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In general commercially successful art galleries follow a formula set forth by the combined dictates of the marketplace and critical or curatorial opinion. These dictates tend to exclude artists with stylistic bents and psychological or political views antagonistic to accepted norms. Often such artists are determined to express their vision despite the social and economic obstacles placed in their path. Subsequently, many of these artists pursue a path of self-representation and promotion, rather than continue seeking exposure through the traditionally accepted venues of dealers and galleries.
Unfortunately, artists who choose this path are not given serious critical consideration by the art establishment. Although art is a creative pursuit, the socially accepted business structure through which art is marketed to the public is basically conservative in nature. As a conservative social structure, individuals that deviate from the established rules are treated as deviants and outcasts. As outcasts these artists are quietly "shunned" by the established powers and so are not able to partake of the benefits endued by participation: financial compensation and artistic recognition.
There is no apparent logic in this discrimination. Art dealership is something that does not have any particular requirements other than a large bank account and the ability to sell artwork. Some of the greatest art dealers of our times had no art training and learned everything they know about art from reading a single copy of "Art Through The Ages". Many art gallery owners are individuals that have no true knowledge or appreciation of art, but own a gallery as a sinkhole for disposable or otherwise taxable income. Yet an artist who exhibits in such a gallery will be taken seriously by critics within the establishment, while an artist who exhibits in a space of their own creation will not. Why art in a space created as a garbage can for excessive wealth is treated with more respect than the same art in a space created by an artist cannot be logically justified, but this is in fact the case.
In spite of these conditions many artists continue to open and manage galleries. One such artist, Tim Slowinski, agreed to an interview reluctantly, but offers some interesting commentary. This particular artist has operated a gallery in Manhattan for over eleven years and was interviewed this past November (1998) in the back of his new loft gallery space on Sixth Avenue at 30th St.:
Paul Winslow (P): So why did you open a gallery?
Tim Slowinski (T): Funny you should ask, at my last store people were always coming in asking me that same question, or where do you get your ideas, or why did you paint the thing in the window. I had one doctor who actually traveled eighty blocks to tell me that I ought to rethink what I was doing, because I had a picture in thewindow called Doctor Profit. I mean, if you walk past a shoe store and you dont like the shoes, do you walk into the store to have it out with the guy who made them, I dont think so, the guy is there to sell his shoes and thats it.
P: But paintings are not shoes, there is more to it than that.
T: Sure, paintings arent shoes, but a gallery is a store and the stuff in it is for sale, so on that level its the same.
P: So what is the difference?
T: The biggest difference is that when you walk down the street and you see a pair of shoes that you like in the window, you can go in and buy them just because you like the way they look, but with paintings well - that just isnt the way it works.
P: But if people dont buy a painting based on what they see, then whats the criteria?
T: Profit is the criteria, thats the problem. Thats not to say that there arent collectors who have independent ideas, most people who buy my paintings buy them because they like them and for no other reason, but the buyers who go into Leo Castelli or Mary Boone and drop down $200,000.00 for a painting, these arent independent thinkers, these people are like bankers, they are buying an investment. A lot of these paintings dont even go on a wall, they end up in some storage vault.
P: That seems strange, putting a painting in a storage vault.
T: Its more than strange, its absurd. You have artists who believe they are working to make "important" objects for the public to look at, yet in reality they are making them for buyers who either put them in a vault or stick them on a wall in some brownstone where virtually no one sees it. It seems delusional if you think about it. I have some friends who are illustrators and they are always complaining that their work is not taken seriously and that the fine artists denigrate them as sellouts. But when you think of it who is the sell out, the artist who is making a picture to go in a magazine for thousands of ordinary people to see, or the artist who is making pictures as a cash cow for a bunch of millionaires.
P: So if that is the way it is why bother?
T: What do you mean?
P: I mean if making art within this system is absurd, why continue making it?
T: The absurdity of it doesnt bother me, its no more or less absurd than doing anything else. I mean, project yourself forward in time beyond your death and then what, if you look at it that way we are all already dead, the living dead. Eventually the suns going to blow up and burn whatever is left here on earth to cinders, so if you think about it, there is no logical reason to do anything. Art cant be explained, its beyond logic, its like a mental illness, like a disease that infects some people, something outside of the self pushing it forward. It kills some people, drives them towards self-destruction, but it cant be stopped.
P: So you see art as both a creative and destructive act?
T: I dont think the two can be separated, the creative and the destructive are part of each other, you cant create one object or idea without destroying another, its like day and night, you cant have the earth spinning into day without it turning into night on the other side.
P: Thats interesting ... I was meaning to ask about the logistical aspects of running an art gallery, I mean, it must be difficult to be an artist and do the work of operating a business. What would you say is the most difficult part of operating the gallery?
T: Thats a loaded question because there are so many problems, being taken seriously, getting reviewed, its all pretty hard, but I think the worst part is just keeping a space open in this town. As an artist my budget for rent is always on the low end, so I always seem to end up in some decrepit space with a slum landlord that tries to kick me out as soon as I renovate it.
P: Like this loft here?
T: Yeah, just look at this dump. I tore down this huge drop ceiling only to find all the wiring in the whole place stuffed up under it, so I had to rip it out, this is all the power, this one plug here. Now I have to tear down these walls and sheetrock the whole place. Theres gas leaks back in the pipes and a restaurant behind the place blows out stinking burnt steak fumes all day long. But this is it, the only affordable spot in town and I looked for five months. The sick thing is, once I get it all fixed up, the greedy buggars will want to get rid of me and rent it out for three times what I pay. So unless you can shell out the extortionist increases, you have to keep moving every four or five years, one dump to the next.
P: It sounds like a real drag.
A: Yeah, its pretty depressing, when I was younger I was full of romance and energy, but now it just makes me tired. New York is not a friendly town.
P: Do you think that you will ever leave?
A: Ha, if some big dealer would come in here and give me a contract right now I wouldnt even finish this conversation, Id pack up my stuff and get the hell out of this place, Id move up to the mountains, paint six hours a day and spend the rest of the time reading and chopping wood. In the end all this talk of the system and oppression is a load of crap, Id sell out myself in five minutes along with everyone else.
P: But wouldnt you miss New York?
A: New York! New York is so over man! NewYork is wasted. The air is suffocating, there are trucks all over the place dumping huge clouds of black fumes into the air, the entire city stinks from people pissing and shitting on the street, destitute beggars are everywhere and the population is junked out on caffeine, everyone is freaked out, full of hostility and rage and all they care about is making money. There are no human beings here, just a bunch of freaks out to screw you over, use you and steal your money. Thats New York.
P: ... a depressing thought.
A: Yeah, and artists come here from all over the world dying to show their art, but the system here is bogus, its a total fraud. I mean - you can put the whole New York Art world in a barrel and throw it in the river, I dont care. I dont need it. Im just going to sit here and paint, if somebody wants to come here and buy a painting, let em come, if they dont come I dont care.
P: Isnt that a gross generalization, a twisted, singular interpretation of reality?
A: Thats it, what you just said, its perfect. There is nothing else to say.
LINK TO SLOWINSKI PAINTINGS