Arts Desk

“The C List: Lenny Campello’s 100 Washington Artists,” by Lenny Campello

campello-1It's not uncommon for subjects of Washington City Paper stories to be displeased with the end result. What's rare—in fact, as far as I know, unprecedented—is for one to then rewrite the story from his perspective. That's what Lenny Campello did in response to Kriston Capps' article on Campello's forthcoming book, 100 Washington Artists, which has generated debate on this blog and on Campello's.

We decided to run Campello's version of the story, as well as Capps' response to it, after the jump. Campello's additions are indicated by bold text; passages he took issue with have a line through them.

So reread Capps' story, Campello's version, and Capps' response, and let us know what you think in the comments.

How many people did it take to write Lenny Campello’s book about his 100 favorite D.C. artists? One, right?
Try about 125.

**

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 100 D.C. area 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 [in such an endeavor] 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 financially. 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 some of whom he represents). “[But] I have zero commercial relationship with them,” he says referring to the Fraser Gallery and their artists.

That’s not wholly true. Since his time Campello does admit that since his time at Fraser Gallery—and following a brief stint in Philadelphia as a private dealer—he's had a business relationship with a small number of artists in the book. Campello has worked as a curator and consultant for Alida Anderson Art Projects He is the owner of Alida Anderson Art Projects, an online 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 as recently as 2008. 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. And so he hasn’t excluded these two artists from the book. What he has done to try to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest is to have a disclaimer in the book as well as also referring all the artists in the book, including Tate and Janis, back to their art dealers so that not one single referral points back to Campello. Tate's goes to his gallery dealer in San Francisco and Janis' to his gallerist in DC.

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 whom he wants in.

Not every Washington-based artist jumped at the opportunity accepted the opportunity, Campello says. Artists Jim Sanborn and Sam Gilliam refused declined to participate; Yuriko Yamaguchi never responded, Campello says, even after he mailed her postcards a postcard. He says “another artist had a nervous breakdown thinking about which image to send.” But many 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 100 New York Painters and 100 Artists of the West Coast 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 online archive of several hundred artists 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. also published a separate artist guide where member artists paid to have one page with one image in the guide— not a game-changer.

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

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. He also believes that he has eliminated all of his conflicts of interest in what he's done with this first book, but is open to any suggestions and ideas on how to deal with this area in the next two volumes. “It’s Lenny Campello writing the book,” he adds. “It’s my book.”

CAPPS RESPONDS:

To be sure, I might have gone with some of Campello's edits. "Declined" is probably fine for "refused," though Campello says he was persistent in going after them. I picked the two latest titles published by Schiffer, not the most relevant. The differences of emphasis throughout are mostly neither here nor there.

Campello's main contention is that he has disclosed his conflicts of interest. I agree. He told me about them, and I wrote them up in the story. Plus, Campello says, he has not gamed the book to lead its readers directly to him (beyond the fact that he is the book's author). Since I never said he did, this is something I'm happy to allow.

Finally, Campello argues that he has eliminated his conflicts of interest. Not so fast.

First off, there are some undisclosed hot spots. Like Campello's shadow contributors—OK, that's a bit dramatic—his dozen or so friends and worthies whom he hit up for artist suggestions. By his own admission, they have financial interests in the D.C. art scene. Did they name artists appearing in their own collections, galleries or museum exhibitions? Essentially, Campello asked them to curate a small list of top artists. This is work they probably do often. So why the anonymity?

As for his own conflicts of interest, Campello might have eliminated them had he excluded those artists in whom he has lasting commercial interests. Nevertheless, he remains an art dealer, dedicated to showing and selling D.C. artists' work—as well as profiling them, by batches of a hundred at a time. That dog doesn't hunt.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • http://dcartnews.blogspot.com Lenny

    First of all I want to thank the City Paper for this unprecedented opportunity to put forth my point of view.

    Second, I want to thank Kriston for participating and we'll just have to agree to disagree on some points, and who knows, maybe we're a beer or two away from shaking hands over this.

    Third, I hope that all of you who read this piece and who want to leave a comment try your best to keep this civil and constructive. I know that both Kriston and I do not bruise easily and we can take constructive criticism and disagreement and hopefully we will all come out of this having learned something positive. Putting together this first volume was an immense amount of work, and yet I am looking forward to the next couple of volumes and will apply the "lessons learned" from this first volume to all the others.

  • Robin

    Good dynamics for the local art scene going on in here now. A question for both of you then:

    Kriston: Did you ask Lenny why he kept his "shadow contributors" anonymous? If you didn't ask, then it's unfair of you to attack that issue without giving him a chance to explain. If you did ask, but kept the reasons out of the article, then that is suspect journalism.

    Lenny: Why did you keep your contributors anonymous? After all the distilling, brewing and parsing and equivocating of words by both of you, that seems to be Capps' real key issue with the book.

    Keeping it civil. I'd love some answers.

