What Got Printed 

January Issue 2008
by Tom Starland

My First Real Art Auction

Last month I talked about the results of the 2nd Charleston Art Auction which took place during the Charleston Fine Art Dealers' Association's Fine Arts Annual, held the first weekend in Nov. in Charleston, SC. This month I want to talk about my experience of being at a real "professional" art auction. Not to be confused with the typical "charity" art auction taking place - what seems like every weekend in the Carolinas.

I interrupted my busy delivery schedule to make the auction so I could see it first hand and I got an ear and eye full - and a good night's sleep.

Linda (my better half and the other person at Carolina Arts) and I made it to the opening reception in time to get our hands on the auction catalogue and were able to preview the works in-between the "shop talk" and art "gossip". This was a real visual arts crowd.

There was plenty of great food, the spirits were flowing, and anticipation was in the air. By the time the hammer fell on the first lot, I knew I, and many of the people in the audience, were not prepared for the real deal.

It was bim, bam, boom and it was all over - the first painting was sold and the crowd erupted. The buzz in the audience was so loud that the second lot was gone without anyone noticing - except for the experienced auction bidder. People around me were scrambling to find out what had happened and tried to catch up in their catalogue with the auctioneer - who was calling for bids and slamming his hammer.

This was like your typical Charleston audience - late for the opening movement at the symphony, didn't read the program, and disturbing the people already involved while finding their seat. After years of the Spoleto Festival you would think things would have changed, but no - same old crowd.

Eventually people caught on to the fact that this was a profession auction and that they were not only bidding against people sitting in the audience, but folks making bids on the phone and people bidding over the internet. There were more people bidding on the art who were not in the audience than those who were there. More than half of the audience was either stunned or were too slow to make a bid. You had to pay attention or you were left behind wondering what happened. That left a lot of people at a disadvantage - trying to pay attention and all.

Linda and I stood in the very back and we saw several groups of people who wanted to raise a bid, but were too distracted to get their act together to be seen. An auction of this type is no time for multi-tasking and socializing.

The deal is - you can have a good time before and after the auction, but you have to be prepared and attentive during the auction and be prepared to act - or lose out scratching your head thinking - what happened?

Linda and I had a great time just being observers of the whole thing. At times I even wished I had the resources to bid on a few items I felt someone got for a real bargain.

If you plan on attending the next Charleston Art Auction - here's the thing. Order a catalogue and your ticket (this one was standing room only full) as soon as they are available, check out the offerings, do a little research. If you find something you would like - come prepared to do some serious bidding - stay focused and don't let yourself get distracted. And, make sure you bring a small calculator to be able to figure the extra "Premium %" added on to your final bid - if you can't do it quickly in your head.

You can still enjoy the event, the atmosphere and the excitement, but if you stay focused - you just might get to go home with lot# 27 or maybe lot # 87 - instead of wondering - what happened?

If you're one of the folks still wondering what happened, you can check out the results of the auction at (www.charlestonartauction.com). You might be really surprise by what you see, and learn something about the process.

For one thing, you'll discover that a lot of works that seemed at the time to have sold - were not sold. The bids on these works did not reach the seller's reserve price. I bet a lot of folks in the audience didn't realize that - I didn't.

Next year will bring a whole different crop of works - some by the same artists, some by different artists, and hopefully a few new rare finds.

The Other Side of the Auction

For every successful bidder there is a successful seller. It's maybe an artist, a gallery, or someone who has had a work of art who would like to turn it into cash. There must be tons of people out there who have works of art that have appreciated in value over time. Well, maybe not tons - some art just doesn't appreciate, but is loved by the owner nonetheless. I've got some of that art myself and I've also got some art that is a lot more valuable today than it was 15 to 20 years ago. There may come a day when I would like to turn some of those works into cash.

If you have early works by artists who are selling like "expensive" hot cakes these days, you might want to consider putting them up for auction - if you're willing to part with a work or two for cash. It could be exciting and rewarding to see what your long-term investment brings - as the hammer comes down for the last bid - very rewarding.

Most people who purchased works 20-30 years ago can tell you outright that they couldn't afford to buy from some of the artists they did years ago today. I know I can't.

So the auction - I mean a real art auction - can offer interesting possibilities for buyers and sellers. Think about it.

What's in your closet that could be in your wallet?

Website Reaches Out

The counter on our companion website (www.carolinaarts.com) has passed the 9 million mark this month. The folks from France, United Kingdom, Taiwan and Canada still love us - with the US coming in fifth place (Maybe number one again after a new President). The rest of the top ten countries for visitors are: Japan, Netherlands, Australia (thanks to our correspondent Judith McGrath I'm sure), Germany and Italy. Spain and Poland just can't seem to make the big ten, but they have a good time beating each other up over the 11th spot from month to month.

