tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:/posts kevinmcdonagh 2023-03-31T08:23:53Z Kevin McDonagh tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1959055 2023-03-29T13:20:55Z 2023-03-31T08:23:53Z Stakeholder collaboration

Customers are a Product's most essential Stakeholders, but they aren't the only ones. Other external Stakeholders influence buying decisions or are affected by your Product's activities. Likely, you are one of many internal Stakeholders. Business and Domain experts with skin in the game trying to figure out how to win a significant market share of buying Customers. Your job is to harness this team's potential. 

It's been said, "Rallying Stakeholders is Product Management" it's also been said that Product Managers should ambition to facilitate partners rather than stakeholders to 'co-design' the change. Practically though, which ceremonies and tools foster collaboration with Stakeholders and align a Product strategy? 

Identifying your Stakeholders

  • Stakeholder mapping (internal & external)
  • Customer Interviews
  • Customer Journey mapping

Stakeholder Collaboration

  • Biz: Quarterly business reviews (QBRs)
  • Product: Quarterly initiative reviews
  • Ops: Fortnightly / monthly release reviews

    "Two 30-year-old men and two 30-year-old women are sitting around a conference table discussing a plan they've made to use AI to generate product outcomes that will each make them all insanely rich. They are all laughing. The dress code is casual." - stable-diffusion-xl-beta-v2-2-2

    Stakeholder mapping: internal & external

    Nothing gets done if everyone gets a view on every decision. There's no guarantee that your team will even agree on your stakeholders. When discussing Stakeholder management, visual maps of those influencing/interested in your Product's outcomes usually jump to everyone's mind. Traditionally, these represent relationships with internal teams and broader partnering organisations. But a separate map is also valuable for external Stakeholders. Your external Stakeholders are all those affected by your Product's usage context. You may only have one customer, but there are likely many 'hidden' stakeholders within that customer's journey of using and purchasing the Product. Some journeys may exist far before your Software, such as purchasing and onboarding journeys; your customers may need finance sign-off or might even have been given the Product from on high by a senior manager. These are hidden Stakeholders.  

    Sticky notes are the quick solution but ongoing, you can get your spreadsheet game on: Stakeholder Map in Excel with David McLachlan

    Customer interviews

    There's no more critical stakeholder than your customer. How are you even going to discover your hidden external stakeholders? Customer Interviews are the most important part of Product Management. You should be speaking with your customers every week; when you talk to them, you can ask them to share who it is that influences their journey and who is it their outcomes affect. Hidden stakeholders are often Bosses and co-workers but also friends and family. In your interviews, dig into where your customers were when they were last conducting the job of your product. Physical locations often reveal relationships; it takes a whole family to sit around a dining table.   

    The very best reference for Customer interviews: Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez

    Customer Journey mapping

    Hidden stakeholders lie in wait across the Customer journey, a partner at breakfast time, a friend in the evening, and a colleague at lunchtime. When a Customer has a job to be done, their journey to complete that task likely starts long before your Product. A map of all the touchpoints your Customer requires to complete that task will provide a clearer view of the habits and activities with which your Product is competing. Journey maps can focus on the part of or the complete task. Customer journey maps evolve with your understanding of the average target customer, and they’ll be continually refined during customer and stakeholder interviews. 

    Some examples:

    "Blackbeard the pirate and two 30-year-old businessmen gathered around a whiteboard, discussing a customer journey map to set sail and and find buried treasure. They are all laughing. The dress code is casual." - DeepAI

    Business alignment: Quarterly business reviews (QBRs)

    Business leaders have a responsibility to ensure Products are progressing towards their strategic intents and financial outcomes. They will be wildly enthusiastic to see an update of (at least your best guess) quarterly product revenue, churn and costs. It’s great to share these conclusions but only through the context of outcomes. You set the scope, remind your business stakeholders of their desired results and inquire if anything has changed since previously agreeing to these outcomes. 

    Now is the time to clarify the business sense of all Product initiatives in play. Then, you can share a full rundown of your successful and unsuccessful experimentation. This meeting is vital to your highest levels of trust; you need to share enough of your journey to help your business Stakeholders feel invested in your conclusions. 

    Some snappy QBR advice: Quarterly Business Review Best Practices - TK Kader

    Product alignment: Quarterly initiative reviews

    Product initiatives have to meet the goals and objectives of the broader Company strategy. All those tasked with hitting these strategic outcomes need to align on how they are placing their bets. In attendance could be the CPO, VPs of product, and product managers, but it also can include leadership from other disciplines, CTO, design leaders, etc.

    There must be enough product initiatives to hedge bets and meet your goals. Product managers can share the results of preliminary experimentation, research, or first releases related to overall goals. Product teams can also request more funding to build or optimise an existing solution. Or propose new initiatives for feedback and buy-in.

