Why Etsy Doesn't Have a Gallery in New York
April 12, 2013 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone here speak art and tech? "Indeed, for a certain sort of hoodie-wearing entrepreneur more keen on trips to Tahoe than the Tate, the rules of the art world can seem especially opaque." No, they are two different cultures. "The traditional art world appears to be recognizing that it is going to need to collect some of this money to continue operating in the manner it has grown accustomed to. What it doesn’t seem to recognize is that it may be selling the wrong thing, a brand of social status that the technology culture is not interested in buying."
posted by Xurando (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Techie Millionaires Reject Offer of Snob Brainwashing! More news at 11."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:22 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

One other thing that the first article alludes to but does not mention specifically is that tech culture is more interested in sharing, and "collecting" art is more akin to hoarding, which is anti-sharing. I think that the art industry "thought leaders" are becoming more alarmed that they wield less and less power, and that their position as cultural curators is diminishing. For many tech entrepreneurs, spending $10K backing a Kickstarter project at the highest tier is a more rewarding experience than permanently owning a work of art.
posted by antonymous at 10:24 AM on April 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

The traditional art world appears to be recognizing that it is going to need to collect some of this money to continue operating in the manner it has grown accustomed to.

My only regret is that I will not be around in 100 years to watch PBS's new series, Gagosian Abbey.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:25 AM on April 12, 2013

Felix Salmon responds to the first link. SPOILER: he doesn't think much of it.
posted by asterix at 10:52 AM on April 12, 2013

Reuter's Felix Salmon had some interesting thoughts on this:

This, for me, is the real reason that tech types don’t buy art: they’re busy investing in each other’s startups instead. Being an early-stage investor is in many ways just like being a contemporary art collector: you’re very unlikely to make money at it, even though the potential and anecdotal returns can be enormous; and it’s used in large part as a way of supporting your friends and being seen as being important within a very small world. Wealthy technologists are defined by their Crunchbase profiles in much the same way as art collectors are defined by their art collections.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 10:55 AM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

... tech culture is more interested in sharing, and "collecting" art is more akin to hoarding, which is anti-sharing...For many tech entrepreneurs, spending $10K backing a Kickstarter project at the highest tier is a more rewarding experience than permanently owning a work of art.

If you look around the homes and offices of the "tech culture" you'd see a boatload of collecting and hoarding going on. Only, the collecting tends to largely be along the lines of pop culture and childhood artifacts, rather than anything traditionally identified as "high art." Though, to be honest, the tech world (well, geek culture) does have its art galleries and gallery artists. It's largely a world of expensive giclee prints, limited edition sculpts, and whatnot.

And, while those tech entrepreneurs are indeed dropping the occasional $10k on Kickstarter, they are also dropping multiple hundreds of $k on new S-classes and Ferraris. Hardly egalitarian "sharing" activity.

This is really more a story of a culture with a strong tendency to reject the trappings of previous generations, and re-defining those trappings more to their liking.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

Paraphrasing typical complaints some in tech have with the gallery system, he said: “Why are they making it hard for me to buy art? I want to write a big check to this person, and they’re treating me in this way that I don’t quite understand, like they don’t really want my money.”
The article talks about people getting stonewalled, and "friction" in general - I've never bought a piece of art from a gallery, nor have I ever set foot in a NYC gallery, but... how does this manifest itself? Say I'm a startup millionaire and I walk into a gallery and decide I want to buy a painting by [Currently Trending Artist] - there's no price on the painting, but hey, I'm a millionaire... so I walk up to the gallery manager and say "I love that painting, how much is it?" and then what? If the painting isn't already sold or spoken for, what possible reason or excuse is there for a transaction not to occur then and there?

(And what does a liberal arts education have to do with it? Do schools offer degrees in Art World Bullshit to learn how to buy art from a fancy gallery?)
posted by usonian at 10:57 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Welcome to the end result of an art scene that places value on producing obscure work that speaks to next to no one, and a culture that provides nearly no education in art, thus training nearly nobody to even begin to think of learning how to hear that art.
posted by egypturnash at 11:06 AM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

Huge Problem: Tech Millionaires Can't Figure Out How To Buy Art
This is something someone is actually disappointed about. You know what else is disappointing? That art galleries exist because global capitalism is a plutocracy that funnels hot money into a ridiculous asset-class that billionaires can brag to their friends about.
via: Art dealers muse about teaching tech millionaires art appreciation
Not mentioned in either of these articles is that there is actually an interesting and growing startup community built around art in the city. These businesses are not only promoting art, but are also looking to lower the cost-to-entry for collectors as well as support creators.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:08 AM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

From the first article: “If these are our next Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fricks, whatever you want to say in terms of our wealthy American elite, then why aren’t they supporting culture?” she asked.

