Brian Clamp, CLAMPART

Wednesday, December 16 by Juliette Wolf-Robin, ADBASE

Posted in: Industry Interviews

Juliette Wolf-Robin speaks with Brian Paul Clamp, owner and director of CLAMPART, a gallery established in 2000 and located in the heart of New York City's Chelsea art market. CLAMPART specializes in Modern and Contemporary paintings, prints and photographs. Brian represents several photographers who are well known for their commercial assignment work as well as their fine art, including Jill Greenberg, Stephen Wilkes, Brian Finke and Marc Yankus. Aside from exhibitions at his own gallery space, Brian has curated numerous photography shows at venues throughout the United States, and is the author of 30 publications on American Art.

  • How CLAMPART finds the artists it represents
  • The gallery / artist relationship
  • Dos and Don'ts of auditioning work
  • How the recession influences customer art preferences
  • The right way to do a portfolio review

Interview Transcript

This is an edited transcript of Juliette Wolf-Robin's interview with Brian Paul Clamp, director of CLAMPART, located on West 25th Street in Chelsea - the heart of the New York City art market.

Juliette Wolf-Robin:

What are some of the ways that you find photographers who you want to represent?

Brian Paul Clamp:

You know, there are a lot of different ways. We've always got our eyes opened for interesting new talent, but I look at museum shows, gallery exhibitions in other cities. I look at books, new books that are published, monographs - especially magazines. Then there are portfolio review events that occur around the country, where I often find people that, usually, I'll first incorporate into group shows or projects and then, if things go in the right direction, may turn into artists that we represent permanently at the gallery.

One thing is that, when the economy is not doing so well, it's much harder for galleries to add new artists to their roster. Also, as galleries get more established and they've been around for a longer period of time, their roster becomes a little less flexible and more rigid. So, a lot of times, I'll suggest to artists that they target younger galleries that have a little more flexibility in that regard - to experiment with new people.

Juliette:

Is there anything in particular you want to know about a photographer before you take them on?

Brian:

Yes... there will be a great deal of conversation before I ever officially offer to represent an artist. First and foremost, I want to get a sense of their personality... whether they're the kind of person that I want to work with on a day-to-day basis. But also, rather than just seeing one complete and impressive body of work, I want to know what they've done in the past that's led them up to this point. And also get a sense of what they may be working on in the future because representation is a long-term relationship and I want to be sure that there is going to be viable work down the road that we can also show.

Juliette:

How important is their education or the awards they've won... or where they've been seen before?

Brian:

All of that stuff certainly helps but, honestly, what it comes down to is the quality of the work. So, if I feel strongly about the work, I'm impressed by the way an artist presents him or herself and has an understanding of where he or she fits in within the current contemporary landscape, then that will override other considerations.

Juliette:

So, is it important to you [to know] which other galleries they've been with before?

Brian:

It can matter because if they're already represented by another gallery in another city, we would have to work with that gallery. And you want to be sure that it's someone you feel comfortable doing business with - that it would be a cooperative relationship. One thing I will say is that if an artist already has too many galleries, I'm definitely not interested in getting involved.

Juliette:

Is the work that you take on, a reflection of the work that you personally like? Or a reflection of the clientele that you cater to?

Brian:

You know, that's a mixture too. Certainly, all the work I show in the gallery is work that I'm personally interested in, that I feel strongly about, and it is a reflection of my sort of eclectic taste. But the clientele that I've built also has to be taken into consideration and if there's an empty space in my roster, then that's something that does have to be filled. So, we try to keep it balance across the board.

Juliette:

Is there a particular style that you find sells best? Are abstracts more popular than portraits?

Brian:

I think it depends on the clientele that a particular gallery has built. My clients seem to gravitate towards figurative work in portraiture and that's probably grown out of my own personal taste because I like that kind of work and I show a lot of it. I've attracted those kinds of clients.

Juliette:

Have you seen any trend and a shift over the years of what people are looking for, based on the economy? Do people tend to look for happier or more somber images at any given time during the years?

Brian:

Yeah, that's probably true. In dark sort of days, people tend to be drawn towards more positive sorts of imagery... a little more hopeful imagery. But that's sort of true in all times.

Juliette:

Does it matter if the print is a digital or a silver print... does the method of how it's made matter?

Brian:

If we're talking color prints, any sort of bias against digital prints has ended at this point. I see no differentiation between a traditional C-print or a digital C-print, or an archival pigment print. In the world of black and white, there might still be a little more bias toward traditional printing methods, in my opinion.

Juliette:

How important is it for a photographer to edition their work?

Brian:

Editioning is such a complicated issue and it's something that artists always want to talk about. What I will say is that I would encourage artists not to edition their work until they absolutely have to... hopefully at a point when they've got a relationship with a gallery and can get some sort of advice in that regard.

If you are beginning to sell your work, editioning is essential. And if you're selling your work, and you are not editioning yet, keep very good records so you know how many prints are out there when the time does come to begin editions.

One other thing I'll say about editioning is, the trend certainly in the last few years, has been toward smaller editions with higher prices. We're finding that much easier to sell than these huge editions at lower prices.

