Victoria Selbach | TRAILBLAZERS AND MAVERICKS | Season 1, Episode 2
TRAILBLAZERS and MAVERICKS
a series of conversations with art-world instigators
by Victoria Selbach
TRAILBLAZERS AND MAVERICKS | Season 1, Episode 2
A conversation with Janice Sands and Dawn Delikat at Pen + Brush
Meeting at Pen + Brush, amidst a riot of activity and thoughts, one can feel the energy rising. Yet through it all, the message is clear, ‘Focus’. Focus and act.
When there is so much that needs to be addressed across a multitude of political and social causes it’s easy to overlook the impact one can have by simply staying the course and focusing on what we can influence within our own world. I found it grounding and inspiring to speak with two principled matriarchs; Janice Sands, executive director and Dawn Delikat, associate executive director, of Pen + Brush. Pen + Brush is a platform to showcase the work of female artists and writers to a broader audience with the ultimate goal of activating real change within the marketplace. Their laser focus can show us the importance of holding fast to our core mission.
Janice shared these thoughts: “In virtually every possible aspect of a woman's life, in almost anything she could do as a wage-earner or to bring her views to the public, she's going to be facing discrimination. So we do one slice of that pie. We do the slice that deals with women who are interested in commenting on the world around them through visual arts and through writing and literary arts. We're part of a larger movement. This is what we know about, so this is what we're going to concentrate our resources on. Art is a potent way for part of the human race to comment on what is going on in their time. If we do this right, that representation will last beyond our lifetime and our children's lifetime and stand as a record of what was happening.”
To walk into the vibrant and progressive world of Pen + Brush you would never guess how far back their roots go. Their 124-year history gives them a unique perspective on our turbulent times. Janice shares, “Pen + Brush started 25 years before women had the right to vote. There hasn't been any greater societal change than giving women the right to vote. Back then I'm sure they all sat around and said ‘things are going to be different now.’ Then in the 60’s when the feminist movement happened some probably thought, ‘this is it’. We may feel a fire now, but it is in certain circles only. It is not all across America. The battle for hearts and minds is a constant struggle. The socio-political movements that we are seeing and hearing about now are of great importance and wonderful, but, do they direct the mission of Pen + Brush?, No. Pen + Brush is propelled forward, regardless, by the laser focus of firm-handed and visionary women.
Janice explains how that is accomplished: “Our model is to provide many of the services a commercial gallery provides to an artist, but with a difference. We do a lot of mentoring to help women move their careers forward and a great deal of advocacy.” Pen+Brush heavily invests in the women on their roster and they fill the roster with the highest caliber work possible. “Our objective standards is the severest element that separates us from other women's art organizations. We have gotten completely away from the jury model and that's a game changer. It's not about membership dues or an insular group that talks to each other without thought on how to really penetrate the primary market.” Dawn continues, “We focus on the career of the artist and the life of an artwork; how it gets through the primary market to the secondary market, what factors are in play that support it, how does it get activated to be on a level to end up in a collection that gets bequest to a major institution. At the end of the day that's the goal, to get women artists supported so they can keep creating, to represent our time, and to be captured in the museums for everyone in the world, and posterity, to actually see their world reflected by the voices of women. Reaching for the highest game and the highest quality work offers the best shot to do that.” I would add, given that the National Gallery just bought their first female work in 27 years, yes, we can do better. Planning for the long game and the concentrated effort of organizations like Pen+Brush is needed to dramatically move the needle.
Pen + Brush submissions are open to all women artists. All genres are considered for inclusion based on objective standards. Dawn explains, “Pen+Brush holds themselves to the standards of the field, welcoming anyone into the pool that meets their criteria of skill, talent and presentation. The broader the forms of expression the better to make the point that women can compete in the primary market, that women are as talented in every possible way of expressing themselves.”
On the flip side, Pen + Brush works with an evolving diverse group of influential curators, scholars and auction houses, which allows for a broad spectrum of work to connect with diverse projects. This gives everyone the best chance to meet their match. In addition to holding exhibitions in their expansive gallery at 29 East 22 Street in NYC, Pen + Brush encourages curators to work with the artists in outside venues as well, thereby creating a pipeline for their artists into the ecosystem of the art world at large.
Addressing overarching marketplace problems is a crucial part of the Pen+Brush mission. They not only facilitate sales for the artists they exhibit, they also proactively assist those artists in structuring and maintaining pricing based on fair market value. Pen + Brush works with auction houses to corroborate established prices. They aggressively coach women not to ‘give their work away’, not to devalue their own work. Janice reminds us, “The simple fact remains that woman's work is already discounted simply by being the work of women.” Given the dismal disparity of the prices of women's work at auction, concentrated efforts to establish and maintain fair pricing is hypercritical and each correction will add to a wave that lifts all boats.
Coming up next: Season 1 Episode 3
Victoria Selbach speaks with Christine Wachter of Winston Wachter Fine Art