On The Ground Running

I spent Saturday morning at an arts marketing seminar that focused a lot on galleries and how to get artists into them. I was pretty excited for the whole experience, and it definitely lived up to my expectations. I met some really great people, heard some solid advice, and left feeling energized and ready to get Jeff into a whole bunch of amazing galleries through my tireless promotional efforts. My excitement wore off quickly in the weekend crush of traffic on I-94, however, and a thought that had surfaced unbidden during hour 3 of the seminar (I get a little testy when I’m hungry) again pushed its way to the front of my mind: What’s so great about galleries, anyway?

It can be (and is) argued that galleries actually do a lot for their artists. They are a bricks-and-mortar location for showing art outside of an artist’s own studio, and they get artists exposed to people who may never hear of them otherwise. They provide a space for intelligent conversations about art and offer a critical eye artist may not otherwise encounter. They market for the artists and employ great salespeople. They also keep up to 60% of the profits made in a sale and, in some cases, try to control how an artist promotes his own work so that no one can make a sale but the gallery. Yikes. I mean, it makes sense. Most galleries are for-profit institutions. But the art world is changing. Gone are the days when artists relied on gallery representation to promote and sell their work. Artists are on the ground running, and in a lot of cases they’re winning the race.

Thanks to the advent of this thing called the internet and its globalizing, democratizing tendencies, artists can and do promote themselves effectively. As the art critic Jerry Saltz says in an article entitled Saltz on the Death of the Gallery Show, “These days, the art world is large and spread out, happening everywhere at once.” It’s true. The art world is no longer confined to the walls of a gallery in New York or LA. Every artist anywhere can have their own website, their own Facebook page, their own LinkedIn profile, and their own Twitter feed. Online galleries are popping up frequently. Communicating with people and making sales without a middleman has literally never been easier. Jeff and Carl frequently makes sales simply via jpeg images and email. They don’t need someone in a gallery telling a patron what’s good. The patron already knows what they want, and they can get it straight from the source.

Carl and Jeff crating a sculpture in the studio. The sculpture sold at an art fair. Photographer: Scott Wagnild

Carl and Jeff crating a sculpture in the studio. The sculpture sold at an art fair.                                         Photo Credit: Scott Wagnild.

Jeff and Carl are on the ground running a lot. They travel all over the country to go to art fairs, meeting people and selling art, all on their own. It isn’t necessarily a glamorous life, but it pays the bills and then some. They have created a successful business and are surrounded by other artists who have done the same thing: Cindy McDougall and Jay McDougall, Sean Scott and Kate Scherfenberg… The list goes on, and this is just in and around the small town of Fergus Falls, MN. So much for starving artists.

One thing that hasn’t changed, despite the everywhere-ness of the art world and the individual successes of artists, is the idea that a gallery is measure of an artist’s success. No matter how well an artist is doing outside gallery representation, there is a certain notoriety that comes from being in the right gallery that artists just can’t ignore. This may never change. After all, the art world is something of a meritocracy. But galleries can’t keep holding on to the illusion that they are an unparalleled gift to artists, swooping in, snatching up their work, making careers. They no longer are. The bricks-and-mortar gallery isn’t the only thing paying the bills now; it’s simply supplementing the income of an already hard-working business. I don’t want galleries to have to close their doors, but that’s what will happen if they attempt to control a business they haven’t built. A blog post by a gallery owner (in fact, the man who led the seminar on Saturday) reassures me that at least someone gets it. “Moving forward”, he says, “artists are going to see galleries as only one of many marketing venues for their work. Galleries are going to have to earn their artist’s business.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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“No Limit To Human Sh*tiness”: Art, Emotion, and Immorality

A recent experience has brought new significance to two abstract and subjective concepts that I often find myself considering in conjunction with art: emotion and morality. I’m not attempting to assert that “emotion” or “morality” are necessarily inherent in works of art. It is not my place to ascribe either of those concepts to a piece in which neither may purposefully exist. Instead, I would like to discuss the place of art in regard to human emotion and moral codes. More to the point, and to sound less like the lecturer I am coming across as currently, I would like to discuss one of my best friends and how she made me remember to hold on to the little things in life.

