Arts Desk

The C List: Will Lenny Campello’s 100 Washington Artists Serve Its Subjects or Its Author?

campello-1

The C List
Does a book on D.C. artists serve its subjects or its author?
By Kriston Capps
How many people did it take to write Lenny Campello’s book about his 100 favorite D.C. artists? One, right?
Try about 125.
Longtime D.C. art dealer, blogger, and booster F. Lennox Campello is assembling an encyclopedia whose title says it all: 100 Washington Artists. It’s a tome, coming to stores next spring from Schiffer Publishing, that he hopes will raise the profile of several dozen D.C. artists, most of whom have eluded national prominence. “I think we have a pretty damned good art scene here,” says Campello, 53. “Those people, even artists, don’t necessarily realize it.”
They should. The 100 artists whom Campello selected for the book are its first line of contributors. Straight out of the gate, 100 Washington Artists doesn’t qualify as a critical text. It’s something more like a crowd-sourced yearbook. “I asked every artist to send me a statement or something about their works that I could edit or reword as I pleased. Something noncopyrighted,” says Campello. Along with the statement, he asked for four to seven images, to be displayed over two-page spreads. “I put my own twist in it and forever claim it’s mine.”
But cataloguing the book’s subject-contributors glosses more than just artist profiles. Surveying the concept behind the book tells you something about the Washington art scene’s neuroses—as well as the ethical tics of its foremost cheerleader.
Campello was inspired by a December 2009 episode that got people in the art scene talking. Shortly before Christmas, Miami-based art collector Mera Rubell—who with her husband, Don Rubell, is of the most significant collectors in the United States—paired with the Washington Project for the Arts for a weekend marathon in which she visited  36 artists’ studios over 36 consecutive hours to select participants for the WPA’s 2010 Annual Art Auction Gala.
Consider Rubell the first ghostwriter of 100 Washington Artists. The first 15 artists Campello selected for his book were 15 of the 16 artists Rubell picked for the auction. (Campello, a draughtsman, was the 16th, but he disqualified himself from consideration for his book.) Add chance as another author: The 36 artists were selected at random from more than 200 applicants angling for a studio visit from the influential Rubell.
The Washington Post’s galleries critic, Jessica Dawson, is not one of the authors of 100 Washington Artists, per se. Dawson’s Post write-up of the Rubell stunt (for which both Dawson and I were embedded as journalists during different legs) set fires on Facebook and other outlets. And so Dawson became Campello’s muse. “What really triggered it in my mind was when I was reading what Jessica wrote about it, and how some of the artists were complaining about the lack of an arts community,” says Campello. He says he considered Dawson’s write-up a fair reflection of what artists told her—even if he disagreed with her analogy comparing Rubell’s visit to D.C. studios to Santa’s trip to the Island of Misfit Toys.
(Disclosure: At the WPA’s invitation, I moderated a panel that discussed the kerfuffle in early January, hosted at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, one of the Rubells’ D.C. properties.)
The seed planted, Campello reached out to his own network for many of the book’s remaining authors.
“Some curators, a couple of the usual-suspect, big-name art collectors,” Campello says. “Maybe two gallerists. One museum director...type.” He assured this group of about a dozen art-world figures anonymity in exchange for recommendations of at least 10 names. “There wasn’t a single list that matched by more than four or five names.”
Campello understands that anyone who works in the art world would be unable to provide a full and faithful account of her artist faves without revealing the artists in whom she has a stake. Hence the anonymity—which, problematically, albeit democratically, disguises both the book’s shadow contributors and their connections to its selections.
