A while ago I sent a packet off to an anonymous internet call for artworks. It was a call for video works by Art Expo, a non-profit run by Luca Curci in Italy.
I am a video artist, and relatively savvy about how the art world works. Normally I don't send off blind packets to video festival type situations and I never do "pay to play" shows. Paying for the right to show your artwork is for the ignorant, the desperate, and the vast sea of art professors who will happily pay for the right to look like practicing artists. Art Expo looked legit. No fees. Good sign. Great show title, "It'll sound good on my resume" thinks I.
I send off a DVD of work suitably themed to the call, the call specifically states that there is no limit to the amount of work that can be submitted. A few months later I receive a communication from Mr. Curci himself. It seems that I failed to submit the $60 (I think this is the correct amount) required to have my video considered for the show. I write back, informing him that I hadn't read that there was a fee. I apologized and asked him to remove me from consideration and to please destroy my submitted DVD.
Annoyed with myself, I look up the listing for the show. Scanning it top to bottom, there is no mention of a fee. None at all. I dig around through different listings for the same Art Expo call. None of them mention a fee. At this point, I am royally pissed. I write Luca Curci back and tell him that nowhere did he mention a fee on the art call. He write back and asks for money again, the broken English makes it feel like an email from a spammer. I inform him that he is conducting his business in a fraudulent manner, "clip joint" style. He never writes back. I forget about this event, because the world is a big place full of exciting things.
Today I bump into a friend of mine who tells me about her own encounter with the show curator. My poor pal sends off a video for an Art Expo call and has the piece accepted! But in the email Mr. Curci states that a fee of 110 Euros (I think) is required for the video to be shown. Holy fuck, what a rip-off. Of course, this fee is not listed anywhere in any of the information listed in the call.
I'm a little bummed because my own work wasn't even good enough for this advanced form of clipping, instead I got the "you ain't gonna get in the show so we'll just try to get a lower amount out of you" email. I know I'm a terrible artist, but I do hate to have other people remind me.
My friend wisely sends Curci on his way with a few choice words. She had already swallowed some pride just to send her video in to a blind call, paying out the ass to a cheeseball like this would've been too much.
As we compare notes on Curci's tactics, I fall into a rage. I assumed that my brush with Curci had been a mistake on his part, a failure to properly write up the call for work. But no, it was his business plan - his hustle, his scam, his preying on those desperate to have their artwork seen by a bigger world. He tried to get trick the two of us into giving him money using the same method, different events and different times, same trick. Later I find out that the 110 Euro fee was standard for this particular show, one sucker I know PAID IT! And he had been told about the fee in the exact same way.
Curci is showing about fifty artists in an upcoming show at Monkey Town in Brooklyn, this is the show that costs 110 Euros to be in which my friend chose not to be in. Monkey Town is a pretty respectable space, I wonder that they are dealing with a pay to play set up like Art Expo. It's a pretty big hit to their street cred, I'd more expect Curci to be hooking up with the Slowinksi Gallery or some other such place. My only hope is that they don't know about Art Expos sleazy practices and that this is some terrible mistake.
If each artist is paying 110 Euros, that's 5500 Euros the curator is getting from each chosen artist. If we assume that he pulls the same "bill 'em after the send the work" stunt that he pulled with me, that could be thousands more in his dishonest coffers. My god, I wish I had thought of this amazing way to bilk idiots. Of course, I would never suspect that this would work in a thousand years.
Folks, seriously, don't pay for the right to be in a show, unless you are a watercolor artist teaching at a small town in the Midwest and need the show to make tenure. People LAUGH at you when you do this stuff. It is an embarrassment to have this stuff on your resume. There are about eighty billion "show opportunities" listed on the internet, most of them are free. Go apply to those.
Paying a pondful of money to have your work shown at a fancy sounding film festival is an especially bad idea if the showing is at some place like the Indiana University branch in Kokomo. Seriously, Kokomo Indiana. I've got to say that the show sounds very impressive, the "Indiana International Video Art and Architecture Festival". Hard to argue with. And Curci's original art call says the festival is at the "Indiana University Art Gallery". Indiana University is a pretty good school with a surprisingly good art program. Of course, when one speaks of Indiana University they expect that you are talking about the main campus in Bloomington, which has about 38000 students, not the Kokomo campus with 3000. Looks like kooky Curci managed to put another one over on a handful of cash-wielding artists.
All of you who spent your good money on the "Indiana International Video Art and Architecture Festival" do a Google search on the festival. As far as I can tell there wasn't such an event. The only places I see it listed are on the Art Expo website and in the scattered resumes of the artists who were in it. I can find one confused ramble of a local events column, but the IU-Kokomo gallery itself doesn't list the event. Was it worth the money? Would you have paid it if it had been advertised that the show was on the Kokomo campus? Are you laughing as hard as I am?
Not that there is anything wrong with the gallery at Kokomo. Nothing at all. It just isn't what was represented in the ad.
There are all sorts of reasons to not participate in these "pay to play" art shows. Admittedly, a few good reasons exist which justify sending the money in, mostly these reasons involve artificially shoring up your show resume so you can fool people who know nothing about art. All that aside, you shouldn't give money to someone who is cheating you, and this IS cheating. It calls into question the legitimacy of the project they are promoting, of their competency at curating. Demanding money to look at the work after it has been advertised as a no-fee show is sleazy and shows where the true priorities lie. And by paying the money anyways you are encouraging this dishonest practice. I am forced to assume that there are fifty artists in any particular show of his because fifty suckers were willing to pay for the privilege. If a hundred had been willing the show would have fifty additional videos.
I wanted to list the names of the artists who showed in his projects, that way they would be tied to this article when anyone googled their name. But no, that is too cruel. Skimming through the folks I would have shamed I find the exact sort of folks that I suspected - university professors who started teaching straight out of an MFA program and have no art experience, artists with lots of shows but all in the same small town, you know the lot. I don't want to shame these folks, but I would like to inform them.
And I'd like to be informed myself. If anyone reading this blog has had an experience different than that of myself and the other two folks, please let me know.
Here are some relevant links:
-An example of the calls for the fabulous Indiana Festival of Video Art and Architecture and a show called Temporary Identities. Notice that there are no mentions of fees for either show.
-Luca Curci's website. You can tell from the opening page that he's an e-human. You can also tell he's a lot happier than me, as he can get scantily clad girls to run about while he photographs them.
-Here's his next list of calls, none of which list a fee. Maybe I'll submit something under another name and report when he tries to charge money.