.  Suddenly Jane begins to get direct queries from people who live in New Mexico.

Hai Capito?

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Senso Unico

Sailor in Naples Eyeing Italian Girl - A 1983 cartoon by F. Lennox Campello
Sailor in Naples Eyeing Italian Girl
A 1983 cartoon by F. Lennox Campello


Friday, September 04, 2020

Day Eight Conference

Day Eight is having their third annual arts journalism conference upcoming. This year they are focusing on "Crossing Borders", considering how arts journalists might interpret art across cultural boundaries. 

I've been invited to participate on an opening plenary on Monday Sept 21 1-2pm - so make sure that you click the link below for more info!

Details here.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Trawick Prize Winners Announced

 From the organizers:

The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards, a juried art competition produced by the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District, announced the 2020 prize winners during last night’s exhibit opening reception. 

Trawick Prize Winners Malcolm Lomax, Carol Trawick, and Daniel Wickerham

Daniel Wickerham & Malcolm Lomax, a collaborative artist duo from Baltimore, MD, were awarded “Best in Show” and received the $10,000 top prize; Erick Antonio Benitez from Baltimore, MD was named second place and given $2,000; Nara Park from Washington, D.C. was bestowed third place and received $1,000; and Bria Sterling-Wilson from Baltimore, MD was awarded the Young Artist Award and received $1,000.

Daniel Wickerham and Malcolm Lomax have been working together since 2009, utilizing digital imagery, sculpture, CGI, video and the web to work across diverse media, curatorial platforms, and institutional contexts. Together as Wickerham & Lomax, they are focused on the impact of cultural practices and productions as formative structures placed on the individual and the collective. The aim of their practice is to take the marginal – peoples, phenomenon and pursuits – and prioritize them in the realm of art. The duo has shown their work extensively, including at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA), Reginald F. Lewis Museum (Baltimore, MD), Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD), Terrault Contemporary (Baltimore, MD), Brown University (Providence, RI) and Dem Passwords (Los Angeles, CA). They’ve presented video works through various screening programs and fairs including The Drawing Center, NADA, Frieze, Hessel Museum of Art and the Maryland Film Festival. In 2017, they participated in The Light City residency based in Baltimore, and in 2015 they won the Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize. Both Wickerham and Lomax received their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees from Maryland Institute College of Art.

2020 Trawick Prize Finalists

  • Erick Antonio Benitez, Baltimore, MD
  • Cindy Cheng, Baltimore, MD
  • Elliot Doughtie, Baltimore, MD
  • Danni O’Brien, Baltimore, MD
  • Nara Park, Washington, D.C.
  • Ginevra Shay, Baltimore, MD
  • Bria Sterling-Wilson, Baltimore, MD
  • Daniel Wickerham & Malcolm Lomax, Baltimore, MD

The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards, established by Carol Trawick in 2003, is one of the first regional competitions and largest prizes to annually honor visual artists. A longtime community activist in downtown Bethesda, Ms. Trawick has served as the Chair of the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District, Bethesda Urban Partnership, Strathmore and the Maryland State Arts Council. The Jim and Carol Trawick Foundation was established in 2007 after the Trawicks sold their successful information technology company. A former teacher and entrepreneur, Ms. Trawick remains engaged in a range of philanthropic causes through the Foundation, which was established to assist health and human services and arts non-profits in Montgomery County

The work of the finalists will be on exhibit at Gallery B, 7700 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite E, until September 26. Gallery hours for the duration of the exhibit will be Friday-Saturday, 12 – 4pm. During operational hours, social distancing will be enforced and face masks must be worn by all visitors.

Entries were juried by Larry Cook, 2017 Trawick Prize Winner; Assistant Professor of Photography, Howard University; Carrie Fucile, Professor of Digital Art & Design, Towson University; and Noah Simblist, Associate Professor of Art and Chair of Painting & Printmaking; Virginia Commonwealth University.

For more information, please visit or call 301-215-6660.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The more things change...

The more they stay the same! The below was published four years ago... I'm still waiting to see some movement... any movement!

