Jeff Koons, the world’s best-selling living artist, produces his work through a factory-like system in which a team of artists and craftsmen working in his New York studio follow his exact specifications to realize his artistic vision.
During a recent conversation with students in Yale School of Management’s (SOM) Art Marketing Entrepreneurship course, popular with business and art students, an MFA student asked Koons how he distinguishes art from stealing products. its assembly line business model.
Koons, whose stainless steel, 3-foot-tall sculpture “Rabbit” sold for more than $91 million at auction in 2019, said he believes art is a medium that connects him to all human sciences.
“When I’m doing my work, I’m always in it,” Koons, who joined the session via Zoom, told the class. “I just give it my all. I have always believed that if society found any value, they would take care of me; that I can just keep doing what I’m doing.”
Taught by art market economist and author Magnus Resch, the course offers students an inside look at the business of art, including how it is produced, sold and collected. And it attracted extraordinary students from the Yale campus, including MFA students from the School of Art, for whom the course offered insights into how they could promote their work.
For the course’s final session on October 9th, Resch assembled an all-star lineup of guest speakers. In addition to Koons, there was prominent critic, curator and artist Kenny Schachter and Stefan Simchowitz, a Los Angeles-based art dealer known for his unconventional approach to discovering artists and selling their work.
“I would say the most controversial people in the art world today will come in three hours,” Resh told the class. “It’s going to be wild.”
And it happened.
Like Koons, Schachter and Simchowitz engaged with students’ sometimes pointed but always well-informed questions.
“My goal is to attract different speakers who sometimes have conflicting opinions in the market,” said Resh. “Sometimes their ideas are the opposite of what I teach the students, but that’s the whole point.
“I present students with a framework based on my studies and experience and then invite other experts who represent a range of views and experiences. I enjoy seeing students challenge themselves by using the ideas we discuss in class.”
‘A unique educational experience’
This is Resch’s fourth time teaching the course at SOM. As the curriculum makes clear, the art market is a difficult business: 30% of galleries operate at a loss and 90% of artists do not make money from their practice.
This course, Resh said, aims to provide students with an understanding of the complexities of the marketplace.
“I want students to have a very clear understanding of the structure of the art market to help them navigate it.” “It helps artists find galleries and market their work when they leave art school. For MBAs, if they ever want to become collectors or participate in the art market, they will know about its inner workings.”
In addition to regular class sessions, students visited two art fairs in New York City (the Spring/Break Art Show and the Armory Show) to see first-hand how the art market works, including conversations with exhibitors.
“Magnus gave us the confidence to approach the gallery and ask questions,” said Archana Gulgulia, a second-year MBA student at the School of Management. “It changed the whole experience. We learned about the very interesting dimensions that artists use as inspiration and galleries use as booth themes that I wandered through these fairs in awe. It actually broke the ice for me in the once mysterious world of art.”
Afterwards, Nicole Berry, director of the Armory Show (which features more than 225 galleries and more than 800 contemporary artists), visited the classroom to talk about the fair’s revenue model, its size, and other aspects of its business.
The classroom also had two mixers, allowing MBA and MFA students to mingle.
Nic[o] Brierre Aziz, a freshman at the Yale School of Art, was drawn to the course with a desire to better understand the world “behind the scenes” of the artist’s practice.
“I believe that as artists we are often placed as performers on stage and there is so much behind the scenes that we are not exposed to,” said Haitian-New Orleans interdisciplinary artist and curator Brierre Aziz. “I think it’s very important to know what goes on behind the scenes to help the overall continuity of our careers.”
He enjoyed the opportunity to interact with students from SOM and other vocational schools.
“This class and the interaction with the MBA students is a prime example of the power and need for students across schools and disciplines to connect with each other,” said Brierre Aziz, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business. “During the mixers, I was able to have numerous conversations with MBAs and even law and drama students who had such a deep interest in art in the classroom, and even some who had worked with artists or arts organizations in some way before coming to Yale.
“Ultimately, I think this simple interaction will open up many new opportunities during our time at Yale and beyond.”
Other guest speakers during the semester include distinguished arts consultant Sandy Heller; Jesus Lorenzo, a Manila-based gallerist promoting Filipino and Southeast Asian art; Erin Jenoa Gilbert, leading art consultant for artists of African descent; and Jason Price, founder of NXTHVN, a nonprofit arts incubator in New Haven that supports artists, curators and educational programs.
“This course is distinguished by its distinctive mix of business and arts students, creating a unique learning experience,” said Jenoa Gilbert. “As a speaker, I’m always excited to present empirical data as well as actual experiences. Magnus excels at facilitating connections between students and guest speakers, informing and inspiring meaningful networking opportunities.
““After my speech, I was approached by several students who wanted guidance on their careers, and I am ready to provide support.”
Samantha Cubias, who earned joint degrees from SOM and the David Geffen School of Drama, where she studied theater management, appreciated the opportunity to learn about the art market from veteran practitioners.
“As a student, I learn from best practices and hearing from people in the field who are doing what we talk about in class,” said Cubias. “This course could easily have been a series of power point presentations on the state of the art market. Instead, we need to learn about the art market from the key players who influence it.”
During the final class session, three guest speakers were asked to share tips on navigating the art market. A columnist for Artnet, Schachter advised aspiring artists to persevere.
““Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said. “… When it comes to your career, no doesn’t mean no, it means finding another way.”
Simchowitz, who uses Instagram and other social media to discover artists and market their work, advised anyone looking to build an art collection to focus on art produced where they live.
“I would urge you to look at the artists in your communities, to provide capital for them, to take risks.” “… Art is something that has a function… it changes your life. It changes your daily experience. It changes your thinking. I’d go and make money in an industry where you’re going to make money… but I’d always make art a part of your life.”
Koons, who started his career as an artist as a commodity broker on Wall Street, urged young artists to stay true to themselves and take responsibility for creating and sharing their work with the world.
At the beginning of the meeting, he talked about his meeting with Salvador Dali when he was 19 years old. The famous surrealist artist took time out of his busy schedule to meet an unknown child. Koons suggested the encounter taught him the importance of being generous.
“It always comes out of generosity,” he said.
Brierre Aziz, who asked Koons about the method he used in the factory style, was amazed at how Koons emphasized this point.
“To be honest, I was expecting some hyper-capitalist-artist energy,” said Brierre Aziz. “But he came across as a very conscious and genuine artist, just living and still selling tens of millions of dollars.”