The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 34: ASSASSINATION: Brian Sherwin, Senior Editor of myartspace, Artist, and Art Critic (Part One)

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Screenshot of myartspace website. Courtesy of Brian Sherwin and myartspace.
Screenshot of NYAXE (New York Art Exchange) website. Courtesy of Brian Sherwin and NYAXE.

myartspace, the foremost social and professional networking websites for artists, has become the place to hang out. With its top-notch features, juried art competitions, and its online/brick-and-mortar gallery NYAXE (New York Art Exchange), this virtual piece of Internet art with the backing of CatMacArt Corporation is a personal delight of mine where I enjoy going to like visiting a local coffee house.

Brian Sherwin, senior editor of myartspace since September 2006, has risen to become one of the most respected art critics with his sharp and on-point blog posts and insightful interviews through the website. As myartspace expanded this year into its new NYAXE gallery, online discussion forum, Twitter chat lines, and its forthcoming London Calling competition, I had a chance to speak with this esteemed Erasmus of the art world.

By the way, if you have any questions about any of the stuff being featured at myartspace, feel free to contact Brian Sherwin at balhatain@catmacart.com for further information.

So here are the secret details of the hard-hitting “assassination” as revealed by this newly released transcript:

qi peng: How are you doing over there at myartspace?

Brian Sherwin: Myartspace.com is doing great. In just under three years we have established a community of over 50,000 members. We have had an exhibit in the Chelsea art district in New York, have sponsored and exhibited with the Bridge Art Fair [MIAMI], and recently opened a brick & mortar gallery in Palo Alto, CA.  In June of this year we will have an exhibit in London. We are one of only a few social art sites that have been able to exhibit with a major contemporary art fair– and are one of only a few that have an offline presence in the form of a gallery.

qi peng: As the senior editor for the prime online website for emerging artists, what are your primary responsibilities for myartspace and its concomitant online store front/gallery called NYAXE?

Brian Sherwin: As Senior Editor of myartspace.com my primary responsibility is the management of the Myartspace Blog and forum. Currently, my interviews are sent out to over 50,000 Myartspace Weekly subscribers. The Weekly is an opt-in e-letter that contains information about interviewed artists as well as Featured artists.  I’m also a member of the Management Team– which means that I have other responsibilities, such as responding to questions that members have about the technical aspects of the site.  I also actively seek opportunities for the myartspace.com community. For example, I contacted Michael Workman which resulted in a partnership between myartspace.com and the Bridge Art Fair.

qi peng: With the name “myartspace” alluding to the popular social networking website called “MySpace,” in what fashion is myartspace a primary networking site for emerging and established artists?

Brian Sherwin: Myartspace.com is a great networking site for emerging and established artists because they can easily use it as the hub of their online activity as far as online exposure is concerned. For example, every member can create flash galleries that can be embedded on other websites. Thus, they can combine their efforts by using aspects of myartspace.com on other sites that they are involved with. Soon members will be able to maintain their own blogs on the site. Social art sites are important because of their focus on artists– people visit the site because they want to view art. In other words, it can be hard for artists to be discovered as easily on some of the larger networks– such as Facebook and Myspace. Those sites, as great as they are, are not exactly focused on visual art. I suppose you could say that as a social network we have a target audience.

qi peng: What is the story of the founding and growth of myartspace into a major venue for the contemporary art world?

Brian Sherwin: I accepted my position at myartspace.com because the founders of the site impressed me with their passion for unveiling opportunities to emerging artists online. Myartspace is one of the first social art sites to explore flash galleries and video uploading as an important aspect of gaining exposure online. Oddly enough, some of the larger social art sites that have been around for nearly a decade have started to emulate our technology. In a sense, myartspace.com has broke new ground as to what an online art community can– and should– be.

