Jack the Pelican Presents - R.I.P.

Jack the Pelican Presents - Don Carroll

- Keith Wagstaff talks to artist William Powhida and Don Carroll of Jack the Pelican Presents about the state of the art scene in Williamsburg today.

- NYFA.org interview with Don Carroll and Christian Haye.



Anonymous said...


Jack the Pelican consistently fails to pay artists. They've owed me money for years. I left because I was afraid they might actually sell more (and not pay.)

They also damaged artwork and didn't offer any repairs or reparation.

Don is charming when he's interested in the beginning, but he moves on quickly. He gets drunk at his openings and says boorish things to his artists. (His favorite line "you're not such a great painter - I can paint you under the table!")

kalm james said...

Jack the Pelican is a gallery whose influence far exceeds its actuality. This space, run on a shoe string, has caught the attention of, raised the hackles of, and generally tweaked the sensibilities of more followers of the Williamsburg scene than anybody. Don is a complex guy, and I can’t vouch for his business practices, but you can count on him to push things to the edge. We used to applaud these characteristics, not condemn them. Probably not the place to go if you’re a serious “careerist”.

Anonymous said...

Don reviewed two series of paintings and photographs and provided honest, insightful criticism with art historical references. I really appreciated his feedback; it was the best that I had received. And I've never met the man - speaks volumes.

There's a great interview of Don and Christian Hale on nyfa.org's website.

Anonymous said...

Question for the first anonymous comment:

Did you have a contract with the gallery regarding the payment? I'm a grad student and wants to know how to avoid such bad situation for the future.

the first anonymous said...

To answer the question from Anon July 21 - we had a consignment agreement that stated payment to the artist within 30 days of the gallery being paid. The terms of the form were fairly standard. It hasn't helped me get paid, although it might help if I took them to court. Timely payment seems a pervasive problem with many galleries. My current gallery (otherwise great) haven't always honored the 30 day rule, but they do pay as soon as they can, usually within a few months . To figure if this is going to be a problem you have to be a good judge of character. Also talk to a few of the artists the gallery shows before you commit to working with a gallery. And read this blog!

To respond to the other comments, I agree with Mr. Kalm and certainly don't condemn those qualities he mentions. The problem is that it is happening at the expense of the artists. And I too had a great studio visit with Don at the start of our relationship where he seemed to really get everything I was doing. He is smart and knowledgeable, but a train wreck on the business end. Perhaps the best thing to hope for in a relationship with Don is to get one show, sell nothing, and get out. But generally I advise that if Don is interested in your work, then eventually someone else will be too, so don't get involved with him.

Jack said...

Hi and gosh, that's quite an accusation! This is Don. Wow. Your statement that Jack the Pelican consistently fails to pay our artists is flat-out libelous. If we owe you money, I'd love to know about it and I'd love to pay you. Honestly, I haven't the faintest idea who you are. I invite you to just like...maybe tell me. And if it's true, I am sincerely sorry. Let's fix it.

As far I know, we are absolutely paid up in full with all our artists (except for one who is satisfied with our payment schedule). I'm not calling you a liar with regards to your own situation. Is it possible that we didn't pay you? We've sold many many artworks over the years; it is possible you slipped through the cracks. Yes. But if so, please don't get paranoid on me and assume this reflects my intention. Please forgive me if I am mistaken. Please, contact me and get paid.

Gallerists are people too. We respond to kindness, more than to bitterness and hostility. A relationship with a gallery is like any other kind of relationship. It's about trust, mutual support and communication. A relationship is a two-sided street. And every one is unique. Clearly, you and I had a very bad relationship (if indeed we had one). I'm not saying you're entirely to blame for that. But nor am I. If I made the statement you allege, I'm betting you had it coming. I don't know what happened. I don't know the context. I don't know who you are. But—and again I am not calling you a liar—if it's true, it seems we were sparring... our relationship had already collapsed. Sounds like maybe I was trying to be funny. Did I say it in a funny voice? Considering all the conversations I have had over the years, that you would single that out as indicative of how I talk to people is just ridiculous...and frankly, not very nice. And I think it says a lot about you and your character that you would advise people to just show with us to advance their career and then dump us. Interesting logic—take advantage of the gallery because they're evil. Think about it.

