I’m a Business, Man — by Martine Syms

What is a business model?


At Harvard Business School, Professor Tom Eisenmann teaches that “a business model is an integrated array of distinctive choices specifying a startup’s unique customer value proposition and how it will configure activities—including those of its partners—to deliver that value and earn sustainable profits.”


In Business Model Generation, authors Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur suggest that a business model “describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value.”


Both definitions hinge on the word “value.” This abstract concept hovers around “money,” and maybe “art.” Since the most recent Financial Crisis (and probably before, but I’m young) the art world has been searching for new models—disruption—to match the changing economic climate. The greater publishing industry has already been disrupted. Art publishing, the grey area in this venn diagram, is ripe for business model innovation.


Adam Huttler, Executive Director of Fractured Atlas, offers a helpful analogy for the current art publishing business model: “…Someone offers you a bet. He’s going to flip a coin; if it’s heads you lose $100; if it’s tails you win nothing.”


Would you take that bet?


Huttler uses this metaphor to explain the position of art administrators, but it works just as well for art publishers. But is breaking-even success?



Next week: Love and Loss

An Interview With Athena Tacha — by Rebecca O’Keefe


Athena Tacha is based in Oberlin, Ohio.  Born in Greece in 1936, she came to the United States in 1960 and since then has steadily produced public art works around the country as well as exhibited internationally. The amount of merits she has earned, both artistically and academically, makes summarizing her life a daunting endeavor for both of us.  When I approached Athena to conduct an interview through e-mail, she was quick to suggest we talk on the phone instead.  After writing a beautiful introduction to her life, she explained that she likes to talk a lot, and fast.  I was lucky enough to speak to Athena on the phone a few weeks ago and managed to gain a considered understanding of a varied and accomplished life.


Athena lived through both WWII and the Greek Civil War, spending her childhood with cousins, an adopted sister, and her loving parents. Even as a young girl Athena demonstrated exemplary talent. She was admitted to the Athens Academy of Fine Art, where she studied classical sculpture.  Since then, Athena has earned 7 higher education degrees (including a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne), a Fulbright Grant, an individual artists’ NEA grant, national commissions, and an honorary doctorate.


Aside from traveling the world with her husband (she cites Pre-Colombian cities as a great source of inspiration for her public sculpture), Athena is also an art historian, writer, curator, and professor.  My initial interest in contacting Athena was to learn more about her self published work, most notably her “Pocket Booklets,” of which there are over 20.  One of the first artists to be carried by Printed Matter Inc., Athena has also published books and fold-out posters like “Expressions 1,” pictured above.  But it is impossible to discuss Athena’s printed matter without delving deeper in to her greater body of work.


When researching Athena early on, I found that the only real source of information on her was her own website.  On this site, Athena meticulously documents her own work and keeps track of her accomplished biography.  There are images, essays, powerpoint presentations, and bibliographies.  This autobiographical website recalls Adrian Piper’s two volume book, Out of Order, Out of Sight.   Piper, like Tacha, is adamant about being her own critical voice, and creating a space for herself in history when no one else will.  I asked Athena if she felt any connection to Piper.  She explained that she had briefly met her contemporary, and felt that because she was not part of a “fashionable circle”, and also not based in New York, she was inclined to be responsible for her own memory as an artist and academic.


Athena believes that an artist knows her work better than anyone, and while the opinion and thoughtfulness of other artists and critics can be helpful, it is from the artist herself that you can learn the most.  Because of this, I chose not to transcribe any of our phone conversation, and instead have included small portions of it below.  Like Athena, I too like to talk a lot, and fast, but I found myself forgetting my prepared questions, and instead just listened as she told me about her inclination to write, her connection to Conceptual and Public Art, and her thoughts on aging.  What I learned was something I probably already knew, but had just forgotten.  You don’t have to be in New York or any other “fashionable” city to be connected and contribute to contemporary art.


Over a year ago, I saw Athena in Printed Matter.  I knew it was her because I own one of her “Expressions 1” posters and could recognize her face in any crowd. I was too shy to introduce myself and explain that I owned things she had created, and that I enjoyed them.  Similarly, this time around, I was shy in asking her to exchange emails with me.  By giving me her phone number, a privilege usually reserved for close friends and family, Athena surprised me with her approachability. I feel lucky to have gotten to know her even if just a little bit better.


(Click on the links to hear pieces of the interview)


Athena’s “Pocket Booklets;” Photo courtesy of Athena Tacha


Athena On Writing



Detail from “36 Years of Aging, 1972-2008;” Photo courtesy of Athena Tacha


Athena on Aging



“Green Acres,” at the Department of Environmental Protection in Trenton, New Jersey; photo courtesy of Athena Tacha



Athena On Public Art

Athena On Her Contemporaries




Athena Tacha’s Website

Different Notions of Time – By Athena Tacha

 A Bit about Athena’s Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania


Is Good Business Bad Art (Publishing)? — by Martine Syms

In a back issue of Proximity Magazine, now-defunct research group InCUBATE published a syllabus titled “Art/Life” that sketched the parameters of social practice. They interrogated the hierarchy between artists and other people who are creative by asking “[w]hy call oneself an artist, and how does this added layer detract or benefit from the work?”