Myartspace.com was founded by Catherine McCormack-Skiba and Brian Skiba. Catherine, inspired by her late mother, felt that artists needed more options for gaining exposure online. For example, many art sites limit their members by only allowing a few images to be uploaded per month– while others restrict their members to 20 or 50 images at any given time. Most charge a fee for unlimited uploading. Thus, Catherine desired to establish a site that allows members to upload unlimited images for free. That is why we consider ourselves an open community compared to the majority of social art sites. She has also worked actively with the goal of meshing the online and physical art world in ways that have rarely been done.

qi peng: Do you have any specific examples of artists who started on myartspace who have become major players within the contemporary art market?

Brian Sherwin: It really depends on how you define ‘major players’. There have been a number of successful emerging artists on the site. For example, Sarah Maple, Anthony Lister, and Scott Wolfson. There are also a number of more established artists who utilize the site– Holly Hughes, Derek Ogbourne, and Michael Craig-Martin for example. Some of our artists, like Laurie Lipton, are now selling their work for over $30,000 these days in New York. So we attract emerging and established artists. They may not have started on myartspace.com, but they do realize the potential of our network.

We have members who are represented by Mary Boone Gallery, Gagosian Gallery, Nohra Haime Gallery, The Columns, Peter Blum Gallery, Galerie Haas & Fuchs, Hakgojae Gallery, Acquavella Galleries, Copro Nason Gallery, and Lazarides. Several of our members have been featured at SCOPE, Pulse, and other major contemporary art fairs. We have gallery members as well– Strychnin, A Gallery, Plus gallery, among others. Myartspace.com is a powerful network.

qi peng: Your artwork reflects an ongoing interest in the psychological theories of Carl Jung. What accounts for your fascination for his theories and how does your artwork mirror the precepts of the psychology? With your background in mental health studies, do you have an interest in outsider art and if so, how is that imparted into your work itself?

Brian Sherwin: One of the rules that I’ve set for myself is that I do not exploit my position with myartspace.com in order to promote my own art. My goal is to raise the bar for others– not myself. Thus, I rarely discuss my own work in association with the site. I do have an account and I do embed my galleries on other social networks, but I do not use my status with the site in order to promote myself in interviews such as this. Now if the interview was strictly about me I would be more than happy to discuss my personal work– since the basis of the interview is about my work for the site I’m hesitant to discuss my personal work. You could say that I’m very focused on integrity.

qi peng: Also you work as an art critic. How do you see the personae as artist and art critic compatible with each other? In what ways are these roles disparate from each other? Traditionally, why do you think that most people within the art world have kept these two characters apart from each other? Do you feel that within our new world where the Internet has become predominant that the artist and art critic can merge with each other?

Brian Sherwin: Art criticism is nothing more than opinions. That said, some opinions are more informed than others. Anyone can be an art critic, but that does not mean that everyone can be an informed art critic. Unfortunately, the value of art history and appreciation is rapidly decreasing in our society. The end result being that very few people are able to give informed art criticism based on a historical standard, so to speak. For some people art history does not matter– for me it does.

As for the meshing between artist and art critic– I think that a good artist is also a good art critic. An artist should be critical of his or her art– he or she should be able to view the work of others in an informed manner. Being influenced by an artist from the past is not enough. An artist should be able to discuss the exact connection in order to communicate how he or she is building on to that specific visual tradition. In other words, if an artist is going to add his or her authentic voice to a visual tradition it is best to know the history of that tradition– who came before, and why. Without that knowledge– other than spouting off direct influences– the artist has muted himself or herself.

qi peng: What is your relationship, both professional and personal, with myartspace’s CEO Catherine McCormack-Skiba? How has her vision as the creative director impacted your myartspace occupation?

Brian Sherwin: I view Catherine as a friend and mentor more than just my employer. I actually have a lot of freedom with my position in that I work with little supervision.  When a few people strive to change the way that art sites are perceived within the art world it is crucial to have a bond of trust. Catherine has trust in my ability and I trust her leadership. If an issue arises it comes in the form of a suggestion rather than a bold declaration concerning my direction.