    Initiatives reviews are going to be different for everyone, but here is Atlassian’s take: Atlassian's Quarterly Company Planning Process with Peter Scobie

    Operational alignment: fortnightly / monthly release reviews

    Release reviews ( most often Sprint reviews) provide the opportunity for teams to show off the hard work they have done and to talk about success metrics. These are the most commonly conducted meetups, but what I want to emphasise here is talking about success metrics. Before release, Product Managers should share how each feature's success will align everyone honestly around the most important outcome. I've always advocated getting as many internal and external stakeholders in the audience as possible. Teams want to show off their hard work, and everyone loves seeing new stuff before it enters the world! This isn't a time for experiments only for what shipping is and how you measure its effect. 

    A meetup event in london where everyone is gathered around a small table deep in discussion about something very interesting. - Dalle

    Community Meetings! 

    Finally, there's your local Product Management community; you are a Stakeholder in the ongoing betterment of Product Management processes. There are loads of Product Managers, VPs and CPOs who want to improve their processes and can only do so by sharing the best and worst of their experiences. 

    Please join us at the next #ProductJunto to share your real-world experiences with us. This topic was the conversation of the March 30th 2023 meetup discussing stakeholders.


    Kevin McDonagh
    tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1953120 2023-03-14T13:07:52Z 2023-03-15T21:23:27Z Minimum Viable Progress?
    *Image generated on craiyon.com with prompt "minimum viable ship"

    MVP is open to interpretation and often is cited in the context of when long before it's understood 'what' to deliver. MVPs sounded great when I first heard about them on an extreme programming team. It was among the first terms of a new shared language between engineering and management. On that team, we benefitted from weekly customer feedback during functional demos. In that context, it's excellent; you will eventually iterate to a minimum acceptable feature set and get a shared success out into the wild. An MVP can serve as a motivating aspiration but also can be a dangerous commitment if it's just a Milestone on a roadmap with an arbitrary date. If you set it, you will hit a date on a timeline, what you ship will shrink to fit but it won't necessarily be valuable. MVPs should not hinder experimentation, but if they are committed to a drop-dead date, they often can stop any valid customer investigation. If a date needs to be hit at all costs, the team may be forced to push out an overly risky, untested backlog. 

    Frank Robinson, who originally coined the phrase, emphasised the MVP only within the context of the journey of his packaged process (SyncDev); it was an outcome of the entire process, which engaged with customers and users from the beginning. His was a process of continually 'Test Selling Validation Prototypes' all the way to the outcome of his entire engagement.

    Melissa Perri writes:

    "Due to the misconception of this term, I have stopped using MVP altogether. Instead, I talk more about solution experimentation. These experiments are designed to help companies learn faster. Here we are experimenting to learn, not building to earn." - Escaping the Build Trap

    Constant experimentation en route to the MVP will result in more useful software because shipping code will always incur a cost you are going to be lumbered paying for, it may as well be worth paying for, which you will not know unless you've been ideating and measuring all the way to the destination. I'm not advocating stopping using the term MVP as it's useful for cross-functionally sharing the agile mindset. In recent years I've preferred the term Minimum Viable Prototype, which I think I got from Accelerate. However, perhaps even then, it's still too milestone related and removed from a discovery process to be helpful. I think now, I will throw my hat into Minimum Viable Progress because it speaks more to a process than crowning achievement. In the context of progress, MVP becomes a suitable classifier for bounds-checking our next deliveries.

    Join me to discuss the concept of MVP at the Product Junto on Thursday 16th March, 2023 at 6:30 PM It's a free event, we'll be meeting at the Barbican centre in London. I look forward to discussing.

    Kevin McDonagh
    tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1924818 2023-01-04T12:22:26Z 2023-01-05T10:51:34Z Closing down Storyboard

    Today, with a heavy heart, I announce the closure of Storyboard. We will cease operations and turn off all Storymaker software on Feb 1st, 2023. If you are a Custorian or Storyboard customer, please continue to read more about the next steps and how we aim to make this transition as smooth as possible.

    The backstory

    I originally started Storyboard as 'Custorian guide' to reveal the compelling stories hidden within Art exhibitions when thanks to 2020's COVID lockdown, virtual attendance became a sudden priority. Initially, our exhibitions were photogrammetry of physical exhibitions, but our analytics quickly suggested the real opportunity was in the overlaid short-tappable stories. 3D scans of exhibitions looked great, but the attendees hardly stuck around for more than a few seconds. But if just one tappable story were clicked, dwell time quickly lept from 12secs to 2 minutes on average! It was an aha moment, and we pivoted to focus more on the creation of Stories for virtual environments. I sourced and led a team to ideate, develop and deliver a Web3 system to display decentralised versions of TikTok-style stories (30-60sec video) across various virtual reality environments. It's been super exciting to pioneer a new technique of raising dwell time in virtual exhibitions. Our platform used web technologies, display kiosks, and AR to demonstrate that tappable video stories increase visitor engagement in the real world and then again in VR across many unity-based virtual worlds, including Decentraland, Somnium Space. 

    Why are you shutting down Storyboard?