In a twist on transparency, though, Campello is putting his own conflicts into the book. His Christ-like logic is as follows: Let he who is without conflict of interest cast the first stone.
“If anybody tells you they can put a list of 100 artists in Washington together objectively, they’re full of shit,” Campello says. “I think people who think they can be objective are fooling themselves. I reject that. This town is too small for that.”
In a strict sense, Campello has included artists from whose work he has benefited finacially. As a curator and a dealer, he’s shown 100 Washington Artists selections Linda Moser, Andrew Wodzianski, Tim Tate, Michael Janis, Joseph Barbaccia, and many others—primarily with his then-wife Catriona Fraser when he co-operated Fraser Gallery, a partnership that ended in August 2006. Fraser still maintains the Bethesda gallery space.
“I’m a PR machine for the people that I do like. I do try to spread that,” Campello says. As much can be ascertained from his blog, D.C. Art News, where he has written for years about artists he admires (and represents). “I have zero commercial relationship with them.”
That’s not wholly true. Since his time at Fraser Gallery—and following a brief stint in Philadelphia as a private dealer—Campello has worked as a curator and consultant for Alida Anderson Art Projects, a gallery with ties to Philadelphia and Norfolk that represents his own artwork. Through Alida Anderson, he has taken work by Janis and Tate to a number of art fairs. Campello earns a cut from sales of their work. “I have a big interest in people like Tim [Tate],” Campello says. “But I’m putting this book together, and I shouldn’t penalize this artist. So long as I’m out in the open about it and don’t try to hide it.”
And so he hasn’t. His recent unveiling of his 100 Washington Artists list on Facebook and his blog has drawn suggestions from the woodworks—a three-paragraph post on Washington City Paper’s Arts Desk blog yielded a heated debate in the comments section, including discussions about the book’s omissions. And so the Internet may yet add another 100-plus authors to Campello’s series if he follows through with plans to draft at least one sequel detailing another 100 Washington artists—a reflection of his catholic tastes and his desire to include damn well everyone who wants in.
Not every Washington-based artist jumped at the opportunity. Artists Jim Sanborn and Sam Gilliam refused to participate; Yuriko Yamaguchi never responded, says Campello, even after he mailed her postcards. He says “another artist had a nervous breakdown thinking about which image to send.” But other respected and nationally recognized artists from D.C. are playing ball—Dan Steinhilber, Maggie Michael, and Molly Springfield among them.
Practically speaking, it’s tough to say that Campello stands to benefit massively from his interests in the book. For his work, which he says has cost him “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours,” he’s not receiving any advance. Schiffer is a small specialty press whose recent titles include The World’s Rarest Movie Poster and Bridal Flowers: Bouquets – Boutonnières – Corsages.
And the gains may be limited for the artists, whose peers are many who compete for a vanishingly small slice of the pie. Half of Campello’s selections appear in the WPA’s Artfile, a browsable archive where member artists upload artists’ statements and images—a lot like what Campello is offering. Until recently, the WPA Artfile was published in print: a guide, not a game-changer.
Campello is determined to see that his book is the latter. For this unflagging fanboy of Capital City artists, the fight for visibility trumps profit, or interests, or ethics.
He says the perception of conflict alone—however small or large the stakes involved—will not keep Campello from carrying the standard for District art as he sees fit.
“It’s Lenny Campello writing the book,” he says. “It’s my book.”    CP

