‘The attention of other people is the most irresistible of all drugs. Acquiring it beats all other forms of income. That is why fame trumps power, and wealth pales into insignificance against celebrity.’ (Georg Franck, The Economy of Attention)
Attention is a limited resource – and that goes for the art business as much as for anything else. One could even go so far as to say that goes especially for the art world. Current production of art exhibitions, projects and trade fairs often leads to overproduction. Museums are left without visitors, catalogues without readers, exhibitions without reviews.
New art events are popping up everywhere. What was once a Western phenomenon has since spread to the rest of the world, too. And it’s not just the biennials - that market of markets - the art fairs offers the best example of this form of expansive and permanent self-re-production by the business, which hence reaffirms itself time and again.
And so the gap continues to widen: while the crisis-like development in the media is regressive and space for media coverage and reporting is growing ever scarcer, the number of topics to choose from is getting bigger all the time. On the one hand are ambitious curators who naturally and understandably want to read about their exhibitive efforts in the newspapers. On the other hand are the poor art critics, whose working conditions are often not the best, as we all know.
In such a scenario, it seems almost a hopeless undertaking to try to get your message across. But all this talk of crisis in the art business is as old as the business itself – so why complain? Let’s focus instead on finding solutions. As luck would have it, the basic rules of successful art communication are as banal as they are simple – regardless of how the success of complex art projects depends on it.
Looking further afield than the attention-grabbing blockbuster: how best to generate that rare commodity, attention? How best to cross that perception threshold, a feat that, in the absence of sufficient funding for advertising, depends largely on classic public relations work?
1. The earlier you get involved, the better. Only then can you reduce the irritation caused by countless reminder emails, which are essential to get your subject noticed.
2. The quicker you react, the longer you will have an effect. Good, reliable and hence helpful service always reaps rewards and forms the basis of personal contacts that often ultimately define your perception reach and level.
3. The fewer emails, the more contacts. Don’t hole up behind digital facades such as Facebook – a personal follow-up call and a friendly meeting can help explain complex topics much better. And pump up the volume: aside from all the small talk, even vernissages are worth it!
4. The more visual your presence, the more attention it will receive. Pictures rule the world. Texts belong to the past. Hardly anyone reads them anymore. And the language of images is often banal: colours, faces, unusual sights – these are the things most likely to breach the psychological and visual perception thresholds.
5. The ‘tastier’ the text, the more people will read it. Discourse has its own vocabulary. If you depart from that, you will be punished with a loss of ‘credibility’. At the same time, the best text is the one that everyone can understand and that can be used in any circumstances – long live the efficiency of multi-functionality, especially when there are a lot of people whose opinions you have to accommodate. Time, too, is a scarce resource. So the first lines really count, if the text is to be read at all. If it is strong in images and playful with words, it will build a bridge to the actual content. And a clear textual hierarchy, with headlines and sublines help give it a structure – and hence make it (quickly) comprehensible.
6. The better-known the names, the more appeal they have. There is nothing to add to this theory – one-dimensional though it might seem. Always lead with your strongest suit.
7. The more e-flux, the more international. Good communication starts locally – and spreads from there like concentric circles. If you think you’ve got what it takes to make a splash internationally, book an e-flux (www.e-flux.com), engage with this clever, albeit monopolistic email newsletter strategy and send your message around the world to more than 100,000 contacts.
And last but not least: the more perfect, the more boring. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. On the contrary: make necessity the mother of invention. Mistakes remain a new vehicle of communication with great creative potential. Remember, total perfection is: a) impossible, and b) unnecessary. From conceptual planning madness driven by visions and missions through the embedding of creative marketing campaigns to evaluating general and specific visitor satisfaction: the increasing over-professionalization of the art business, a direct result of its rapid commercialization, often turns out to be the enemy of inspired art production and inspiring reception. So forget all that clever advice, put in a few calls (the main thing is that you call the right people) and trust the process.
Kathrin Luz is an art communication agent, based in Cologne/Berlin. Born 1963 in Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, she studied Art History, History and German Philology in Kiel and Cologne, and holds a master’s degree in Art History in 1990. Her thesis is titled ‘The Cult of Coolness. Dandysm and Modernism in Art History from Duchamp on’ in the same year. From 1990 onwards, she was art critic for ZEIT, frame and Kunstforum, at the same time working as a copywriter in various international communication and advertising agencies (DDB Needham Worldwide, meiré und meiré). In 1999 she founded her communication agency Neumann-Luz, specialized in art, architecture and design, Cologne/Berlin [www.neumann-luz.de]. In 2010/11, she was Head of Communication for dOCUMENTA (13), in 2011/12, Head of Communication for Manifesta 9, Genk, Belgium. From 2013 until today, she is a PR agent and communication consultant in the field of art, design, architecture and urbanism.
Projects and clients include Art Cologne, Biennale Venice / German, Dutch, Norwegian and Austrian Pavilion, BMW Kulturprogramm, Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht, DaimlerChrysler Collection, frieze, Grand Tour 2007 (Biennial Venice, documenta, Skulptur Projekte Münster, Art Basel), Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, Het Nieuwe Instituut Rotterdam, Kaiserring Goslar, Kunstsammlung NRW Düsseldorf, M_HK Antwerpen, Manifesta 9, 10 and 11, Migros Museum Zürich, Museum Frieder Burda, Museum Ludwig, Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, Phototriennale Hamburg, Pinakothek der Moderne München, Quadriennale Düsseldorf, Salzburger Kunstverein, Schirn Kunsthalle, Skulptur Projekte Münster, S.M.A.K. Ghent, St. Moritz Art Masters, and others.