    Raising engagement in virtual exhibitions is challenging, but increasing attendance has remained a more pressing need. Storyboard can reliably increase visitor engagement, but we depend on a marketable audience. Regardless of quality, in 2022 we could not guarantee a significant virtual audience would attend any virtual exhibition. We worked with small agile brands to quickly create engaging exhibitions, but their lack of overall attendance made ongoing virtual exhibitions unjustifiable, so retention of small customers remained challenging.

    Only brands big enough to invest in exhibitions for PR and skills investment alone could afford our virtual exhibitions, but such shows often took six months to source, close and create. Our pricing didn't warrant our overheads, and the available customers didn't justify the investment to standardise the process through software. 

    Startups need to exist far enough ahead of the demand to offer an untapped opportunity but not 'too' far outside observable market conditions to strain the confidence of even early investors. 

    Additionally, despite attracting 400+ Stories, 50k+ views and £13k from paying customers, we struggled to convince investors of the opportunity beyond what they believed could be quickly cannibalised by existing social networks. Although initial feedback from Creators was favourable, investors feared the additional process overhead wasn't justifiable at scale as evidence suggests we'd be unavoidably black-listed.

    There are roads ahead; however, we have no further runway after four pivots. Of course, I could blame the disastrous market conditions and unfavourable capital-raising environment, but ultimately I didn't achieve a clear Product/Market fit within the required timeframe. 

    I'm a paid customer; what happens next?

    Storyboard will honour all contracted agreements; we'll do our best to please contact kevin@storyboard.guide

    What will happen to the Storyboard Platform?

    We have developed the following audited software written in JS/Node: 

    • Storyboard's 'Storymaker': 
      • Converts videos & images into AMP Story format 
      • Deploys Stories to Google Cloud and Filecoin via IPFS
    • CMS for associating Stories with exhibitions 
    • Narrus: Backup & deploy annotated Matterport 3D captures as CSV
    • Custorian: X-Platform Tappable 'Story' Player

    If anyone wishes to make an offer for our assets, we'd be happy to hear from you. Please contact kevin@storyboard.guide

    Parting Thanks

    Revealing the world's hidden stories remains a noble aim. I thank everyone who joined our team on this adventure and gave us a glimpse of our Web3 / XR future. Everything we ambitioned will evolve in due course, and I wish future entrepreneurs the best of luck in tackling the problem of in-venue virtual engagement. 

    Kevin McDonagh
    tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1864420 2022-08-08T17:02:47Z 2022-08-09T09:45:29Z Are we Metaverse Pioneers?

    The 'World Wide Web' once held a sense of wonder. In a small Scottish town, on my bi-weekly trips to my local public library, I'd type out the addresses of webpages I'd scribbled on scraps of paper gleaned from TV and comic advertisements. It felt like prospecting; every web page was a clue within a worldwide scavenger hunt.  The same excitement to explore and contribute is not what it once was. New generations are unlikely to surf an 'internet super highway' of static text and interlaced pictures. Perhaps that same enthusiasm is once again on the horizon for 'Adventures in the Metaverse'. 

    When hot topic cultural terms such as 'The Metaverse' invade industry spaces, professional derision can sometimes leave it feeling like only a domain only for the naive. Professionals often strike down hyperbole to show their understanding of technical nuance. Yet, veterans need to accept responsibility in plotting a vision for generations to come. Accessibility to digital information is still deserving of reverence.

    Metaverse and Web3 are the "successor states" to the internet as we know it today. Everyone with strategy & budget responsibilities with a view 5 years or more requires an informed opinion. 'The Metaverse' by Matthew Ball challenged many of my preconceptions. As a result, I've come away with a newfound respect for the term 'Metaverse' and the architects stepping up to its early challenges of incorporation.

    "Web3 does not require 3D, real-time rendered, or synchronous experiences, while the Metaverse does not require decentralisation, distributed databases, or blockchains .. (Web3) is about societal formation and governance + (Metaverse) is about technology and its proliferation." - Matthew Ball, VC/author of 'The Metaverse'

    Spotify Co-founder Daniel Ek posited that the web, until now, has been translating physical into virtual; what we'd once buy as a hardware device like an alarm clock is now an app. Now in the Metaverse, we're tasked with producing 3D alarm clocks. Those with the most experience - are game developers. I didn't quite realise how the gaming industry and notably Fortnight & Roblox were not just informing the creative design principles and building the underlying technologies of the "next-generation internet" but also serving as the Metaverse's economic precedent.

    Whatever it is, your concern is required.

    A Metaverse is coming, its infrastructure, politics, communities and dependent markets will take at least 5-10 years to build. You can roll your eyes from the bylines or get into the trenches and help build towards your ideals.

    "it promises to exist as a parallel plane for human leisure, labour, and existence. Therefore, the philosophies, culture, and priorities of the companies that lead in the Metaverse era will help determine whether the future is better or worse than our current moment, rather than just more virtual or remunerative. ..An ever-growing share of our lives, labour, leisure, wealth, happiness, and relationships will be spent inside virtual worlds, rather than just extended or aided through digital devices and software. It will be a parallel plane of existence" - Matthew Ball, VC/author of 'The Metaverse'

    Some disagree that the Metaverse has anything to do with VR/AR. Personally, I believe AR is key because computing interfaces need to evolve past flat surfaces. VR today is a glimpse of UX within the AR world of tomorrow. The Metaverse has always conveyed a world between software and reality. It is a perfect popular culture corridor to push through new technology ideas. 

