ARTisSpectrum | Volume 29 | artisspectrum.com
and nothing similar has been attempted since.
In addition to parsing the rosters of artists represented by
leading galleries, curators — whether independent or af-
filiated with museums or non-profit spaces — tend to rely
on the same spaces and venues that dealers use to dis-
cover artists. These range from exhibitions at smaller gal-
leries and non-commercial spaces, to residency programs,
respected art schools’ MFA showcases, recurring bell-
wether exhibitions like the Whitney Biennial, Documenta,
Manifesta, and so on, and art fairs. Since most curators are
not concerned with the salability of the work they show,
they are typically more open to showing, promoting, and
championing artists whose works are unconventional,
unwieldy, or go against current trends.
Being by and large — though not entirely — outside the
art market puts non-profit and artist-run galleries in an
advantageous if precarious position: They are not depen-
dent on the tastes of an often-overly cautious art market,
but they are also at the mercy of the broader economy
as their budgets are covered chiefly by grants and dona-
tions. Freed of the necessity to turn a profit, they are able
to show artists who are not market-tested, or whose work
doesn’t conform to the flavor of the day, and such spaces’
curators tend to encourage artists to undertake projects
from which profit-driven galleries might shy away. The
rest of the art world also closely monitors them, so that
despite being cordoned off from the art market, a strong
showing at a non-profit space can often help an artist
secure commercial gallery representation, connect with
collectors, or gain the attention of museum curators.
The role of a critic in an artist’s career is two-fold: In the
immediate, positive or negative press in response to a
work or an exhibition can influence the likelihood of future
shows, and sway the interest of curators, museums, and
galleries; in the long-term it can help secure an artist’s
place in art history, or — at worst — doom her or him to
obscurity. However, the relationship between an artist’s
critical and commercial receptions remains less predict-
able. Successful artists will often remain popular even if an
exhibition or work of theirs is poorly received, and collec-
tors’ tastes often trump critical evaluations, at least as far
as the market is concerned.
Art Advisers
Though they rarely interact directly with artists, art advis-
ers add a fourth notch to the artist-gallery-collector equa-
tion, acting as mediators between buyers and dealers.
Not all collectors hire art advisers: in 2006 the New York
Times reported that between 10 and 30 percent of con-
temporary art sales at major galleries were brokered by
advisers, and that it was a growing trend. However, they
wield enough influence to effect immediate demand for
and long-term interest in an artist’s work with novice and
seasoned collectors alike.
Though it may seem obvious, it bears reiterating: There
are reasons why artists flock to — and pay the expensive
rents for apartments and studios in — major art world
capitals like New York, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, and
so on. All the individuals, groups, businesses, and institu-
tions enumerated above are concentrated in such places.
Though there are certainly outlying nodes of power and
the internet has slightly eroded the importance of opti-
mal urban location within the art world, artists based in
these cities have a distinct advantage over those based
elsewhere simply by virtue of having more direct access to
countless gallerists, curators, critics, and other artists.
The Payoff
All of this is to say that the art world contains many
groups and types of players, each with their own agendas,
tastes, and interests. It is an environment governed by
informal relationships, pliable rules, inscrutable patterns,
and erratic trends. Difficult as it may seem to navigate,
and though no two artists ever follow the same trajectory
toward success, knowing the types of people, institutions,
businesses, and factors that play a part in this many-
armed and multinational enterprise re-
mains an essential step towards
making it work for
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