Scam might be a bit of a harsh word, but "uber-wealthy family asking for free art from emerging artists" is not far from reality, and I want people to know about it. I've given a bit of a timeline below for you to read, but essentially the Copelouzos Family Art Museum in Athens Greece asked me to be a part of their 35 x 35 project, which was simply a donation to their personal, private, family art collection.
After doing some research on them, without them knowing, I accepted the offer with a caveat, that I would create what I felt was the correct response to their request. I have participated in donation-style exhibits before that have some similar elements to the 35 x 35 Project. Most notably is that these projects send the artist the canvas, publish the art(ist) in a book, and have a public exhibit. Many others scan and upload the artwork into digital databases that can be accessed publicly going forward.
What differed from this project was the "... opportunity for us and the receivers of the book but also through the exhibition, to get acquainted with your work and begin a longtime fruitful communication/collaboration with you." In other words, there was hope of future sales or commissions with this donation.
As you might imagine, this never happens. Also, there is no public component to the 35 x 35 Project. It is a "voluntary art project" and a "donation art project" where the art goes directly into the private collection of the Copelouzos Family Art Museum, which doesn't even have a website, let alone a public component to it (i.e. - you probably can't walk up to the ticket window and buy entry to the museum - it's private). So while it is voluntary and a donation project, it might actually be emerging artists giving art to a very rich family in Greece so that they can add to their collection. This is especially true if the vast majority of artists who participate never hear from the museum ever again after their submission.
And that's what happened, too. I contacted several artists who have participated in the past, and while they said the book was decent (it used artist-submitted photos, so not all photos were up to snuff), 100% of all the artists who got back to me said that they never heard from the museum, the program, or any other collector or gallery otherwise again. In other words, they took the art and ran off with it.
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And here's the real kicker. The Copelouzos Museum says they are collecting contemporary art, but in reality they're puffing their own chests. Because what happened is I created a piece of work that they invited me to send in, and then they rejected it (through silence, see timeline below) because it is "...a negative criticism to the 35x35project...". But anyone collecting contemporary art should know that this type of activism is extremely popular. In fact, the Imago Mundi Project accepted work exactly like this by Spanish artist Eugenio Merino (Pay Me, 2014). So their criticism is not just dangerous with regards to muting artistic voice, but it clearly states that they just wanted something pretty to add to their collection, not uncensored contemporary art.
I've also participated in other donation-style projects that were mere fundraisers for non-profit arts organizations or studio collectives. I gave a free piece of art specifically to help these organizations raise money for their stated non-profit mission. I didn't get anything in return (except for a tax deduction, which I may have or not even used) but I knew there was a community benefit. In fact, one donation was to an organization I have never even visited in the Studio Channel Islands in California. So I'm not against "voluntary" or "donation" projects. If I do participate, however, there must be a community component or they accept what I give them. If you want something special, you buy it. The Copelouzos Family Art Museum decided they didn't want what was offered to them.
If subscribing isn't your thing, please buy a print. This link brings you to the artwork I submitted to the project, but there are many other works under my name. Thanks again!
- Jan of 2020: I was asked by the Copelouzos Family Art Museum to participate in the 35 x 35 project where they sent me a canvas and I created a free piece of art and donated it to the family's museum. They would hold an exhibit in Greece (I was invited) and I would get put into a published book. The deadline to submit the artwork was noted as "until the end of April".
- Jan: I asked if there was a social component similar to that of the Imago Mundi Project, and I was told that any work I created would be "included in the permanent Museum's collection." It was hinted that this could be an opportunity to "begin a longtime fruitful communication with you." Therefore, no social component.
- Jan - Feb: I accepted and for about two weeks there was a back-and-forth discussion on where to send the canvas (their expense via DHL). I received the canvas late Jan or in early Feb.
- March: My contact at the museum asked me to send a photo of myself for the project. I hate selfies, so I sent a self-portrait that I often use. They didn't like that, and asked for a proper head-shot. I also let them know that the artwork was still wet (painted thickly with oil) and needed careful handling when it is received (something I also said to my Imago Mundi contact, and that person duly noted to handle the work with care). I was told by the museum to hold on to the work until the courier would be dispatched in April.