    More than anything, 'The Metaverse' just needs your participation. Entertain your curiosities, Make a Meta-version of yourself with Readyplayerme and join some experiences in Horizon Worlds , Spatial & Somnium Space these worlds aren't perfect, but if you wait until then, you won't be privy to the pioneering possibilities. It worked out well for the crypto crowd. They may be licking their wounds because of relative price losses, but for many, it was a life-changing hyper-cycle. I expect the same ahead for the Metaverse.

    "the economy in the Metaverse . . [will] be larger than .. the physical world" - Jensen Huang, CEO/Co-Founder of Nvidia  

    "If one central company gains control .., they will become more powerful than any government and be a God on Earth" - Tim Sweeney, Co-Founder of Epic

    Embrace the Metaverse vision

    The Metaverse is nothing less than a “next-generation internet”, a great big vision, with 30 years of cultural inspiration and much work to be done around the real world's physical and political limitations. Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, and Grace Hopper could all once only dream of a future where so much information was connected through a global network of computers. We got there, and it is terrific for many more reasons than its criticisms. However, there is no road ahead where static webpages are the only answer; new form factors and interactions across various virtualised experiences mandate a renewed creativity from all working within digital interfaces. I can think of no more holistic, galvanising term than 'The Metaverse', so let's embrace it without sarcasm or reservation. This way we'll have more fun! 

    Avid explorer, architect of the Metaverse, where might you take us on your adventure?


    Guide others through the Metaverse and get paid with Storyboard.
    Join our waiting list: www.storyboard.guide

    Kevin McDonagh
    tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1781910 2022-01-12T13:39:53Z 2022-01-12T14:46:25Z Cultivating artists, collectors and dance partners with the Leo Castelli Gallery model
    The current financial value of NFTs might make it seem otherwise, but the work of virtual galleries and digital artists need to fight for legitimacy within a much broader cultural perspective. Challengers should not lose sight of an opportunity to improve the Art world. A disruptor's job is to challenge norms rather than take residence within an old system. So while NFTs and virtual galleries are still outliers, they might take inspiration from past outliers in art who created valuable new markets while achieving cultural legitimacy. 

    There was a time when all American art was also sidelined, and it took a great diplomat who, while everyone else was about competition, he was about alliances. Our immigrant instructor was steeped in art history and managed to weave those past stories together with future fortunes. He was 'a tie salesman', a pioneer of the mega gallery, a former secret agent, the ultimate mythmaker, the Godfather of America's contemporary art world, and the quintessential late bloomer: Leo Castelli.

    "New work never threatens the past, only the present that is yesterday." - Robert Rauschenberg.

    Trad art.

    One hundred years ago, Europe/Paris alone was synonymous with serious, professional art. Europe had centuries of masters and movements from Romanticism to Surrealism. The Robber barons of the industrial revolution imported their reputation in the form of old master paintings. 

    This isn't to say that there was no artistic talent in America; on the contrary, world war 1&2 had sucked up the lion's share of creative talent and work into America, especially NYC. 

    Post-war, while everyone else was recovering, the US was a boiling pot of creation. Artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning expressed that energy as an exciting new form of art in abstract expressionism. 

    But outside America, abstract expressionism was regarded as an American fad. People were losing their minds in accepting that grown adults could produce canvases that looked like the mindless strokes of children. Some felt attacked and insulted in contemporary comparison to the decades-long journey of masters perfecting a figurative or abstract skill. Further movements weren't possible by Americans, and it was a dead-end, a bubble that would pop and then we'd get back to the evolving tradition of European artistic mastery. 

    When something looks 'so' different and seemingly comes out of a void, it is seen as an oddity. But, capitalising on the momentum of abstract expressionism, it took business visionaries such as Leo Castelli to build an ongoing new market for artistic talent and collectors. 

    Audiences outside the US didn't want to be left behind. They believed in an evolving art tradition within Leo's artists. His gallery and artists contextualised an idea of the world's displacing European talent through World wars. But the Bauhaus lived on through Josef Albers teachings at Black mountain college and now through Robert Rauchenberg's shocking new work from a new world. 


    An overnight success, 50 years in the making

    Remarkably, Leo Castelli (1907–1999) started his career late in life; his gallery opened when he was nearly 50. But, in truth, Leo had long had an active interest in art long before he started his NYC gallery. 

    During the first quarter of his life, Leo's second name was Krausz. Under the compulsion of Mussolini's government, which required the Italianization of family names, his father adopted his wife's maiden name. Although being born and married into sufficient means, the political turmoil of World war 1&2 jostled a young Leo Castelli around Europe before he was forced to emigrate to NYC. Not many gallerists can ever claim time in the American secret service, but that's precisely how he secured his citizenship in exchange for his service during WW2, owing mainly to his affable nature and speaking five languages.