Are you by any chance the artist who brought the German collector into the gallery to show off your exhibition and then made a side deal with him behind our back? Yeah, the work did look pretty good on the walls of the gallery. I'm glad he liked the show. Happy to finance your presentation. Sorry you don't have a gallery in New York anymore. I promise I didn't tell anyone. Even though you knowingly screwed me over, I don't go around trying to destroy people's careers. ...Or are you the artist who tried to cut us out of the deal after the collector I brought to your studio expressed interest? Gee, maybe you could have just done it without slandering me to justify yourself (and scaring the collector away from both of us). Most artists don't do that kind of thing. It's not smart. People always find out. Small art world. And it's just kind of a pretty rotten thing to do to someone who has spent so much time, energy and money promoting you. But artists are people too. And some people are just self-serving jerks. Thank god, most understand that to make anything happen, you have to work together.

You are absolutely right about one thing, I'm not a great businessman. I am terribly disorganized. That's why I don't run the gallery. You're apparently very misinformed about the way things work around here. Eva Frosch, who is the gallery director is one of the most organized and professional people you'll ever meet. She's Swiss. She's powerfully intelligent, beautiful (Sorry, Eva, I couldn't resist), charming. And I'll tell ya, she runs a really tight ship.

I sincerely believe that young artists should work with young galleries. They should grow together. An established gallery just isn't going to bring the same kind of passion to what they're doing. But there's something that young artists should know. A young gallery is not as solvent as an established one (provided the owner doesn't have a trust fund or a powerful backer). It's really really hard to make a gallery work. Despite the best of intentions, you can get into trouble pretty quick. And a lot of us aren't great business people. We just believe in the labor of love.

You want the dirt, you got it. I have worked all these years on the gallery without any compensation whatsoever. Not a penny. To survive, I work another full-time job as a creative director in fashion retail. It's a stressful job, sometimes 60-70 hour weeks. I come home and I work on gallery stuff. Weekends too, I work at the gallery. That's seven days a week. It's exhausting. As an artist, you probably have a similar struggle trying to make ends meet. Yeah, it's not a smart business proposition. But sometimes you just believe. In the six years we've been in existence, I have had the honor of paying several hundred thousand dollars of my own hard-earned money to keep the gallery afloat. It was never my intention. But it seems worthwhile. I truly believe the gallery is a vital part of the community. And I know we've helped many many artists. And if you think I did it as in investment, you're kidding yourself.

It's a funny thing. I have no inherent interest in a career in fashion retail. I do it for the money so that if that the gallery is to find itself on shaky ground, I can be there to buoy it up. Several years ago, we found ourselves suddenly in a deep hole. There were a number of factors. A lot of it was organizational structure. I had a partner in the gallery then. You may remember Matt. Amazing guy, but like me, disorganized. Instead of divvying up responsibilities, we shared them. He was there some days. I was there others. Both of us were writing checks on the same account. Dumb idea. And frankly we were confused about who had done what. Who had been paid and who hadn't. Neither of us was very good about dealing with money. It's a flurry of checks coming in and checks going out every day. You really have to watch it. It was a disaster. Very quickly, out of the blue, we realized we were in deep in the red. It was painful to see that we owed artists money and that the coffers were empty. I can tell you this is like hell on earth for a gallerist. Bottom line, we were absolutely committed to paying our artists. At the time I was writing full time for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was my dream job, but I was making scarcely enough money to survive. Matt was just starting off as a contractor and had made some mistakes and was equally penniless. We just didn't have the money, nor the means to get it. We discussed going out of business. It's the closest we've ever come. I'm sure that many galleries have confronted the same horror (and many others will be soon). The really terrifying thing is that you know that in order to make money as a gallery, you have to spend it. Yes, art fairs are high stakes poker for naively optimistic gallerists. Another bad art fair, and the hole gets deeper.