  • http://www.stevensjaycarter.com Stevens Jay Carter

    I appreciate Kristons’ take on the article and it certainly offers an additional way to look at this book!
    I feel who ever the author is, he/she would fall under some kind of criticism for their campaign. Unfortunately it is the nature of the art world. I can only hope it will generate several books like this from several different perspectives.
    The question which remains for me however is what is the relationship between the book 100 Washington Artists and the book 100 Mid Atlantic Artists. They are both published by the same publishing house (Schiffer). They are being published at the same time. Did Lenny inspire the author "E. Ashley Rooney" to author 100 Mid Atlantic Artist?

  • http://dcartnews.blogspot.com Lenny

    Robin,

    I don't recall Kriston asking me why I chose to keep the small group of advisors anon. I volunteered the info to him that I had asked several knowledgeable people for an input of 10 names each. My idea was that if I asked a few outsiders, then it would be a way for me to make sure that I didn't skip someone important (which I had, and in spite of everything in the end I still missed several key artists).

    To answer your question, it was my idea, not theirs, to keep it all anon because I felt that the anonymity would (a) give them the freedom to put their true opinion on the list without (b) upsetting some artists (who may even be in their collection but not recommended - if the person was a collector). I can also tell you that Kriston's fears that "Did they name artists appearing in their own collections, galleries or museum exhibitions?" didn't really materialize in a heavy handed way at all.

    People are smarter than that. If I had asked a local gallerist for their input and they send me back a list of 10 artists that they represent, that would say something about that person, wouldn't it? No gallerist did that. By the way, when was the last time that we can recall a local museum curator putting together a museum show that included a few DC area artists?

    I did get a HUGE amount of unsolicited recommendations, by the way (mostly from artists).

    One of the things that I knew in putting together this book and the coming volumes was that in the end there would be a lot of disagreement with the content of the lists (any list for that matter), but I also know that this applies to anybody making such a list. I also know that by selecting 100 for this first book, 1000 others would be pissed off.

    Kriston's last paragraph suggests that I should have penalized the very small number of artists associated with me currently by leaving them out of the book. Had I done that, it would have been spectacularly unfair to them and would have left a huge hole in the list.

    I hope this answers your question.

  • http://dcartnews.blogspot.com Lenny

    SJC,

    E. Ashley Rooney is the author of 17 books and I believe that he/she has authored several books for Schiffer. There is no direct relationship between the Mid Atlantic Artists book and mine, although I suspect that there will probably be a few DC area artists in that book that also appear in mine and maybe some artists in that book which do not appear in my first volume.

  • Matt Smith

    Considering the umbrage that Campello took with this CP piece, I'm surprised to see that most of the corrections are semantics. Ultimately, Campello can't expect Capps to write the piece that Campello would have written.

  • http://dcartnews.blogspot.com Lenny

    Hi Matt,

    You are right, "most" are semantics, but not all.

    In fact, there are key ones that are not semantics and which have a huge effect on the piece, such as Capps' use of "Not wholly true" instead of putting my comments in the right context. Unless you know another meaning for "Not wholly true" other than "It's a lie", then that is not a semantic correction but placing the comment in the right context with the correct meaning and eliminating the assertion that I had lied to him.

    Also, since the article is about ethics and keyed to a couple of artists, it completely skipped mentioning the steps that I took (and discussed with Capps) to eliminate the potential conflict of interest. Again, that is not semantics.

    And not to get pedantic, but both the paragraph about the WPA and their guide, and the reference to my blog and the artists that I recommend there were erroneous and have been corrected in the re-write. Those two are not semantics either.

    Warm regards,

    Lenny

  • Kriston Capps

    both the paragraph about the WPA and their guide, and the reference to my blog and the artists that I recommend there were erroneous and have been corrected in the re-write

    Note that these are fixes that you make in your suggested rewrite, not City Paper corrections to the article.

  • http://dcartnews.blogspot.com Lenny

    Hi Kriston,

    I haven't asked the City Paper to correct anything. I'm super pleased that they allowed this discussion to take place and happy with that.

    Besides, facts are facts and the WPA never published its Artfile as a guide. That book was a separate project that anyone could join in as long as they sent their WPA fees. The Artfile was and still is a separate thing, with 100s more artists than the guide. It's all apples and oranges as far as a comparison anyway, but essentially incorrect to start with.

    And facts are facts, in my blog 95% or more of the artists that I write about are not represented by me. In your original article you wrote "As much can be ascertained from his blog, D.C. Art News, where he has written for years about artists he admires (and represents)." That is incorrect and "not wholly true".

    If you are recommending that I ask the CP for formal corrections, then I may consider that, but I am happy with this as it stands.

  • Robin

    Lenny: I understand your explanation and thank you for answering my question. However, I also understand Kriston's concerns to a certain degree.

    I say that because I think that to agree with his logic 100% is in fact a little over dramatic and perhaps an exaggeration of the point that he is trying to make. Let's call that "problem" a draw.

    Kriston's second main point ("Campello might have eliminated them had he excluded those artists in whom he has lasting commercial interests") throws out the baby with the bathwater and I think is a little too much to ask. I am happy with minimized rather than eliminated.

    I still don't understand why Kriston (allegedly) didn't ask you why you kept your contributors anonymous if he meant to make a big deal out of that problem. So I hope he answers that now that I'm asking (civil like) a second time.