Sorry, but I can't help but laugh at that. Tech scions certainly are supporting culture; they're just not supporting the "culture" of Chelsea art galleries, which is a particularly cringe-worthy slice of high-bourgeois conspicuous consumption. It's telling that the speaker in that quote — "Sima Familant, a New York art adviser" — doesn't recognize as "culture" anything outside of the bubble that she apparently exists in. Why would anyone want to interact with someone who is that insular and out of touch with the rest of the world?

And that's in addition to the issue antonymous raises, which is that — despite its traditional disguise as philanthropy — art collecting is really about material acquisition and hoarding as a status display, which I think many people in tech circles are uncomfortable with, and thus runs counter to how you display status in those circles.

E.g. when Bill Gates bought the Codex Leicester as a sort of uber coffee-table book, I recall a lot of people opining that it was pretty crass (even when he did proceed to scan it and give away the results on CD, it wasn't clear that this was his reason for acquiring the codex in the first place — if he had gotten it as part of some Google-esque project to "free" it, maybe perceptions might have been different).

I could see the Kickstarter model being taken up by techies-as-patrons in a direct sponsorship model: if you want to create art, pitch the idea and get it funded and then do it. But it's hard to imagine a bunch of Google engineers getting behind the Chelsea art gallery model; it has so many layers of non-contributory middlemen — e.g. the "icy gallerinas" — that it just begs to be ripped apart and violently disintermediated.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been to a few, mostly group shows where friends had one or two pieces. I was sort of interested in buying a piece once, if someone had walked up and tried to sell it to me, like a car salesman would, I would have bought it. As it stood, I don't think I ever even managed to pick out any actual employees of the gallery. I ended up just kind of milling around with everyone else becoming increasingly anxious I would be found out as some kind of interloper.

I think there is a sort of kabuki going on, like we are all art aficionados here, sometimes money is exchanged, but we don't talk about that because that is just a crass necessity.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ah, well, this is the NYTimes, what do you expect? Tech people are "supporting culture" just fine; we just don't really care about the kind of snobby old-money culture the NYT represents.

I know plenty of tech industry people who made lots of money at Microsoft or Google or wherever, and you bet they have art on their walls. I have no idea who made any of it or what any of it costs, because that's not the point. People just buy stuff to decorate with because they think it looks cool. Exclusivity? Screw that antique nonsense, just do what you want.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:27 AM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

More thoughts spawned by this. I'm an artist. I sell my work, while not to the people on top of the startup zillionaire lottery, people who work in tech and have a pretty good job. I don't do this by hanging my stuff in galleries in NYC. I hang my stuff in the pop-up galleries in SF/comics/anime/furry conventions, and sit in the artist's alley or dealer's room selling cheap prints, comics, and custom commissions. It's a world that's completely alien to the gallery scene, and a hell of a lot more egalitarian.

I sell a lot of work to people with tech money. I've had friends who have made a fair amount of money in the tech sector dump more than enough for the highest tier of support into my Kickstarter.

The nerds are perfectly willing to support art. They're just not coming from a culture that has programmed them to think that they should support what the Art World Elites says is "art", so they support what makes them happy. If anything, growing up in America generally teaches you that "high art" is something that should NOT be funded - how often is art in the news because right-wingers are challenging its funding, using something that offended them as the excuse?
posted by egypturnash at 11:31 AM on April 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Is there anything more satisfying than these articles about how people who've made a career out of toadying up to rich people are freaking out as tastes change and their carefully-honed toadying skills are no longer in demand? I really don't think there is.
posted by enn at 11:36 AM on April 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Thread population: Tech
posted by shakespeherian at 11:44 AM on April 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't know if nerds are all the much better. We are talking about people that get mad when you use the wrong image macro.

I can just imagine if I wasn't already "in the know" on technical subjects, trying to learn the basics, walking into a meetup and saying something like "so I been hearing a lot about visual basic". It would be like the scene in the movie where the dude walks into the wrong bar and the record scratches and everything stops. I'm sure nerds walking into a gallery seem just as dopey.

It isn't just about toadying up to rich people, and posturing. People dedicate their lives to this stuff and legitimately love this stuff just as much as I love programming.