About a decade ago I co-curated for the Fraser Gallery a giant Cuban art exhibition which brought to DC many Cuban artists for the first time - it was called "De Aqui y de Alla" (From here and from there) --- see it here: )" and it included many artists from Cuba as well as the Cuban Diaspora from around the world.

Olga Viso (who is of Cuban ancestry), at the time at the helm at the Hirshhorn came by the gallery to see the show... the head of the Hirshhorn! 

Subsequently I curated a touring art exhibition of contemporary Cuban artists that I put together which traveled to DC, Philadelphia, Norfolk and Miami (Titled "Aqui Estamos" or "Here We Are").

In both cases the work avoided any and all contact with "government approved artists" and zero contact with the brutal Cuban dictatorship, and in fact, had somewhat of a dissident focus.

Of related interest to the theme, a local collector here in Chevy Chase owns a significant collection of Korda photographs, including the vintage photo of Che Guevara (Guerrillero Heroicothat Korda kept in his studio as his personal image of Guevara. The owners of the planet's most reproduced image acquired it directly from the Korda family, and I believe there's a video of the event (done as a provenance)... there are 19 photos in the collection - they were recently exhibited at the Museum of Latin American Art in California and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum at the University of Oregon and also at the Museum of Latin American Art in California.

I've heard from major collectors of Cuban art, most of whom I know well, that Stephane Aquin, the new Chief Curator of the Hirshhorn Museum is in the process of curating an exhibition of Cuban art. He brings an excellent pedigree in the subject, as about a decade ago he was one of the curators of “¡Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today”, an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He selected Cuban work post 1959.

Which brings me to an interesting issue.

In the past decade, I have been part of multiple gift offers of work by blue chip Cuban artists to the Hirshhorn. In every single instance that I have been involved in, it has been declined. In every single instance, the declined work ended up in another major museum.

Work by Sandra Ramos (whose iconic work adorns the cover of Holly Block's bible of Cuban art, and that same iconic print is also in the collection of MoMA) has three times been offered as a gift to the Hirshhorn Museum by two separate collectors, and it was thrice declined. 

One Ramos ended up in the collection of the Miami Art Museum, one at the University of Virginia (which under the guidance of former curator Jill Hartz accumulated a superbly impressive collection of Cuban art), and one at Cornell University. 

It was because of that, that I welcomed the Hirshhorn's new library program to acquire supporting material by Latin American artists, and their blog post noted the inclusion of a catalog of Ramos' recent show in NYC.  Of course, her American gallery solo show debut was in the DMV over a decade ago (in 2004 also at the Fraser Gallery - see I'm desperately searching my storage for supporting materials of that exhibition, as that widely reviewed show was her first solo in an American commercial art gallery.

That's a terrific new program that the museum has been funded to do -  according to the Hirshhorn, the funds will be used to catalog Latin American materials that are in their 9,000 volume cataloging backlog. So far, they've identified 500 books and catalogs in the Latin American category, and they have catalogued around 200 of those, and they have one more group of 100 to catalog once the Cataloging Department has found contract staff to implement the last grant. It's a gigantic job, but it seems to be in good hands.

Back to Cubans and the Hirshhorn.

To the Possible Limit, 1996 by Jose Bedia

According to the Hirshhorn's website search, Ana Mendieta, Wifredo Lam, Jose Bedia, Los Carpinteros, Emilio Sanchez, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and J.F. Elso (and the five prints by the "five") are the only Cuban artists in the museum's collection and many of those were part of the original bequest, indicating to me (as far as I can tell from the website) that the museum has not acquired very many Cubans since they opened. I could be wrong, but that's what it looks like.

They did acquire this gorgeous Carmen Herrera in 2007. That was at least somewhat of a "discovery" as Herrera was not dubbed the "hot new thing in painting" by the New York Times until 2009.

That NYT piece was done when she was 94.

Herrera sold her very first painting... ever... in 2004, so the Hirshhorn jumped in early (2007), which colors my last paragraph in this post. Five gets you ten that the very gifted Olga Viso had something to do with that.

