Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Friday, April 29, 2005

"Alternative" Gallery Hell

(Names have been changed to protect the naive and incompetent.)


Witness the sublime incompetence! Marvel at the unprofessionalism! Watch your hopes get dashed! Experience the humiliation of complete obscurity, yet again!

Hey, Bowleg Guy's portraits are great. I don't say this just because he's my boyfriend. Really and truly. But the only time anyone sees his paintings hanging on the wall is if the super comes to fix the toilet. That's a shame. Every artist wants recognition, right? I'm gonna start a professional publicity campaign.

2000: get a professional slide photographer to take pix of the paintings. Have 8 x 10's made of the four best. Put together a killer portfolio with slides and prints to send to galleries. Compose a bio and artist's statement. A great portfolio, no? Real professional-like. And expensive as the dickens.

Later: Land a few group shows in obscure locations. Lose money on the deal transporting the works back and forth. Oh well, at least you can add these to the resume.

2001: Surfing the web, you spot a downtown alternnative gallery website. They show art during the day, bands at night. Cool, right? You look at the work from some past shows. Yeah, I think Bowleg Guy could fit in there quite nicely. Drop off a portfolio to the gallery.

2002-2004: Months, then years go by. Call gallery every few months. "Yeah, we like the work. But it has to fit the 'theme' of the show we're doing. Call back in three months..."

2005: after endless followup calls, you have finally been chosen!
Voice mail message blinking: "Hi Elvira, this is The Gallery Guru; we'd like to exhibit Bowleg Guy's work in our upcoming group show, 'Black Buckets'..."

How exciting! Wow, it is a "gallery"--even if they have bands at night. And it is in Manhattan, which makes it a New York Gallery. Nice downtown location. "Hood still sketchy, but tragically hip. Next door to a shelter or something, but hey. Better than the two lame galleries you've bagged up 'til now. Sure glad the work finally fits into their esoteric theme. I guess they'll have some explanation of it in the show or something, right?

Here's our big opportunity! I know. I'll print an expensive, full color invite, four panels, to advertise the show, with our email address prominently displayed for all the responses we'll get from the galleries who'll flock to the show and soon be eager to exhibit the Hot New Artist. Plus all the press vehicles eager for a story about Bowleg Guy. I just can see the news trucks gathering on opening night clamoring to get in. (Hey! Isn't that George Whipple! ?)

E-mail to Gallery Guru: "I'm printing a bitchin' invite for the group show. I'll even list you as curator and include a blurb about the gallery on the back." Never hurts to butter up the movers and shakers of the art world.

The design. The copy. The printing. ...

The mailing campaign. Poring through the Guide to NYC Galleries book to pick most appropriate ones to mail to. Lots of promising galleries out there ("We welcome emerging artist's submissions. " KEWL!

Ordering the mailing lists...labeling, stuffing, sealing...late nights, very little time--have to get the pieces out before the opening. Schlepping to the post office, back and forth...

Let's take a peek at the gallery and the current show. Hmmm....unframed works hung crooked on the walls. . Looks like refrigerator art. Exposed brick--yuck..

My my, the "gallery" sure looks deserted during the day...guess most folks come in the evening to see the bands. There are, however, a couple of ne'er do well "employees" at the bar with ears glued to cell phones, sporting those bored downtown art world expressions.

E-mail from Gallery Guru: " Now remember, be here at 11 sharp on the Saturday before opening. Gotta have time to hang everything.'

Hire a car service; need a minivan because one work is 4 ft by 4 ft. That'll be 100 bucks.

Here we are at the gallery, right on time!

Door locked. Bums milling around from the shelter next door. One inebriated woman wanders by and fingers one of the canvases. Bowleg Guy nearly faints.

Finally get in, unwrap paintings, meet with Gallery Guru in the flesh. Surprisingly, she doesn't have unusual piercings, tattoos, or hairdo.

Call the local biweekly community paper. Typical article: opposition to proposed filtration plant.

On the horn with Editor Man:
"Hey, interested in a piece on a Bowleg Guy, a local artist?"
"Hmm...Sounds interesting. In the middle of deadline. E mail me info."

OK, I'll just e-mail hiim the whole article I wrote. Time is running out. The show is opening in two weeks, and hopefully they can run the feature while the show's still going on.

