Throwback Thursday’s Insider Report on Steve Diamant by Elizabeth Exler
Located in Soho in New York, nationally renowned art gallery, Arcadia, is the brainchild of Steve Diamant, a creative visionary who has an unerring eye for picking winners and a reputation for staging exciting events featuring extraordinary artwork, where you might spot celebrities such has Brooke Shields or RuPaul.
After graduating with an advertising degree from Syracuse University, Diamant immediately started working for an arts and entertainment public relations firm. “One of the clients I worked with happened to be the famous printer, Eleanor Ettinger, a brilliant, classy woman with a great eye for art,” he says. “At some point, I persuaded her to open a street level art gallery and focus on the retail aspect of the business—selling art.”
The gallery became a tremendous success. Ettinger appreciated Diamant’s enthusiasm and the fact that he brought high profile artists to her gallery. “She was a terrific mentor who taught me how to work with artists and collectors and helped me realize that how you treat people is how you will be treated.”
Why did you decide to open your own gallery, Arcadia?
It seems that I’ve always had an appreciation for art and artists, mostly because my mother took me to museums when I was a child. A former art student, she wanted to instill a love of art in her children.
My association with Eleanor Ettinger lasted a wonderful 14 years, but it was time to move on and take control of my own destiny. In the autumn of 2000, I started to look for a gallery space of my own and had started to talk to many painters who had never shown in New York before and told them of my plans to open my own gallery. I wanted the gallery to be a place that wasn’t subjected to whims or trends of the art world. Five years later, I hope that is what we have achieved. I would like to think that the works by the artists we represent will still be valid 10, 20, 30 or more years from now.
What’s your overview of the market for contemporary art?
The art world in general never ceases to amaze me. When I look at the work that sells in galleries, from the fun and commercial works to the unbelievably avant-garde, I can’t help but be amazed. What people buy, why they buy it, what it is about certain works that move them. It’s definitely fascinating.
Many people get upset when they see a pile of paper cups see for tens of thousands of dollars, but I try to see beyond that and understand why someone bought it, what the gallery owner could have said or what the artist’s statement was. There’s room for everyone and not one is better than the other.
What is the best way to approach a gallery?
The first bit of advice is to find out what the submission policy is for the gallery. Call and politely ask if the gallery is accepting submissions and what is the policy of this procedure. Nothing is more annoying than someone sending an elaborate presentation and not including a SASE for the return of the materials. If I did not ask to see their work, what makes someone think that I’m going to pay to return it to them?
If you’re going to be working with a gallery, speak with the other artists who are represented by the gallery. Find out what it’s like working with the gallery. Do the artists feel that they are being properly represented? Are they paid on time? Like any relationship, you should know what you are getting into. In addition, get everything in writing. Does the gallery give you a receipt for works you provided them? Would you just hand over works to a stranger without having a list of everything you are giving them> It may be the art world, but it’s still business. Act like a business person and an artist. One is not mutually exclusive of the other.
Hypothetically speaking, how do you decide?
I get asked that question a lot. My answer is that I am looking for what I don’t have. Hypothetically, if I already have a terrific artist who creates Dutch inspired still-lifes, why would I want another? I’m looking to provide as wide a range as possible within he genre I have decided to focus on. Remember, this is a business and decisions on what gets represented by a gallery are, hopefully, made for business reasons rather than personal ones. Look at who the gallery exhibits. Are you as skilled as those artists? Do you have your own “signature style,” that will set you apart from all of the other artists who are being shown there? It’s a little bit of tough love, but grow up and really try to look at your own work objectively.
Could you give us more straightforward advice and practical tips concerning conduct, slides and contracts?
Know what the focus of the gallery is. Do you fit in? Make your presentation professional. Nothing is more amateurish than a bunch of unlabeled photos thrown into an envelope and a note that says, “Call me if you’re interested.” That’s lame and unprofessional. Call the gallery and find out how they look at the works. We do not review CDs (why would I put a CD in my computer if I don’t know what’s on it?). I cannot tell you how many CDs we’ve received and never looked at. Contracts are great, but many galleries don’t use them. I suggest that artists provide one if the gallery doesn’t. It should state the agreed upon prices, how long the work is placed with the gallery, how long after the sale of the work is the artist to be paid, etc. This is a business—treat it that way. Make sure everything is spelled out, so it’s all there in writing and nothing can be misinterpreted.
If you enjoy this interview, check out these other artist interviews on Artist’s Market Online:
2007 Louise Bourgeois Interview
The Inside Story: How to Get Gallery Representation by Betsy Dillard