Friday, August 5, 2011

Art Critic Brian Sherwin Interviews Gallerist Edward Winkleman

This article, originally posted on FineArtViews by FASO, is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City.

Edward Winkleman is a gallery owner, curator, author and blogger from New York. Winkleman's blog has long been a point of contact for artists who desire to learn more about how mainstream art galleries function. His blog features discussion about art, culture, and politics. Winkleman is known for being an art dealer who embraces social media and the Internet. He spearheaded Moving Image, an art fair focused on contemporary video art, and participated in VIP Art Fair.

Winkleman Gallery has participated in Art Chicago, Pulse, ARCO, NADA, Aqua and several other art fair venues. Exhibits at Winkleman Gallery have been reviewed in The New York Times, Art in America, The New Yorker, Artforum, Flash Art and several other art publications. Winkleman Gallery is located in the Chelsea arts district in New York City.

Winkleman tends to represent art that has an edge-- art that slices deep into societal exploration. He has represented Janet Biggs, Jennifer Dalton, Joy Garnett and The Chadwicks-- among others.

Brian Sherwin: Edward, your art blog is considered by many to be one of the most influential art blogs active at this time. Why did you decide to start blogging?

Edward Winkleman: I began blogging originally about politics, back in the early days of the George W. Bush administration when I couldn't find any semblance of the outrage I felt about our march to war in Iraq being expressed in the main stream media. Bloggers were much more willing to say the things the news anchors apparently were not, and it became a haven of sanity for me. Even when I disagreed with the other commenters, at least people were acknowledging what was going on. Most important to me about all that was that I was actively learning about things I wouldn't have known how to go about learning if left to my devices...the community of bloggers were very generous in pointing out the best summaries of issues and/or best critiques of policies.

It took me a few years to realize that this same resource could be applied to discussing art and the art gallery system. I launched my current blog in 2005 mainly as a marketing tool for the gallery, but it quickly evolved into a forum on how to navigate the gallery system. I've enjoyed being part of the discussion (loving galleries as I do) and so continue it today.

BS: A decade ago many art professionals scoffed at the Internet-- but today it is not hard to find some of the most powerful individuals in the art world utilizing the Internet to spread their opinions... art critic Jerry Saltz comes to mind. In your opinion, how has the Internet in general influenced the direction of the art world?

EW: The Internet has accelerated the pace at which like-minded people can connect. This is the case in all spheres, not just the art world. But being a visual world, first and foremost, the ability to share images online has helped artists find other artists they share affinitities with much more quickly than ever before and so I think that's speeding up how quickly ideas spread, are explored, are critiqued, and are processed via studio practice. It's also helping marketing people take an artist's advance and reconfigure it to sell soap (or whatever) more quickly too, so in that way it's blurring the lines between fine art and commercial art. With the good always comes some bad.

BS: The concept of selling art online-- at least where high profile galleries are concerned-- is an aspect of the art market that has had ups and downs in recent years. VIP Art Fair, which I believe your gallery participated in, is a good example. In your opinion, why are so many gallerists wary of adapting to e-Commerce and solid online promotion?

EW: The wariness is due to the fact that the ultimate art viewing experience is to stand in a well-considered, perfectly lit space with the actual art. This will never change for object-based work, in my opinion. So it's challenging to have a true experience of the work online. I think online sales and such are good when the collector has seen the artist's work before and knows how to translate the 2-D jpeg into a sense of what it must look like in real life, but ultimately I think the more images people view, the better they understand any artist's work, so it all contributes to education and appreciation, and in that sense is all very useful.

BS: Do you think at some point selling art online will become a common practice among gallery owners rather than being viewed as a mere alternative? Do you think in the future art dealers will conduct most of their business online rather than in brick & mortar spaces?

EW: For certain types of art, yes. Photography for example lends itself better to online sales than installation, so I could see more photography eventually being sold via online channels than in real life.

As for the brick & mortar question, it really depends on the type of art the dealer sells. Much of what we do in our space (like #class or our current exhibition of three films that are inter-related and installed to highlight how) wouldn't have the same impact if exclusively online, and in that way wouldn't convey the artists' real intent. As long as a gallery is committed to work like that, they'll mostly likely need to find a way to present it in real life. What I think you might see is a business model that includes brick and mortar exhibitions when needed and online exhibitions when possible (meaning, galleries not having full time spaces year round).

BS: Many artists have ill opinions of galleries in general. Many of those negative opinions are due to not understanding the business of marketing art. In other words, they have no clue about the risks gallerists take simply by representing an artist-- they don't look beyond the percentages. Can you offer some insight into the expense gallery owners endure so that perhaps artists reading this interview will have a better understanding of the percentage split?

EW: It cost our gallery $15,000 to $18,000 to present a solo exhibition. And we're on the low end of the spectrum. Therefore, unless the show sells $30,000 to $36,000 the gallery is arguably taking a loss in presenting that show (I say arguably, because galleries can sell other work out of their inventory, but they may not, depending on the market). Once an artist has reached a point that their work is consistently selling more than it takes the gallery to present a solo show, they should ask the gallery to reconsider the 50/50 split (in the artist's favor, of course). Until that point, in my opinion, they should recognize that the gallery is investing in them and be willing to be equal partners in the split.

BS: What advice do you have for artists who have yet to find gallery representation-- should they sit back, create, and wait for that day to come... or should they focus on self-marketing their art work?