Although the entire syllabus is noteworthy, Week 5 was particularly relevant to me.


WEEK 5: Is Bad Business Good Art?

Andy Warhol once said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Yet, for artist-run businesses that are run more as conceptual enterprises, there are perhaps more open-ended standards of success. But what is the difference between an ethically minded, creatively organized small business and an artist who is basically starting the same thing, yet making money is beside the point? How can we talk about the privilege to experiment in this way and also appreciate creative failures?


I’d like to consider why making money is beside the point? In other words, why do artists (whose practice includes publishing) begin (and continue) failing businesses. By ‘failing’ I mean that the enterprise doesn’t make enough money to operate at a profit, which in turn prevents the hiring of employees. The owner is crushed by an overwhelming workload and eventually closes the business.


Why do we do this? Are we masochists?


For five years I was the co-owner of an art book shop in Chicago. I derived no meaningful income from the project, although I obtained substantial loss. I also gained friends, a professional network, knowledge, skills, and experience, but I would never do it again. Still, I didn’t start or continue to run a failing business for any of those reasons. I did it because I felt it was needed. I suspect you feel the same way about your own project.


Perhaps the primary difference between the artist and the “ethically minded, creatively organized small business” is that the artist allows his or her feelings to go unchecked. The small business owner begins with the same nebulous notion, but lets the market determine whether or not it is correct.


The indicators of success are different for each business model. However, if making money isn’t a key performance indicator, a project isn’t a business and shouldn’t be evaluated as such. That said, what about those of us who want to profit from our activities—are we still artists?



Next week I’ll look at business models.

Repetition, Iteration, Re-Iteration (Introduction – Part II) — by Bryan Krueger

Continued from:
Repetition, Iteration, Re-Iteration (Introduction – Part I)


In Ruscha’s 1966 book, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, the viewer encounters a more provoked dialogue between image making processes and this narrative-content divide.


Despite the fact that the content chosen for this work has the vague indication of linear reading – one drives or walks up and down the Sunset Strip; one interacts with the businesses and people that fill this public space – this does not necessarily indicate the presence of linear narrative within the context of Ruscha’s intentions.


What is highlighted throughout all of his books is the interaction with pure content.  The specific conversation between title and image in Every Building on the Sunset Strip self consciously recognizes its relatively limited descriptive power through syntactical  summarization of visual content – the title describes the conceptual boundaries of what the viewer will encounter with the visual content.  Within these boundaries, the viewer will not expect to be presented with content outside of the Sunset Strip.  What is viewed is what has been explained textually.


Rather than seeking, photographing, selecting and editing a single idealized image to represent the etherial idea of the Sunset Strip (or individual groups of images, as in Nine Swimming Pools), he shares it with the viewer linearly in its entirety.  In this way, the individual images coexist on a single seamless image-platform to be viewed at once as a sort of general overview of the subject through a myriad of unfolding views. The group of images dance around the line of being considered a single idealized image since we, in a sense, experience it as such. However, the process by which the work was made puts it in a separate category from our previous example.


It is not a qualitative process, per say, but quantitative.


A poignant qualitative counterpoint to his quantitative approach, in respect to image making processes, can be found in Carleton Watkins’ 1865 stereoscopic image From The Best General View, Mariposa Trail.  Though the initial intentions of these examples are arguably distinct from one another, the latter highlights the aforementioned concept of choosing a “single idealized image” to represent the chosen subject matter.  In other words: choosing the Best General View. The conversation between title and image here are prevalent, like Ruscha’s work, in the sense that we are textually explained the parameters of how to view the image.


The content within Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass may also fall into the category of a qualitative process since it contains a grouping of idealized, though seemingly arbitrary, images that point to the concept of a subject matter.  Though Every Building on the Sunset Strip is also made up of a grouping of individual  images, they are images composited to represent a single “object” (the Sunset Strip) through a multiplicity of views rather than singular views of a multiple “objects” (nine swimming pools and a broken glass).


By extending the canvas of these images to create one overarching representation of this “object”, both Watkins & Ruscha have created an improbable image not yet seen at the time.  They create “photographs” of something that could not otherwise be photographed. If this image is improbable, it makes other individual images of specified views seem a little more probable, a little more recognizable – allowing them to be more readily adapted to the viewer’s previous experience with the subject matter.  Improbable images make that interaction a little more difficult since the image making process presents a new way of viewing.


To be continued in:

Repetition, Iteration, Re-Iteration (Introduction – Part III)


*Ideas found within this posture of thinking are inspired by and informally quoted from Vilém Flusser.