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Berlin art diaries: Selling your art and (not) yourself

BLOG! Some say knowing the right people is essential for creative success. But what if you don't and, worse, you don't want to sleep with them? Young filmmaker Fabia Mendoza discovers how it does (not) work.

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How do you sell your art, but not yourself? As our art blogger Fabia (right) explains, it’s a tricky balance. (Photo by William Minke.)

“These aren’t the hands of a painter,” my painter husband, Ryan, says as he strokes one of Anna’s manicured hands. Her red fingernails are sparkling. “These are the hands of a party-girl. Painter’s hands look a little bit more like this.” Ryan holds up his two worn-out paint-blotted hands and smiles. 

I look at my friend Anna, a young Russian painter. She has some curators on her side but hasn’t found gallery representation. “These are the hands of a woman who dreams about being a painter,” she counters. 

I look at my nails in dreamy rosè. I’m a young filmmaker. I won a Hollywood film award last year, but I’m still on the search for a producer for my feature film. 

Anna and I are about to hit the city. My best friend Bella will join us. She’s a talented actress who just landed two major roles but for inexplicable reasons was kicked out of her acting agency. During Munich Film Festival, freshly heartbroken by her big love – a mediocre, narcissistic actor turned-indie-filmmaker – she had supposedly been “too emotional” in front of the agency’s casting agent. When the agent asked her how she was doing, authentic Bella hadn’t been able to contain her sobbing. Rumours soon circulated that she was “emotionally unstable” and “difficult to manage.” So much for being in touch with your feelings. And whatever happened to method acting?

Our night has started disastrously. There’s no way into the exclusive Berlinale event. The lady policing the guestlist is shaking her head rhythmically while Bella is escorted out by security after trying to sneak inside through the kitchen’s back entrance. 

Later at Borchardt we run into the gallery owner Anna dreams to work with. He’s wasted and a long-legged blonde is dragging him away before Anna gets a chance to corner him. We laugh, knowing that being in the blonde’s place would have made no difference. Anna wanted to sit down with him to talk about her new set of paintings, not to sleep with him or deal with his drunken body. 

“If you don’t party with these people, you won’t work with them,” my friend Lilli educates me. “The best deals are being sealed behind close doors,” she twinkles. “And with a couple of lines.“ She must know. Knowing everyone from Berlin to Hollywood, she just organized the girls, the lines and the deals for a world-famous rapper during his stay in Berlin.

My husband Ryan rarely parties, instead locking himself in his atelier 24/7. He is what one might call “successful,” but how does he do it? “Everything is here,” he tells me, pointing to his heart. “This is all you need. There’s no room for mediocrity, and people understand the quality of good work. No need to do the social nonsense – better go do some meditation.” His words seem reasonable.

While meditating, I can’t help but think about the story of why Ryan had split from one of the world’s most powerful galleries.

At the beginning of his career, he drafted a handwritten letter to a famous gallery owner, telling him that he had finished a catalogue of paintings flanked by a text by Irvine Welsh, then Europe’s coolest novelist. Meanwhile, Welsh received a note from Ryan claiming he was about to show with this gallery and needed a text by him. 

He ended up having both, the text and the gallery show, without even setting foot out of his studio.

After the successful exhibition, the gallery owner dragged the abstinent Ryan from one party to the next. Ryan, not drinking, sensitive and coy of nature, was overwhelmed. He finally freaked out and left the gallerist’s villa inflamed with rage after the gallerist proposed a girlfriend swap during a late-night dinner. 

The following day, Ryan’s name was erased from the list of the gallery’s artists. Was the gallery owner sleeping with all girlfriends of his male artists? Or had Ryan just not been “party-approved” enough to handle the situation in a better way?  

“This picture on Instagram of you and your girlfriends… so refined and yet so wildly erotic,” pings a journalist about one of my Instagram posts. He works for the culture section of a reputable German newspaper. He has been generous by including my video installation in an article about my husband’s art exhibit. It’s rare that journalists acknowledge my accomplishments due to the shadow Ryan unintentionally casts.

I stumble.  “Just trying to be glamorous,” I respond. “How is your mom doing?” I’m trying to pull the strange correspondence into a more appropriate direction by referring to his sick mother.

“Glamour? I’m hungry and all I see is meat,” he shoots back. Then, after a pause, “Let’s hookup!” I blush, confused. 

I don’t reply. Is this my prudish moment akin to my husband’s girlfriend-swapping denied?

The journalist sends me a Selfie reading Charles Bukowski. I see my chance.  “I might consider overlooking your inappropriate comment, as you were probably under the influence of that brazen Bukkake-owski,” I respond clumsily, desperate to keep his attention. But the moment is lost, the flame dampened. Since then, I haven’t received messages from him, erotic or otherwise. A certain, subtle electricity was paired with his interest in my work apparently, and now both are gone.

I squeeze myself out of the yellow silk party dress. I hang it in a corner of my cupboard. When I finally finish writing the screenplay, I promise myself, is the time to put it on again.

Ryan and Fabia Mendoza will present their new catalogue ‘Active Shooter’ at the Seibert Collection Berlin on June 15th, 2020. In a short discussion, the couple will explore the role of the muse in contemporary art and what happens to a painter if his wife all of a sudden refuses to pose for him. Due to Corona restrictions, there are very limited places. RSVP to [email protected] (first come first served, entrance only with prior confirmation via email).