How many people did it take to write Lenny Campello’s book about his 100 favorite D.C. artists? One, right?

Try about 125.

Longtime D.C. art dealer, blogger, and booster F. Lennox Campello is assembling an encyclopedia whose title says it all: 100 Washington Artists. It’s a tome, coming to stores next spring from Schiffer Publishing, that he hopes will raise the profile of several dozen D.C. artists, most of whom have eluded national prominence. “I think we have a pretty damned good art scene here,” says Campello, 53. “Those people, even artists, don’t necessarily realize it.”

They should. The 100 artists whom Campello selected for the book are its first line of contributors. Straight out of the gate, 100 Washington Artists doesn’t qualify as a critical text. It’s something more like a crowd-sourced yearbook. “I asked every artist to send me a statement or something about their works that I could edit or reword as I pleased. Something noncopyrighted,” says Campello. Along with the statement, he asked for four to seven images, to be displayed over two-page spreads. “I put my own twist in it and forever claim it’s mine.”

But cataloguing the book’s subject-contributors glosses more than just artist profiles. Surveying the concept behind the book tells you something about the Washington art scene’s neuroses—as well as the ethical tics of its foremost cheerleader.

Campello was inspired by a December 2009 episode that got people in the art scene talking. Shortly before Christmas, Miami-based art collector Mera Rubell—who with her husband, Don Rubell, is of the most significant collectors in the United States—paired with the Washington Project for the Arts for a weekend marathon in which she visited  36 artists’ studios over 36 consecutive hours to select participants for the WPA’s 2010 Annual Art Auction Gala.

Consider Rubell the first ghostwriter of 100 Washington Artists. The first 15 artists Campello selected for his book were 15 of the 16 artists Rubell picked for the auction. (Campello, a draughtsman, was the 16th, but he disqualified himself from consideration for his book.) Add chance as another author: The 36 artists were selected at random from more than 200 applicants angling for a studio visit from the influential Rubell.

The Washington Post’s galleries critic, Jessica Dawson, is not one of the authors of 100 Washington Artists, per se. Dawson’s Post write-up of the Rubell stunt (for which both Dawson and I were embedded as journalists during different legs) set fires on Facebook and other outlets. And so Dawson became Campello’s muse. “What really triggered it in my mind was when I was reading what Jessica wrote about it, and how some of the artists were complaining about the lack of an arts community,” says Campello. He says he considered Dawson’s write-up a fair reflection of what artists told her—even if he disagreed with her analogy comparing Rubell’s visit to D.C. studios to Santa’s trip to the Island of Misfit Toys.

(Disclosure: At the WPA’s invitation, I moderated a panel that discussed the kerfuffle in early January, hosted at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, one of the Rubells’ D.C. properties.)

The seed planted, Campello reached out to his own network for many of the book’s remaining authors.

“Some curators, a couple of the usual-suspect, big-name art collectors,” Campello says. “Maybe two gallerists. One museum director...type.” He assured this group of about a dozen art-world figures anonymity in exchange for recommendations of at least 10 names. “There wasn’t a single list that matched by more than four or five names.”

Campello understands that anyone who works in the art world would be unable to provide a full and faithful account of her artist faves without revealing the artists in whom she has a stake. Hence the anonymity—which, problematically, albeit democratically, disguises both the book’s shadow contributors and their connections to its selections.

In a twist on transparency, though, Campello is putting his own conflicts into the book. His Christ-like logic is as follows: Let he who is without conflict of interest cast the first stone.

“If anybody tells you they can put a list of 100 artists in Washington together objectively, they’re full of shit,” Campello says. “I think people who think they can be objective are fooling themselves. I reject that. This town is too small for that.”

In a strict sense, Campello has included artists from whose work he has benefited finacially. As a curator and a dealer, he’s shown 100 Washington Artists selections Lida Moser, Andrew Wodzianski, Tim Tate, Michael Janis, Joseph Barbaccia, and many others—primarily with his then-wife Catriona Fraser when he co-operated Fraser Gallery, a partnership that ended in August 2006. Fraser still maintains the Bethesda gallery space.

“I’m a PR machine for the people that I do like. I do try to spread that,” Campello says. As much can be ascertained from his blog, D.C. Art News, where he has written for years about artists he admires (and represents). “I have zero commercial relationship with them.”

That’s not wholly true. Since his time at Fraser Gallery—and following a brief stint in Philadelphia as a private dealer—Campello has worked as a curator and consultant for Alida Anderson Art Projects, a gallery with ties to Philadelphia and Norfolk that represents his own artwork. Through Alida Anderson, he has taken work by Janis and Tate to a number of art fairs. Campello earns a cut from sales of their work. “I have a big interest in people like Tim [Tate],” Campello says. “But I’m putting this book together, and I shouldn’t penalize this artist. So long as I’m out in the open about it and don’t try to hide it.”