- April 23: I sent in my self-portrait again as well as a description of the artwork. I stated: "This piece represents how artists are constantly being asked to provide artwork for free despite the high costs of creation. However, artists often have little-to-no choice on how to proceed. Therefore, this piece represents both how agreeing to participate dilutes the artist’s standing, while saying no continues to block access to collectors and markets." Yes, it is worded strongly, but that should not have mattered to the recipient. They asked for an art donation, and that's what I gave them. But I digress...
- April 23: My contact responded claiming that my text is "...somehow a negative criticism to the 35x35 art project...". In this email I was also told that if I "do not feel well with the idea of offering/donating this 35x35 cm work, then you should decide not to participate." It was also stated that "Of course, you are free to express your opinion, even to protest wherever and however you like but if you disagree with the whole idea of this art project, you should express to us your disagreement and not participate. We respect everyone's opinion, we do not expect that everyone share the same opinion with us." At this point I kind of knew they weren't going to allow me to participate, but I was a bit surprised they didn't reject the work outright. It was up to me to withdraw, but of course...
- April 28: I responded stating that I would not withdraw and that I had changed the text to the following: "Created during the COVID-19 quarantine, this work reflects the struggles of artists to stay afloat during a time of work stoppages and a dwindling supply of art buyers and patrons. A dual criticism of the art market and the artist himself, it shows how the artist was woefully underprepared to engage in a market where surface funding stopped and left little support underneath." So yes, I remained in the proeject and changed the description to fit their mood better. And BTW - that whole COVID-19 losing work thing is true, I lost my job during this period due to work closures, and I told them that, too, stating that we were all in this together.
- April 28: My contact agreed that were in this COVID-19 thing together and asked me to send the rephrased text (note, this is in response to the email I had already sent earlier that day with the rephrased text in it already. The contact simply didn't open it, didn't read it, or didn't acknowledge it).
- April 28: I responded again with the re-worded text, but this time I added the line at the end: "It also shows how the lack of availability of wealthy patrons deeply affects the market of art development, which is an essential, expensive process where ground-breaking art is developed." Hey, if you aren't going to read the first one I sent earlier in the day, this is what you get for giving me a second chance to respond.
- April 28 and 30: My contact sent two emails requesting an image of the artwork, of which I replied to. There was also an exchange about my head-shot, which I finally relented to and sent in something more proper.
- May 1 to May 5: Crickets. Nothing. I followed-up on May 5 and my contact never responded.
- May 10: The day I am writing this post. April 30 was the deadline, and they never asked for a pick-up or responded to my responses to their own requests. It is clear they rejected the artwork by silence.
- June 15: More than a month after I wrote my original post, and more than six weeks after they requested my profile photo and gave my statement to them (and six weeks after their deadline), the shipping company got in touch to send the artwork to Greece. What's funny is that it was the shipping company that got in touch, not the museum. I was suspicious, so I sent an email to my contact at the museum and that person confirmed. Another odd thing, my contact found me via LinkedIn when we connected late in 2019, and we are no longer connected.
- Share the shit out of this post. Not for my popularity's sake, but to call these guys out. They're scamming emerging artists into giving them free art just to increase their own private collection. If there was a social component to this, then that'd be different. But there isn't. Artists need to stop this kind of abuse. We deserve better. Share this so that we can shut this program down. The more artists who know the more who will stay away. If the Copelouzos Family Art Museum decides to start buying art for the project instead of asking for donations, then I'll fairly update this post.
- Support me on Patreon: Yes, I'm getting some value out of this in the end (why shouldn't I?). But this is more because I'm going to transition the painting into a sculpture using the box they sent the canvas in (UPDATE 6/16 - Since they've actually requested the canvas, I'll be sending it to them un-sculpted, so no sculpture from this painting). By subscribing you'll get to see updates on the progress and you'll be supporting an out-of-work artist (due to the COVID-19 work stoppages). The minimum is $1/month, and you get rewards. (note: yes, Patreon says there are images on my page not suitable for minors: yes, I've attended nude drawing sessions like any other artist. No, they aren't unsuitable).
- Buy a Print: If you don't want to subscribe, then please buy a print. Doing so will not only help support me as an artist, but it will also spread the word that what this museum is doing isn't cool. The more people who buy prints the more it gets seen.
- Remember to fight back. Yes, it sucks that artists often have to participate for free to be seen or heard. It's part of the market and game. But it doesn't mean we always have to do so. Stand up for yourself. Maybe you'll get screwed over it, or maybe you won't. Either way, you'll own what you do, and as artists that is one of the most important things we can do.