Steve Biller – Artists Representative

Steven Biller is a Southern California-based Visual Arts Consultant. I recently chatted to him to find out more about what he does and how he does it. Enjoy!

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I imagine you might get a lot of artists wanting to be represented by you, or am I guessing wrongly here?
Not many. I don’t advertise. I look for artists I know I can place in strong gallery programs. I’m more of a scout, for artists and gallerists.

What sorts of artists do you focus on?

I focus on outstanding emerging artists and artists who have appreciable exhibition experience but need a new dealer. I like artists who confront the issues of the day — and not necessarily in representative fashion.

Why are they your focus and not, say university graduates?

I do look at university graduates. MFA thesis shows reveal tons of great talent. The best part of the 2009 Los Angeles Art Show was the student show at the back of the convention center. I was disappointed that the students received only a sliver of space at the 2010 fair.

What sorts of services do you provide?

I review portfolios, select artists who warrant a studio visit, evaluate their work in person, and give an honest assessment of why I will or will not represent or market the artist. Then we work together to identify appropriate gallery programs. After that, it’s about building trust and relationships.

When you go to an artist’s studio, what sorts of things do you look for?
I’m interested in artists with a clear vision, thoughtful execution, evenness in quality, and commitment to an aesthetic. Quality is not as subjective as you might think.

You work with galleries also, in what way?

I curate shows from time to time, but I mostly help them refine their rosters to sharpen their programs. And, having worked in publishing for more than 20 years, I offer full-service custom publishing (write, design, and produce exhibition catalogs and artist monographs), as well as PR and marketing services.

What sorts of things do artists do to “shoot themselves in the foot” so to speak that causes a gallery or agents to not take them on?

Artists too frequently neglect to learn about a gallery’s program before going in with their portfolios insisting their work will fit in and sell well in this space. Don’t be so presumptuous. Art is tough in the studio, and even tougher in the gallery. Dealers know what their clients want; if they say “it’s not for us,” accept that without taking it as a blow to your work. You might be a phenomenal landscape painter in the Midwest. A dealer of early California Impressionism will not give you the time of day.

I guess like many galleries you get plenty of requests to look at artists websites. What are some of the things that cause you to cringe or become elated, when you do take a look?
I generally read artists sites for biographical and exhibition information, and reserve judgment on the art until I see it in person. I’ll dismiss most derivative work and art that falls outside of my interest or aesthetic before ever considering a time-consuming studio visit.

How did you get started in business, and was it easy to get “accepted” by galleries?

I fell into this. I study art every day, keep up with what’s happening here and abroad, and try to see as much art as possible. Who knows if any galleries “accept” me, whatever that means, but I’m sure they appreciate the experiences I bring to our meetings.

Let’s imagine you find a great emerging artist but you find they have used a vanity gallery a few times to try and be noticed, would that put you off?
Yes, it would put me off. That’s not how to get noticed. Good dealers never look at those sites. Good artists who cannot find good dealers should seek out people like myself. We can assess the work and point artists in a direction that will not compromise the integrity of the work.

On the PR side of things do you advertise your services to galleries, collectors and investors or who if any and how…

I don’t advertise at all. I put myself in the right places to meet the right people. That takes years to develop. It really is who you know — and who they know.

How do you go abut telling artists who are not contemporary (but think they are) their style is not what they think it is…

I’m honest. The worst thing you can do to an artist is give false hope. If it’s decorator art, so be it. Make yourself known to interior designers who’ll buy your canvases in bulk. It’s an honest living. There’s no shame in being a commercial or production artist if you enjoy the work and earn a living from it.

When you get an artist represented does your connection with them continue from there?

Yes! In fact, I work harder for those artists — and for the galleries that represent them. If they succeed, so do I.

Are there a few key points artists should do to make themselves more marketable?

Be ruthless when editing your work. Only allow the best pieces out of your studio. Not everything is a masterpiece. Let go of the ego and rework those mediocre and bad pieces. You know which ones I mean …

Artists websites, there are those for them and others against them, how about you?

They’re great for artists to present their work chronology, their bios, their exhibition histories. But avoid selling from the site. If you sell from your site, don’t expect galleries to work with you. You’ll be competing with them. Direct inquiries to your dealers. They’ll respect your professionalism and pay you a set share. If a client want to buy from your inventory, discuss it with your dealer before sealing the deal. Relationships are everything in this business.

Is it hard to categorize art so you make sure artists understand the type of work you want and how do you go about it?
It’s immensely difficult. I don’t want to define my preferences too narrowly. I work with artists who make work that I would never hang in my own collection. If it’s good, it’s good. I’m working with a glass sculptor after promising myself I would never touch glass. But this guy stands out because of his process and the narrative of the work. He’s not a glass blower who makes pretty vessels. He’s a sculptor who uses glass. I also try to avoid digital photography, but found myself organizing a show with an important photographer who switched away from film. Never say never …

Is there a “one size fits all” solution you use for all artists or is each given a highly tailored solution?
Each artist is different. My objectives might be the same for many artists, but the road we take will always look different for each of them.

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Compiled and edited by Steve Gray © 2009+

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Comments

7 Responses to “Steve Biller – Artists Representative”

  1. Jeanette Luchese on March 4th, 2010 1:05 am

    Hi, this interview was extremely helpful, helped confirm some of my own points of view, and gave me great insight into the process.
    Best Regards,
    Jeanette

  2. Lynne Taetzsch on March 4th, 2010 4:58 am

    As an artist who has mostly given up on galleries (I am still represented by a few), the internet has provided me an amazing opportunity to reach collectors around the world. Every artist has to find their own path.

  3. Roberta on March 17th, 2010 9:43 am

    I really enjoyed this interview right up until the point of “I also try to avoid digital photography”. If a blanket statement like this is made, it would be helpful to give at least a brief reason of why.

  4. Saul Bernstein on August 26th, 2010 8:05 am

    I would very much like it if you went to my website and let me know..
    thank you
    Saul Bernstein

  5. Steve on August 31st, 2010 2:18 pm

    Saul, Steve B gets many requests just like yours daily, I think you need to think more about how you can market what you have to Steve rather than just asking him to go to your site. 😉

  6. h. somers on August 22nd, 2011 7:11 am

    I am a modern impressionist . Had more than 20 solo exhibitions .Most important galleries were Felix Vercel gallery, Madison Aveeue, New York and Hilde Gerst, New York-Palm Beach – both deceased. For various reasons I have been “gallery inactive” the past 10 years. I was born in Germany in 1922( not in France as erroniously stated in biographies, such as Who is Who in American Art) and other publications. Some of my works are in museums.I am seeking representation. Your reply is appreciated.

  7. Steve on August 22nd, 2011 1:47 pm

    While Steve B might read this he is often inundated with Artists wanting to be represented, you can try searching on the net for him to get direct contact details, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a reply this way… 🙂

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