40 Years of the Arts Commission

The SC Arts Commission is celebrating their 40th anniversary with several activities, including asking people to make up lists of 40 - whatever. I guess it's their way diverting people's attention away from the real issues in SC. The lists they came up with and are promoting are worthless bits of info that really say nothing about the past 40 years under their rule. But, I can think of a few lists you won't find on their website and won't be too flattering a reflection on their 40 years of service.

I could start with a list of their 40 staff members waiting for state retirement. For a state so small the Arts Commission's staff is one of the largest in the nation and twice the size of its neighboring states who work with less than half the staff - and do a better job.

Another list could be 40 reasons why the visual arts at the South Carolina Arts Commission are done so poorly. That sounds harsh, but the number of reasons would be much higher if I just made a list of the visual artists living and working in SC who the Commission doesn't know exist. Most of the time they work with a very small group of artists - over and over again. (If I get time I might post my list on the website - contributions accepted.)

I know it seems like I pick on the Arts Commission a lot, but when it comes to the visual arts - don't get me started..., and I haven't seen much good come from the Arts Commission in the last 20 years that benefits the whole visual art community.

Let's take a look at their contribution to the Commission's 40th Anniversary Celebration. They organized a traveling exhibition made up of a selection of African-American art from the State Art Collection entitled, The African-American Voice. They claims that the exhibition was created in response to the continued requests for works by African-American artists from the State Art Collection.

Isn't that convenient and easy at the same time?

I've seen a listing of some of the artists included in the exhibit, and it's an old list of African-American artists, because the State Art Collection is an old collection - not added to that often these days. Many in the group have loose ties to SC and others are long dead. So what about the African-American artists living and working here today?

And, if there is such a demand for this kind of exhibit how come there have only been two announced venues to date? One was at the Walter Greer Gallery on Hilton Head Island, SC, and another is at an arts center in Clemson, SC, that I hadn't even heard of before a month ago. When will this exhibit be seen in one of our major art museums, in one of our major populated areas? Surely a 40th anniversary exhibit will be shown state-wide? Perhaps it will, but it's a well kept secret for now if that is planned.

We received no press release about this exhibit from the Arts Commission or the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island. They didn't even bother to post the event on the Arts Commission's Arts Daily calendar of events until after the first exhibit was over. And, this is the effort made for a 40 year anniversary. What do we really have to celebrate here?

Frankly, I think if you're going to feature African-American artists in SC, you need to work with those living and working here now - highlighting some people who could really benefit from this kind of exposure.

I don't receive press releases about exhibitions taking place at African-American colleges or universities in SC. At least two, SC State and Benedict College have fine art departments and put on exhibitions, yet we never hear from them directly. I don't even take my paper there any more due to a lack of interest. Sometimes I can find info from a third party or by reaching out, but responses are not often fruitful.

So I think a survey exhibition of a newer generation of African-American artists working in SC might have been more beneficial than a selection from the "dated" State Art Collection. Of course it might not have been as easy to do.

But the real question is - does this exhibit of old purchases represent the last 40 years of the visual art community in SC? No - not by a long shot. But, then again, every exhibition the Arts Commission has organized is just a narrow slice of the SC visual arts community reflecting their selected vision of who the worthy artists are in SC at the time.

And, that's the problem I see with the Arts Commission and their celebration. They have been coasting toward retirement - doing the easy things. Posting notices on their website as if that's public notice, drawing from the same familiar group of artists (the select few), sitting on their hands in Columbia, SC, and waiting - watching the clock tick towards retirement.

Of course I might have missed some section on the Arts Commission's website which lists more exciting events involving their celebration - maybe more will show up after this commentary, who knows. But I know I won't be celebrating a thing about their 40 years of service or lack of service.

One More Thing

I learned by reading my copy of the Post & Courier that the SC Arts Commission is going around SC giving workshops on funding for cultural tourism. Something we've been doing for 20 years, but no money has been offered to help me because I'm not registered as a non-profit, but on paper I think we qualify.

Like Will Rogers, these days I only know what's happening at the Arts Commission by reading other papers. Today, Rogers would have to surf the internet like me to get his news.

Here's how it works. Last year the Commission gave the Spoleto Festival USA a bunch of money to buy ads in Charleston Magazine to promote tourism to folks once they got to Charleston, SC, picked up a copy of the magazine and found out that Charleston was hosting the festival. That's money well spent. I could see if the publication was the New Yorker or Southern Living, but...