Catherine selects the majority of Featured artists on myartspace. So in that sense, I would say that her vision is very influential to me and to the development of myartspace as a whole. She definitely has her ear to the ground concerning the art world. When I spearhead projects she keeps everything structured behind the scenes. Without Catherine myartspace.com would not exist.

qi peng: Considering that myartspace has become a huge force within the online art world, how has her vision been perceived, either positively or negatively, by other gallery owners who run traditional gallery spaces?

Brian Sherwin: Traditional art dealers and gallerists are often wary of online art venues– it is not uncommon for a hardcore traditionalist of the art market to openly scoff at sites like myartspace.com. Some individuals may never accept online art venues as legitimate– some simply do not like change. However, it is obvious now– more than ever– that the traditional art market has flaws. I firmly believe that if galleries had embraced the internet and eCommerce earlier we would not see so many galleries closing. That is not to suggest that eCommerce is the only solution for traditional art dealers, but it is an alternative to the market that should be explored. As the saying goes, “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. Unfortunately, there are individuals who speak out against online art communities and eCommerce who have little to no experience with said communities or selling art online.

Some brick & mortar galleries views sites like myartspace.com as a threat while others do not. It seems that in the last two years brick & mortar spaces are starting to explore what the internet and eCommerce can provide. I think part of that has to do with the state of the economy right now. After all, it is easier to represent a few artists online than to keep gallery doors open every day of the week. I think the blunt of the art world is slowly realizing that representing artists online is not exactly a bad thing.

Markets change– today art is bought and sold with cell phone in hand at art fairs and auctions.  I doubt art dealers in the 80s expected that to happen. There is always room for new ways to buy and sell art. It is all about adapting to the technology of today. Those who miss out due to pride or a romanticized view of the art market will only hurt their business in the end. If we have learned anything in recent months it is that the failure to act can have grave consequences.

qi peng: With the recent downturn in the American economy, have you seen any changes in how the galleries been able to interact with their audience? Can galleries afford to take a risk in curating riskier exhibitions during this period? Are you seeing collectors’ habits change within the physical art market as the national banking and other financial sectors are suffering from various problems such as foreclosures?

Brian Sherwin: It is no secret that gallery doors are closing. In fact, some of the gallery staff in New York have made a game out of betting on which gallery will close next. Many of the galleries that have survived are open for fewer hours or days compared to a few years ago. Some have backed out of art fairs. So yes, I would say that there has been a decrease in availability for the wider audience. However, you have to keep in mind that most brick & mortar galleries focus on their core audience– their base of collectors. That is what can make or break a brick & mortar gallery. That said, they do benefit from the buzz that can be generated from having their doors open to the public. Thus, the unavailability can hurt.

From the artists I’ve spoken with it appears that galleries are less likely to take risks with exhibits that are not considered profitable. For example, emerging new media artists are having a hard time being exhibited at this time. Groundbreaking art is not always the most profitable art to represent– even when the economy is good. Thus, art dealers are shifting toward exhibiting art that they know has a high chance of earning profit. Emerging artists in general are feeling the pinch from lack of exhibit opportunities.

The economic crises has thrown a wrench in the art market machine. The days of art dealers snatching up recent art school grads as if they were standing at the end of a factory production line are over. True, there will always be exceptions– but I don’t think we will see the same number of recent grads enter the market with $20,000 price tags as we have seen in recent years. The art collectors realize this– many are being more thoughtful in their investments.

qi peng: What is your favorite online resources and art magazines or journals for checking out the latest art news scoop?

Brian Sherwin: My favorite online resources for art information– Art F-g City, Winkleman Blog, SharkForum, Bad at Sports, Art News Blog. The art blogs in the Culture Pundits network are some of the best. As for traditional publications– Art in America, New American Paintings, Hi Fructose, and Juxtapoz are all good resources in my opinion. There are also some interesting online art collectives that have been in development in recent years– such as the beinART International Surreal Art Collective and Stuckism International.

qi peng: What has been the major challenges that NYAXE faced in gaining respect from art collectors who may not have been accustomed to purchasing top notch works online?

