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Book Review: Making It in the Art World: New Approaches to Galleries, Shows, and Raising Money by Brainard Carey

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If you’ve ever been to an established art fair like the Armory Show in New York or Art Basel in Miami Beach,  or one of the satellite shows organized as counter-programming, you may wonder how to get on to the Broadway (or Off-broadway) of the art world. For aspiring artists, the title of Brainard Carey’s book Making It in the Art World: New Approaches to Galleries, Shows, and Raising Money will definitely appeal to you. But does his book give you a recipe for success?

Carey and his wife Delia won a spot  in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, along with a $10,000 fee (they’d asked for $950,000) simply by persistence and force of personality, and his book is evidence of that persistence and personality. A lot of what Carey says about reaching your goals as an artist is common sense: researching art dealers and galleries, pounding the pavement and meeting people and getting into contact with people who may help your career. But there’s an air of condescension and calculation in his approach, as a writer and as a self-proclaimed artists’ coach.

The tone of his prose may be due to the editorial policies of the Allworth Press, an imprint which could fill a shelf full of self-help books about various aspects of the art world. Carey writes likes he’s talking to a six-year old, and if that wasn’t clear enough he draws stick figures to illustrate concepts like attitude and incidents like an invitation to his studio. The crudeness of the figures are probably supposed to make the reader feel at ease and not intimidated, and they are certaibly more interesting than standard-issue self-help clip art.

But they seem patronizing — look at me, if I can do this, you can too! The calculation is more telling, as Carey encourages readers to make acquaintances that will be useful to you. Maybe that’s the way it works, but it seems tacky and insincere to put it that way. But sincerity doesn’t appear to be part of the formula for making it in the art world. Just take a look at who the author admires.

One of the artists Carey looks to as a model is French painter Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash. Mr. Brainwash is best known from art bad boy Banksy’s provocative documentary Exit Through the Gift Shopa scathing indictment of an over-hyped art world. Carey suggests that Brainwash’s work is dismissed by the art establishment because he went outside normal channels.

I’ve met Mr. Brainwash, on the streets of Chelsea, and he seems a charming and friendly guy, but his art is a mashup of regurgitated pop icons at maximum volume. Carey disingenuously points out that Mr. Brainwash’s most recent New York show was in an abandoned warehouse in NY.  

But that garish exhibit, which Mr. Brainwash directed me to when I met him, was in the uber-hip Meatpacking District, where space costs a fortune to rent. Where does the money come from? Are there that many rich people who want to shell out on tacky art to bankroll such a “DIY” endeavor?

The answer appears to be yes. At last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, srtist Paul McCarthy sold three copies of a Pepto-Bismol pink dwarf with penises sculptture at  $900,000 a piece.

Such sales figures can be disheartening, but if you can brush away the curtains of cynicism long enough, it can also be encouraging. Quality is obviously not what art buyers look for.  Artists can be of mercurial and self-loathing temperaments, and encouragement in any form may be welcome.  

So if the structure and specific strategies that Casey lays out seem like they’d be helpful, then go for it. But it boils down to one word, something that no book can give you, as simple as it is elusive: hype.

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About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.
  • Much of quality art requires research prior to buying. Art can be purchased cheaply at estate auctions. Occasionally, organizations like The Salvation Army have great pieces of art at dirt cheap prices. Again, research is critical so that the buyer knows what he/she is looking at, as well as the value.

    Starving artists need to be aware of what sells. Again, research and consultation with art dealers is critical.