Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Current State of the ART Market Series # 4 with JON FEINSTEIN, Co-Founder-Humble Arts Foundation/ Curator /Photographer

Jon Feinstein -Co-Founder-Humble Arts Foundation/ Curator /Photographer

Photo-Dad by Jon Feinstein

Photo- Joe- By Jon Feinstein

As installment #4 of The Current State of the ART Market Series , ARTmostfierce had a Q & A with the mutli-talented Co-Founder-Humble Arts Foundation/ Curator /Photographer,Jon Feinstein. Lets see what is in Jon's mind these days!

Ruben Natal-San Miguel- Please tell us for those who don't know what an ART curator job is all about.

Jon Feinstein-Photography curators, specifically in the emerging art photo world, are responsible for organizing and editing coherent bodies of work from what is increasingly becoming a vast sea of new young photography. I am interested in examining trends in photography and using different work to explore larger issues in the world in an innovative and sometimes abstract way. As the Internet has democratized the hell out of the photography world, it is the curator's job to sort through this work and organize it into an exhibition/ publication that makes sense to the outside viewer.

RNSM-Jon, as a curator for Humble Arts Foundation a non for profit organization... What kind of strategies you are implementing for the shows and the selection of the limited edition print program?

JF-At Humble, I oversee all of the decisions on selecting work for our various projects, from the online group shows to limited edition prints and physical exhibitions. For the online shows I organize and curate work that I think is interesting or innovative from hundreds of submissions each month.
The process differs for online and physical exhibitions, and for our limited edition prints. Since our online shows don't follow a literal theme, I tend to select photos that play off of each other and have a linear relationship to one another. The majority of these images come in via open submissions, but I occasionally contact a photographer if I am particularly drawn to their work. For our physical exhibitions I tend to come up with a specific theme. Often this stems from conceptual trends or patterns I observe in the emerging art photo world. For example, the show I curated most recently, "Things Are Strange", used mysterious and sometimes unsettling work to parallel the current state of political and social affairs in the world. The limited editions are another story---the work selected for those is much more heavily focused on the market. I'm definitely considering what buyers--both seasoned and emerging--would want to "hang over their couch". There is definitely more attention paid to color palate and I may be slightly more reluctant to sell work that is less visually appealing and purely conceptual.

RNSM-When curating a show are you taking in consideration that the work will sell considering the current economic times vs. just a mere theme inspiration?

JF-Saleability plays a minor part--but with shows right now, I'm more interested in producing a tightly curated exhibition than catering the exhibition to the buyers. My main concern on this end is showcasing strong work that pushes photography's boundaries and potentially has a place in photography's history to come.

RNSM-Are the shows curated by you inspired by an expression of the current times we are living?

JF-Definitely. The show I mentioned earlier, "Things Are Strange," was entirely founded on current political and social uncertainty. It did not necessarily include transparently "political" photos--there were no images from Afghanistan or poverty in America, nor were there any election related photos. The photographers instead used mysterious imagery to comment on these issues with a much more abstract sensibility. Another show I co-curated was "31 Under 31: Young Women in Art Photography"--a show that sought to give further exposure to young emerging female photographers.

RNSM-You are also a photographer, what kind of approach you are taking while promoting your work in this economic climate?

JF-I've always been a bit shy about promoting my own work, mainly because the emerging art world is so fiercely competitive that I want to give other photographers a shot with the projects I'm curating. With the exception of the Collector's Guide which is coming out soon, I generally leave my own work out of Humble's projects. But as far as promoting myself, I generally send my work out to bloggers and curators whose eye I respect--the same goes for submitting to competitions. Since I've always had a "real" job in addition to making work and curating, the market itself has little affect on my work, and I'm less concerned with making work that will sell or help me pay the rent.

RNSM-Are you also involved with the price point of the editions? If you are, are you aware that people are buying less and that the price tag is what is either driving potential buyers in or being getting turned off by it?

JF-Amani and I negotiate the price points with each photographer. We strongly believe that if a buyer is truly inspired by the work, the price tag (assuming it's in the "affordable" range) will not bear as much influence--at least with seasoned buyers. I know that various online sales venues have been lowering the price point on emerging art work, but I don't think this has affected our sales in the least. The mass produced reproductions that are starting to flood the market seem to be less targeted to a buying community that can build the traditional artist-patron relationships that have existed in the past and more towards people who want pretty or interesting posters on their walls. As our editions have become more and more popular, we've actually (against the advice of numerous people) increased our price points, and begun limiting our editions to editions of 5 from what was originally editions of 10. As our prices have gone up we've actually seen sales increase, and are starting to sell out of editions that originally had only one or two sales.

RNSM- Since you are selecting works for shows...Are you following any art market trends for selecting the work so the end result will translate on volume sales?

JF-Not at all--while this may sound overly idealistic, for the shows I'm curating, I'm most interested in showing interesting innovative work, and less interested in curating a show geared specifically to collectors. That is not to say that I do not select saleable work, but with exhibitions specifically, I am most interested in picking work that is best suited for the theme of the show.

RNSM- How will you react If somebody gives you a theme title to follow while curating a show and a whole list of artists to chose from?

JF- I would love to curate a show based on a predetermined theme--provided that it was a theme I felt qualified to curate from. I think there are maybe three themes I would refuse: Abandoned buildings, photography of street art/graffiti and reflections. Otherwise I'd give it my all!

RNSM-In your opinion...What kind of photography or art in general has the most sales and investment potential right now?

JF-Tough question. I've noticed that portraits (excluding nudes which seem to do quite well) are less and less popular with buyers. I think this goes back to the "above the couch" concept, and many buyers are uncomfortable buying portraits that directly confront the camera. Emerging photographers who are pushing the boundaries of photography while still making beautiful images seem to be a sound investment as well--for example, Michael Buhler Rose and Hannah Whitaker are making some of the smartest and most visually inviting work on the market right now, and have received a great deal of attention for their work, which only helps to increase their investment potential. Any photographer who is getting consistent and frequent exposure online, in print and in the physical gallery world, and appears to have staying power is a solid investment.

RNSM- What are your thoughts on the Art Market future forecast? What do you think people should focus or shy away from?

JF- "Emerging Artists" has become a hot phrase right now. As I'm sure you've noticed, emerging art competitions, blogs, online projects and magazines are sprouting up every day, and more and more online print sales projects are emerging as well. I feel as though people are going to soon refer to it as "the emerging artists industrial complex" in the next few years. It's also interesting to look at the current print-sales industry in the context of Walter Benjamin's "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"---as so many new online sales projects surface, as more "ridiculously low priced" projects come to fruition, photography as a "collectible product" may gradually decrease in value. For photographers who are interested in maintaining the monetary value of their work, I do think it's important to limit the edition runs if they are hoping to increase the monetary value of their work. I don't necessarily think there is a problem in making an edition of several hundred prints of one photo (and in cases where these sell out, I think it can be a great way of earning some quick cash for young photographers---I know I've bought a couple of cheap editions to hang on my wall) but I definitely think it hinders the longevity of the value of the photograph. Also, I think Gelatin Silver prints are the next big thing for the emerging art photo world--they are one of the closest things photography has to art-objects---to that end, keep your eye out for some amazing black and white work from Tim Briner!

RNSM-Jon, thank you for your ideas and thoughts!


Lisa Hunter said...

Great interview. I LOVE Humble Arts' shows and limited editions -- which, unlike most inexpensive editions, tend to be the best picture in the series they're from.

ruben said...

Thanks Lisa!
Stay tuned more coming up!