** A response to this post can be found here. Enjoy!**
A few weeks ago I asked the Chicago Art Community (#chiart) for a moratorium on OtherPeoplesPixels websites. One too many poorly worded artist statements had greeted me on the homepage. I’d inadvertently downloaded my fair share of CVs. I’d had enough. OtherPeoplesPixels is a hosted web application that provides portfolio sites for artists. I’ve been against this ubiquitous content management system since my first encounter with an OPP-hosted loading bar. The company was founded in 2005 by artists Brian Kirkbride and Jenny Kendler. The platform is notably employed by Chicagoans Theaster Gates, Sara Schnadt and Austin Eddy. Despite its popularity, I’ve never met a proud OPP user. Everyone I know complains about the service and is perpetually on the verge of switching providers.
I don’t mean to hate on OPP. They saw a need and they filled it. That’s business. But as a graphic designer and gallery owner I’m more concerned with good design. And as Thomas Watson of IBM once said, “good design is good business.” Don’t we all want to do good business? OPP is not well designed. Why does it take three clicks to see a single artwork? Shouldn’t a portfolio site have the work front and center? It also wouldn’t kill them to update their themes every, I don’t know, five years or so. They should at least update the logo if it must be so prominently displayed on of each site.
During a lecture at the Art Institute Ed Ruscha discussed how he had used design throughout his career. He worked as a graphic designer for Art Forum under the pseudonym “Eddie Russia” and took advantage their office equipment to make his own invoices and letterhead. On the Bad at Sports podcast Jefferey Deitch attributed his success to ambition. He thinks that within the art world “if you take yourself seriously, other people will too.”
My fundamental problem with OPP can be found in their tagline, “Spend time on your artwork, not on your website.” If you are a professional artist, meaning that you (plan to) make money from your art, these activities are not mutually exclusive. Marketing your artwork is part of the job. Don’t be bothered by the word marketing. Marketing is showing or telling people what you do. If you don’t want to market anything, why pay $160/year (OPP’s going rate) for a website? Just skip it and then you can really spend time on your artwork. Otherwise, let’s think this through.
The first step is to define your Unique Selling Proposition. Your USP is why anyone would want to buy/read/listen to/look at your shit instead of someone else’s. Once you’ve figured that out, consider your goals and your audience. Most artists have similar goals (to make work, to show work and to sell work) and similar audiences (peers, curators, dealers and collectors). When you know what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach, you can begin looking for website solutions that best serve your purposes.
An artist website can be as simple as a few images and contact information or much more comprehensive. Regardless of their needs every client I’ve ever had has always requested that their site be “simple” and “easy to update.” Assuming that as a given, here are a few suggestions:
If You Are A Hopeless Luddite:
Don’t DIY. Save yourself the stress and hire a professional (me). If you find someone who will do it for free, let them have fun with the project and complete it at their leisure. If you hassle them or promise them exposure they have my permission to punch you.
If You Can Get Down With Facebooks/Twitter/Etc.:
Pick Arlo Sites for a complete solution. $100/yr gets you well-designed themes, unlimited images, video, audio, blogs and social media integration. Steve Ruiz of Chicago Art Review wrote a long post about using Tumblr as a portfolio site. I’ve seen that work successfully, but make sure you back up regularly because their server goes on vacation once a month.
If You Customized Your Livejournal/Had A Geocities Site/Know How To Weave Dreams:
Indexhibit is content management system that was created by artist Daniel Eatock. It’s particularly good at handling projects and sorting information chronologically. Indexhibit was built to be extremely flexible and if you can handle the rude forum dwellers it’s a brilliant option. My personal favorite is WordPress. While it was originally conceived as a blogging platform, WordPress can be configured to do just about anything. For two very different examples compare the Bad at Sports website and the visual arts calendar On The Make. Both sites run on WordPress! The Portfolio Theme by Raygun gives you the Indexhibit look with the power to scale.
It’s better to have no website than a bad one. A scan of business card would be more effective than some dirt style design. If you want to be treated like a professional artist you should have the highest quality of documentation that you can get, you should know how to talk and write about your art and every designed element, from the paper you print on to the typeface you choose to your domain name, should be working for you. The most important tools for your practice are your images and your words. An understanding of design lets you communicate with intention.
