Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Birth of a Blog/Review of the 2008 Scope Art (un)Fair

Greetings. My name is Ted Stanke and I'm an artist. I begin this blog through frustration, in hopes that I might begin to highlight the everyday struggles of trying to be an artist in this world, as well as the triumphs and lessons. In time, this blog will chronicle my progression from unknown-artist to household-word, so feel honored if you're among the first readers.
Okay, so here's the current scenario. Four years ago I moved to NYC after earning my MFA. Like many young, bright artists, I had a feeling that the merit of my art alone would eventually build roads for me, and that by being nearby the center of the artworld, I would make connections and find success. I checked Craigslist obsessively, participated in many group shows, and met many wonderful people. I did odd jobs off Craigslist, and continued working on art all the time. It was cool, and added lots of lines to my resume, but there was never even a slight chance of making a sale. Eventually, debt and bills necessitated a full-time job, and I wasn't able to check CL so often or make as much art as I wished, but still I had hope for an eventual break.

In March of 2008, that break materialized. A new body of work I was promoting had led me back to CL regularly, and I was getting into tons of group shows around the city. It was exposure, but pretty small-scale at one-night venues. I was willing to take what I could get. This work was exciting for me and I was eager to share, not sell. One day I saw a posting that made my heart skip. A well-known gallery in Williamsburg was looking for proposals from unknown artists, as a slot had unexpectedly become free. The ad said, "Suprise me, but don't waste my time with a bunch of unrelated pieces," and emphasized the importance of the timeslot as it coincided with the Armory Show. I put together a viable solo-show idea with my new work. It would be called "PERSON, PLACE or THING" and I could picture it in the backroom of the gallery, to which I'd been numerous times.

Here's the card from my show:

This place is known for being edgy, and always comes to mind when I think of places my work might fly. Also, I'd met the proprietor in 2004 when I'd been in a curated groupshow out of gradschool in Chelsea. I'd had the opportunity to start selling work then too, with multiple interested buyers, but my naive midwestern ideals had driven me to decline based on my desire to show the work to more people first. After the show came down I was left on my own. I hadn't known it then, but no other opportunity would compare until now. This time, however, I was ready to make sales. I had just done a DIY show at the building where I have my studio in Greenpoint, so all the sculptures were hung and lit in a gallery-like setting. The timing couldn't have been more brilliant.
I was riveted to g-mail for the next 24 hours, holding my breath and crossing my fingers as I refreshed the page again and again, praying for the inbox total to advance. I left the house when an out-of-towner friend unexpectedly called wanting to see my new work, and didn't check my e-mail for most of the afternoon. When I eventually did, I was completely thrilled to see the simple one sentence response, "can you come by the gallery today?" I jumped on my bike and made it there in minutes. I rushed in out of breath and awkwardly introduced myself to the gallerist. We had a half-hour discussion during which he expressed a sincere dislike for most of my work. Too political, too many toys, too smaltzy, too much meaning, things like this. People, he said, would be confused if he gave me a show. He'd heard of me, and had been following my career, but was never impressed. He hated my website and rolled his eyes when I mentioned I had work on permanent display at a bar. I was beginning to wonder why he had called me down just to express his disinterest, when he said that although he wouldn't give me a show slot, he wanted to take some of my work to the Scope Art Fair, where he was pretty sure he could sell it.

Here's the series... they're large and heavy, made from a lot of found objects:

This was cool, I'd heard of Scope, and had built these particular sculptures with an eventual sale in mind, but had always been fussy about wanting the right sale. The worst thing to have happen to you as an artist is to be broke and backed in a corner when you make a sale, and unfortunately I know this feeling very well. The money goes in a week and you never see the art again. Scope seemed like the real thing. It was taking place at Lincoln Center, and the more research I did the better it began to sound. The artmarket seems to revolve around the fairs, and as an unrepresented artist, being in Scope was undoubtedly going to open new doors for me. Finally I saw the light at the end of a decades long tunnel. Whether or not the work sold, I was finally going to be seen by real art collectors, critics, and gallerists. The big time, at long last!

Scope Pavillion Lincoln Center Kick Ass!

During the weeks leading up to Scope I was like a kid waiting for Christmas, but luckily I had a lot to do to occupy the time waiting. The sculpture I was showing had suffered some wear and tear from years of being dragged around by a broke artist. Once it accidentally turned into an outdoor piece when the sushi restaurant where it was hanging changed the roof on their patio. This sculpture is composed of lots of different kinds of metal, so just getting rained on once will begin the rusting process. Also, the background is composed of compact disks, many of which had cracked or broken and would need to be replaced. I had always dreaded fixing it, but knew it needed to be done, and this new goal gave me the massive amounts of energy I needed to finally improve things.

years of rough times...