    After meeting his wife in his late 20s, Castelli repeatedly tried to represent artists as both a side hustle and intermittent full-time gig. In his first gallery in Paris, he first tried out his innovative stipend model called 'artist fund', where the artists all pitched in to support one another through challenging periods. Unfortunately, his gallery in Paris never really got off the ground due to the bad timing of the encroaching war. After the war, he tried to represent the gallery as an American counterpart, but it was a crowded secondary art market. 

    After his military service, Leo lived a life blessed by his father in law, who blessed him with a house in NYC and a job for ten years as a manager in his clothing factory! During this time, he became infatuated with the art museums of NYC and surrounded himself with the country's most notable artists. The majority of artists for which he would gain initial acclaim before opening his gallery he met before opening his gallery as he made it a habit to frequent artist studios. Castelli met Jasper Johns when he was visiting Robert Rauchenberg's studio and popped into the communal fridge in John's studio for ice. He offered Johns a gallery show on the spot and prioritised it over Rauchenberg's! When Castelli gallery eventually did host Rauchenberg's exhibition, it only made one sale, and that was to Leo Castelli. We all catch a break at different points in life, make sure and do all you can to put yourself in a place where when opportunity comes knocking, you want to go where it can take you.

    Lessons from Leo for Gallerists

    Skin in the game

    "Leo came to me and offered to give me a regular monthly stipend, guaranteed for three years, and told me that he would not expect to sell anything during that time. I never expected to find anyone willing to support experimental work. I could not believe it. It was like getting a Rockefeller grant. Leo has always been generous, supportive, intimate, and friendly, a throwback to another century." - Robert Rauchenberg.

    Castelli gallery distributed regular monthly stipends over three, four, even five years that freed artists up from non-creative concerns - "as French publishers used to do for their authors," he gamely pointed out. Leo considered himself a patron of the arts and acted similarly to great patrons of the past, such as the Medicis. This, of course, made artist desertions extremely rare.

    Leo expected no less conviction from his business partnerships. Even his gallery customers occasionally evolved into partnerships as he built on their appetite. For example, Joe Helman's relationship evolved from the collector into a dealer and then a patron through monthly checks. 

    "When I was in St. Louis, I [contributed to stipends for] Don Judd and Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman, and part of the Stella payment. This was an outgrowth of my paying him $500 a month. Then after I became a dealer, we started sharing artists…" - Joe Helman.

    In this case, a customer eventually started assuming some of the risk of supplying that upfront stipend, presumably for early access to artwork. 

    Don't worry about your slice; just bake a bigger pie 

    Leo Castelli became a figurehead of American Art because he was willing to be a conduit. 

    "He was interested in artists; he would come to all the parties. He especially liked to dance: that's how he got involved with artists." But, she continued more critically, "he was a tie salesman, he had a factory! It was his wife, more than he" - Ernestine Lassaw.

    Success is a team sport. "Castelli had the ear, and Ilena the eye."* Regardless of their roles, collectors were demanding more 'American hero' artists and Castelli gallery was supplying them as a team. Leo and his wife fostered communities everywhere they went by paying their way through dinners and alcohol far outside of what artists could afford and taking people on holiday. They used their means where they couldn't contribute their artworks. In exchange, they became part of an exclusive club of artists (The Club, 39 East Eighth Street, 1950), which formally met to candidly debate new myths and how they should redefine themselves for a new generation. Leo and Ileana Castelli, together with the dealer Charles Egan, were the only non-artists to join as founding members. Castelli would later capitalise upon this information asymmetry through his network and knowledge. 

    At the time art was sold from 57th Street galleries in NYC. But Castelli was globally ambitious and relied on a network of satellite dealers. Castelli Gallery achieved great success in NYC, but its global network brought its unparalleled deal flow to a market they controlled. When Leo and Ileana divorced, they remained close as she deployed the same technique in Paris. The unsung art hero, Ilena's poor father, again foots the bill as she took three years to wine and dine artists, host shows and generally turn her gallery into a bastion of American art within Paris. We saw people, and people saw us. That's what counted." - Ileana Castelli.

    Ilena would even send collectors to NYC at Leo's cost. Castelli made a deal with his ex-wife where she effectively became a reseller of any works he didn't sell from his NYC gallery. He then extended this same model across America, and this opened a new incoming market to Castelli to continually rejuvenate himself through new trends, talent and dealers. Castelli Gallery became a brand and a uniquely gated market. Leo was a sole gateway to the sacred works of these great American artists, second only to museums. 

    There was a limited amount of artwork that artists could produce. Roy Lichtenstein typically sold eighteen to twenty-five paintings a year at high prices. By 1990, his Reflections On "The Artist's Studio" went for $1,600,000; his total sales for that year topped $8 million, on which Castelli received his share of $800,000.

    Collectors would have to compete for a privileged position at one of Lichtenstein's annual works. Not just for their walls but also their wallets. After the war, America passed tax laws that made it advantageous to give things to museums. 