Wave Int’l isn’t like any of the publications I’ve previously reviewed. Wave is a network that is documented in a quarterly exhibition and journal. Wave Int’l is co-directed by Brian Khek and Jasmine Lee, two students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In Issue 01 artists Ida Lehtonen, Micah Schippa and Bret Scheider were commissioned to tackle “office iconography.” I chatted with Jasmine Lee about the relationship between publishing and curating and she explained how Wave seeks to innovate in both areas.
Martine Syms: How did you and Brian [Khek] meet and why did you decide to start working together?
Jasmine Lee: I had just moved to Chicago last summer from San Francisco for the VCS program at SAIC and I wanted to start a publication. Brian and I met in the fall. We went to school together and he lived down the street from me.We started cooking together. Brian makes the best Pad Thai. We would cook, talk art and we’d look at publications together. It was a nice welcome to Chicago.
MS: A friend of mine thinks that every artist/designer should be an adept cook. He puts it on the same level as technical or communication skills. Would you agree?
JL: Yes, absolutely. We talk about this a lot. Cooking or creating anything for consumption requires a prior knowledge which isn’t unlike art. It’s funny to us that art and food are still sort of in their own fields. We look at lot of different fields for fodder, like science or technology. What we like about food and technology is their ability to bring people together.
MS: Do you see Wave Int’l functioning in a similar way?
JL: Yes, we love to invite people over for food. The conversations we have are a lot of fun. We’re obsessed with the idea of connectivity
MS: So why a publication?
JL: A lot of our work is done online.
MS: What do you mean by work? Artwork, homework, client work?
JL: Yes, all of it. Life work. When you work this way, there’s this feeling of fluidity. We wanted a publication because it’s more tangible. It’s less abstract than say a blog.
MS: When you work on a computer each activity blends into the next. A publication is more discrete, more representative of a specific moment/event.
JL: The publication and exhibitions are meant to be meeting points. A moment for us to gather our thoughts, reflect and move on. It’s meant to be transient, like a network.
MS: Tell me about your curatorial process. How did you find the artists in the show? Was there a particular narrative you and Brian were trying to express with the exhibition?
JL: We’re interested in bringing together people who’s work reflects ideas we’ve been contemplating. We’re not so interested in regionalism. Because of how we all experience a lot of the same things, regardless of where we live we have a starting point.
It’s kind of crazy how many people are making work. Bookmarks help. Brian and I exchange readings and work we like. As with most things, we wanted to work with people whose work we’d admired and respected, and most importantly, were curious about. As connected as we are with each other [online], a lot of this critical discourse that’s engaged by the visual work is often overlooked. Wave wants to welcome everyone to the conversation.
MS: On your website you use the term “network” and call yourselves the directors. Do you see Wave operating in the tradition of the gallery or the magazine?
JL: We see ourselves as facilitators. Wave Int’l is a platform for critical discourse. We’re not so much concerned with the tradition of the gallery or magazine. We’re concerned with the responsibility that goes along with putting work out there, the push and pull of things that last and don’t last. We don’t just want to talk about something and throw it out there into space. We’re thinking about what happens after a show or even after the opening.
MS: In using the term director you’re acknowledging your responsibility, but in using network, you reconcile what happens afterwards, once the work is up, or the show is taken down.
JL: Yes. We’re interested in the potential of the ephemeral.
MS: Tell me about Ida Lehtonen and Micah Schippa, the artists in the show/issue.
JL: Micah is graduating from SAIC this fall. He’s from Holland, Michigan. He’s one of our cooking buddies! He makes the best soups and is awesome at baking. He’s someone we talk with a lot. We met Ida for the first time this week, after being in contact with her online for a year. Ida attends the School of Photography at the University of Göteburg in Sweden. Her work is very playful. Both Ida and Micah deal a lot with iconography in their work. Which is inherent in the medium [internet art]. I think there’s a lot of “net art” out there that’s really unapproachable, because of how esoteric it tends to be. It’s intimidating, but their work isn’t like that.