In addition to the declined Sandra Ramos (three separate gift offers) that I mentioned earlier, the Hirshhorn has in the past (since 1996 to around 2008, which is when I gave up and stopped working as a middle man to offer them gifts from collectors of Cuban art) declined gifts of works by Maria Magdalena Campos-PonsCirenaica Moreira, Elsa Mora, Belkys Ayon, K'Cho, Aimee Garcia Marrero, Deborah Nofret Marrero, Tania Bruguera, Carlos Alfonso (multiple pieces from his estate), Roberto Wong, Korda, Roberto Fabelo, Marta Maria Perez Bravo, and Carlos Garaicoa... I may be forgetting some.

Most of those ended up as gifts to other museums in the US (one ended up at the Tate in the UK)... it was curious to me the 100% decline rate, especially of some major works... this is the Ramos that ended up in the Miami Art Museum - it's the one titled "Ruinas de Utopia (Ruins of Utopia)" one of her key works dealing with the decline of Cuban life...  Another painting from that page was also offered (the one titled "Rescate" )- that one ended in the collection of Cornell University.

With Aquin at the helm, and his clear background in Cuban art, and with the funded interest in cataloguing peripheral material from Latin American artists, perhaps the Aquin and Hirshhorn will "discover" some other Cuban artists besides the "usual suspects," and perhaps the next time that an important gift by a blue chip Cuban artist is offered to the museum, it may find a home there.

No one has asked me, and I suspect that no one will, but if Aquin reached out to me for some recommendations, and since all the Cuban artists' names mentioned in this blog post so far should be well-known to him, I would recommend a look at DMV Cuban-American artist Ric Garcia.

Wouldn't it be great if the Hirshhorn's Cuban show included a local with a singularly unique set of artwork?

Just sayin'... time to "discover" rather than "re-do."

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

What to do and what not to do

If you're an artist:

  • Do not hand out your own personal business cards at your opening and/or an art fair where your work is being exhibited. What you should do is work it out with the gallery, and if agreed, make your own personal business cards that list the gallery (and not you) as the contact point.
  • Do not start a relationship with a gallery without a contract or written agreement.
  • Do not vary your prices from dealer to dealer, or city to city, etc. What you should do is to have an established process (via contract/written agreement) where it details what discounts (if any) are offered in cases of multiple buys, museum sales, etc.
  • Do not have "art sales." This hurts your established price points.
  • Do not have prices in your website, instead force interested collectors into communicating with you or your gallery. Make sure that you note your gallery representation in your website.
If you are a gallerist:
  • Do not operate on a handshake; always have a contract or written agreement.
  • Do not hide the names/address of buyers. All that accomplishes is that it tells the artist: "I don't trust you."
  • Don't work out price issues on the fly. Work out pricing issues ahead of time to ensure that you and your artists are all clear on all possible scenarios.
  • Don't skip on art insurance.
  • Don't take too long to pay your artists (period should be specified in your written agreement/contract (such as "Artist will be paid within ___ days from the time that the artwork payment clears").
If you are an art collector:
  • Don't undercut the gallery by "skipping" them and going directly to the artist.
  • Don't trust art dealers/artists who offer prodigious discounts on the artwork - nearly always that means that the prices were inflated to start with.
  • Don't be afraid to ask if the artwork is done to conservation standards.
  • Don't call a painting a "picture."

Monday, August 31, 2020

Anatomy of an art commission

It all started at the 2016 SOFA Art fair in Chicago, where my work was being shown by the hard-working Audrey Wilson, when (after the fair ended) a well-known Chicago area art consultant emailed me:

I am an Art Consultant from the Chicago area. Saw your work at SOFA and would be interested in talking about a possible commission piece, for a client
What would be the best way to reach you?
I respond to her that I am very interested and that I am forwarding her email to the gallery which was showing me there, which is the right thing to do, so that the gallery can coordinate the possible commission.
Lesson One to artists: Do not screw your art dealer, who put up the sheckels to show your work at a fair, or a gallery show, and thus deserve a commission for the possible… ahhh… commission.