It really seemed back then there was no way out. Fortunately, an opportunity presented itself and I made the decision to leave the Museum world that I loved to take a high paying job in fashion, precisely so that I would have the wherewithal to pay these people back. It took a little while and a lot of understanding and patience on the part of the artists—there were five that I recall (we've easily sold the works of closer to 70). Finally, I had the money to deal with the situation. Also I am very grateful to a number of collectors, particularly Howard Tullman, who knew our situation and helped us out with some purchases. And so pay the artists we did—in full. If this is not entirely accurate and my pre-Eva sloppy accounting practices missed someone, please by all means come forward.

I am very proud to say that the fortunes of Jack the Pelican are truly reversed. And over the last year, we have been hugely successful and in fact—in no small part due to the efforts of Eva Frosch and a number of our artists that everyone suddenly seems to love—Jack the Pelican has been smoothly sailing in the black. I might have pitched in a little here or there. But really, not much. And I'm amazed. Our operation expenses are approximately $20,000 a month. That means we've had to sell $40,000 a month (even during the summer doldrums) just to break even. And I think that's pretty damn good for a dumb little gallery in Brooklyn.

We could probably be a much stronger gallery if I could commit myself full time. But I don't plan on doing that any time soon. We need the security of my other income. I realize that it is important to have a big buffer, precisely so that we will never again have to juggle money, no matter what unexpected expenses suddenly come at us. And, like many, I am cautious about what may be around the corner for the economy. I am pleased to say that Jack the Pelican will continue, even if we never sell another painting. Sure, it would hurt like hell, but I am that committed, and thankfully I can now do it.

My "critic" suggests that I am not committed to my artists, that I get excited and then lose interest. And I can see why. In large part, it's because, dude, I'm working. I'm sad I don't have more time to see other shows or to do my own work or to do more studio visits, or even just take a nap. But the thing that really hurts is that I can't give more attention to the individual artists I work with. I focus on upcoming shows. That's my job. For everything else, there's Eva. She's the gallery director and she's damn good at it. And, when I am working on an upcoming show, I am really focused. And when that show comes down, I am on to the next. I have to be. Yes, admittedly, I could do a much better job of showing the love. Point taken. Most of our artists understand I'm just really really busy. But some of them sometimes can feel ignored and unloved. And sometimes people who feel unloved and unappreciated develop serious resentment, as is evident from this person's remarks.... If my "critic" further takes issue with my drinking wine at openings, please know that I was raised to believe it is rude to be more sober than my guests. Call me Irish. Jack the Pelican's openings are parties. Everyone's drunk. I long ago realized that many of the collectors whom one might want to impress with cold sober professionalism do themselves prefer to lubricate their social adventures. More to the point, sober scions of world power do not come to openings in Brooklyn. They don't like crowds of hipsters. They come in the afternoon, when it is quiet. If I have said boorish things to you, I think you'll also have to admit that I mostly said pretty damn nice things. Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe that to be my nature.