    "The [individual] tax rates got as high as 78 per cent. So you would have a picture for, say, $100,000, and you'd get a $200,000 appraisal on it, and you'd get seventy-eight times two is a $156,000 tax write-off for this $100,000 picture!" - Robert Pincus-Wittenm, 2008

    Leo Castelli was the world's first mega-gallerist because of his mega network. The meteoric rise in prices over the next 50 years has much to thank Castelli for in laying a template for artist/gallerist/collector co-operation and market-making. However, Leo didn't just aspire to sit in an NYC gallery; he evolved art's tradition through new models and new heroes. Castelli's network of galleries created a new globally networked model that represented how he saw the world and cultivated a community of dancing partners everywhere he partied. 


    • Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli by Annie Cohen-Solal
    • *Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art
    • ILEANA SONNABEND Ambassador for The New - MoMA
    • Robert Rauchenberg: Man at work, BBC/RM in association with the Guggenheim Museum and Ovation; dir. Chris Granlund (Chicago: Home Vision Arts, 1997)
    • Picture from Leo's brithday party in 1985 courtesy of Gallery98  
    • Andy Warhol, Portrait - Leo Castelli, 1979, Mazzoleni collection, Bergamo; EF Arte, Milan.
    • Photo of Leo Castelli with Willem de Kooning in back by vaccora photo
    • Photo of Leo Castelli with Larry Gagosian & Charles Saatchi on holiday in st Barthelemy by Jean Pigozzi, 1991

    Kevin McDonagh
    tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1741586 2021-09-29T11:32:43Z 2021-09-29T14:54:10Z Art Basel 2021 & audience impressions of in-gallery guides

    I've always been curious about Art Basel and this year was an opportunity for me to visit the Art fair and now I want to share some industry learnings. Equipped with Custorian's latest live exhibition demos, I urgently sought first impressions from Gallerists on how the beta examples below use Insta & AMP stories as in-gallery guides. Judging from my cards, I'd say I managed to talk at any length with 30-40 gallerists over four days, and I'd say 10 of those were significant conversations.

    Here are the exhibitions I discussed: 

    About Art Basel

    First of all, Art Basel is the most significant art fair globally; pre-covid, it attracted 60k+ visitors to 272 gallery booths from 33 countries. It's a very large although traditional booth based affair spread across three enormous halls.

    Outside of the main fair, for a sensational short week, the city of Basel becomes an Art extravaganza hosting many satellite exhibitions. Some prominent notables are Design Miami/Basel, LISTE, June, VOLTA & "I never read art book". It's an opportunity for enthusiasts and professionals to see the big private industry picture and for me to put the early demos of custorian to the test. 

    Art Basel means big business. International visitors paying the high price for entry, accommodation & travel narrow down to the audience to the relatively few big-ticket collectors in the world. Booths in the main fair's halls are leased at £50-150k for space, even before you consider staff, shipping and installing the art. The list of exhibitors reads like a who's who of international Art galleries. 

    This year, Liste, another excellent fair is allowed into the same hall as the main fair where as previous years it's had to run alongside off-site as a challenger. Liste is for younger galleries and charges £6-14k per booth drawing 81 galleries from 33 countries. This crew might be less socially validated, but to me, loads more interesting. Unfortunately, even with the shared location, the attendance of this event and the other slightly less trumpeted onsite event, 'June art fair', seemed to be far lower than expected. I'd be surprised if 10k visitors from the main halls made it over to Liste, never mind June, which is a shame because the curation of both their areas was way more compelling. On top of this, Gallerists continually mentioned a notable missing US and Asian buyer audience. Some of the the exhibitors believed the footfall to have reduced by around 70% although I think that an exaggeration, perhaps it was down 50% from previous years? 

    After Hall 1, I'd guess footfall dropped 30%-50% in each area. So in this way, the top 1% of galleries can get the top 1% of artists & artworks seen. 

    What was I asking?

    The Galleries at Basel spend big money to be there and speak with their target customers; they didn't want to bother with a pesky startup trying to do customer research. So, it was challenging to get time with Gallerists on the right terms. However, many generously offered their time after their day, at dinner or were otherwise exhausted! 

    The high stakes environment made for a tough crowd, but the snubs are worth it for the rare, candid feedback from knowledgeable potential customers. You might think you know, but only through many 1-1 conversations can you form a realistic impression of customer needs. 

    My questions:

    • How did they plan and share their catalogues & exhibitions?
    • Could they walk me through their last sale at home & the exhibition? 
    • How did they measure the success of their last exhibition? 
    • What was their most successful exhibition?
    • Where did they meet their last customer? 
    • Where did their customer see the artwork? 
    • When did their last on/offline conversation result in sales?
    • Did the gallerist buy because of the work or the artist?

    What did I learn?

    Sales make the wheels go round, especially big-ticket sales from regular collectors. Of course! Although deep down, I always questioned how sales motivated commercial Art Gallery programmes and activities. It was confirmed time and time again implicitly at the mention of how their targets dictated exhibition plans. 

