Early Adoption

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MY GIRLFRIEND AND I went to an artist’s studio in Chelsea to look at a painting we’d seen on Etsy.com and were thinking about buying. We met the artist and her daughter, looked at the piece, chatted about their dogs, our dogs, marriage (both straight and gay), divorce (just straight), conjunctivitis and rent control. We did not talk about money. She left that up to her assistant. She told us, “If it were up to me, I would give it away...”

Or she could put it up for adoption. That’s what some artists are doing on the Fine Art Adoption Network (FAAN), a New York-based website that has made the artwork of about 115 artists available to anyone who can prove that they’ll be a worthy “parent.” It’s leading to a very different sort of relationship between artist and art owner.

Commissioned by Art in General, FAAN was founded by artist Adam Simon, who is currently also working with the Williamsburg gallery artMoving Projects. Simon first conceptualized art adoption when he faced a storage problem with his own work. “It started me thinking about how much really good art is being either warehoused or destroyed and how many people there are that would love to own art but don’t because it costs too much,” he said.

As the website explains, FAAN “uses a gift economy to connect artists and potential collectors...This means acquiring artwork without purchasing it, through an arrangement between the artist and collector. Our goal is to help increase and diversify the population of art owners and to offer artists new means for engaging their audience.”

Organized according to genre, the types of work available run the gamut: paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, even installation pieces. Recent adoptions include “More Moonbeams,” by Carrie Waldman, a large, outdoor, acrylic on aluminum painting of the translucent undersides of yellow flowers on six 4 foot by 8 foot panels (the largest piece yet to be adopted); an untitled small painting by Amy Sillman of an array of concentric circles contained within muted red, yellow and green squares; and Heather Lowe’s “Silky,” a lenticular image of what looks like an undulating shiny scrim.

To adopt requires online registration (quick and free) and filling out an application, which asks for potential adopter’s background and interest in the piece. Applications are emailed to the artist, who then decides if the applicant gets the artwork. Currently over 330 people have signed up as adopters and approximately 75 adoptions have taken place. At times competition can get fierce—the most sought after work of art so far received 13 separate adoption attempts before finally going to the lucky new art recipient.

Lowe, who has put several pieces up for adoption in addition to “Silky,” has had only positive experiences. “I can deal directly with someone who is enchanted with my artwork,” she said. “No middleman. No gallery curation.”

No money either. But of course artists decide for themselves how much of their work they’re able to part with. And there are other potential concerns. Would artists feel their work would be devalued, in any sense, by giving it away? “The first artist that I sounded out about my idea said exactly that,” Simon said. “He emailed me recently to say that he had changed his mind and would love to participate. For an artist like Amy Sillman, whose work fetches high prices, it appears to be a non-issue.”

Janet Stafford, another artist on FAAN, deals with the issue of potential devaluation by assessing what, exactly, an artist is looking for from a transaction. “As we all want to sell our work, want a person to value it enough to pay for it...there is a bit of a conflict in voluntarily giving it away. However, most artists also just want appreciation for their work.”

The adoption process promotes that kind of appreciation. When I applied to adopt a piece of Stafford’s, an iris inkjet print made from an oil painting of a photograph of Mars’ surface, I wanted to tell her something about my immediate response to it. “It reminds me of something I read by Lawrence Weschler in his new book Everything That Rises,” I wrote. “In it he talks about Rothko’s work in the context of the moon landing and this painting evokes both.” Stafford responded the next day to say the piece was mine.

After I picked up “Mars,” which was beautifully framed and carefully wrapped in muslin, from Stafford’s Midtown studio, the transaction itself seemed like an extension of the artwork, or a separate piece. It was, as they say, a “moment.”

This was roughly how Simon described a number of adoptions for both sides of the deal. “The email exchanges that have been occurring between the artists and potential adopters have at times involved profound human interaction,” he said.

I did buy that piece from the Chelsea artist with the dogs, but meanwhile, it remains packed away—that short conversation a one-time thing. But as soon as I got “Mars” home, it went up on the wall and still evoked Rothko, the moon landing, Everything That Rises and course the red planet itself, but also several conversations with the artist, walking through Midtown from her studio and the art of generosity.

Now I’m thinking of saving up to buy some of the other pieces in the “Mars” series, but I don’t think Stafford will mind shifting to a more typical transaction. As she neatly put it, “There can be a bit of tension in the money/appreciation duality, but I don’t make a big deal out of it. I don’t see money as evil or corrupting! It’s just a sign, an indication.”

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