How much commission does the gallery take for a private commission of an art piece? This should be clearly stated in your contract between the artist and the gallery.

Lesson One point one: Make sure that you have a written contract with your gallery.
Emails later, I am dealing directly with the art consultant. She emails me an image of a drawing that she saw in SOFA and is looking to see if I’m interested in doing two very large versions of the drawing which are to be mirror images of each other.
Like a good art consultant, she then reminds me:
Please keep in mind when considering pricing that I do need to get a percentage of the sale  I will charge my client retail value but just like a gallery I take a percentage and that is negotiated with artist per piece. Just wanted to bring that to your attention.
Lesson two to artists: The industry standard in these cases is about a 20% commission to the consultant.
I then prepare a commission proposal for her:
Description: Two 36x66 inches original charcoal and conte drawings on pH-balanced, acid free paper, medium weight paper. The drawings will be mirror images of each other and as close as possible to the image depicted below. They will be shipped, unframed and rolled in a large tube. Work includes a Certificate of Authenticity and Provenance signed by the artist. Artist will also deliver all preparatory sketches. All artwork will be signed and dated in pencil recto on front and verso.  
Total artwork cost: $ USD 
Shipping (via FedEx): $75 
* Gallery: 25% 
* Consultant: 25% 
* F. Lennox Campello: 50%
Approval: Work will commence once approval to proceed is given via email. Approval to proceed is understood to mean that both have parties agreed on size, composition, substrate, cost, and commissions. 
Payment: Artist is acting on good faith and requires no advance deposit. Full payment is due upon completion of the work (estimate is no later than December 25, 2016 provided that approval to proceed is given by December 5, 2016). Payment via check is preferred in order to save bank charges. Artwork will be shipped immediately after receipt of payment and clearance of payment by bank.
The proposal is briefed to her clients and accepted. I then send her a sketch of the commission as I understand it, but I have the orientation of the works wrong and it needs correction – at the end she sends me a rough sketch:

It matches my last proposal drawing, so we are set to go.
I get started on the first drawing, and as soon as it is done, I take a photo of it and email it to her so that she can see it immediately.
Lesson Three to artists: Keep communicating at all times so that there are no surprises.
I finish the second drawing, which is a friggin’ bear, since it has to be a mirror match for the first one, and because of the huge size of the paper, not easy to deal with… but then it is finished.
I send her an image of the second one, and all is good.
Then I ask for more data, and send her a note:
Question: I always sign the work both on the back and the front.... some people (as long as it is signed somewhere) prefer not to have a signature on the front of these minimalist pieces.... I'm OK with either... you may want to ask your clients if they want the front all clear (no siggie) or if it's OK if it is signed and dated on the front as well.
She asks, and they’re good with both signatures. Do you see the importance of good communications?
I am now ready to ship, but being the good Virgo that I am, I worry about her framer, so I take the time to draft and email her this:
I'm sure that you use a great framer who knows all of this ahead of time... but I'm sending this from the bottom of my heart and speaking from experience:
1. The drawings are on pH-balanced, acid free, cotton paper - please only use conservation materials in framing.
2. Drawings are signed both on front and back - if any trimming is needed, please be aware of signatures - space has been left to accommodate the desired final size. The paper needs to be trimmed for the correct width - trim from the edge opposite the leaping figure and from bottom as needed. The drawings have also been fingerprint-signed on the verso.
3. Because of the size of the paper, it needs to be relaxed before framing - this is done by unrolling paper from shipping box and laying on top of a table long enough to accommodate the length of the paper. Warning: If the paper rolls on too-short a table when opened, it can be damaged if it "bends" over the edge of the table - this may cause crescents on the paper - if this happens, they can be removed by dampening the back of the area where the crescent occurred and laying to dry on a table long enough to accommodate the paper. It is very important that the framer knows ahead of time that artwork should only be unrolled on a long table that can accommodate the length!
4. If clients require "float framing", recommend 1/4 white conservation spacers, but of course, whatever size they end up framing to, the drawing must not be allowed to touch the glass... use either spacers of 8-ply museum mat board.
Payment is ready to be processed, but speaking from experience, I advise her to call her credit card company and warn it that an online charge for the agreed amount is about to take place from the gallery. This saves time, as if a significant amount(as this is) shows up from a DMV source for a Chicago credit card, chances are that it won’t happen.
I then pack the work myself, ensuring than nothing short of a small nuke can damage the work. As soon as it is shipped, I email the tracking number to the consultant.