  • Kriston Capps

    Robin,

    Here's the relevant paragraph in my story:

    "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."

  • Robin

    Kriston,

    Thank you. Case closed from my end.

  • http://www.jcp.com Elliott

    Fascinating! These are two very alike articles and also very different! Each one leaves the reader with the basic same set of critical conclusions about the process for putting together the book, but each article also leaves the reader with a completely opposite impression about the book's author. The re-write clearly offers a much more balanced perspective (and less snarky).

    I am also impressed how a handful of word replacements delivered a semantic change to the flavor of the article. Excellent idea to do this!

  • Wow

    I, frankly, couldn't be less impressed. The initial article was accurate -- even if Lenny didn't think it was quite as glowing as it could have been.

    The fact that Capps managed not to call him "insufferable" anywhere in the article is a feat.

    Also, Lenny, in what universe do "appearances" have nothing to do with ethics? An appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself in journalism and other pursuits. Capps was generous to include Lenny's attempts to reduce conflicts in the article, and it was accurate to say there were still problems.

    Also, could someone share the Washington City Paper's policy on allowing crazy busybodies to rewrite articles with which they disagree? Rather than subjecting my loved ones to my frustrated rants about poorly-written City Paper articles (which I don't consider the original article to be), I'd love to waste space on the City Paper's website.

    Lemme know!

  • Robin

    Sooner or later someone like "wow" just cannot stay within the rules of civility and the name calling begins. And then good people who happen to disagree about perfectly good reasons are "insufferable" and "crazy busybodies" - please go spew your poison somewhere else.

  • kenny

    The great thing about the City Paper is that they say what they want and it would be great to keep it that way. No one should try to shame someone for writing an article that they didn't like. Kudos to Kriston Kapps and judging from the defensive nature of the response to the article Kriston must have pointed out some things that someone feels defensive about. Chill out and let people be free to write the articles they want. Don't go nitpicking meaningless facts to dispute such as the author said a couple of dozen artists where as it's 100, BIG deal. Let people do their job and don't bully people. Love the City Paper!

  • Michelle

    Also, rewriting an article is like someone going to a gallery and saying oh, I don't agree with how my city was depicted in this painting and talking to the gallery owner and for the next opening having the same painting there, but with the edits of the person who disagreed with the original.

  • Commenting Police

    Wow/kenny/Michelle: If you're gonna be posting under different names pretending to be different people, at least have the common decency of following the rules of the Sock Puppeteer Style Guide.

    Rule Number One: Never do two allegedly different comments within minutes of each other on the exact same point (kenny and Michelle)

    Corollary to Rule One: Never do a comment (kenny) defending an earlier comment under a different name (Wow) within an hour of another commenter (Robin) slamming your earlier post (Wow).

    Rule Number two: Never start your second post in a row with "Also" (Michelle).

    I will let you slide this time with just a warning, but next time I'm gonna have to give you a ticket.

    LOL

  • Commenting Police

    Also (see what I mean?), the 8:50PM commenting on a Saturday night, as a result of the time of night and on a Saturday night of all things, is suspiciously close to a CWI (Commenting While Intoxicated).

  • http://www.stevensjaycarter.com Stevens Jay Carter

    Thanks Lenny for clarify the MiD Atlantic question!

    blessings

  • Angelina

    Interesting. How to attempt to deflect valid critiques of Lenny:

    1.)accuse the commenters of being sock puppets (again and again and again).
    2.)invent bizarre rules for when/how individudals should post(never a Saturday evening since one should be drunk by then). Could someone please point me to these rules?
    3.)do everything to deflect and distract from the real issue. Name call, focus on the time of the posting, must be drunk, etc.

    Rock on Kenny, Robin and Mr/Ms. Wow!!!!! And if you are a Mr. Wow, I think you really rock!!! You read my mind.

  • Angelina

    Correction: make that Michelle, Mr/Ms Wow and Kenny--you all rock!

  • Barbarian

    Riddle me this Mr. Wow/kenny/Michelle and now Angelina: a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit (usually currants), commonly served with either custard or butter?

  • Angelina

    Sorry barbarian. You and your crew are very predictable. I am sure the City paper staff (only)can see different IP addresses so your strange comment is without merit.

    barbarian=commenting police=crazy busybody (love that term)

  • Barbarian

    Sorry Angelina. You and your Army of One (OK, maybe two) are very predictable. I am sure [that] the City Paper staff [and Marsha] can see different IP addresses [emanating from all of the District's libraries now that you're running scared] from the one [two] of you in your steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit (usually currants), commonly served with either custard or butter costume.

    Busted sock puppets = just plain ole crazy (love that term).

    You got busted before and you're busted again. Nobody blows smoke up my you-know-what.

  • Sickened

    Any chance that we can get this conversation back to a constructive discussion and away from all the barbarians and angelinas and police and wows of the dark side? No more bad karma please. This is what makes artists in DC get sick about you polluters.

  • http://www.123greetings.com Mark E.

    Amen to that! I am sickened as well by all the negative trash talking. No more please.

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