So here's a novel idea. Let's say you're a non-profit exhibit space in SC - say Hilton Head Island, SC, or Clemson, SC, where you don't do much to promote what you're doing outside your area. You could apply for that cultural tourism money and buy ads in a visual arts newspaper covering areas in North and South Carolina. You might even advertise an upcoming anniversary exhibition.

Of course I don't know how far your application would go when you fill in the blank space for the publication to be used with, " The publication which must not be named".

Get this, beside excluding commercial art businesses, apparently academic institutions are also excluded from applying. They're non-profits and they present perhaps 40% of the best art being presented in SC. And, the fact that almost all of their offerings are open to the public - many free - they are not going to be able to share in this program. None of this makes sense.

It seems this is just another way of funneling money to a select few - it's not really about building cultural tourism in SC - not when most of the major providers are not included.

Example: The recent Charleston Art Auction and the Charleston Fine Art Dealers' Associations' Fine Art Annual brought people into SC and Charleston from all over the nation. Those people spent mega bucks here on a culturally packed weekend - yet the SC Arts Commission wouldn't consider giving them a dime to bring in more people. It's stupid!

Website Bonus Commentary

In celebration of the SC Arts Commission's 40th Anniversary I'm participating in their program of coming up with a list of 40 - somethings. It's like those "Best of" lists the alternative newspapers put out every year to generate ads from the people who win. Much like these lists we'll never know who did the voting, how many people voted to make something a winner - in other words it's a very unscientific process. In this case, the list is just the opinion of one person - me.

Here are the 40 things I think the SC Arts Commission should be doing from the visual Art Community perspective. Some things should be done right now, some within a year, some within a few years.

1. They should be hosting an annual juried art exhibition open to all media and open to all in SC, 18 years old and older (including students in college and their professors). The exhibit should have a specific theme every year that the artworks submitted are judged by for entry (to ensure the entry of new work). The juror should come from out of state, alternating every other year - someone from the non-profit sector and the commercial sector. The jury process should be by electronic media only (this is the 21st century). There should be no awards - getting into the exhibit is reward enough. The exposure should be worth more than a few dollars. The exhibit should take place in different areas of the state each year. No art museum or art space which receives funding from the SC Arts Commission should be able to say no to this exhibit.

2. The SC Arts Commission should hire professional photographers to travel around the state and offer free lessons in how to photograph artwork - by traditional and digital methods.

3. The SC Arts Commission should fund two days of free photographing sessions for artists living in SC. Artists could sign up to bring in (5) works of medium size or (2) large works. Participating artists will receive a CD of high resolution files of their artworks.

4. The SC Arts Commission should maintain an approved "art" photographers list. This list would be of photographers who know how to photograph art and provide digital services, with established price ranges. Photographers who want to be included on the list should have to meet certain standards.

5. The SC Arts Commission should also fund lessons in PC & Mac formats on how to use digital images - sending by e-mail, use on websites, burning to disk, etc.

6. The SC Arts Commission should fund workshops on how to do effective promotions of oneself as an artist, including writing press releases, creating websites, creating promotional materials, etc. on a yearly basis.

7. The SC Arts Commission should maintain a list of approved writers who can be hired to produce written materials in support of visual artists.

8. The SC Arts Commission should develop a cross discipline support network where the state's artists can swap services: where writers help visual artists and visual artists help musicians. A voucher systems could even be developed where 25% of the cost of a project could be refunded by using artists from this network. Visual artists could use musicians, poets, dancers, actors at exhibition receptions. Musicians could use writers and visual artists in production of recordings of music. And, so on...

9. The SC Arts Commission should set up an "in the office day" where at least once a month or every other month when that area's regional coordinator takes visitors on a first come, first served basis for at least six hours. The locations should be changed to different areas of that region from month to month. Every artist in the state should be able to have a face to face with the Arts Commission - at least a few times a month without traveling to Columbia for a structured interview or work session. These "in the office days" should be well publicized in public media.

10. No regional coordination should work in any one region for more than six years. This way coordinators will be forced to learn about new artists and different parts of the state. No one should be stuck with the same contact for years and years.

11. Everyone who receives funding from the SC Arts Commission and presents an event to the public should be required to publicize that event statewide. The Arts Commission should provide a statewide media contact list. The funding comes from statewide taxes and those who do not promote events statewide should not get funding. Whether the media publishes that info is up to them. It should be sent to them regardless.

12. The SC Arts Commission should require the "Board" or Commission members to make themselves available to the statewide arts community. Artists should know who these people are and they should also be able to contact them.

13. The SC Arts Commission should require every organization to which they give funding to post the names and contact info for every current board member of that organization.