Arriving home at her apartment late last Sunday night, my friend was attacked and sexually assaulted as she unlocked the door to her building. Someone arrived on the scene and succeeded in scaring the attacker off, but not before the attacker had beaten my friend almost senseless (among other horrible things). My friend was in bad shape that night. Her normally pretty face was swollen and covered in bruises, and she had to have her cheek sewn up where the skin had broken under her assailant’s punches. Her entire body ached severely enough for prescription pain meds even days after the attack. Of course, her physical pain is nothing when compared to the emotional trauma she experienced.

Not surprisingly, my friend’s outlook on the world has darkened considerably since Sunday. After what happened to an intelligent, confident, and hilarious woman like her, I’m inclined to agree with the succinct statement she made after her release from the hospital: “Turns out, there is no limit to human sh*tiness”. Indeed, there is little use arguing against the fact that the world often seems like a morally reprehensible place. The goodness we may try to see in other people is too often overshadowed by the acts that unfortunately end up defining our lives and/or the lives of those closest to us.

When we see the world in such a dark light, it’s almost impossible to think what good something as trivial as art can be for humanity. Art can’t prevent the physical pain that my friend is still feeling almost a week after her attack. Art can’t redeem the world. But can the right kind of art help heal us emotionally? Can it help us re-ascribe to humanity some modicum of morality? Do these questions even matter to anyone but me? I respond with a firm “maybe” to them all.

The truth is, I hate art that tries to force me to think or feel something (the exception to this rule is the work of Banksy, whose identity is hidden and whose art is admirably irreverent and thought-provoking in its blatancy).  It is with an equal intensity that I hate art that makes me feel nothing at all with its bland simplicity (here’s to you, canvases that are painted red or paintings that I could do myself with a single brush stroke). I would of course do well to remind myself of the subjective nature of art: there is a place in the world for art both bland and preachy (I believe bland art is most often found in hotels, but I digress). Many artists creating the work I have disparagingly titled “preachy” are trying to bring awareness to social injustices or environmental causes, and I respect that fully. I think we may all agree, however, that art like that is not art that is easily digested. Art that is full of intention must either confront the viewer with garish obviousness or beg the question What does it mean?, which scares away those who think they can’t “understand art” if they can’t decipher a meaning within the first few minutes of seeing a piece or reading the artist’s statement. Art shouldn’t be about deciphering or about message-shoving. At least, the art we want to heal us emotionally or to re-ascribe a modicum of morality to humanity shouldn’t be like that. No, the art that does the most to lighten our load when the going gets tough is the art I fondly refer to as “unpretentious”: it’s the art that doesn’t attempt to tell us what it is or how to look at it or what to feel or believe or wonder. It’s the art we don’t stare at and ask, What? Why?!. It’s the art we can look at for seconds or minutes or hours without moving and feel completely at peace while we gaze. We shouldn’t have to ask What does it mean?. Instead we should want to ask, What does it mean to me?

One of the first questions I asked Jeff when I started working for him was about emotion. I wanted to know what drove his work, and his answer shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his sculptures. He explained that he makes his sculptures purposefully devoid of emotion. He does want them to be something of a foil to the often dark, thought-provoking works I described above, but he doesn’t achieve that goal by instilling any one emotion or moral message into his own sculptures like “happy” or “healthy planet earth”. Instead, he leaves them completely open to interpretation by the viewer. He doesn’t even name his sculptures for fear that a name would force a reaction. The real interpretation, he says, is expressed in the faces of his viewers. It’s one of the reasons he loves art fairs so much. He doesn’t watch his sculptures at his shows. He watches the faces that crowd into his booths, the eyes that follow the movement of each marble down, around, through spiraling metal and across empty space and back up in an endless cycle. When they watch, he hopes, they lose themselves in the movement. They forget the immorality that plagues the world, the people who attack young women outside their apartments and the pain of living that affects us all to varying degrees. They get to feel the emotions that accompany childlike wonder.