EW: They should network with the artists and curators and collectors and writers who affiliate themselves with the galleries they believe (after careful research and real soul searching) would be a good match for their work.

BS: With that in mind, is there anything negative that you can think of in regards to artists selling art on their own-- anything that can be hurtful later down the road if picked up by a gallery? What do artists need to keep in mind when selling solo?

EW: I think there's nothing significantly hurtful about selling one's own work. It might lead to less studio time, but other than that, if you can, go for it. The only real downside is the loss of context and press potential that a gallery provides. If you get enough of that via museums or other venues, though, and still sell well out of your studio, then a gallery may be completely unnecessary for you.

BS: I'm sure you are contacted by hopeful artists all the time-- due to the Internet artists can easily contact art dealers, art critics, and other art world professionals with ease... I'm sure that is not always a good thing. With that in mind, do you have any advice concerning online etiquette that artists should adhere to when communicating online? Should artists resist the urge to contact an art dealer out of the blue, so to speak?

EW: I wouldn't dissuade anyone from going about this in the way they feel they must, whatever that may be. I would say, however, that galleries do get bombarded all the time by cold call submissions that are so entirely wrong for their program it makes you wonder if the artist even knows the first thing about the gallery, that they eventually grow weary and more and more don't even give the cold call a chance. Your best introduction is always via an artist working with the gallery or a writer or collector or curator who knows and likes the gallery. I'd highly recommend going that route if a cold call ends in silence from the gallery end.

BS: I can recall several instances of artists coming to me for advice about gallery owners who asked them to remove their online presence-- for example, one was asked to remove herself from all social art sites (Myartspace, DeviantART, and so on) that she had placed her art on, another was asked to take down his personal website, and a few were asked to stop blogging about their art. You are a gallery owner who happens to embrace the Internet... many of the artists you have represented over the years have had a strong online presence while being represented by you... can you give some insight into why some gallery owners are wary of artists who have a strong online presence?

EW: I have never discussed this with other galleries, but I suspect it's the desire to maintain a certain quality of presentation (which I understand). It's also, obviously, a desire to have the gallery serve as the first point of contact, which is how some galleries can truly do the most good for their artists. It's a case-by-case basis. I'd encourage any artist who thinks their gallery is wrong to insist on such matters to have a conversation with them about why and if they disagree with the response to discuss how they might best find a compromise.

BS: With the above in mind, would you say that artists seeking mainstream gallery representation should be careful about how they present themselves online in general? Or do gallery owners tend to understand that artists have their own life, opinions, and so on?

EW: It depends on so many variables, it's impossible to generalize. I would say an artist looking for a gallery should most definitely have a website. If I can look at a website and get what I wish to know there (images, bio, statement, press, etc.), it accelerates my decision making process in whether to advance to a studio visit. It's a professional requirement in my opinion for any artist looking to get representation.

BS: In your opinion, what are some of the best ways that an artist can promote himself or herself online? Should artists have a personal website? Should they utilize Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media?

EW: A well considered, medium appropriate website with great images and only relevant text is hands down the best. Social media are for networking, and I'd say a "reasonable" amount of self-promotion.

BS: What is your opinion of art blogs-- such as Art Fag City and Hyperallergic-- and the new wave of art critics and writers who have found a voice online? Also-- are we witnessing history in the making as far as the expansion of art criticism is concerned?

EW: Both the blogs you mention are exceptional. They capture the spirit of New York's younger art community brilliantly. I think both would be well served if someone (them or someone else) could find a model that helps the best online arts writers earn a decent living for all the hard work they do. Other than that, the more online writing the better, I say. The quality of such writing will sort out who survives and who fades away.

BS: Would you say that specific art blogs are becoming just as vital as traditional publications in regards to being a key source for information about art-- or do you think traditional art publications will continue to dominate the realm of art news, reviews, and debate?

EW: Traditional arts publications (like all publications) are seeing the need to have more of an online presence. It's simply where readers are gravitating for their information. I'd expect to see them work to find ways to bring their brand online without watering it down. If I had the solution to that problem myself, I'd be buying a house in St. Bart's now, I'm sure.

BS: Anyone who follows your blog knows that you often venture into political activism. In your opinion, why is it important for individuals within the creative community to make a stand on social and political views they believe in? Do you feel that art writers and artists should be more politically active in general?

EW: I don't know that I think it's important for others. It's simply important for me. I know a certain portion of my readership must groan and think "politics...again?" when I climb up on my soap box. I hate to disappoint those folks, but a blog is a "personal web log" so I'll keep mixing it us as I personally feel it keeps me interested.

BS: You published a book that focused on advice for people interested in opening an art gallery... do you have any plans to publish a book that is geared toward advice for artists directly?

EW: It's been discussed, but there are really great texts out there already on the subject.

BS: It is often said that an artist must move to New York if he or she wants to "make it". Obviously there are many ways to interpret what 'making it' in the art world means today. Is New York still the destination for artists in your opinion... or do you feel that artists should instead focus on what success means to them? How do you define a successful artist?

EW: That's a lot, and I'm unfortunately running out of time. I'll cheat here and point to a recent blog post I wrote about that...the 58 comments are definitely what to read.

BS: In closing, is there anything you would like to say about your gallery or your roster of artists?

EW: I LOVE my artists... they're all doing very important work in my opinion, and all the collectors and museums out there who are not currently buying their work will be kicking themselves down the road when their prices are much, much higher.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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