14. The SC Arts Commission should drop the illusion that there is any difference between them and the SC Arts Foundation. They're not fooling anyone except the SC Legislators and state regulators. The Foundation is a slush fund of money donated for favors that they can do anything with - without state oversight.

15. The SC Arts Commission should attempt to identify every artist in the state. They should maintain a yearly updated mailing list (That means first class postage at least once a year). Lists of artists by discipline should be maintained on the Commissions's website. And, they should be legitimate SC artists. They have a habit of setting up systems that anyone from anywhere can put themselves on - making the lists worthless.

16. The SC Arts Commission should fund a project to develop a network of qualified reviews to cover exhibitions - both at commercial art spaces and non-profit art spaces throughout the state - offered for use by any publication. This is something that is not being offered much in SC. No matter what publication offers these reviews they should all be posted on the Commission's website.

17. The SC Arts Commission should turn over the SC State Art Collection to the SC State Museum. They should not be involved in making additions to the state collection or in placing people on a panel to make these decisions. It's time the state set up a separate body to survey this collection, sort out works that shouldn't be in the collection and start building a collection that represents the entire art community in a historical manner. The collection is full of works by artists with little connection to SC or who spent a short time in the state. The collection should represent both the commercial and non-profit sides of the art community.

18. The SC Arts Commission should stop trying to make our state art community look like it's from New York or California. Let's be what we are - a mix of all kinds of artists creating all kinds of art - most not cutting edge or cool. They should have no preferences for any type of art.

19. The SC Arts Commission should stop comparing what they do to their neighbors as to why or how they do things. They don't compare in any way to their neighbors. Stop using them as an excuse.

20. The SC Arts Commission should deal only with SC artists. There is no reason they should be promoting artists from other states. They are a SC state agency funded by SC taxpayers. When we get equal funds from NC and GA taxpayers - then they can promote their artists. Federal funds that come to this state are meant to be used in this state for artists in this state - not anywhere else.

21. The SC Arts Commission should stop treating individual artists as non-profits unless they are willing to treat individuals in the commercial sector as non-profits. An individual who owns an art gallery should be able to apply for funding in any program they can qualify for. An individual artist profits as much as any other person would from funding. (I've known of artists who have received non-profit funding and purchased themselves a motorcycle - where is the art support there?)

22. The SC Arts Commission should set up an enforcement division or inspector to investigate how organizations and individuals who receive funding actually spend and use the money. It's time they rely on something more than the recipient giving a report on their own actions and then just filing it away. They should also set up a "hot line" so other recipients can rat out their fellow competitors for funding. (I don't know of many state agencies that don't monitor and enforce rules of funding. This would be the "Art Police" - I give credit to Lese Corrigan for coming up with the concept.)

23. The SC Arts Commission should publish an annual detailed financial report showing where the money goes each year and for what - showing what percentage of their budget is used in-house and for services rendered. It should be posted on their website all year long and every report should be archived on their site. (What have they got to hide?)

24. The SC Arts Commission should have to post the names of any member of any selection panel they form - before and after selections are made. If any member of that panel is pressured by anyone they should report that event to the proper authorities. There is no reason to hide these names. And, if those members can't deal with the sunshine they don't have to serve on any panels.

25. The SC Arts Commission should publish the names of every organization and individual who applies for funding, an award, fellowship, etc. We should know who is being turned down as well as those selected. We shouldn't have to file Freedom of Information requests for this info.

26. The SC Arts Commission should respect the true meaning of words. When they set up programs for emerging artists the people selected should be truly emerging artists. Hiding behind the excuse that as a public agency they can't stop anyone from applying for any program and since outside jurors make selections blind - "what can you do?". You can enforce the qualifications for applying. What's the use of setting up specific programs to help specific people if you're not going to hold to what you've written down as to who qualifies. Only honest and polite people are made the fool when you don't enforce your statements.

27. The SC Arts Commission should include a more diverse group of people selected for review/selection panels that include the commercial and non-profit sectors.

28. The SC Arts Commission should rethink its selection of the Fellowship awards. First off it should go to people who have spent at least ten years in SC. The award should be for at least $10,000. The award should only be given once to an individual in order to honor more individuals. The application should only require info for set qualifications - no resume should be needed if jurors are truly looking at the work to make decisions. Also, every five years the Commission should organize an exhibition, which tours the state, of works from the last five recipients. The public should be able to see the works of these talented artists.