MS: What’s next for Wave Int’l?
JL: We want to travel. It’s another part of the practice, geographic diversity. Kind of like a tour. We’re currently building an ongoing program, which involves a library of visual, audio and literary appropriations from our own archives and that of our peers. We also have a printed version of the PDF, edition of 25, very very slick. Email email@example.com for more info.
Download a copy of Wave Int’l: Issue 01 featuring Ida Lehtonen, Micah Schippa and Bret Schneider at www.waveintl.info. The printed version can also be purchased at Golden Age, where you’ll find Jasmine Lee working hard each Thursday!
Can I Come Over to Your House?, the anthology commemorating the first ten years of The Suburban, has a strange power to make its beholders confess to their unwavering love of co-founder Michelle Grabner. “I know I’m impulse buying, but I have to get this because Michelle Grabner is my hero,” a buyer admitted before purchasing a copy. A few days earlier another artist had disclosed that she “wanted to impress Michelle Grabner” while she fondled the stout red volume. Some visitors have taken to staring deeply into the cover and clasping their hands around the book. I try not to interrupt them.
I was surprised to hear this outpouring of devotion to Grabner from so many artists. I thought I was the only who dreamed of being her best friend. Everyone loves Michelle, especially those who “hate” her, and this little book reminds us why. The encyclopedic publication features contributions from the art world’s heaviest hitters from James Welling to Olivier Mosset to Wade Guyton to the Midwest’s patron saint of art David Robbins. Anyone who had ever exhibited under the umbrella of The Suburban was asked to submit four to six images and a brief text that “would best represent” their practice.
Karl Haendel’s provocative text, Questions For My Father begins, “Why did you decide to have children? What if I came out retard? How close did you come to hitting me?” Amy Granat opts for the traditional artist statement, while David Hullfish Bailey provides two (three?) artist statements AND an essay by Danish curator Jacob Fabricius. Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer gives us no words and only images. If an exhibition at The Suburban is “more closely related to what happens in your studio” as Grabner said in a recent interview, then Can I Come Over to Your House? successfully translates that practice to print in this thousand page guestbook-cum-sketchbook.
Can I Come Over to Your House? is available at Golden Age in Chicago. Visit The Suburban this Sunday for the opening reception of Jeff Gibson and Geoff Kleem and come to Golden Age on September 25th for the launch party of Can I Come Over to Your House?.
Manystuff is a blog, edited by the mostly anonymous Charlotte Cheetham, that offers a “daily selection” of graphic design. Manystuff has a devout, international following of 5,000+ visitors a day, they regularly organize design exhibitions and recently began publishing a magazine. Manystuff #1 is actually the second issue. Manystuff #0, More Real Than Fiction was released in 2008, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on it, so it remains less real to me.
Manystuff #1, One Possible Catalyst states its case modestly. The objective is to “fix a laboratory of experiments and meditations released from formal and theoretical prejudices.” One Possible Catalyst is not for those seeking a practical treatise about running your own studio or how to do-it-yourself, nor those looking for a barrage of striking images to consume. It comes as a refreshing counterpoint to the glut of design thinking, design within reach, and design sponging that currently abounds. One Possible Catalyst is for serious thinking about Design. Read it when you’re feeling cynical, but not when you’re feeling sleepy.
(Contributors were asked to diverge from the following three themes:)
Less is more
This way of life has become a cliché and/or vice versa. Less is More is an argument for minimal graphic design that features an essay on the public notice by Rob Giampietro, a collection of business cards from Christian Brandt and a historical survey by Olivier Marcellin. Succinctly, “Use of a sans-serif and a uniform background.”
Support Graphic Design
Support Graphic Design is a catalog of structures used to hold posters and other designed objects, including outdoor benches from EventArchitectuur, billboards from Experimental Jetset, and a mobile bookshop from Robin Gadde. I was struck by the beauty and economy of the mobile bookshop, a succession of plywood sheets with rectangle cut outs for shelves.