I worked consecutive 12 hour days for a week straight, missing work and spending what little savings I had. I used my own CD collection to replace the broken perimeter, because I knew I'd never be able to find hundreds of disks quickly enough or cheap enough, plus I liked the symbolic nature of putting a deep personal piece of myself into a sculpture I was about to offer up for sale at a market. The part of me that despises money enjoys doing these kinds of things in my artwork. The original CD's had all been AOL handouts taken from postoffices and apartment junk-mail piles.

I followed up with multiple e-mails to the gallery, thanking them, giving them specific dimensions, and asking if there was anything I needed to sign. I heard no response. A week passed and my energy was gone. I thought it had all been a ruse. I sent a 4th e-mail, asking please for confirmation on the artfair, and was relieved later in the afternoon to see a response from the gallerist asking if a studio visit on Saturday would be possible. "Of Course!" I replied, "Name the time." But I never heard back. I left a voicemail Saturday morning but had no response. Fortunately I received contact from someone else at the gallery asking for dimensions, which I'd actually already provided, as well as pictures of other work. This seemed like confirmation enough, and I was back on track. I was given a time and a place to bring the piece, and I looked forward to the night of my life.

With about 2 days to go, the gallerist finally calls me to confirm that I've set up a delivery method and time. I assure him I did, then he asks about the sculpture at the bar, saying it really shouldn't be there because no serious collector would buy work from a bar. I tell him that I meet strangers all the time who have seen it there, and I think it's good publicity, plus it's a quiet bar and I know it's safe. He stresses the significance of making multiple sales at fairs and I agree to move it to my studio. He asks me to bring another piece to his gallery as well. This one also needs some repair, but I'm game, because if everything sells at the prices he's thinking I'll be free to concentrate on new art for months, and maybe line up a future show somewhere. I buy lumber and build an A-frame crate structure to transport the work safely. I find a man with a van on CL willing to move my stuff around town. Everything is set.

back from the bar:

On Monday, I brought the sculpture that the gallery had requested to Lincoln Center and installed it. Afterwards I asked if there was someplace I could store my crate, but was told there was no room. I didn't mind because I had a cart. I disassembled everything with a screwgun and used straps to make something that looked like wooden luggage, which I could envision taking on the subway with relatively minor difficulty. I am well accustomed to lugging my art and packaging through public transportation, and since moving to the city have sized my work accordingly. I asked if everything was good with my sculpture, and when told it was, I left, excited to begin a new chapter of my career as an artist.

I've got a golden ticket...

Wednesday came and I awoke triumphant. I went to the thrift store and found some decent pants in my size, and pulled from my closet a dark H&M blazer given to me years ago by a friend who worked at an office. I took off from work, too excited to eat, waiting for the First View at 3 pm. I wondered if I might meet celebrities. I love to stand by my work and listen to people talking about it who don't know I'm the artist. What fun. Around 2:30 I called the gallery director to make sure that artists were invited to the opening reception. I knew it was likely a heirarchical event and didn't want to break any rules. I was told that artists might get in the way, and that I should come by Thursday or Friday, in the afternoon. Whew! I was glad I had called, that might have been awkward, not to mention the wasted trip and train fare. In passing, he mentioned that my piece had been moved, based on weight concerns. I was not surprised, as I had stressed multiple times in e-mails that the piece was extraordinarily heavy. This is a real concern for me with these pieces, and I've delivered them to more than one show where I was told they couldn't be hung. That's why I opted early to park them in permanent public locations and save the headache and expense of dragging them all over town. He said he'd considered calling, but hadn't thought it necessary after they had assured him it would be hung somewhere. After all, he was counting it as a good bet to sell, so I prayed for the best, imagining maybe it would be put in an even more prominent location. I might be the star of the show! I was totally psyched for the elite viewers to begin reacting, and even more thrilled about the 10,000 plus other interested art fans who would see it over the course of the the weekend. Soon I would be legitimate; a real artist at last. I searched the internet, looking for video blogs and reviews, hoping to catch mention or photos of my work. I watched a 10 minute old YouTube clip walk-through where someone interviewed the very gallerist that brought me in. He smiled and said that despite the economy, in terms of sales, they were having their best year yet. Jackpot. I can't remember a time I felt more pleasure, satisfaction, or relief. The sky was the limit.

Thursday I went into my job as an artist assistant, making up for desperately needed lost wages. Even if I did sell art, it might take weeks to see the money. I didn't go to the fair until Friday. A voice message I'd left with the gallery director had gone unanswered, so I would have to find out the news in person of the success of my debut. I got to the tent and flashed my VIP card. Oh yeah! The booth was right by the entrance, so I didn't have to go far to find the people I wanted to see. Well?