Brian Sherwin: When it comes to eCommerce and art you have to establish trust with potential buyers. A collector is not going to spend thousands online unless he or she knows that the transaction is secure. That is why we use an escrow system of payment. NYAXE actually serves as the middleman in that we hold the funds until the buyer receives the art and is happy with it. Once that happens, we release the funds to the seller. Basically, we make sure that both the seller and buyer are safe. Again, many eCommerce sites for art do not do that– they often involve a huge risk at the buyers expense. You could say that our biggest challenge is proving that buying and selling art online does not have to involve risk.

qi peng: How will NYAXE extend its legs into potential museum acquisitions? Does NYAXE gallery see auction houses as a potential rival or partner in the future?

Brian Sherwin: We actively pursue partnerships and opportunities. Due to the myartspace.com competitions we have contact with curators from some of the most prestigious museums and auction houses in the world. I can’t go into full details, but I will say that it is something we are looking into. I think of the site and the direction we are going as a work in progress– you never know what the future might bring.

qi peng: What is the underlying premise behind the scholarship program that myartspace offers to art students worldwide? With the ongoing decrease in arts funding happening nationwide as well as the flap over the Rose Art Museum‘s selling of its artifacts to pay off debts, how does this program counteract the financial difficulties of emerging artists as they try to make it into the art market after graduation?

Brian Sherwin: The myartspace Art Scholarship Program was established because key members of the Management Team felt that the site could be used to support art students and their goals. We have a growing membership of art students on the site– so the scholarship competition, which is free to enter, was our way of acknowledging that base of users and their needs. We realized early on that art scholarships were on the decrease. Currently the scholarship involves $16,000 which is split between three undergraduate finalists and three graduate finalists. It is an annual competition.

Times are hard for artists– be they self-taught, students, or graduates. Thus, we hope at some point to offer a grant competition as well. That way the global community of artists will have even more opportunities to help foster their success.

qi peng: In your “Art Space Talk” series of interviews with people from the business side of the art world such as Mark Staff Brandl, do you see your project as embracing or rejecting institutional critique?

Brian Sherwin: I’d say it is more about finding balance. It is no secret that with traditional publications one can buy reviews and critiques. I’m not going to name names, but I know several art critics and all of them have noted the fact that galleries and artists who buy ad space in magazines tend to be the same galleries and artists that end up reviewed in the publication. That goes for mainstream art publications as well as underground art publications. That is not to suggest that all traditional art publication review, critique, and interview based on ad sales alone– but it does happen. It is part of the business I suppose.

qi peng: You also have an interest within the educational background of artists and art professionals. What accounts for your ongoing fascination with art education? Do you have any opinion on self-taught artists or artists who reject the “formalism” of the art school institution (thinking about the movie Art School Confidential” here)?

Brian Sherwin: I’m interested in art education in general– and at all levels. One of the reasons I ask about educational background is because many art students and art school hopefuls frequent the blog. So it is a way to connect with them, so to speak. In a sense, it shows students what to expect if they enter the same program as the individual who has been interviewed.

When it comes down to the line we are all self-taught. If you are in art school it is not like the instructor is showing you how to do everything hand-over-hand. The idea that art school taints creativity is foolish in my opinion. True, an art student can ‘burn out’, so to speak, but I know just as many artists who have never attended a formal art class who fade as well. It really comes down to the individual.

Oddly enough, most of the art students I’ve known reject the opinions of their instructors. There will always be those who toss their ideas aside in order to create what they know their instructors will like– but those same students probably do similar things with other aspects of their life.  We all like to think that artists are free spirits who cut their own path in the face of opposition– that is not always the case. Again, it comes down to the individual. Art school is not a brainwashing center unless you allow it to be.

