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Artists Hire Publicists, With Mixed Results

THESE are curious days in the art world. Dealers claim that they will speak only of art and not at all about the pricing or market, while artists can talk of nothing but name recognition and money. Artists are told that they must think of themselves as businessmen. They should send out letters, r'esum'es, clippings, and slides of their work to critics, dealers, curators, and other possible exhibitors, follow up with phone calls and visits, arrange for the framing, crating, and shipping of their work, negotiate contracts with their galleries, respond to inquiries and whatever else the advance of their careers requires.

Small wonder, then, that so many artists find themselves needing help. Some take on assistants, while a growing number have turned to public relations firms to help advance their careers.

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``There are just not enough hours in the day to do everything,'' said painter Edward Ruscha, a Los Angeles artist who hired the New York-based firm, Livet Reichard Co., to help promote his work in Europe. ``If I had tried to do all the art business stuff - the letter writing and contacting people - I wouldn't have been able to create as much art.''

The range of services publicists provide artists is vast, depending on what the particular creators are looking for. In some cases, usually with lesser-known artists, the need is to ``package'' the creator, ``putting together a comprehensive press kit for that person so that he or she can present him- or herself more professionally,'' says Kathryn Hall, a publicist in Mill Valley, Calif.

That often involves the publicist writing up a biographical statement that discusses the art, pulling together published write-ups of the artist's work, preparing black-and-white glossies of the art, and writing either a press release or a cover letter for this press kit.

``Some artists can speak and articulate their ideas very well,'' says Susan Hewitt, a free-lance publicist who also deals in antique clothing and teaches yoga, ``but they are definitely in the minority. I try to help artists find the right words for who they are and what they are doing.''

Publicists may also be retained to focus attention on something newsworthy happening in the artist's career, such as an exhibition of new work or the completion of a major project.

Peter Max, who is best known for his psychedelic posters of the late 1960s, hired Howard J. Rubenstein Associates in New York to publicize an exhibition of his paintings last October which showed a change in style. Robert Rauschenberg sought out the international press contacts of Hill and Knowlton Inc. for his 1985-86 ``Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Exchange,'' which took the artist and his work to various countries.

``We got him press everywhere he went,'' says Mark Robertson of Hill and Knowlton.

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The price for this help is not cheap. Publicists and public relations firms charge anywhere from $45 to $150 an hour, and their work can be time consuming. John Glassie, an account executive at Rogers & Cowan Inc. in Washington, D.C., says that promoting an artist's exhibition would run $1,200 to $2,000.

William Amelia, president of Amelia Associates in Baltimore, says his firm charged the late Herman Maril (``the dean of Baltimore artists,'' Mr. Amelia says) $5,000 a year to publicize his exhibits.

At these rates, many artists would need to see some demonstrable increase in sales to offset the fees, but that is something that cannot be guaranteed.

For example, a San Francisco watercolorist named Gary Bukovnik spent more than $2,000 between 1982 and 1983 with the large public relations firm Ruder Finn Inc. to promote his work, but only found himself in debt at the end of the experience.

``I had been working for a museum for a while and got to be familiar with Ruder Finn through that,'' he says. ``They did the publicity for the King Tut show. I figured if they could move King Tut, why couldn't they move a few Gary Bukovnik watercolors?''

He decided in the end that being the smallest account in a large agency meant getting minimal attention. ``We're told that you have to invest in yourself, and I thought that maybe this was the way,'' says Mr. Bukovnik. ``Now I know it isn't the way.''

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