My friend Joshua Spodek was kind enough to write about his experiences building out public art exhibitions. One of the lessons he has is counterintuitive - that it can be a faster path to success to get large art projects off the ground than it is to work your way slowly through the art world. Here's Josh -
Art can be an insular field and breaking in is a common challenge, so I'd like to share it with a community that values success and victory. I hope there are insights others can use and share too.
My background is in science and entrepreneurship, but I've developed a passion for making art. I'm not content with just creating it -- like any artist I want exposure and recognition (sales aren't bad either).
The challenge is that New York's art world is notoriously xenophobic and tends to promote from within. My credentials -- a PhD in astrophysics and a company running for over a decade -- mean little to them. Even making great art only gives a foot in the door.
I have a huge challenge that my work doesn't photograph at all and video doesn't capture it that well. When galleries take an interest in my work, a version this conversation happens:
Gallery: We like your work. Send us your portfolio.
Josh: I'd love to. It doesn't photograph.
Gallery: No problem, send us some videos.
Josh: Videos don't work either.
Gallery: Oh well, it was nice talking with you. Good luck.
Building a long relationship by collaborating with a few individuals is totally different... and ironically, I realized a strategy of going big was one of the best ways to get going -- a big public piece in Manhattan's Bryant Park. Here's a video of it:
I'm proud of it. It got me great exposure and connections. One of the major keys to making it happen was to design it to benefit others and to share the credit (the opposite of most artists' strategies).
Making an art piece big and public means that New Yorkers in general benefit. The next thing I did was to offer my services to teach students at New York University's art school, Tisch. I didn't know anyone there, so to make it happen, I visited the school, and described my vision and how it would benefit the school and its students to an administrator (the only person I could find). She introduced me to a professor who could help.
To determine student interest, he had me present my art and the project to the department. Presenting at NYU's art school itself is a nice credential and a side benefit I enjoyed spending my time on. And I learned the students valued the entrepreneurial side of things more than I expected.
Several students joined the project. They would get experience, school credit, and their names on a big public piece, a great resume credit.
At this point the project had support from a major cultural institution. Everybody was winning: the school, the students, the art world, New York City...
It took over a year of planning, plus the semester for the course. It went up last March and has been up since. Another side benefit I didn't know to expect: each student solved at least one challenge. I don't see how I could have completed the project without them. Sharing the credit with the students and school were no problem -- they were awesome to work with. I gained from the experience.
So the project took time, but I was doing something I enjoyed. In the process I made connections at and contributed to one of New York's great cultural institutions. And the cash cost was zero.
As you know, success breeds success. The piece was so successful, I've been given the opportunity to put up a larger piece in a more trafficked location in Union Square with a larger group of students at Parsons School of Design.
In summary, the keys were
- Go big
- Benefit others
- Be patient
- Share credit
Sebastian's take: Brilliant stuff, huh? Josh was getting the run-around at galleries, and paradoxically found it easier to get a large public art installation built. From there, he looked to connect with some specific people, teach, work with students, and now he's doing more.
Josh currently has a Kickstarter up for his next piece:
I'm in for $101. If you like supporting art, check it out. If you don't like supporting art, but you live in New York - still check it out. There's some amazing events that donors at invited to - wine and cheese, etc - and Josh is one of the most fantastic and good people you'll ever meet.
Also, if you contribute, then shoot me an email to let me know, because I'd love to lend a hand to the people doing good things. I'm happy to make some time to lend a hand via email or Skype with whatever you're working on right now for goals, projects, career, business, etc.
Thanks for sharing your experience Josh - it's counterintuitive that doing something bigger and involving a lot of people can actually be a faster and easier way into an insular world. Great stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing the video from this installation :)