And so he hasn’t. His recent unveiling of his 100 Washington Artists list on Facebook and his blog has drawn suggestions from the woodworks—a three-paragraph post on Arts Desk yielded a heated debate in the comments section, including discussions about the book’s omissions. And so the Internet may yet add another 100-plus authors to Campello’s series if he follows through with plans to draft at least one sequel detailing another 100 Washington artists—a reflection of his catholic tastes and his desire to include damn well everyone who wants in.

Not every Washington-based artist jumped at the opportunity. Artists Jim Sanborn and Sam Gilliam refused to participate; Yuriko Yamaguchi never responded, says Campello, even after he mailed her postcards. He says “another artist had a nervous breakdown thinking about which image to send.” But other respected and nationally recognized artists from D.C. are playing ball—Dan Steinhilber, Maggie Michael, and Molly Springfield among them.

Practically speaking, it’s tough to say that Campello stands to benefit massively from his interests in the book. For his work, which he says has cost him “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours,” he’s not receiving any advance. Schiffer is a small specialty press whose recent titles include The World’s Rarest Movie Poster and Bridal Flowers: Bouquets – Boutonnières – Corsages.

And the gains may be limited for the artists, whose peers are many, and who compete for a vanishingly small slice of the pie. Half of Campello’s selections appear in the WPA’s Artfile, a browsable archive where member artists upload artists’ statements and images—a lot like what Campello is offering. Until recently, the WPA Artfile was published in print: a guide, not a game-changer.

Campello is determined to see that his book is the latter. For this unflagging fanboy of Capital City artists, the fight for visibility trumps profit, or interests, or ethics.

He says the perception of conflict alone—however small or large the stakes involved—will not keep Campello from carrying the standard for District art as he sees fit.

“It’s Lenny Campello writing the book,” he says. “It’s my book.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • richard gould

    You should have noted that Lenny is married to Alida Anderson.

  • lenny

    He also should have noted that I was the one that told him about those relationships.

  • phil

    "fanboy"? geez. I know snark is all the rage in the writing of, um, last year. But, if were here to talk about credibility...

    What we have here is a small art scene, with artists ranging from awful to incredible, that is a four hour trip from one of the biggest art scenes in the world. If artists here are going to do any better, we need a good cheerleader.

    Oh, and by the way, communities, like art communities, are made by people coming together, not by tearing each other down.

  • Rogerrr

    oh puh-leeeez

    Kriston, who peed in your wheaties?

    it's just a freakin' book about a bunch of artists...not a how-to book for ax murderers

    this is a perfect example of the kind of shallow cynicism that long ago caused me to lose respect for the City Paper

  • Margaret

    One July, many years ago, the City Paper ran a piece by another art critic who claimed that there was "nothing of value to see in the DC galleries that summer". That article served no useful purpose, and neither does this one.

  • http://www.arttripweb.com Art Trip

    Pretty whinny review. Who cares? It's DC!

  • Anon

    Too bad Lenny didn't pick you, Kriston, as his muse instead of picking Jessica. It could have spared you this embarrassing piece of journalism. Whinny, demeaning and patronizing.

    There's an arts economy that's helping drive this city. If a book like this can drive more revenue to the city, then great for the city too.

  • http://studiomondo.blogspot.com/ Guy Mondo

    I think Lenny should do a book on the "DC's 100 Most Interesting Gallery Regular Visitors". I know that, when i see some of these people at openings, i always wonder what their stories are. Some are more interesting than the artists themselves...

  • Freda

    What an embarrassment this review is. No wonder DC is not taken serious and comes off like an art backwash. As Jerry Saltz would say, “How very dickish.”