Maybe all of this disdain is part of the problem.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:46 AM on April 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you want to buy the work of a certain artist, then with a little bit of diligence and persistence you can probably manage to do so somehow. And it’s downright easy to phone up the gallery and at least find out how much that artist’s works cost.
Well that is just not true. Sure, you can buy the works of someone who is not fashionable with diligence and persistence, but try to get a piece that everyone else wants... forget it. And, most top galleries, if not all, will never give you price on the phone, and the exclusive ones will not even give you a price at the gallery until you go though the hoops.

IMO the real reason that art buying is dominated by Wall Streeters is that class status is the biggest motivator, which is not much the case for tech gazillionaires. That high end art scene panders to fashion and the upper class. Social skills and social status are key. Having a lot of money will not get you anywhere in itself.

Status for Wall Streeters is about taste (fashion) and access to acquiring objects that show off that taste generally things that others can not get. Access to top art (AAA) artworks,
that are at the height of fashionability, are impossible to get without access. Access comes with social status, having a good collection, and the implicit promise that you will never sell.

Status for Techies, may eventually move into acquiring art, but the art world very social and in the end going through getting top pieces and building a collection may not be worth the effort unless love of art is the driving force. For most Wall Streeters the love of $$ and status is the driving force. The history of great Art and Bankers are legendary. That history is a powerful force to make big shot bankers go through hoops and suck up to power art world dealers. Begging.. just so they can get an edge. ...they want the legacy of class and taste. techies, not so much.
posted by snaparapans at 11:50 AM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

It isn't just about toadying up to rich people, and posturing. People dedicate their lives to this stuff and legitimately love this stuff just as much as I love programming.

Fair enough, you reminded me of this scene from Unbreakable: Do you see any Teletubbies in here? (which would make most nerds applaud righteously!)

But... with quotes like

"For technologists, it's all about leveling the playing field, and the art world is a very structured, hierarchical system..."


""The art world has a lot of cliques, I'm less interesting in the cliques, but you could argue that tech is the same. If you have a start-up, you need to network, get to know the right people and the community at large. You need people to like you.""

...it sure sounds like toadying is the name of the game.
posted by usonian at 12:06 PM on April 12, 2013

usonian: The article talks about people getting stonewalled, and "friction" in general - ...but... how does this manifest itself?...

If the gallery you happen to walk into is a top gallery selling art of fashionable top artists you can have a suitcase with $10 million and they won't even talk to you.

The path for most ambitious artists who want to be in the limelight and make lots of money, is to get into a top gallery. The gallerist works to get your work into top collections or museums. If the gallery is showing a hot artist, there are 100x more people willing to buy the work than work is available. A work sold to a top collector for $75,000 can be sold on the open marked for $150,000. The top collectors who have access to these works implicitly agree to never sell works. They add the work to their collection which may eventually be donated it to a museum, or passed on to heirs or both. Of course there are exception, but that is the way it works.

Oh, if you happen to miss the top gallery, or not know your way around, your suitcase of money will be lightened up considerable in exchange for whatever you want.
posted by snaparapans at 12:09 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Knowing "high" art is old cultural capital. I knew someone who by now has done the donating to a museum, get a wing named after them thing. When they still had them all in their house it struck me as almost a honey trap for a certain kind of people.
posted by yoHighness at 12:15 PM on April 12, 2013

"For technologists, it's all about leveling the playing field, and the art world is a very structured, hierarchical system..."

You ever see geeks get into a pissing match?

As for toadying up to rich people,we are talking about an entire industry that has made a tradition of shakey valuations and round after round of angel investing.

I just don't get how rich nerds can think they are somehow better than other rich people because the built an app.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:17 PM on April 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

> expensive giclee prints

One day I got curious about what a giclee print is. Answer, it's a vaguely French-sounding word that expands to "When we get an order, we print you a one-off copy of the image on our inkjet." Well fine, no problem. But I can do that. (N.b. my inkjet takes 13" by 17" heavy stock paper. $99 as a refurb, direct from Epson.)
posted by jfuller at 12:20 PM on April 12, 2013

As for toadying up to rich people,we are talking about an entire industry that has made a tradition of shakey valuations and round after round of angel investing.

I just don't get how rich nerds can think they are somehow better than other rich people because the built an app.

Who is saying that? Who thinks that? I have just as much disdain for the people toadying up to startup millionaires as to art-collecting hedge funders.