Next: What happens next!
It arrives - it gets installed All done! And here's what it looks like all installed...

First the original space:

And now with my two pieces added in - each is a mirror image of each other and flanking the windows:

Sunday, August 30, 2020

More Bad Things Galleries do to Artists

This has happened to artists several times in my memories, both in the US and in Europe:

Artist and gallery owner agree to do a show of the artist's work. The gallery, like many all over the world, also has a side business as a framing shop, and tells the artist that they will take care of the framing.

The artist agrees on a handshake, and never asks for a contract, or costs, assuming that the gallerist knows what he is doing.

On opening night the artist shows up and is not too keen about the framing, but it's too late for any real discussions, as people are beginning to show up. Several pieces are sold, and the artist is very happy with the opening.

At the end of the show, the artist gets a letter in the mail from the gallery. Excited to see the payment for the sold work, the artist opens the envelope and finds a framing bill.

The bill details the cost of the framing, substracts from that amount the artist's commission from the sold work, and bills the artist for the remaining amount, as framing is very expensive.

Anger follows...

More bad things that (a) galleries do to artists or (b) artists do to galleries or (c) galleries do to collectors 
here, and here and here.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

A bad thing that unethical galleries do to artists

The vast majority of independently owned, commercial fine arts galleries are ethical, hard-working labors of love, the second most-likely business to fail (in the US), and often run on a tight budget.

This is an example.

There are also unethical galleries gallerists who will take in a piece of artwork by an artist, and when the price is discussed, the gallerist asks: “What’s the price?” and the artist says: “$1000″ 

The gallerist nods OK and the artist leaves, knowing that if sold, he’ll get $500 (most galleries in the US charge 50% commission — in NYC some are as high as 70%).

The gallery then sells the piece, but for $2,000, sends the artist a check for $500 and pockets the extra $1,000. 

That is why artists should insist on having a contract with a gallery, and the contract must specifically address that the artist will get 50% of the actual sale price.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Bad things galleries do to art collectors...

Our area, like most major metropolitan areas, is peppered with stores that have the word "gallery" in their business name, but are very much far removed from what one would consider a true art gallery. 

You will always find them in high traffic areas; main thoroughfare streets where "real" galleries could never afford the rent. 

You also often find them in malls. I am speaking of the places that sell mass produced decorative works, either by Kinkade wannabes, Spanish-surnamed painters and worse still, the following scam: 

Some of Picasso's children inherited many of the plates used by Picasso to create his etchings. Since them, some of those plates have been printed ad nauseam by the current owners and are sold around the world as Picasso prints. 

And then, to make matters worse, some of the plates are signed "Picasso" by his offspring owner, who is (of course) technically also surnamed Picasso. 

The sales pitch, which is not technically illegal, but certainly unethical, goes something like this:"This is a real Picasso etching, printed from the original plate and it is signed." 

Note that they never state who signed the print. 

Hapless buyer purchases the print for a pretty good chunk of change, takes it home and brags to his friends about his signed Picasso. 

This will be a hell of a mess for the Antiques Road Show experts to detangle in a couple of hundred years.

 And don't even get me started on the great Dali art fraud.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Hatuey Webinar is on now!

 OK my art peeps! Need all my peeps to support Ric Garcia

Join me in an Artist Conversation with Ric Garcia


In concert with the show "Hatuey: Rebel Chief" in the Maryland Milestones Heritage Center, artist Ric Garcia will discuss his process and the inspiration behind the show in conversation with The Lenster!

Click the link to register!