No response to e mail. Follow up calls.
Editor Man; "Sorry, really busy with deadlines. Call you Friday."
Friday: Bowleg Guy picks up phone.
Editor Guy: "May I speak to Elvira?"
"Sorry, not in."
"Who's this?"
"Her boyfriend, Bowleg Guy."

Call back editor. "Um, you didn't tell me you have a relationship with the artist. That's a problem. We don't do that sort of thing."

Fuck you very much. You'll regret it when Bowleg Guy becomes a household word.

Have a few pops at the bar down the street--happy hour--before venturing in; be a little fashionably late. Don't want to look like a schmuck on wheels showing up on time, pacing around. Ok, ready? Let's go!

Decent sized crowd. Hey, nice placement of Bowleg Guy's paintings--right in front, not in Siberia of the back room. But hate that the works are not labeled with name of artist and title of work. What is this, a Commie gallery? Instead, there's a cheesy price list on the table with corresponding numbers. How many people are gonna bother to look at this?
Most of other stuff, bad and/or indecipherable. OK, just makes Bowleg Guy's work look better by contrast.

Hey, there's Gallery Guru, the "curator," tending bar. We need ourselves a man-sized drink; not these lame free wine and beer nips. Considering we publicized the gallery and put her as curator on the back panel,of the invite, I'm sure she'll comp the artist one.

"Hey, Gallery Guru! Show looks great! Let me have two scotch and sodas."
"That'll be fifteen."
"Ummm, ok. Here's a 20, keep it."

Five buck tip: can you say passive-agressive?

Stinky Artist: "That your stuff? Yeah, here's mine. Hey, I'm in a band too. We're playing here in two weeks."

Jesus, this guy smells really bad. And his paintings suck. Let's cruise.

Time to go....

A month after the opening:
E-mail from Gallery Guru: Now be sure to come at 11 sharp on Saturday to pick up the stuff. We have no room to store it, and have to get the next show hung up."

Call the car service again. Arrange to pick us up in front of gallery at 11:30 to transport the stuff home. Minivan, another hundred bucks.

11 am: Gallery locked. Go next door again to get them to open up. Hastily take down the paintings and wrap them in paper, tie lovinggly with twine.

11:25 am: Gallery Guru arrives. We're still the only artists who've shown up. Uh oh, minivan's here.

"Thanks a bunch, Gallery Guru. And be sure to add us to your e-mail list, which numbers in the thousands, to alert us to upcoming shows."

"Sure! And we'd like to use the title you put on your invite for the theme of our upcoming group show. You don't mind, right? And we'd just love to exhibit your work again."

A week later:
Hey, lemme check my e-mail; Gallery Guru was supposed to add me to the e-mail list for upcoming shows.

In-box: "Welcome Elvira! You have zero messages."

Can you spell unprofessional?

Now just sit back and wait for the e-mails to pour in from the galleries. Let's see...I sent out 500 invites to galleries and press. Even if only one percent respond, that's like five galleries, right? I laid out about 2 grand for invites and transportation, but it'll pay off in the long run. Sure it will! You betcha.

Two months later... Inbox: "Welcome Elvira! You have zero messages."
Bowleg Guy: "Nevah, EVAH get me involved in this stuff again! Just leave me alone and let me paint in peace. You stinking moron. "

Sharing, caring, and despairing....ain't love grand?!



At 4:22 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Here's the pathetic denoument to this sad tale:

About a month after the show, we got an e-mail from a Chelsea gallery. Wow--Chelsea--the biggest constellation in the NYC art universe! Let's see what they have to say:

Dear Mr. Bowleg Guy,
Thank you for your interest in the gallery and for
acquainting me with your strong portraits. Caelum Gallery is located in the heart of Chelsea in its premier gallery building. Chelsea is known for
promoting new (sic) and Caelum, for ten years has been a part of that. However, new art is difficult to market initially. For that reason we need to ask artists to help finance their shows until sales makes (sic) that unnecessary. We have tried to arrange I (sic) so that talented artists like yourself, with various means, can exhibit at the gallery. If you would like details please contact me.

Nicholas Bergman

OK. First off, I was sort of put off by all the typos, although it could have been the Important Guy e-mail game. Even one of my most persnickety editors used to do that. I suspect it's a status symbol which demonstrates that the writer is much too busy and important to do more than hastily dash off a line without checking for basic lapses in spelling or syntax.