There is nothing wrong with studying on your own time instead of attending college. Keep in mind that I’ve interviewed both ‘self-taught’ and degree holding artists. The benefit of studying art on the academic level is that you will most likely have more time and space to work. Art students have access to equipment that they may not be able to afford on their own. Art students arguably have more access to information about art– libraries filled with books on art history and theory– that they may not have had otherwise. Thus, it is important for art students to take advantage of those resources. Does that make them ‘better’ than artists who studied on their own? No. However, art students are potentially more informed due to the resources available to them.

As mentioned, I’m interested in art education in general. I often receive emails from high school and college art students who have used my interviews as a source for a paper. I think it is important for students to read the words of other artists. I think it is important for artists to write about art, why they create art, and how they create art. Art writing of that nature has been severely lacking in recent years as far as I’m concerned.

qi peng: When conducting an interview, what is the process from start to finish? Do you conduct a lot of research in addition to potentially spontaneous questioning? What is the underlying angle on the person that you wish to communicate to the blog readers?

Brian Sherwin: The interviews are conducted by email, phone, or in person. I research  an artist before contacting him or her about an interview. Sometimes if the artist is not widely known it can be hard to find details about them– this goes back to the art writing mentioned earlier. That is why it is important for artists, especially emerging artists, to make details available online. The information offered on the artists personal website or profile on myartspace.com– or another online art community– can dictate the questions that I ask. If a detailed bio and statement is not readily available online I will often resort to basic questions. In general, I try to keep the questions short so that the words of the artist are the focus. The interviews are their chance to speak– not mine.

qi peng: Do you see the series of interviews as a form of visual and verbal archaeology that mirrors the ongoing contemporary art world like the way Studs Terkel recorded the history of the American people during the last century?

Brian Sherwin: I do see the interview series as a form of documentation concerning the art world of today– and how it is viewed by emerging and established artists. When I look back on my interviews with Michael Craig-Martin, James Rosenquist, Vito Acconci and others I’m often amazed at the fact that their words reveal some of the troubles we are facing now. In hindsight it seems that artists from all walks of life realized the art world was headed for trouble. It is also interesting to read the views of these artists concerning the internet– due to the casual nature of the blog I’m able to ask questions that some of the more established artists have never been asked.

qi peng: What is your take on the structure and inner workings of the art world today?

Brian Sherwin: This is a very open question– so I will tackle it with an angle.  As far as success within the art world is concerned there have always been pecking orders. As with anything involving business, success can depend on who you know, how willing they are to help you, and what you can do for them. The interesting situation of today is that the pecking orders of the art world can change drastically due to the internet. In other words, those on the outside of the mainstream art world can quickly become insiders by utilizing aspects of the World Wide Web.

Look at Steve Lazarides and the artists he represents– many of those artists got their start by gaining a fan base online. Many were known by average Jane’s and Joe’s online before being known by key figures in the art world. In other words, those artists had a large online following before being accepted into the mainstream art world. Many of Lazarides’s exhibits spread by word of mouth and type. It just goes to show that the opinion of the masses can shape– or shake– the art world. I think the general public has more of a say in the art world than ever– the internet will continue to allow their voice to be heard. If the doors to the mainstream art world can’t be opened they surely can be bashed down.

qi peng: Do you have any advice for up and coming BFA and MFA graduates who are graduating from art school and are starting to hunt for galleries to show their artwork?

Brian Sherwin: My advice would be not to hunt the top galleries– don’t waste your time. If those galleries want you they will do the hunting. If an influential gallery does take you on and suggests pricing your art excessively– think twice. If you get caught in the $20,000 trap you will destroy the market for your art before it has even started. It seems great to earn those prices straight out of school. However, if you are interested in sustaining the market for your art it may not be the best choice in the long run. You don’t want to anger collectors by lowering your prices back to where they should have been in the first place. As mentioned earlier, those days are hopefully over. Remember to be realistic about your status and prices. Take advantage of physical and online venues– use sites like Twitter, Facebook, and myartspace to build a strong online network– combine your efforts. Maintain an art blog. Think outside of the box.

qi peng: Do you think that there are too many talented artists within the system than what the top galleries especially in New York or Los Angeles or anywhere else can handle?

