Art vs. Farm

Keeping Male Goats and the Art World at Arm's Length

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Keeping Male Goats and the Art World at Arm's Length
Illustration: Ria Brodell

Sometimes in order to fully grasp a thing—a love, an idea, a work of art, a career—we have to fully abandon it and then circle back to it with fresh eyes and a clear mind.  For me, finding a new perspective involved leaving the city and starting a farm. There’s nothing like shoveling actual (as opposed to behavioral) shit to bring you into the present moment. 

We now have four Nigerian Dwarf goats. Oz and Clem are young adults, and Jasper and Pablo are kids (in the proper use of the term). Our goats have reasonable needs and express their affection in specific ways. The older boys eat our pants and head-butt our lower body parts. The young ones wail for rubber nipples. All four seek opportunities to climb onto our legs, backs, and shoulders whenever possible. The kids get bottle-fed three times a day. The challenge is to avoid becoming a human jungle gym, while maintaining our grip and aim. Somehow this reminds me of running an art gallery.

I recently found myself discussing life as an art dealer with a former colleague whose business is across the continent. Following our lament, he shared 23 articles (in 23 separate emails) about the demise of the art world and especially of mid-level galleries—and more specifically, of the futility of working with emerging artists. One of the articles he sent was an interview in which I was the subject. Reading it, I was reminded of why I had left the art world.

There is a person whose name more or less rhymes with Crisco and dildo. He and his children-of-the-corn collector friends trade in the collateral ruin of young artists. It’s simple economics; they buy out an artist's inventory to increase the value of her work, sell at a premium (they own most shares), and finally dump their holdings. In a breathtakingly short time frame, the value of the artist’s work is reduced to a fat zero. Try being inspired in the studio after taking that ride. One artist I know closed her studio to visitors after “Crisco” was there. His brazen greed lay thick over her space, and threatened to dislodge the relationship between her and the dealer who had nurtured her career.

Thinking about this, I realized that “CRS” (can’t remember shit) is probably the condition that enabled me to return to the art world last fall, when another dealer offered his two gallery spaces in Hudson for an exhibition period. My initial, internal reaction was "Fuck that!", but my verbal response was: “Why the hell not?” Soon thereafter, I happily took on the project of producing two exhibitions and publishing a catalog. Either this would be a wonderful encore (meaning that I would realize that I really had intended to get the heck out of dodge) or a pleasant reunion with what I know and love. It turned out to be the latter, as well as an articulation of a new way of doing things that began when I first moved upstate and veered off track. 

Three times a day, I measure 14 ounces of milk in a glass beaker, heat for one minute, stir, warm for another 43 seconds, pour the milk evenly into the narrow bottle mouths, add 14 ounces of warm water to each bottle, shake, test the temperature with a thermometer, cap with rubber nipples, slide on my tall boots, and walk down the stone steps to the animal barn.

I’ve come to realize that whether handling goats or “dildos,” it’s best to trust your instincts. I’ve noticed that goats can get in their own way a lot and are slow to handle a pivoting target. Their greatest skill is climbing. They ascend abruptly onto anything that is higher than the ground, no matter how unstable it is, somehow managing this with incredible skill and repeatability. Sometimes, however, we can get them to remain still and unsure of how to proceed. This happens when we band their balls, a technique commonly used to prevent male goats from spreading their seed.  

There is a rough side to raising goats and participating in the art market; both involve head-butting, climbing, coddling, and ball-banding. You can work hard, develop a thick skin and an instinct to buck the bullshit. Then what? Charge ahead? Being maniacally busy may be a career accolade, but it can also cultivate deficits of creativity and caring. For me, it took stepping off track, slowing down, and getting my hands dirty to come to my senses and even think about doing something senseless, like opening another gallery. 

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