Monday, July 12, 2010

Walking Home Projects July 6th - Exploring the Economics of Art

Today’s session began in the “Jennifer Kostuik Gallery” in Yaletown. This is a commercial gallery which is very different from the public galleries that most of us were accustomed to. Rather than catering to the general public and covering a wide spectrum of work, commercial galleries are usually intended to serve a specific clientele. In this case, Jennifer Kostuik, the owner of the gallery, explained that her gallery showcases only a small collection of artists that she selects based largely on her own personal tastes and the contemporary market. These artists are then represented by the gallery and a collection of each artist’s work is kept on file to show to potential buyers.

Commercial galleries operate as private businesses and generate creating revenue by selling artwork with most galleries charging a commission of 40-70% on any art they sell. This rate came as a shock to me, but as I mulled over the pros and cons it started to seem reasonable for an artist to take a large pay-cut in exchange for the freedom of working primarily in the studio and not having to worry about promotion and sales. Visiting this gallery was an interesting glimpse into the business side of art which, to this point in our discussions, had been largely neglected. We had understandably focused on the interpretation of art in most of our discussion but this experience served to remind everyone in the group that the economic viability is a key aspect of any artwork’s ultimate fruition.

After leaving the gallery, we went down Homer Street toward the Yaletown-Roundhouse Skytrain Station where one of the participants, Stephanie French, led us in an interpretive analysis of the sculpture, “Equestrian Monument,” by David Robinson. This life-sized bronze sculpture depicts a horse and rider and, at a distance, appears to be yet another re-making of the all-too-familiar classical monument. But as we got closer, it became plain that this wasn’t the case: the lower halves of both horse and rider were unnaturally large, and the rider himself was a fat old man, naked and tied to the horse with a taut rope that covered nearly his entire lower body. It was not your average “important guy on a horse” statue.

Stephanie explained that the sculpture is one of two casts of the monument, both located in Vancouver. The second white gypsum replica is situated at the store “John Fluevog’s Shoes” on Granville Street and although Stephanie was unsure as to their connection, she did inform us that the work was submitted by the artist to the Canada Line as a temporary installation, which brought the discussion back to the economics of art. The Canada Line has donated a certain amount of space for artists to temporarily showcase their work for sale. I thought this was an interesting way to bring innovative artwork to the public affordably and fairly. The artist gets the benefit of showcasing their work without paying a commission rate or installation fee (the Canada Line and Jugo Juice cover the installation costs) and the Canada Line benefits by acquiring a wide variety of artwork without actually paying for or accumulating artwork .

As we began to discuss the sculpture’s meaning, our general consensus was that the work was intended as a sort of mocking commentary on classical sculpture and the imperialistic culture it represented. This interpretation was based on the sculpture’s rather overt reference to a classical theme, and yet violently inverting its purpose. For instance, as one participant noted, classical sculptors used to alter the proportions of their work, when placing sculptures high above the viewer, in order to make the work appear anatomically correct. In this case, Robinson seems to have done the same, but the work is not placed high above the viewer and thus the altered proportions do not serve to create a realistic illusion. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!

Tiffany Choi’s comments were particularly interesting on this piece because she drew on her own knowledge of horses to draw her conclusions. She noticed, for instance, that the horse’s tail had been cut too short. Tiffany explained that the tail was crucial for the horse’s sense of balance, and comfort (since it was used to swat away flies and pests) so a tail that was too short conveyed obvious meaning. This information was unknown to me and probably to several viewers and reminded me once again that the context and knowledge of the viewer is extremely important for interpretation.

Our day concluded at the Yaletown Roundhouse where we spent most of our time discussing the WalkingHomeProjects’ schedule and other logistical details, as well as beginning to brainstorm how we might be able to contribute to the project. The final half hour ended with an amazing presentation from Laurie Dawson, the project’s audio documentarian, who explained her background, in freelance broadcasting, and interests as well giving us some information on residencies, journalism, podcasting, and blogging. I left feeling excited for the things that I could develop out of this project and looked forward to the opportunity to share what I had learned with both our small gathering and, potentially, a wider much wider audience as well.

sam - the notepad kid



  1. Wow, Sam, what a great post. I always leave your writing learning about something. Thank you! I was really surprised to learn about the Canada Line art program too. For me, my surprise came in thinking about the work behind getting those pieces there; having worked as an administrator in my past, my jaw slapped the yaletown station floor thinking about the preliminary work that must have happened before this program came into place. And how much it relies on three usually separate worlds to make it happen: government & transit, corporate & business and arts & artist practices. I personally love this as I feel like I get to see inside an artist's studio every time I go by a Canada Line/ or BC Transit public art piece. It's really interesting to me also that they are for sale. It's like I'm trusted and allowed to play with my mom's wedding jewelry as a kid! I love having access to these pieces I normally wouldn't. Thanks for your post!!
    From: Laurie

  2. Thank you for referencing the artist's name. I was searching online for a school project, and I had to wade through several blogs that said something like "Here's a photo of that weird horse statue" before I found anything useful and relevant. Kudos.