Brian Sherwin: I think it is safe to say that there are millions of artist worldwide who are deserving of gallery representation in New York or one of the other hubs of the art world. The problem is that there are only so many galleries to go around. Each gallery can only physically represent so many artists within the space. That is why it is important, in my opinion, for galleries to explore what the internet and eCommerce can offer their business.

Think of it this way– a gallery in New York may only have room to physically represent under a dozen artists at any given time. By utilizing the internet and eCommerce the same gallery can represent hundreds of other artists digitally within the gallery itself and online. While the gallery will always have their core stable of artists they can also represent– and profit from– artists that they represent alternatively.

Artists would benefit from more opportunities for gallery representation. The galleries would benefit from offering more options to collectors while ‘testing the waters’ with artists who have potential for physical gallery representation.

qi peng: What are the challenges and joys of people experiencing artwork online as compared to meeting it within the physical environment?

Brian Sherwin: Viewing art online is great because you can be introduced to hundreds of artists in a matter of minutes compared to the time it would take to view just as many in physical galleries. That is the joy of viewing art online in my opinion. I view works by hundreds of artists online each day. If I enjoy an artist I will copy and paste the link on a document or I will simply add the website or profile page to my favorites.

Viewing art online is simply a more efficient way to learn about many artists at once compared to random brick & mortar gallery visits– which can be a shot in the dark if you are not sure who is represented. I’m more apt to view an artist online a second time than to visit the work of an artist at a brick & mortar gallery a second time. It is simply more efficient than taking a half hour or longer out of my day to visit a brick & mortar gallery a second time.

There are certainly limitations to viewing art online. If we are talking paintings or sculpture– an image of an artwork that is uploaded online will never replace viewing that artwork in person. In fact, the viewing experience online is largely determined on how well the artist photographed the images or had them photographed. That is why we have the escrow payment system for http://www.nyaxe.com. As mentioned before, the buyer receives the art and decides if he or she enjoys it in person before the payment is released to the seller.

qi peng: You have been involved in interviews with Hi-Fructose Magazine and the website for Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine. What accounts for your interest in street art and lowbrow art or pop surrealism?

Brian Sherwin: Correction. I’ve written reviews for Hi Fructose and my myartspace.com interviews have been featured on the Juxtapoz website– mainly because I’ve interviewed artists that they enjoy, Sas Christian, Chet Zar, Christian Schumann, Blaine Fontana, Alex Grey, Anthony Lister, and others.

I’m interested in street art, lowbrow, and pop surrealism because there are some great examples of art coming out of all three. Anthony Lister’s visual play on comic book icons– by making them just as fragile as you or I–  is simply brilliant. Even a hero can be flawed. The worlds that Chet Zar and Sas Christian have created with their art are places that I would like to visit.

The pop surrealists have had an uphill battle for acceptance in the mainstream art world. Many pop surrealists are working with themes that can be traced back to before Bosch. Most are aware of that– they realize the connection they have to art history. Thus, the critics who question if pop surrealism is legitimate are simply uninformed. There is a lot of thought provoking art coming out of that community.

I understand that some individuals in the mainstream art world avoid these works like the plague. However, when artists, such as Laurie Lipton, are selling for more than $30,000 at art fairs I think it is time for certain individuals in the mainstream art world to acknowledge that perhaps these artists are not just a one-trick pony. Lipton has worked hard to get to where she is at today. The market for her art was not artificially established– which is a lot more than what I can say for some of the younger artists who have been embraced by the mainstream art world in recent years.

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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 2:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Poorly designed site with pure profit motives.

    Lorelei

    June 8, 2009 at 7:42 pm


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