  • Anon

    Read what Lenny Campello has to say about this article on Daily Campello Art News Blog. Read the post and comments.
    http://bit.ly/9rGQwe

  • Steven

    LOL. Well said Freda and Guy! Should title the book 100 artists Lenny knows and not 100 DC artists (claiming to be a fair selection process).

  • Spawn of Observinna

    Read Kriston's comment on his website asking how he would have access to the IP addresses of posters! Hmmm, no response.

    Steven:Bestcomment to date.

  • Anon 2

    Steven,

    Did you actually read the article? It describes how Lenny asked for input from a dozen people with the knowledge and background for this sort of task. Did you read the Pink Line interview? That describes it in even more detail.

    Back to you: How would you make the selection process "fair" by your standards?

    Note: I think Freda meant that the article itself was an embarrassment, not the book.

  • T-bone Jaycee

    If you follow the link by Anon: http://bit.ly/9rGQwe you come across a lot of comments about this article in Campello's website. After all the semantic arguing back and forth (and further explantions by Capps) there's still one major question in this kurfuffle that remains unanswered and that Mr. Capps' editor should really ask him now:

    If the main focus of the article was the potential ethical consequences of including the two artists in the book (artists that Campello had sold in recent art fairs), then why didn't Kriston Capps mention the two steps that Mr. Campello says in his website that he took to eliminate the potential conflict of interest and steps that he explained to Mr. Capps?

    Until an explanation is given, the only assumption, as Campello states in his website, is that Capps omitted mentioning the preventitive steps taken by Campello because it would destroy the Capps argument that there's an ethical problem in including those two artists in the book.

  • T-bone Jaycee

    While I'm commenting here, this is not the first time that Kriston Capps has been accused of manipulating the facts and inventing them in an art article. From the archives of the WCP is this letter to the editor, published 5/10/2007:

    To the Editor,

    On Thursday, May 3, the Washington City Paper published an art review written by Kriston Capps. This review covered the exhibition titled “Supple,” that I curated at the Warehouse in Washington, D.C. While I am extremely grateful for the amount of coverage that the City Paper devotes to our local art community, I must express my great dismay at the factual inaccuracies found in Mr. Capps’ review. There are three errors in the short review and I wanted to correct them:

    1. Mr. Capps calls artist Adrian Parsons’ piece, shrapnel, a “performance.” The exhibition listing provided at the gallery clearly states that the piece is a “live installation,” phrasing that alters the context of the work as a whole. This is a minor mistake.

    2. Speaking of shrapnel, Mr. Capps states, “…who circumcised himself in an unannounced performance at the show’s opening.” (emphasis mine) In actuality, I personally gathered viewers from throughout the Warehouse to come view Parsons’ piece. I explained that Parsons would be doing a “performance” (in the situation it was the easiest term to use to gather viewers). Once in the gallery where shrapnel would take place, I announced to the viewers that what was to follow would be graphic and that if they were squeamish, they should leave. While I did not inform the crowd that a live circumcision would be taking place, they were informed that a graphic event would occur.

    3. Again, about shrapnel, Mr. Capps states, “…Kirkland, who didn’t clue in the other artists or the beleaguered Warehouse venue about the nature of the bloody snip.” (emphasis mine) The statement that I did not inform the owners of the Warehouse that a live circumcision would be taking place is completely false. In actuality, I informed Molly Ruppert (co-owner of the Warehouse) that Parsons would be performing a live circumcision in the gallery and asked her permission for it to take place. She granted permission.

    The inaccuracies identified above are serious. Given the controversial nature of Parsons’ live installation, I would have thought that Mr. Capps would have at least attempted to interview me prior to publishing the review. He did not. It is imperative for curators to be trusted by the owners of the gallery space mounting their shows. Mr. Capps’ fictional account of some of the events surrounding “Supple” is an unfair portrayal of a show that I worked so hard to mount and has portrayed me personally in an inaccurate and unfavorable light.

