Curators Giving the Cold Shoulder? Try an Art Coach
Art Around Town
By VALERIE GLADSTONE | June 16, 2008
The Whitney Biennial can give artists' careers a boost, but it rarely gives them an entire secondary business. Such was the case, however, for Brainard Carey. A New York artist, one half of the installation duo Praxis, Mr. Carey first showed at the Biennial in 2002.
"Artists started coming to me after that show," he said, "asking how I got such a coveted invitation. They're hungry for that kind of information. I had been, too," Mr. Carey admitted. Information, he knew, was sparse. "I'd found that other artists and would-be mentors held their cards close to their chests, as if telling me their strategies would somehow diminish or ruin what they had. After a while, I thought, 'Why not advise in a more official way?'"
With that, Mr. Carey's career as an art coach got its legs. Part art adviser, part life coach, and part career counselor, Mr. Carey doles out advice to emerging artists. He might suggest anything from a change in style to a particular approach with a potential gallery. He might give tips on where artists can find grant money, or tell them how to put together an appealing portfolio. For his services, Mr. Carey receives $500 for an initial consultation, and $100 per follow-up session. Over the last six years, he has had nearly 200 clients.
A few artists have remained with him for years in order to stay motivated. In the first conversation, he tries to help an artist recognize and conquer his or her self-doubt — "usually the cause of their failure to reach their goals," he said. "Negotiating the art world depends far less on a cover letter, CV, and portfolio and much more on dealing directly with collectors, dealers, and museums, and coming up with your own individual plan of action."
Mr. Carey often finds answers for artists by talking to staff at nonprofit organizations and museums, such as the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Alternative Museum, and P.S. 122. He has also relied on other artists — notably Christo, of Christo and Jean-Claude, and Jenny Holzer — for recommendations.
"Christo is an inspiration for any artist," Mr. Carey said. "He never accepts grants or funding of any kind. Because he wants total control, he won't work with a gallery, unless it buys his work at full retail price and sells it on the secondary market. He's an incredible model."
Financial advice is central to Mr. Carey's consultation strategy. A common misconception, Mr. Carey said, is that art and money should not mix, and that the best artists do not worry about money, devoting all their time to art. "A paralyzing myth is that if you work alone with little or no knowledge of the financial world, that somehow a gallery or a curator will find you."
One of Mr. Carey's more successful clients was, in fact, a businessman before he began his career as an artist. The painter Barnett Suskind is still active in banking, and is the CEO of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a company that explores the use of stem cells in relieving heart disease. "He taught me how to apply what I know from business to being an artist," Mr. Suskind said. Mr. Suskind has since had solo shows in Frankfurt and Cologne, and he is in negotiations to have a show at a museum in New York.
Mr. Carey's coaching, however, isn't always easy to take. Last year, artist Xavier Roux approached Mr. Carey with questions about how to obtain funding for his idea of planting pumpkins throughout the city. "I got very angry with him in the early stages of the pumpkin project," Mr. Roux said, "because he suggested I ask my friends for money." Eventually, Mr. Roux caved, obtaining funding not only from his acquaintances, but also, at Mr. Carey's suggestion, from environmental organization Solar One.
Mr. Carey's help goes far beyond the technical, Mr. Roux explained. "Brainard helps you overcome your fears and insecurities," Mr. Roux said. "After all, if you don't believe in your work, how is anyone else going to?"