With a world in crisis and an art market spinning out of control, ace art-world consultants Chen & Lampert deliver hard truths in response to questions sent by Art in America readers from far and wide.
I prospered in my curatorial studies grad program, but they skipped a few crucial lessons. I landed an assistant curator job at an institution in a pretty interesting city, but it’s already clear that I’ll be moving on once I get a couple more shows under my belt. To stand out and get to the next level, I need to make a bold leap with my personal style. Seriously, I want to be iconic like Hans Ulrich Obrist, Antwaun Sargent, and Roselee Goldberg: they all have that X factor. Do you have suggestions for a new signature look?
When orchestrating geek-to-chic transformations for our clients, we start by pinpointing the sort of je ne sais quoi that will make them shine brightly at opening parties and costume galas. Do you have a boring face? Try some funky glasses, mile-wide bangs, and a fake British accent. Feeling bland and forgettable? Start dating your loud-mouth coke dealer, get a lopsided mohawk, and wear underpants on the outside of your trousers. Still don’t think you are good-looking enough? Lose a bunch of teeth in a bar fight so that people will feel perturbed and sympathetic when you meet. And always, remember: it’s all about attitude. You should be the person you want others to think you are pretending to be, whether a Dimes Square teenile, a Deleuzian DJ, a tsk-tsking Karen, a podcasting psycho, or even a German robot. Whatever you do, just don’t be you, ugh.
Self-promotion is the grossest part of being a professional artist. I had a good website built for me over a decade ago, but I’ve been lackluster about adding photos and info in recent years. It looks like I basically stopped making work in 2018. While the site needs an overhaul, my much bigger problem is Instagram, Twitter, and social media in general. It seems that I’ve either been shadowbanned or that my posts are being buried by the algorithm. It feels like no one “likes” my work or even sees it these days. I’m embarrassed to post pictures and announcements that only 16 people ever notice, but I feel obliged to do it anyway. This is causing an unshakable sense of existential anguish. What should I do?
How awesome would it be if making art could be separated from promoting art? That’s how it is when you are a kid, but, after professionalizing, the problem becomes that you have to start acting like an adult. Worse yet, adults have to justify to other adults that they are indeed artists and not just trust-fund babies. Life was easier back when you could just draw a smiling sun or simple stick figure and your parents would tell you that you are talented, smart, and loved. Remember how you believed them before reality somehow shadowbanned you?
Algorithms are engineered to decimate our biggest hopes and dreams. Instead of helping share our achievements with others, they pummel us with ads for stuffed-crust pizzas. Since you can’t beat an algorithm, you must acquiesce to it by posting all the time, commenting on other people’s dumb posts, and “liking” everything you see. Chances are that doing so could result in a timeline bump, but will it make you feel dead inside? Being soulless might help your art world career, but will it extinguish the existential anguish that compels you to write to Art in America advice columnists?
Do you have a child, nephew or niece, or even a tech-savvy cousin who is bound by blood to help you? Try outsourcing your social media to a young person and see where that gets you. Don’t worry that they don’t know the finer points of the art world or the right language for captions—just give them the green light to drum up attention. They are digital natives and will feel no pain when it comes to shilling your art. If you’re lucky, your work might become a virile meme for a hot minute. If you’re not, no one will notice—which is already the case, so it’s not like you lose any more. In fact, you win either way because you will be living life offline and making art.
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