Juliette:

And do they typically print all of the images in the edition at once or on demand?

Brian:

Generally speaking [it's] on demand. I know very few artists who print all their editions upfront and, most of the time, there's not a need to do that.

Juliette:

Does it hurt a photographer to sell their own work through their website?

Brian:

If they're not in a relationship with the gallery, they're welcome to do whatever they like. You know, the whole game will change when a gallery steps into the situation... But, no, I don't have any problem with that.

Juliette:

Should photographers put prices on their website, or should they wait to see what kind of response they're getting?

Brian:

Again, that's their own personal issue. Most galleries don't post prices on their websites, but I like that transparency. I don't think it really matters one way or the other.

Juliette:

Are prices negotiable when somebody walks in a gallery, or are they pretty much set?

Brian:

In times like these, all prices are negotiable.

Juliette:

And does it help if the photographer has a book out about their work that goes with the show?

Brian:

It certainly does. Probably 50-to-75-percent of the exhibitions at our gallery coincide with the release of a book. It's a really easy way to market work. The publicity from the book fuels the exhibition and vice versa. So, if an artist does have a book deal in their back pocket, it's a perfect time for them to approach galleries. But do so well before the release date of the book, since galleries generally are scheduling things about six months out.

Juliette:

Would it be worth it, if you are having a show, to create your own book-on-demand to sell at the show?

Brian:

Yeah, and we've done that too. You know, we'll publish catalogues or books to coincide with particular exhibitions, and if the artist has the means to do that on their own, it certainly does nothing but help.

Juliette:

Do the galleries have contracts with their photographers the way agents typically have contracts with their photographers?

Brian:

The art business, in a lot of ways, is still very much a gentleman sort of business that works on a handshake. There certainly are galleries that do have contracts with all of their artists and we kind of work on a person-to-person basis. It depends on the artist, it depends on the situation, whether we'll write something formal.

Juliette:

You represent several photographers who also work shooting commission assignments. Is that something you might tell a customer? Or do you only focus on their fine art?

Brian:

Again, it depends. If it relates to what they're doing personally, then certainly it would be something I would talk about. There are several artists on my roster that do a considerable amount of editorial or commercial work that directly relates to their personal work that we show in the gallery. And oftentimes, clients will see that work before I will, and then point it out to me.

Juliette:

Is it better for a photographer to have a lot of exposure, or to be mysterious about who they are?

Brian:

For emerging artists, the more exposure the better. The most important thing is to have as many eyes on your artwork as possible.

Juliette:

Does it help a photographer to donate their work to causes to get exposure that way?

Brian:

Yeah, it definitely helps. I would suggest donating, maybe not your regular edition prints, but smaller prints, artist proofs... things like that. The more exposure the better.

Juliette:

Does the gallery get the press exposure for the talent, or does the talent do that on their own?

Brian:

Well, it's a collaboration. We certainly have a great deal of press contacts, and we're constantly in touch with those people. But an artist who is doing their part to reach out also... is just going to help.

Juliette:

Do you find that people typically want to buy contemporary art because they're looking for decoration, or because they're looking for the potential investment of it?

Brian:

I think it's both. Realistically speaking, the majority of the art-buying public is looking for work to decorate their homes. That being said, even if it's an emerging artist, they want some sort of assurance that they're not just throwing money down the drain and there's going to be some sort of resale value... hopefully an investment value for their purchase. Yeah, so, both.

Juliette:

What do you think about the digital, curated sites of blogs... different places like that?

Brian:

All that stuff has grown so exponentially over the past few years and again, for emerging artists, it's all about exposure. So, any of those things are good, in my opinion, as long as they're done well.

Juliette:

You mentioned the portfolio reviews. When a photographer is going to one of those, is it better to have a number of images from different series to show you quickly, or is it better that they focus on one body of work?

Brian:

I'm most interested in seeing one body of a very strong work. That being said, if they do have more than one body of work, it is helpful to have more than one portfolio [at a review]. Because if they sit down with someone, and in the first 5 minutes [the art buyer] clearly has no interest in what they're showing... [it's good] if they have other things to bring out. But they shouldn't sit down with the expectation that they're going to get through four bodies of work in 20 minutes. They should gauge who they're talking to and determine, based on that, what images, what bodies of work they will show them.

Juliette:

As a reviewer, do you get something out of going to reviews?

Brian:

Yeah, I definitely do... not only are we looking for new and fresh talent, it's also good for the reviewers to network with the other reviewers who are there. For me, as a gallery owner, it's great to meet these other book publishers and museum curators and magazine editors, because those are relationships that grow over years.

Juliette:

Is it worth it for a photographer to run an ad in the various art magazines to get attention? Does that help with you or with collectors?

Brian:

I'm a little distrustful of artists advertising their own work in the big national magazines. I don't know how much good it really does and... it seems strange, honestly.

Juliette:

If a photographer hopes to get your attention in the least intrusive way to you, how would they go about doing so?

Brian:

They would make a telephone call or write an email to the gallery inquiring about our portfolio review guidelines.

Juliette:

Okay, great. Thank you very much for your time.

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