the unimaginable

And now comes the promised review of the Scope Art Fair: I don't know how it was. I was too angry to have an unbiased opinion, and I didn't spend much time there. It turns out my piece had been removed from the show at the demands of the President of Scope. It had nothing to do with weight concerns, that had been an excuse to save my feelings. The reality was that the president feared it might read "folk", so he deleted it from the entire exhibition. Apparently the gallerist protested but to no avail. A clause in the contract mandates global control to the President, who also foots the bill. A bit of internet research reveals that Scope has struggled to achieve an image of impeccability to affectively woo the pocketbooks of the affluent, and unfavorable reviews in the past have pointed to a lack of proper truncation by galleries in the selection in the art being shown. People often complain that the fair is willy-nilly and claustrophobic, with a high percentage of ho-hum art. Art fairs are not democracies, and not all emerging artists deserve everything. So my sculpture spent the weekend in a storage closet, with all the empty crates that other galleries had been allowed to store, behind the coat-check room, outside the pavillion. The fear was apparently that the inclusion of my artwork would discredit an otherwise prestigious exhibition. After coming to the final stage one man stopped me cold. Alas, this was not my week.
Alexis Hubshman* interviewed at Scope London

Needless to say, I'm fairly disheartened. You never really know how much you want something important to you until it's offered, especially when it's something you're used to not having and want more than anything. You kind of develop a mentality where the actuality of not having it becomes so real that you become the person without what you want, so when you're suddenly offered a way to become the person you've always wanted to be, who has everything you could hope for, you're not sure how to become that. This recent experience has opened my eyes and heightened my focus to become what I'd most like to be: only making art. So much preparation to enter the bigtime artworld, only to get a key for which the lock has been changed, is like saving your appetite all day for a big meal, smelling it cook, seeing it served, then dropping your fork and looking up to see your bowl gone. The hunger remains. I'll move on, but I feel a bit slighted. More than 10,000 people just didn't see my work who should have. To top things off, the Scope crew lost the bracket I fabricated in gradschool to hang the piece, so now it has to lean against the wall. What can I do? I guess I'll start a blog and see where that goes...

*Scope Foundation Mission Statement: The SCOPE Foundation was created to benefit artists, curators, and under-serviced communities in its destination cities. We are proud to bridge local artists with the international art world.


Mark said...

Great story Ted. You certainly carried your end, many artists would never be as industrious as you were. The gallery was rude at best and Scope management, well...Their loss

Anonymous said...

Hi Ted,

Couple thoughts here --

First, obviously you've been doing all the right things, getting your work out and making it happen for yourself. Obviously you need to keep that up and I'm sure you will. Congratulations!

This big post, while a good story with lots of insights, which probably helped you vent your frustrations, doesn't function well as an image piece for you. Personally I think it kind of works against you. And now that there are some movers and shakers in the art world who know you and your work because of your excellent self-promotion, why not keep things moving up?

Also, just because a dealer tells you "Hit the road" one day doesn't mean he won't say "Where the hell ya been?" the next. They can and do turn, sometimes on a dime.

But even if one doesn't, there are many many others. They're remarkably different, one from another. Each has his/her own motivations, talents and market.

So I hope you'll shake this thing off, man. You're doing all the right things. There will be many many more exhibits and your market will find you. Just keep putting out the energy and keep being very enthusiastic and on your game.

Congratulations again - B

Erik Von Ploennies said...


I really feel for you, and wish you the best of luck. All things in life happen for a reason, so maybe this event will turn into something positive down the road; you just have to keep going.

I did an art show at Stain in January and saw some of your work there. It's really amazing. In fact, that I how I first became aware of your art.


Anonymous said...

Oh, the freedom of being a starving artist!
Keep plodding

Ted Stanke said...

Thanks everyone that read this. I've been compiling some images for the next post which should be coming out shortly. I understand all the possibilities that I might be inviting, and that's what will make this blog even more spectacular, I believe. Anyway, bear with me, I've got some more great stories.

Alisa Minyukova said...

LIke I said..I wasted My time looking at all that nonsense, trying to find YOUR piece at the fair, How boring that fair was. How inspiring you work is...

Anonymous said...

incredible amazing story ted, real and palpable and tactile and fascinating perspective of a great imo artist and this blog is looking like one of the finest ideas around, bravo!

Anonymous said...

Ted you are a Stanke through and through. What guts and the glory is on it's way. I am proud to have such a fine artist in my family. Art critics - who can say what is going on there.

I agree - their loss!


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Bill Gursky here Ted. Having known you from UWL where we both studied under Cam Choy, I find the blog reads a bit too desperate and somehow upset that your work is not being taken more seriously. There is even a hint of narcissism at work. I can never tell if artists use that to sort of enable, but it really turns me off to your potential.

Also bear in mind that if a gallerist or possible collector reads this, the craig's list adoration comes off a bit strange.

Also, having work in a bar is not a problem, but as a dealer and occassional artist, I can very much understand the points being made. It is hard enough to sell art to people as a dealer. With the world closing in via the internet, it is understandable that this could have caused some consternation. Dealers pay a minor fotune to compete at scope and it is fair game that they worry about their potential market running across referrences ont he web about this sort of display.

All of this being said, I really like the current work on money. It has an applicable place in our given scoiety and I wish you the best with it. My above points are simply there to give some food for thought.

Be well and prosper!