This is a picture Jeff took in Madison, WI of his booth full of people.

This is a picture Jeff took at Art Fair on the Square in Madison, WI of his booth full of people.

So, can art help heal us emotionally? Can it help us re-ascribe to humanity some modicum of morality? I think it can. At the very least, good art can give us a moment to realize that the awful truths of humanity are not the only truths, and that emotional fortitude is not unattainable. A moment may be all we need to reset and regroup for the next onslaught of life uncensored. One thing we must be sure to remember is this: that while people suck and bad things happen, there exist pockets of inherent goodness in the world- in a sculpture, in a book, in playing fetch with a cute dog- and we shouldn’t gloss over those things in our rush to drown in the mire. It’s the happy trivialities that keep us afloat, and we should cling to them for all they’re worth.

Speaking of happy trivialities, here’s a video of sculpture #702. As Jeff would say, lose yourself in the movement.

The Inside Scoop on #702

Zachmann photos (33 of 54)In order to better understand Jeff as an artist, I think it’s important to occasionally sit down with him and have a focused discussion on a single sculpture. And while Jeff is constantly making sculptures, it’s not often that he makes one without a home ready and waiting for it. This is a good problem for an artist to have, but it also means it can be difficult to find the time to talk about a piece before it’s crated up and out the door. I therefore took advantage of #702’s unsold status and asked Jeff to share a bit about his creative process through the work he did on this specific sculpture.

blog702Jeffrey Zachmann Sculpture #702

What did you know about the sculpture before you made it?
Before I made the piece, I just had an idea of the size of the piece I wanted to make. One of the things I try to do is have sculptures in a variety of sizes and prices so patrons at art shows can find something that will fit their space or budget. With this piece I had an idea of the form I wanted. I had made a similar piece in the past and wanted to fine-tune the composition. Sometimes, after looking at a piece I’ve had finished for a while, I start to think I should have done this or that differently. It’s usually a composition thing.

What was difficult about the creation of this piece? How did you get over the difficulties?
This one took me a while to find the right pieces of metal. The blue bits were pieces of a barrel that someone had repainted a couple of times. The sizes of metal pieces let me highlight the over-painted parts. If the pieces would have been larger they would have been too busy for people to really look at. I think the larger vertical piece with the perforations is part of an industrial fan guard. When I found it, it was still shiny and unrusted, but I liked the perforations. I left it out in the weather all winter to get the rust to start forming. The smaller bits of screening are pieces from a larger screen used in sorting gravel and sand. I love this kind of screening as it adds a really nice texture to the sculpture. I’m starting to run out of it and am having a hard time locating more, so it’s nice when I have a couple of small bits like this that fit right in.

What surprised you about the way the piece came together?
When I was building this piece I thought I had messed up a bit and left too large of an open area to the right of the jump. The counterweights for the element that holds the three balls before releasing them (on the left side) gave me a way of filling that spot. It seems like a logical fix now but the problem had me scratching my head for awhile before I came up with it.

What about the piece makes you the most excited?
I really like the high arc the ball takes with this jump. It can be difficult to get it to work right when I do a high arc- the aiming can be difficult- and where the ball ends up can vary unless it’s tuned just right.

How does this sculpture fit in with the rest of your work?
I think my work is a progression of things I’ve learned: how to use the laws of physics to my advantage, how to use the juxtaposition of panels, numbers, and stainless steel, how to construct the frame to work as a both a support structure as well as an artistic element at the same time. I think I’m working toward the perfect sculpture. That’s something that will never happen, though. Each new thing I add to what I’ve learned adds millions of possible combinations to what I already know. Exploring these combinations is what keeps my work interesting.

What do you think of sculpture #702? What interests you most about Jeff’s discussion of his sculpture? Leave comments below.