    Disliking a show as an art critic is one thing. Damaging a person’s professional credibility by stating falsehoods in a review is irresponsible, and not only puts in question the professional integrity and objectivity of the writer, but also of the City Paper.

    Sincerely,

    J.T. Kirkland
    Curator of “Supple”

  • Pingback: Daily Campello Art News 2010-08-02 16:56:00 | DC Guide

  • Anon Wetguy

    Good Points T-Bone Man: As I Recall Didn't Kriston Capps Get Fired From The Washington City Paper Over That Journalistic Mess?

    The Question Should Be: Why Did Kriston Capps Get Re-Hired By The City Paper After Being Fired Over Ethical Journalistic Issues? It Is Apparent That This Guy Has A Problem With Getting Facts Straight In His Stories And It Seems That The City Paper Gets Burned Again.

  • asdf

    Look. It's simple. Campello has financial relationships with some of the artists in the book and should have disclosed them. He thinks he did enough, but it's not unreasonable to think he didn't. Many people I've talked to don't think he did enough but are scared to say anything for fear of being called negative and anti-DC art. We're not.

    There's nothing wrong with boostering DC art and there's nothing wrong with Campello picking whatever artists he likes for the book, even those he collects and represented/represents (even tangentally). It's fine is Campello was fully representing all of them! Just make it clear in the book.

    Seriously, how hard would it have been to put all this in the book? The best way to handle this isn't to try to bully people, it's to say, "I don't agree with you and I believe I did my best to try to diminish and disclose any financial relationships."

  • The Enforcer

    Amen ASDF. That was perfectly said. Disclosing in the front of the book that he has/or has had financial relationships with the following artists and listing them by name would have taken care of this matter. This is the process that would have been followed in similar situations. All this talk of other safeguards is separate from the original obligation to disclose the potential conflicts (the standard is the appearance of, no need to prove actual). But why the refusal to do this simple act? Perhaps because it would open this issue even more by showing that a disclosure should have been done in some past situations as well, thereby admitting past error.
    I was also bothered by the comments of his "clients" claiming since they had never profited from this publisher's past books, there was no issue. I think some people may need to take a basic ethics class. While profit would have made it worse, it is not the issue and that "group" fails to grasp the core issue that children would have understood by this time (or perhaps they do understand and know they'd be screwed if they owned up to the truth). The issue here is the lack of a simple disclosure--so list the names of these artists and the issue goes away. But he will never do this which raises more questions.
    And the responses attacking the writers ethics because they did not like the article, showed a lot of people's true colors. There seems to be constant redirection and misdirection to other "issues" by Lenny and crew instead of focusing and responding to the main issue. And the constant temper tantrums in his blog with every other word being F this and F that and how hard he worked on the book is not relevant. He just came across as very unprofessional and throwing a temper tantrum. The more he ranted, the more he proved the writer's points.

  • Anon2

    asdf, Enforcer: Both you guys just made Lenny's key point stronger: in the article Kriston does NOT mention that Lenny has indeed made disclosures in the book.

    Let's repeat that: in the article Kriston does NOT mention that Lenny made disclosures in the book.

    From Lenny's letter to the WCP? He writes:

    "Even though he knew that I had placed a disclaimer in the book, and referred all artists to other dealers so that no referral ever came back to me, he never mentioned the steps that I took to eliminate any perception of conflict of interest."

    asdf: He did what you demand - pass that to the "many people"

    Enforcer: You should already know this, since you are clearly an avid follower of Lenny's blog. I'm a little worried about your reading comprehension skills.

    Much ado about nothing.

  • Will

    Tons and tons of ado about nothing. Guy is putting an art book together with 100 artists. Journo has a hair up his arse about nothing and tries to make an article about nothing. A handful of anons argue among themselves over nothing.

    Result: A googleplex of ado about nothing by nobodies.

  • Emilio

    There are some incredible disrespectful and even hateful things in this comment trail, but the one that gets it right is Will: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING! A garbage article about a non story.

...