Plenty of people—most people—are able to make a living doing things other than trying to extract a little money from the extremely wealthy by playing to their vanity and ego. Nobody is forced to be a "private curator and art advisor" to the one percent. So I'm not going to feel a lot of sympathy when fashions change and the people with money don't want your services anymore. And I won't feel a lot of sympathy when the people who pander to rich startup guys eventually find themselves in the same boat, either.
posted by enn at 12:33 PM on April 12, 2013

Sort of off topic, but Etsy does indeed have a gallery in NYC- or did. I think it was a pop up in Soho for Christmas shoppers. Was odd- lots of handmade soaps, slate cheese boards, etc. But a lot of it was selling. Think they even had a band- Greene street if I remember.
posted by T10B at 12:36 PM on April 12, 2013

I'm just saying that as a technologist I am dedicated to leveling the playing field and hating all rich people equally.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:06 PM on April 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

One other thing that the first article alludes to but does not mention specifically is that tech culture is more interested in sharing, and "collecting" art is more akin to hoarding, which is anti-sharing

However, donating works to museums or opening private museums of various sizes isn't a new practice.
posted by ersatz at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2013

I think the smartest comment I've ever read on metafilter is someone who wrote: I have a strong impulse to agree with this and therefore, I am skeptical of it. There is a way that some Metafilter commentators are very quick to jump on positions that denounce things like the art world (as well as other extensions of high culture, like critical theory, poetry, and the publishing industry), when I wish they'd have a little bit more skepticism.

I'm usually here to denounce this anti-humanism, but what strikes me is how this impulse is perhaps encouraged by a sense of shame and vulnerability on behalf of the posters. Most of the artists and curators I know are smart, curious, hip, and very poor people, and so it's somewhat humorous and lamentable to find them caricatured into a generalized, anti-snobbery stereotype. It's okay to not feel immediately that you "get" art or not even like it--it's not a judgment on you personally or your intelligence, sophistication or class.

Second, while the art world clearly is a commodity market for rich people, the anti-cultural (and essentially, anti-intellectual) tone of some of these comments uses a purported anti-capitalism to mask essentially a very classed position. For example: the argument that often comes up in these posts that we shouldn't care about the decline of art galleries (or publishing houses or newspapers, etc.) because the people in these fields were too stupid, not cool enough, etc., to cope with the changing business models. This is crass Gilded Age-era social Darwinism, in which the logic of the market is taken to have a moral imperative. I should add that I grew up in Silicon Valley and very few engineers I know are involved in philanthropy, social justice, or the kind of intellectual fields I mentioned above. This is a problem in equity, especially as wealth shifts in that direction.

Third, there are a number of technology-based artists that you might like, such as Wafaa Bilal (who installed a camera in his head and also allowed Americans to shoot him via the Internet in a piece called Shoot an Iraqi), Trevor Paglen (who I believe recently launched images into space), and Jon Kessler (whose new piece at the Swiss Institute is all about the web as a sentient organism).
posted by johnasdf at 2:50 PM on April 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

The kabuki comment above is spot on. This theater exists to further the transparent myth that real artists are outsiders, above commerce, pushing boundaries of human emotion and experience unsullied by the filthy lucre of the rest of us filth who live our deadened lives never ascending to the heights of deep intimacy with the inner core of LIFE that any true artist scales with everybfibeof her body. Real art is beyond money, beyond finance, not ev
en in the same universe. Meanwhile every artist from the beginning of time has had wealthy patrons dumping vast sums of money at their feet and particularly in NYC the art and finance/old money worlds are stitched at the hip. It always amazes me how people pretend to ignore this reality and exhort the propaganda.
posted by spicynuts at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

This. I'm not a fan of modern art or the art world, but its better than philistines hanging furry art or anime rasterbations in their lounge rooms. But that's just more tribalism - I come from the humanities, and I think it has value.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:22 PM on April 12, 2013

Scene: Dotcom boom circa late 1990s, the remnants spilling into early 2000s. GenArt was active in New York/Los Angeles/San Francisco, and its explicit mission was to connect the lots of "young people with disposable income, who wanted to obtain art but could not afford to buy from the SoHo art galleries." I recall GenArt holding "how to collect art" events in San Francisco. Along the same lines, alternative galleries like Southern Exposure did shows like "post postcard" as a gateway drug into art collection. I think all the artworks were $20 or under?

This wasn't specifically targeted at tech money per se, but there was a sense that well-paid investment bankers or whoever needed some hand-holding to graduate from the Phish concert posters of their Ivy League dorm rooms to original art, even if that original art was very much pop culture influenced. I think usonian's comment here is useful.