The headline asks “What about intergenerational relations between designers?” I often wonder if it’s even possible to establish intergenerational relationships outside of an institution. Sometimes I lament that the only way I’ll be able to meet so-and-so is to go to X school or secure another internship with no pay but lots of prestige. Although One Possible Catalyst provides no alternatives, it does offer a series of texts pairing educators with students and employers with interns that contemplate the role of generational exchange within the field.
Manystuff #1, One Possible Catalyst features contributions from Christian Brandt, Lorena Cardenas, Change is good, David Conte, Pinar Demirdag, Neil Donnelly, Laurent Fétis, Kees de Klein, Wayne Daly, Bear Demen, EventArchitectuur, Experimental Jetset, Robin Gadde &team, Rob Giampietro, Hannes Gloor & Stefan Jandl, Catherine Guiral & David Cluzeau, Arnaud Daffos, Vincent Lalanne, Aurélie Guérinet, Rikard Heberling, Hey Ho, Hyoun Youl Joe, Julia, Konst & Teknik, Sacha Leopold, Olivier Marcellin, Fanette Mellier, Pipi Parade, Please Let Me Design, Thibaut Robin, Grégoire Romanet, Mathias Schweizer, Maki Suzuki (Åbäke), Pierre Vanni, Karen Willey, and Ivor Williams.
It is available now at Manystuff.
Scott Wolniak was the proprietor of Suitable, an alternative (garage) space in Humboldt Park, from 1999-2004. He started the space after receiving his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago and ended it when the roof collapsed. The goal of Suitable was to provide young Chicago artists with an opportunity to show their work. Recently, Wolniak curated a show at Western Exhibitions consisting of videos that had been seen years earlier at Suitable. In conjunction with the exhibition, Suitable Video, Wolniak released a limited edition compilation of the works under the same name. Suitable Video: Volume 1 has a run-time of about an hour and includes work from Charles Irvin, Julia Hechtman, Sterling Ruby, John Neff, Kirsten Stoltmann, Marc Schwartzberg, Paul Nudd, Reed Anderson & Daniel Davidson, Sarah Conway, Miller and Shellabarger, Ben Stone, and Siebren Versteeg.
Sterling Ruby’s contribution, Cook, is a one minute montage that combines several documentary-style sequences of clandestine meth labs while a distorted voice over repeats, “I’m a chemist, I’m a cooker, I’m a manufacturer, and a distributor. I’ll do whatever the fuck I want in the privacy of my own home.” The phrase is oddly catchy and I found myself singing it throughout the day. Paul Nudd’s Wurmburth also stuck with me, out of disgust, it’s really gross. I said this to a friend and she asked “Gross-sexual or gross-dirty?” For three minutes an amorphous phallus goes in and out of various neon green caverns, while smoke, mucus, and spit ooze out. It’s both dirty and sexual. The piece I enjoyed most was Untitled (Nixon/HAL) by John Neff. In it a man gives two monologues against a solid blue background. The first is a statement that was prepared for President Nixon in the event of a moon disaster and the second is HAL’s final monologue from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The melodrama and humanity of the texts are rendered emotionless by their messengers, creating an amusing tension.
I was a film student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and I recognized a few of the pieces from my video classes. During my senior year of college I wouldn’t have considered Sterling Ruby young, Chicago-based, or in need of exhibition opportunities. When I saw these works at school they were presented out of context, completely removed from the community that is very apparent when I watch the Suitable Video anthology. “There is no thematic or conceptual agenda,” Wolniak acknowledges in his curator’s note. “There is a tangible sense of utility in much of the work– they do not seem fussed over, they communicate directly.” Unfussy, direct communication is a fitting theme for a compilation meant to encapsulate the efforts of a DIY exhibition space. These type of spaces pop up when a group of artists, with the help of their most entrepreneurial peers, need the most immediate way to connect with an audience. Alternative spaces stop being effective once they fulfill that need and when they close their doors, they take that history with them. Last year’s Artists Run Chicago at the Hyde Park Art Center was one way of telling the history of alternative spaces, Suitable Video is another.
Suitable Video: Volume 1 is available at Golden Age in Chicago.