But the main issue was that anyone with a little savvy about the art world knows you virtually never pay for showing. However, I did look up the site and the art was pretty darn good, and checking on one or two of the artist's resumes showed an impressive exhibition history.

So just for a goof, I decided to see how much the gallery charged for "expenses" and what they are used for.

Dear Mr. Bergman:
Thank you for your e-mail to Bowleg Guy regarding
showing in your gallery.

Could you please provide more specific information on the expense structure for artists to exhibit in your gallery? What is the amount and what expenses does this help cover (i.e. promotion, advertising, etc.)?

Also: did you see Mr. BG's work at the "Alternative Gallery" show, or were you responding solely to the
works shown on the invitation sent to you?

Many thanks.

Elvira Black
Artist's Representative for BG

I never heard from them again.

At 7:47 PM, Anonymous Jim Innes said...

Your experience,though I expect it was rough for you, made my decision to leave NYC many years ago one of the better things I have done-eschewing riches and fame non-the-less! Not all the provinces are without a cultural life.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


I know my comment to your comment is months overdue, but if you ever swing this way again, I wanted you to know that I appreciate it. You were one of the very first people who ever commented to my site--and to date, the only one who responded to this piece. I have no idea why I didn't comment back!

I don't think I could ever "abandon" NYC, but I can fully understand how others could leave it behind without ever looking back.

Plenty of artists, writers, etc, including very successful ones, have voluntarily sought out the peace and relative solitude of rural or suburban life. Though it used to be true, I suppose, that artists all seemed to locked to major art centers like Paris, and then New York, many NYC artists now live in the "outer boroughs," which are rapidly becoming boho (on their way to becoming gentrified; it's already happened to a large extent).

Likewise, all cities are cool in their own way. Although I seldom do so, I caught myself watching a few episodes of "The Real World: Austin" today on MTV. The shots of the city looked so awesome. I know that Austin is a great city--big music scene and all--but this really brought home to me that NYC is only one of so many places that are uniquely terrific.

Thanks again--hope you're enjoying your respite from all the NYC chaos!


At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry for the late entry here. I didn't want Jim I. to be the only reply. You told me all about your experience with Gallery Guru in previous months past.

Let me get this straight-you had to pay for the 2 drinks, not G.G.?
What a cheapo-loser!

Now, after reading this post, I'm getting a better picture of why BG is the way he is concerning these galleries in general.

So, you go through design, copy, print, advertise, smoozing, and crawling-and still get the "run-around" from so many, including the Jewish guy, Nick B., ROPE!

I've recently praised you for your writing skills. I forgot to mention your ability to present something of true value (BG's art), and get little in return.

This subject falls right into our topic of mitzvah. You have earned big-time karma points in my book.
Hang in there Sunshine Girl! Get outside and look for some greenery.
Make BG take you to a nice, fancy restaurant-and I don't mean McD's!


At 7:07 PM, Blogger Timothy said...

Uh, okay, uh, I am an artist or so they tell me, so I am making a comment. I do not make art for money, although I will sell, and have sold, some of my pieces. In the past, I never gave much thought to what my work was trying to say. In recent years, many people have been asking me, so lately, I try to put some thought into it. To me, art is in the ‘doing’ not the end result. Within me is a need to create that has to be expressed regularly or I wig-out as they say. I can also express myself musically and through writing as well. An ‘idea’ forms in my head and then I just put it to paper or canvas or whatever medium feels right. Seldom do I ‘plan’ it. The image forms and then I make it tangible. You can see some of my work at You comments are welcome and appreciated. Thank you Elvira!!!

At 7:53 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Once again, I never responded to your great comment either. What was I thinking?

Sometimes lessons are expensive to learn--literally and figuratively. Now that I've discovered the blog world, it seems like the ideal vehicle for my rantings as well as BG's art. Lots of people can see it--and since cheap is good, free is better--it's free for us and for readers, so what else could you ask for?

The gallery in question has since closed down, as far as I know, but BG paints on.

As far as the nice restaurant--I'm still waiting.

At 7:57 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Thanks so much for your comment. BG feels the same way, I think--the art is mostly for his own head, and it is the process at least as much as the product that is its own reward. Being able to create through music, art, writing, etc is one of the things that makes us uniquely human, and I think without these things the world would be a much bleaker place for those who create as well as those who enjoy an artist's efforts.

I've visited your site as well, and really got into your story, and your art. I'm really glad you wrote in.


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