Book Report: “Art / Work” by Bhandari and Melber

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As they say in baseball, the THIRD time is the charm! Eureka!! This is THE BOOK that covers it all: everything you need to know from how to pack and ship your artwork, how to consign your work, how to conduct a studio visit, and how to apply for grants and residencies. It is all in here. This book is da bomb, the bible, the way. As much as there can be, anyway.

Co-Author Heather Darcy Bhandari is the director of Mixed Greens Gallery in New York and Co-Author Jonathan Melber has been an arts lawyer in NY for the past ten years. Both authors bring a healthy dose of down-to-earth strategy to this publication, as well as a realistic perspective that is both encouraging and respectful.

The two authors conducted interviews with ‘about 100’ arts professionals from across the country – gallerists, dealers, museum curators, artists, and others – and their research is both eye-opening and empathetic. I would doubly recommend this book to emerging artists because it is written from the perspective of an experienced and successful dealer, and an experienced and successful arts lawyer, and NOT an aspiring artist. It takes much of the guesswork out of the picture for an artist and puts us squarely in the shoes of ‘the other.’

Here is a short segment from the beginning of the book:

Chapter 1: The Big Picture

The art world is full of people who like saying “there are no rules in the art world,” which is only sort of true. There’s certainly nothing written in stone (there’s barely anything written on paper). And sure, what you do in the studio is entirely up to you; there aren’t any rules about what you choose to make or how you make it. But there are general customs in the art world, and widespread expectations among arts professionals, which you should know before you head out of the studio and start meeting these people.

The customs have changed, too. It used to be a given, for example, that you would need many years of studio time before a gallery would look at your work. Today, galleries compete over the newest talent to come out of school, even trying to scoop up MFA students before they’ve graduated. That’s not to say everyone is ready for a commercial gallery, by the way. Pressure to sell can stifle development, especially at the beginning of a career. But because there’s a real possibility to sell work as an emerging artist, you have to confront issues, and understand how the art world works, i a way that emerging artists never had to before.

Of course, you don’t have to follow customs or accept other people’s expectations. We’re not prescribing a bunch of rules that you need to follow. If you want to buck the system, go right ahead. Do the WRONG thing. Just do it on purpose, not by accident, and know why you’re doing it.

How about that for (dis)encouragement? That’s what I mean: realistic but also empowering. Art / Work has 14 chapters, which start with the new basics – hallelujah! – submission materials, business cards, and websites. The book continues on to subjects like opening up your studio, showing your work, dealing with rejection, consignments, residencies, grants, and loans & commissions. At the end, the authors deal with gallery courtship & representation, and agreements for representation. There is no fluff or filler in this book. You can read it front to back and it builds in a logical fashion and an artist can also keep it on the shelf use this book as a resource for specific opportunities or projects. This is an incredibly handy book.

Even the quotes, printed in small type along the edges of the chapters, are from contemporary artists and art professionals – people who are alive NOW, and involved NOW – rather than the usual inspirational quotes from long-dead artists. Local names you’ll see quoted are Andrea Pollan, of Curator’s Office in Washington, DC, Leigh Conner of Conner Contemporary in Washington, DC, and Anne Ellegood from the Hirshhorn, also in Washington, DC. Other big names with lots to say in the margins are: Greg Kucera, Monique Meloche, Shamin Momin, Fred Tomaselli, Andrea Rosen, and Ed Winkleman. If you don’t know who any of these people are, all the more reason to read this book. If you want to seriously exhibit your work and really take charge of your career, this book is your homework. It will answer 95% of the questions that you have about today’s contemporary art world and how you want to engage with it.

I will leave you with a few sample quotes that I liked from the book:

“I apply for grants because they keep me less dependent on the commercial system. That has been important for me all along: finding ways where I won’t have to sacrifice the quality of my work by making repeats or more saleable pieces. In the early days it was my day job – now grants and teaching keep me a better artist.” – Charles Long, artist, Mount Baldy, CA

“It turns me off the most when artists are clueless about other work that might look like theirs or laid the groundwork for what their work is doing. I get excited when an artist knows the tradition in which they are working. I get excited when I hear an artist talking about another artist’s work. It shows a passion for art that isn’t about being an art star. They do not have to be eloquent, but something must be communicated. It shows there is an active intelligence.” – Michael Darling curator, Seattle Art Museum, WA

To order from Simon & Schuster, click here. And, no, I am not receiving any royalties.

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