    A Galleries key artists drive sales and not so much the particular artworks. Many artworks were sold sight unseen, but more often, it was via a PDF over email. When there was a choice it often just came down to preference on colours but that wasn't a deal breaker if the artist was a big name. Collectors still safely live in the land of the PDF. The 50+-year-olds own the spending power. A few galleries I spoke with mentioned that their big-money collectors ($100k+) aren't in any way computer savvy. These galleries also see a 5-10 year runway and don't feel responsible for innovating and engaging different audiences. They believe that to be an art institution's job.

    It was really surprising to me that there was so little mention of crypto currency or VR. In fact across the main and all the satellite events, Nigel Draxler had the only booth which in anyway tried to engage with the burgeoning technology. I suspect that was for the very reason I mentioned, it's simply someone else's battle to be fought. These Gallerists were here to make hay while the sun was seldom shining. 

    A big theme was that the vast majority of gallerists are not and do not wish to become content creators. So, on the face of it, when Custorian is approaching them with a guide based interface, they are hesitant about the production overhead.  

    In saying that, Gallerists were impressed and excited by the demos and suggested opportunities to work together. Gallerists personally want engagement; when pushed, they are, of course, passionate about the opportunity to extend the reach, but they feel their time is limited to what might directly result in sales. So both content production and the debatable ROI poses a bottleneck in Custorian's current adoption with gallerists.

    Post exhibition…

    Custorian's north star is the ability to increase art engagement. I now realise that while desirable, engagement is not a driving motivator for private galleries where it doesn't result in a direct sale. 

    I started Custorian because even though I love contemporary art. I felt unwelcome in private art Galleries. Interviewing Artists, Gallerists & Collectors, even bonafide participants in the Art World feel unwelcome! Art is the only industry where imposter syndrome lasts forever. Why is that?

    There is a chasm to be crossed to extend contemporary art's audience meaningfully. I didn't see much evidence of the microcosm being challenged at Basel, perhaps because this is the art market centre and not the art world. Lots to ponder over. 

    This article featured artwork by: 

    Kevin McDonagh
    tag:kevinmcdonagh.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1588965 2020-08-31T12:17:12Z 2022-08-04T18:41:08Z Where I found Art

    A boat docked into the wet fog of night on the island of Naoshima. As I cautiously stepped onto the harbour, I realised I'd reached the limit of my friend's scribbled directions. Now I glanced around for something called a yurt? I was 26 and, until recently, would have considered myself something of an anti-traveller, content to sit behind a laptop and having neither the means nor inclination to travel further than a few miles from Ayrshire in Scotland. Some tectonic shifts in my life circumstances had brought me to Japan, on the holiday of a lifetime, feeling increasingly open to change. During the preceding week, I had joined a brief and unlikely reunion of Glaswegians in Osaka to support a mutual friend. A complicated romance and a simple, beautiful wedding had brought us together here on the other side of the world. Leading up to the big day, twelve close friends had slept on the floor of the groom's single-bedroom apartment in Amagasaki. Somewhere during this chaos of excitement, without further elaboration, two backpackers insisted I change my plans to include taking the bullet train south to catch a boat to incorporate one of their highlights. I had uncharacteristically accommodated, and so now I stood in the rain with my girlfriend, feeling lost on a remote island.  

    The other three passengers drove off in their cars. I'm guessing they worked at the island's one and famously luxurious hotel. In 2008, navigation was not so quickly done in the heat of the moment with a Moto RAZR. So perhaps I was then more open to the interpretive dance of the older man standing at the dock. He had obviously pegged us as tourists and quietly approached us with subtle hand gestures. A sophisticated practitioner of mime, without any shared language, he convinced us into the backseat of his Toyota. Rolling and shaking down the wet roads, we reflected that perhaps jumping into the cars of strange mime artists was a little careless even without options but fortunately, we arrived in a clearing in front of what I guessed must be a Yurt. 

    Pushing aside the damp canvas door, the morning presented a breathtaking expanse of sea on the edge of an Art island. I wandered around from that point onwards in a daze.

    Naoshima was and remains today the pinnacle of my experience of contemporary art. I couldn't have asked for a more comprehensive introduction. Walking around the island presents works by David Hockney, Cy Twombly, Giacommeti, Lee Ufan, Anthony Caro, Yves Kline, Richard Long, Yayoi Kusama, Antony Gormley, Basquiat, Bruce Nauman and many more. It is incredible.

    This quiet utopia is the satisfied ambition of Soichiro Fukutake. Since the early 90s, he's been cultivating a collection of spiritually fulfilling, 'Art shrines' around the theme of Nature and Art. The main gallery, Chichu, means "under the earth" in Japanese and is almost entirely underground because of local environmental protection laws. Japan's most decorated Architect, Tadao Ando dreamt up this subterranean solution as the Japanese publishing billionaire's first ally in bringing his vision to life. Tado described this place as "something of a culmination of his forty years of being an architect". Here in Naoshima, he found "spatial pureness" to which he could map his own matrix of space". Here he carved galleries into deep recesses of Naoshima's hills, almost imperceptibly sculpted into the ground until closer inspection. Up close, their jutting angular cement ceilings are sensational and unlikely. More believable perhaps as something temporarily erected as a film set and composed of convincing yet flexible materials. Like the labyrinthian headquarters of a Bond villain. Ironically, Naoshima actually was the filming location for "You only live twice", a Bond film in the '60s. But there is no film trickery, the art, nature, and the walls are all real. Thick solid concrete walls support the hills as underground temples built to last a thousand years.