The Winds of Change

Can you believe it’s already the end of July? As usual, things have been busy for the Zachmann Studios team. Both Jeff and Carl enjoyed their time at Art Fair on the Square in Madison, Wisconsin, meeting new people and seeing old friends. Here are some highlights from the show, as reported by Jeff:

Two ideas from one guy:

1.You should have some of your sculptures made abroad and then you could sell them at Walmart.
2. You should make your sculptures life-sized and have people ride in them. You could have them in a water park flume… for safety.*

*In my position as executive assistant, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my whole-hearted support of idea #2. It is dangerous and irresponsible (despite the safety tip) and therefore a worthy endeavor for Zachmann Studios.

Jeff also had a little girl come into his tent with a whole collection of cool things she had found on the ground that day. Jeff gave her a little cloth bag to hold all her treasures, which included but were not limited to: a hairclip, a crutch tip, an acorn cap, a swizzle stick, a bottle cap, and a picture of a pirate. “Pretty impressive,” says Jeff.

Carl somehow had the energy to turn around right after that show and head to the State Street Area Art Fair in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although, let’s be honest. He was probably fueled solely by excitement stemming from the debut of………………………………………………

wind100HIS NEW WIND SCULPTURE!!!! (Follow the link at the bottom of the post to see it in action.)

The wind sculpture is new territory for Carl and Jeff. It is the first non-electric piece to come out of Zachmann Studios, and it’s safe to say it won’t be the last. Many new doors are opened with the creation of this single piece. Outdoor sculpture gardens are now viable venues for Zachmann creations, and the stage is set for further creative expansion of their work.

So, what do you think of the new wind sculpture? How about that water park idea? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and watch the video of the wind sculpture at work here.

The First Post

Hello, and welcome to Zachmann Studios’ first blog post! I’m Klara Wagnild, executive assistant to Jeff Zachmann and marketing director for the studio (that means I’m the one in charge of the blog).

clydeandklaraThis is me (sadly the best picture I have of myself currently).

My position as blogger is fitting since I am able to wax philosophical about a piece of art at the drop of the hat, whereas Jeff is too Minnesota-nice to impose that kind of nonsense on anybody without them asking first. I come by my skills honestly after spending four years in college studying philosophy and my whole life being interested in art. Jeff was kind enough (and busy enough) to consider employing me and my questionable abilities just a few months ago. I have enjoyed every minute of my work for Jeff and am looking forward to becoming even more involved in the art world as time goes on. But enough about me. Welcome to Zachmann Studios!

Zachmann Studios is home to the kinetic sculptures of Jeffrey Zachmann and the machine art of Carl Zachmann. The father-son duo work independently to create intriguing static pieces that, when set in motion, become captivating. Each sculpture they create is unique. Jeff bends, welds, bolts and screws stainless steel and found metal into the framework for a sculpture. His pieces favor a lift system that is visually suited to each sculpture’s framework and moves marbles through a fascinating and seemingly endless path. Carl’s sculptures explore the designs and textures of our industrial past through the use of moving gears on static backgrounds. Here are some examples of the artists and their work:

jeffsmilingThis is Jeff: Kinetic sculptor extraordinaire, all around nice guy.

453This is one of Jeff’s pieces at the airport in Brisbane, Australia.

20130618_143719This is Jeff hard at work in the studio.

20130618_143720This is Jeff’s “hard at work” face.

690

This is Jeff’s sculpture #690.

headshotThis is Carl.

SN 002 JPGThis is Carl’s sculpture SN 02.

archeologycarleditThis is Carl engaged in his other passion, archeology.

photobooth

Here are Carl and Jeff in a photobooth at Carl’s wedding to his lovely wife, Krista.

So, why the blog, you ask? Blogs may be an artistic medium of their own, but used by and for artists, they can offer a unique glimpse into the creation of new works and the lives and creative processes of the artists themselves. This blog exists to actively place Zachmann Studios in the discourse of contemporary art. The blog will be updated frequently to reflect the activities of Zachmann Studios. New sculptures, inspirations, reactions to shows, and passions will all be discussed.  Comments on posts are encouraged, and the artists and I can be reached in a variety of ways for further conversation. Check out our Contact page here, and thanks for reading the first post!