Adam Simon tells us how to get free art (and he's not talking about all the posters of Klimt's Kiss in the NYU dorm Dumpsters)
Fri Mar 13 2009
Floater-airplanes by Jenna Lucente
When Adam Simon realized in 2005 that there was a surplus of good art and a shortage of good homes for it, he decided to take action. In 2006, with the help of Art in General, Simon launched the Fine Art Adoption Network, an organization that allows artists to give, and ordinary people to adopt, works of art. Yes, these are real artists; most have had solo gallery shows, and one has even been on the cover of Art Forum. And yes, it's really free. But if you see something you like, you may be competing with other potential adoptive parents, so you should at least ask nicely.
Simon, himself a working artist, took a little time off from the installation of his new show at Pocket Utopia, which opened this past Saturday, to talk to me about the FAAF, which has now had adopters—most of them first-time art owners—from all over the country and all walks of life, including a 12-year-old Bostonian, a policeman from D.C., a judge in Florida, and a small farming town in upstate New York. Watch for an upcoming book on the FAAN published by Art in General.
With the advent of the post-Bush economy, we've started to see some changes in the landscape of the art world, both in terms of structural change—like galleries closing—and in terms of a shift in focus. The Swiss Institute, for example, has a show on right now ("Regift"), which focuses on the theme of the gift. Have you received increased interest in the Fine Arts Adoption Network in the past few months?
The site got more active in the past couple of months.... I'd say it's been most pronounced in the last month. Since the election, actually, there's been a little flurry of attention to the site. But for the two months before that there seemed to be more people logging on and more artists putting work on than there had been in the fall.
Why do you think there are more artists interested in it?
I think that there's been a shift in attitude about being an artist that might be kind of aligning itself with the election of Obama. There was an event recently...Sharon Butler put together this salon thing here at Pocket Utopia to talk about "what it means to be an artist in the age of Obama." It kind of assumes a lot of goodwill and do-it-yourself kind of attitude, and not so much...this kind of, you know, "I wanna be an art star" mentality.
There's this idea that you can't get something for nothing. What do you and the artists at the Fine Art Adoption Network get out of giving away pieces of their work?
One thing that interests me is that a lot of the artists that have participated have continued to participate, which I didn't really expect. But the fact that artists continue to put new work on it after they've already had three or four pieces adopted suggests to me that there's something in the actual exchange that is really gratifying.... I know that there have been significant e-mail communications between adopters and artists. In fact, there's a book that Art in General is producing, that I put together...it's going to have a lot of the e-mails that were sent to the artists and the successful ones on one page and then, on the facing page, the artwork that the e-mail resulted in getting adopted. When you can juxtapose the artwork and the e-mail, you kind of see why the artist would give to this person. The original premise was that artists produce a lot of art, and even very successful artists don't exhibit or sell a large portion of what they make.
You say that you're interested in the demographic of the adopters. How much does that really matter? Do you ask people about their personal financial situations?
There is a questionnaire that the adopters fill out that asks, where will this artwork live? It asks what you do. So there are no financial criteria. A lot of works have gone to people that are well-off enough to buy...Austin [Pocket Utopia's director] is saying that she actually encouraged a wealthy collector to use the site to have a different kind of collecting experience.
What is the different collecting experience for someone like that?
They're dealing directly with the artist. Both the adopter and the artist choose. The adopter initially chooses what they're interested in, but then the artist chooses from among the people that solicit them. Amy Silman: She's quite a well-known artist. She was on the cover of Art Forum, like, two months after she put work on FAAN. She really didn't want her work to go to somebody who could buy it, and it ended up going to an artist.... I know that she said no to a museum that wanted to adopt something because she thought they should have been able to buy something.
My main point is that the demographics of people who are getting art through FAAN is much broader than it is through the art market. And that's exciting to me
Aren't you afraid that people are just going to turn around and sell this stuff? I mean, there are some artists on your site who actually do sell works for a good amount of money. What do gallerists think about the Network?
There is something on the site that says, "You should not be using this site for commercial purposes and any resale should involve the artist." But we can't actually enforce that, so there's a lot of goodwill that this project requires.
Well, in the end it is a gift. So do you know how many pieces you've placed so far?
It's about 390 completed adoptions at this point.
The whole premise (of this project) was that the art market can't really put a lot of art into a lot of homes. It goes against how the art market works, because it works in terms of exclusivity. And yet there's a lot of people that would love to own art, and artists make a lot of art that ends up not going anywhere—and not because it's not good art, just because of the way the system is set up. So this is another type of art distribution system. It's not an alternative to the art market; in the end it kind of supplements it, I think.—David Levitz