    Monet's last years were spent painting his beautiful water garden in Giverny. As his eyesight continued to deteriorate, he continued to paint even after, eventually in his 80s; he was legally 'blind'. The first underground gallery is built around five of the best examples of his paintings during this period, literally presenting them in their best light. Tadao based this space on the preparations Monet himself had taken to display them before he died in 1926. In a true Japanese homestyle, before entering the gallery, visitors are asked to remove their shoes. The soft white slippers of viewers tread lightly over a floor of satisfyingly rounded, white stones. The chamber is flooded with natural light as if walking amongst the clouds. The swirling galaxies of colour and reflections in these two-metre canvases have more in common with a photograph taken by Hubble than a garden pond.   

    Upon the first gallery's completion, Fukutake invited Walter De Maria and James Turrell for a private audience. I don't expect two of the 20th centuries' most innovative artists are easily impressed; I do, however, expect they were blown away. Upon experiencing the majesty of the place, they both accepted the opportunity to produce site-specific works supported by Tado Ando's architecture. 

    It is through De Maria's and Turrell's work I truly felt revelation. After having bathed in the colours of Monet's water gardens, I didn't expect more than pictures. I put my shoes back on, and my feet led me down a long, dark, cold concrete corridor. Ducking through a rectangular opening, I emerged into another sensory flood of light and symmetry. I stood dumbstruck in the grand hall of Walter De Maria's 'Time/Timeless/No Time'. The lines, materials and architecture all around me were a perfectly balanced feat of ingenuity, mystifying yet seemingly essential in purpose. The immense chamber was lined with gold, shining pillars. I felt like I attended a congregation within a cathedral in praise of post-scarcity. Atop the steps of my ascending gaze, sat a substantial 2.2m polished black granite sphere. A black hole instead of a pulpit, its mass sucked in reflection. As I approached, my likeness warped around its surface, looming above and around me as the Monolith in Kubrick/Clarke's "2001, a space odyssey". I wasn't sure what I was supposed 'to do'. I stood quietly as the weight of this place tolerated my presence. My eyes scanned the hall with a genuine sense of awe. This space invited me to be still. I was not aware of the creator's philosophical ponderings, hints at Jiddu Krishnamurti's thoughts on introspection that he had played in a band with Lou reed or that this was one of, if not the last land work he ever created. A sum achievement of a life's work he would never see realised while he contemplated his life.

    I sat down halfway up the steps and cried. Quietly and without knowing why. It felt like an epiphany. 

    Turrell's work had a similar effect on me. In "Backside of the Moon", as my eyes adjusted to new spectrums of light and I stepped through what I'd previously thought a pitch-black room, I began to question all I found familiar. Naoshima refuelled my sense of wonder. That day forward marks a time I started thinking of art beyond any aesthetic. Through art, I now crave to share experiences and connections. Every day I explore and expect more.

    "Any good work of art should have at least ten meanings." 
    — Walter De Maria

    A conversation with ourselves

    Appreciation of art begins within you. You may or may not have to go to the other side of the world. That's just what it took for me. I had reached a turning point. Recent life events had me feeling grateful. In a faraway, unworldly place, away from all that which had sculpted my former self-image, I was open to thinking and observing differently. Naoshima pulled my thinking far from where it could ever again return to in a resting state.          

    Building a unique appreciation for contemporary art is extremely difficult. We see what we recognise and aspire to in the world. Our critique is only ever going to be a reflection of our reality. But what are these foundations built upon? Our expectations are all primed through popular entertainment such as Hollywood films and age-old human achievements. Unlike the majority of entertainment, Contemporary art is often not passive. It may be unfinished, uncomfortable, or alive. Its dialogue may be difficult to comprehend and require further intensive inquiry. Artists necessarily must often work far ahead of accepted forms of communication, and in this way, they are prophetic. Before Naoshima, I didn't enter galleries because I thought them full of nonsense. After Naoshima, ironically, I saw abstractions in artworks being the only thing which might transcend nonsense.

    I wasn't looking for a change, but I was open to it inside myself like never before. I have since learned I can't predict similar occasions, but I can prepare. Every day presents an opportunity, through art or otherwise, to be thrown outside our accepted appreciation. Whether alive or inanimate, I consider every next encounter as an open-ended story for both parties. After all, to ourselves, now is all that matters. Artworks can be excellent philosophical vehicles of thinking. Next time you engage with a work of art, challenge yourself by playing devil's advocate. 

    Ask yourself anew.


    Kevin McDonagh