NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
Giappo has (literally) stuck his face all over the city. Yet the ownership, the relationship between the artist and the city, that these stickers imply may be misleading. As an ex-gallery owner in Philadelphia, a lifelong artist, and long time curator in the city, Giappo has born witness to the flux of interest in Philadelphia’s art scene from the inside and outside. Despite the challenges, Giappo continues to strive for global recognition in a gallery scene that so frequently ushers its saviors to the manger. Curate This chats with the artist about his radical approach to gaining recognition, how clique-y the art world is, and the dire importance of context in showing your art.
-Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder
CT: So, you have an interesting method of sharing your work, can you tell me about it?
Giappo: In an attempt to promote my own work, I decided, after years of taking the traditional route—presenting my work nicely in an email, attaching my resume—I needed to take an untraditional approach. I wanted to take the tools that big-name galleries use, and use them against the galleries.
Instead of wasting all my time looking for a gallery that was the right fit for my work, I compiled mass lists of contemporary art galleries, and sent them one mass email blast. Using email marketing programs I am able to track who’s looking at my emails, which of my links they are clicking on, and how many times. These are the same tools that all of the top galleries use to see what clients are looking at what.
Well, the emails were almost like personal emails or form letters to the galleries, which resulted in the most traffic I’ve ever received on my website. But I did get a lot of generic cut-and-paste responses from the galleries too. Stuff like, “Thank you for your interest in the gallery. Unfortunately we are not accepting unsolicited submissions at this time,” blah, blah, blah.
Typically most email blasts will get 15-20% of people opening them, though my gallery list was averaging well over 30%. There was also a large percentage of galleries reopening the email. I had one gallery who opened the email over 100 times. Whether that is one person opening the email, or them forwarding it to other people, there was obviously a lot of interest in the email.
Interest is one thing, but what happened from there? How did the conversation evolve?
Sometimes I’ll go to these galleries and act like I am a person representing Giappo. I went up to Chelsea one day, bounced around some of these galleries in New York, and stopped in the Zach Feuer Gallery, which is a pretty prominent gallery. I mentioned Giappo’s name, and the director asked, “Is that the guy who sent the emails?” I acted dumb, and she was like, “I think Zach posted it to his Instagram.” At that point, I sort of fell out of character because I got a bit excited. (Laughs) These might be seemingly little things to most people, but to me it means that people are talking about it. Whether it is good or bad, to me, is irrelevant. But it also shows you how difficult it is to break the barriers of these circles, because even with a conversation being generated, it is still difficult to break through.
Edward Winkleman, who pretty much wrote the book on how to approach galleries, reposted one of my emails to his Facebook, and wrote: “the best cold call submission email I’ve seen in 15 years,” though I pretty much have gone against everything he’s ever said to do when promoting your work to galleries. Typically his Facebook posts get like 30 likes, this one got around 300, and with a bunch of comments. Some people said, “give that mother-fucker a show, this is genius,” and some people trashed it.
I would be more than happy to create a show with this material, and I think eventually I will. most people would say that I have to establish myself with a particular style first before having shows about these more conceptual ideas.
I had a show at Bottle Bar East, and it was the strangest place to show these Art Forum ad panel pieces I had made. It was way over most peoples’ heads in that setting. No one had any fucking idea what was going on there. The pieces were very art world oriented and very conceptual. A buddy of mine from New York was like, “you can’t show these now. You have to show them ten years from now when you’ve established your name with a particular style, and then you can do whatever you want.” Unfortunately, I guess I’m forced to conform to that. Right now, I’m focusing on a particular series which is a mixture of what I believe to be my recognizably signature styles, in an attempt to create a cohesive body of work that will appeal to galleries. Once I get over the hump of becoming known for a “signature” style, I’ve got material for days. I can easily have a full show, just of Ed Winkleman’s Facebook post, and print out screen shots on canvas. There is so much visual information in these screenshots. I feel it would make a very good show that provides an interesting commentary on social media, the art world, and people’s perceptions of art and artists.
Well, you have definitely got a conversation going. On the other side of that conversation, what do you think keeps a big name gallery, or multiple galleries, from pursuing you?
For one I don’t have an MFA from Yale or Columbia, that’s probably one of the main reasons. Someone isn’t telling them that they NEED to show my work. That’s honestly how this shit works. I’ve seen it, and I’ve heard it. You have to find that person who is willing to give you that break, give you a show, or tell someone they need to show your work. The art world is very clique-y, very gossipy, and they are all followers. They stick with what works.
What would you like to get out of this experience?
I would hope that the ultimate outcome of these experiments would be a gallery taking an interest in my work. I never really saw these emails as my work. I know in hindsight it turns into an entertaining piece, but this really was just a way to grab their attention and make them take a closer look at my work. Ultimately, I would like to be represented by an international art gallery or multiple. I don’t want to stop at one. I obviously aim big, or else I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I get criticized for aiming big sometimes, but that is the way I’ve always been.