From London to New York, Brisbane to Washington, news outlets are echoing the inspiring story of a child's interest in art and of how the Art world is "celebrating" her as a star. The big story has been that four-year-old Aelita Andre has a solo show at an art gallery in New York City --indeed, in Chelsea, the heart of the world contemporary art market.
She must be a great artist then.
With thousands of seasoned adult artists struggling to even get into a group show in comparatively-dumpy nearby Brooklyn, surely surely, her getting a solo show in elite Chelsea makes her, de facto, an artistic genius. It makes her skill-level comparable "to Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Jackson Pollack" according to the Washington Post blog (1) and many other sources --perhaps all paraphrasing the same press release (or AelitaAndreArt.com, the website presumably organized by her promoter-parents).
The Chelsea exhibit might indeed signal artistic merit if the show were at a typical selective Chelsea commercial gallery. However, the reporters seemingly don't know that the venue, Agora Gallery, is infamous among "real" artists as a vanity gallery. Seemingly, you pay the fees, you get a show. The actual Art World does not celebrate those who exhibit at Agora Gallery; it ignores them. Or mocks them.
Wikipedia sums it up well: "A vanity gallery is an art gallery that charges artists fees to exhibit their work and makes most of its money from artists rather than from sales to the public." (2) According to an article by artist/gallerist/critic Lenny Campello: because a vanity gallery rents out its walls, "the main driver in having a show at a vanity gallery is not necessarily the quality of the artwork, but the artist's ability to pay the gallery to host his/her artwork." (3) Campello continues, critics and curators ignore such venues "much like book critics ignore most self-published writers, who use 'vanity publishers'." (3)
Lest they incur bad publicity, vanity galleries don't generally admit to being pay-to-play venues, but enough information appears on Agora's website to connect the dots. From Agora's submissions page: "Please note that Agora Gallery charges an annual fee for its representation and promotion services." (4) From Agora's FAQ page: "If I am accepted what is the cost of the annual promotion and representation.... We offer a few options starting from $2950."(5) For a solo exhibit, "Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information" --note the telltale email address: sales. (6).
To split hairs, Agora doesn't officially require fee payment to exhibit, but instead does require purchase of promotional services. No such purchase: no exhibit. It is therefore pay-to-play --just paying for required "promotion" rather than for exhibition. There is little real difference.
Googling "Agora Gallery" plus "vanity" would yield plenty of revealing articles dating back to the early 2000's. Even fact-checking with reputable New York artists or art-sources would have flagged the Agora solo exhibit as dubious. But reporters are busy and perhaps too trusting of press releases. And articles about Miss Andre being an art "star" bloomed worldwide. Remarkably-similar reports appeared in: CBS News (7), BBC News (8), New York Post (9), Sky News (10), The Telegraph (11), Washington Post -Blog (12), "Vanity Fair" -Italy(13), ABC News -Australia (14), Brisbane Times (15), "Huffington Post" -New York(16), NBC News 4 New York (17), and others.
There's no question that the adorable four-year-old, Aelita Andre is cute. And she does make vibrant and colorful pictures much larger than is typical for her age --thanks to professional canvases supplied by her artist-parents. May no one cast aspersions on the tyke or on her love of painting.
But to call her an artistic genius because she has a solo show in New York (at a vanity gallery) is to fall for the Balloon Boy hoax (18) of Chelsea. Her parents who appear so prominently like stage-moms in the promotional videos seemingly have a stake in more articles celebrating Miss Andre's "success" in the "Art World." Such publicity has helped "balloon" prices of her pictures from under $250 in 2009 (19) to multiple thousands per canvas now.(9)
The show will be a thrill for the little girl --of course. It has already paid dividends to the Andre family. Numerous articles say some paintings have already sold. But to say, in the breathless words of the New York Post, that it "is expected to set the city's art world on fire" (9) --is to be duped.
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References (collected 7 June 2011):
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(this article allllmost published on "Huffington Post" -Arts [ www ] )
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