29. The SC Arts Commission should get together with their friends at the SC Arts Foundation and make the Verner Awards truly a statewide award. The selection panel should be made up of working professionals with long ties to SC in both the commercial and non-profit sectors. This is not the work of either body's commission members. Recipients should be selected for their statewide impact on the arts - not just regional contributions or contributions to the Arts Commission and the Foundation.

30. The SC Arts Commission should get together with their friends at the SC Arts Foundation and stop the program of cherry picking artists to be able to sell their works at the Verner Awards ceremony. This should not be a sales event.

31. The SC Arts Commission should begin a program of funding exhibitions in the commercial art community on a 60/40 basis. For every $60 a commercial gallery puts up for an exhibit, the Arts Commission would put in $40. These exhibitions would be of artists who are not currently represented by commercial galleries. Proceeds from sales would go to the artists and a percent to qualified charities. If the gallery feels the artist(s) is/are worth representation, they can take them on - in the regular commercial arrangement. This would provide opportunities for artists to develop commercial exposure and give incentive to commercial galleries to try out unproven artists in the sales market. The funding would go to the artist(s) to be spent on the exhibition. The only "profit" to the commercial gallery would possibly be a new artist to represent, and an artist may begin to live off of sales instead of grants.

32. The SC Arts Commission should also open up funding of special events in the art community which involve the commercial sector which have a major impact on cultural tourism. These would have to be well established events not start-up events. Funding would go to no individual or gallery, but to the specific event.

33. The SC Arts Commission should also not exclude college and university art events from receiving cultural tourism funding. Why would they leave out the folks who present some of the best art in the state and most of the time for free or minimal ticket prices? This doesn't make sense if you really want to attract people to SC through cultural events.

34. The SC Arts Commission should also not eliminate college or university art students from participation is some of their programs like juried exhibitions or design competitions. Let all adult artists compete to be the best of the best. Just because they are a student doesn't mean they have nothing to offer. Someone is paying good money for them to be an art student in SC.

35. The SC Arts Commission should also make sure that cultural tourism funding - especially when it comes to ads in publications - that those publications reach people who would be considered tourists. I'm not talking about the programs that promote people to be a tourist in their own town. I'm talking about publications which have a readership in other regions and other states. If you're going to use state tax dollars to promote tourism - the tourists should come from other states to have the maximum benefit. (I know this sounds self promoting, but you can't build tourism by advertising in local publications.)

36. The SC Arts Commission should look into making some personnel changes. In a statewide agency it's not good to have the same people handling certain departments forever and ever. Change is good. They don't have to be fired - in fact you couldn't fire a state employee just because they're no longer good at their job, but you can move them to another department. (I know I've held the same position for over 20 years, but I've paid the price not the taxpayers.)

These last four are not things I want the Arts Commission to do, but it's about them.

37. The Governor of SC should take more of an interest in selecting members of the SC Arts Commission and not just rubber stamping the Commission's suggestions on replacements. The members should be folks with a wide experience in the arts and come from all sectors of the art community. And, no commission member should serve more than five years.

38. The SC Legislature should reorganize the SC Arts Commission to be part of SC Parks, Recreation & Tourism. This would allow the Commission to use that agency's resources and hire more professional arts people instead of office staff.

39. The SC Governor's Office, SC PRT and the SC Arts Commission should coordinate efforts to celebrate the arts community in SC the way we celebrate southern heritage. Let's not try to be anything else but what we are. Let's celebrate our arts community the way we celebrate historic homes, NASCAR, and civil war submarines.

40. The State of South Carolina should treat the arts like any other industry in this state. The art community in SC generates a lot of taxes and jobs. It should be treated with the respect it deserves. This would include more scrutiny of the Arts Commission. It may be only a few million dollars of the state budget - considered pocket change to many of the legislators, but they need to look into what's going on over there and make an effort to see if they're doing a good job and serving all of SC - its artists and the public. Don't just talk to the people they give money to - of course they're happy.

There you go. It's not hard to think of 40 changes when you've been observing this agency and its shortcoming for over 20 years. That's only two a year - of my experience, but I find something wrong almost every time I learn what they are up to - often on a monthly basis.

In my opinion the SC Arts Commission is the number one thing wrong with the visual art community in SC. The Commission is the enemy to most of the community and not their friend. I don't think that's what people had in mind 40 years ago when they created this agency and I don't think they started out that way, but it's their profile today.

This lists of 40 will remain posted on our website so we can see if any of these changes come about. Don't count on it - I'm not. I hold out hope that one day things will change - it's the only reason I make this effort to scream out into the darkness. But, it's a lonely job in a community that can't find its voice to speak up. Most are still hoping for funding and they know what happens when you speak up against the man.

Freedom of speech is a right in America - it's just not an over-used concept.


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