At the same time in the philanthropic world in general (aka community foundations), there was a collective puzzlement as to how best attract the new tech money and specifically how to cultivate donations from Asian ethnic groups that were known for big gifts to educational institutions but not big gifts to cultural institutions.

There's a larger point about the Bourdieu-sian(?) notion of distinction that can be expanded here but I hope someone else can make it. Preliminary thoughts per Thorzdad's comment... YES! Limited edition gewgaws are totally the techies' collector soft spot. I used to work retail at Kid Robot's first store on Haight St in SF and people easily dropped upwards of $1000 on a single visit on useless plastic crap. (I explained the concept of "urban vinyl" to mystified tourists as "strangely compelling plastic toys".) That's maybe not Chelsea prices, but that's definitely more than Fourth of July craft fair prices.

Kid Robot (as well as the unaffiliated Giant Robot SF store around the way and the unaffiliated Super Seven in Japantown) also held in-store gallery openings for local artists, some of whom were art school grads, some of whom were not. I think the visual art the store featured straddled the pop-culture / high-culture divide, but with a pop bias.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:19 PM on April 12, 2013

“Limited edition gewgaws”++
posted by migurski at 8:21 PM on April 12, 2013

Ad hominem, we inhabit apparently, different worlds. One where you seek out car dealer like sales moments and the other where I avoid them like plague. I've bought lots of art from local galleries (though not NY) and have never had trouble finding someone to take my money. It's really as simple as shouting "Hey, I want to buy this, who do I talk to?" Yes, I have actually done this. Artists and galleries are not to be feared. Here's a secret, your idea of what a piece is about is as valid as anyone's. Even the artist can't tell you his or her interpretation is more valid. Usually when someone tells me a load of artspeak bullshit I know it's just verbal masturbation and walk away.
posted by evilDoug at 5:53 AM on April 13, 2013

Hey maybe if gallery owners and art critics feel that the current generation of newly affluent in America doesn't sufficiently appreciate art, then they should be advocating for arts education in public schools? I'm pretty sure a lot of tech entrepreneurs came through some portion of the public school system at some point in their lives. Just a thought-
posted by newdaddy at 7:49 AM on April 13, 2013

Just read this nplusone piece on sociology that some folks have been chattering about, this bit seemed relevant!
In Cultural Capital, one of the first academic books to import Bourdieu’s ideas into literary and cultural studies, John Guillory made the counterintuitive suggestion that the exhausting canon debates of the 1980s culture wars were really “a crisis in the market value of [the literary curriculum’s] cultural capital, occasioned by the emergence of a professional-managerial class which no longer requires the [primarily literary] cultural capital of the old bourgeoisie.”

In other words, the canon debates were not about empowering women and “non-Western” or minority cultures through education, but a sign that these previously subordinate groups already had increased in power to the point where they could create alternate canons, literary or postliterary, which reflected their new status within a capitalist order. Canon formation and reformation being something elite groups did whenever they became aware of themselves as elites.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:15 PM on April 13, 2013

This manifesto neatly sums up how I feel about buying art. I'm not a tech millionaire, but I work in tech. I'm a state employee. I own more art than fits on the walls of my house (ok, partly because my house is only slightly larger than my tech millionaire acquaintances' garages), and the first linked article makes me see red. The second is better, but doesn't go far enough:
Now, to be clear, I don't think the Silicon Valley values are any better. They're just a different set of rules, and therein lies the culture clash.
I do think the Silicon Valley values, at least as they apply to art as something you buy because you would enjoy living with it and not just because it's a status marker, are better. If those cultures are going to clash, I sincerely hope that the New York culture gets its ass handed to it and slinks off into obscurity.

Buy art, people. It's important. And the stuff you like is probably attainable.
posted by hades at 11:23 PM on April 16, 2013

And I'd like to spotlight a comment from the Felix Salmon response:
This article misses one very important point. A lot of wealthy techies in the Bay Area are into the often spectacular, massive, and community-based art of the type that is produced at Burning Man–temporary, site-specific, and interactive. And these installations are often deliberately destroyed by the creators after a set period. This specific type of “patronage” really is about “art for art’s sake” and is indifferent, if not hostile, to the aesthetic gatekeepers of the grotesquely commercial “New York art scene.”
I'm not a burner, but this resonates with me. I've funded some Kickstarter art projects for which the rewards were entirely incidental--I just wanted the artists to be able to do their thing, even though I would never be able to experience the actual output of the project directly.
posted by hades at 11:46 PM on April 16, 2013

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