Seriously. If work of yours was damaged in this gallery and you brought it to my attention and asked for compensation, I have a hard time believing I told you to go jump in a lake. If you know me, you know I'm not like that. It's a reality—sometimes things do get damaged. No matter how scrupulous the care, it happens. And when it does, I am heartbroken. But I will be honest with you here. I think we have a pretty good record. I'm guessing that several thousand artworks have passed through this gallery, and I know personally of 7 artworks in nearly six years that have been damaged. A number of things can happen. Minor scuffs and abrasions happen to works that are pulled repeatedly from the racks to show to clients. In one case, it was actually a viewer who came into the gallery and intentionally damaged something. In another case, we had a flood. In yet another, a piece one day collapsed on its own and we were accused of mishandling it. I sincerely do not believe this was the case. But still, yes, I felt terrible. When something happens to an artwork, it is our policy and practice to immediately tell the artist and see what we can figure out. In one case, when the work was not reparable (the painted surface stuck to cardboard a new intern had packed it in, without plastic), we agreed on a fair price to our mutual satisfaction and I paid the artist. I know a little bit about taking care of art. When I was getting my MFA, I was trained in conservation at the Yale University Art gallery. After graduating, I worked as a preparator for number of galleries. I can assure you there is nothing careless about our treatment of artworks. As anyone who has ever worked here will tell you, it is number one among our concerns. If our mishandling of your work resulted in damage, please let's talk about it.

Concerning another query in this chain, if you're afraid of not getting paid by a gallery, it's not really all that complicated. Yes, get a consignment form. If the gallery doesn't pay you as agreed, my advice would be to try talking to them. Don't assume the worst. Don't be hostile and accusatory. If they agree to pay and don't, remind them. Remember, they are working on many things at once, putting out fires, dealing with many artists, and it is very possible they have just overlooked it. Try to work out a payment plan. If it is clear they are giving you the run-around, talk to New York Lawyers for the Arts. They can be very helpful in resolving the matter to your satisfaction. If nothing works, they will also help you take it to court.

Yes, there are unscrupulous galleries. Just as there are unscrupulous artists. This forum in theory could help artists avoid the bad apples. I have to say, though, it seems instead to have evolved into something more like a witch hunt. Most gallerists I have had the pleasure to know are working really hard to help artists. It's often thankless. The hours are long. The pay sucks. If they're struggling to make it all work, try to understand and show a little appreciation. In so many cases, proceeds from the sale of the work don't come close to the costs of showing it. And further, it's the relationships with collectors that they've spent years cultivating that in many cases are the very reason the work will sell. (Not that it's not amazing and that the collector wouldn't have loved it regardless, but buying it is another matter.) Part of what they're buying when they buy the work is the gallerist's integrity. And when you casually rape the reputation of a gallery (in the name of helping artists), you're actually doing a pretty good job of undermining the opportunity for other artists to actually have their work sold.

There may be some grain of truth in much of what is written here. I don't know. But it parades around as the truth. And it seems to offer bitter people who didn't get the love a convenient opportunity to spread lies and innuendo. And really, that someone would feel empowered to post anonymously is just low... I guiltily admit that in the past I have on occasion taken prurient interest in reading some of the snipes at other gallerists. Hey, who doesn't want to see the mighty fall? But it really is a lot of dirty laundry. And it seems to me that maybe all of us could do a better job of communicating with each other. Not all relationships are great. Sometimes they just don't work. We all have those. But, you know, there always is another side to the story. This blog is very one-sided and it promotes distrust between artists and galleries. It's just not healthy. Right now, I'm running around in a dither, wondering who have I shown who would treat me so shabbily? It makes it harder for me to trust my own artists. Guys, this should not be an adversarial relationship.

Hey, if I did or said something disrespectful to you or your work, if I said 'boorish' things to you, if you think I cheated you in any way, I'm really genuinely very sorry. But right now, it's me who's feeling cheated.

Don't worry, please come forward. If you really feel that I did something wrong to you, I'm not going to hold it against you. If your claim is legitimate, let's get you paid. But please, no more dirty laundry. I'm really tryin' here.

Oh, and thanks, Loren, for your kind support—and other commenter too. It really does mean something.

Anonymous said...

That's a lot of info there buddy, but useful.

By the way, can we start adding artists to this blog? Maybe galleries deserve to know which artists are difficult with which to work.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was one longass post. But toward the end was this little nugget of sense:
And when you casually rape the reputation of a gallery (in the name of helping artists), you're actually doing a pretty good job of undermining the opportunity for other artists to actually have their work sold.

Good point, Jack

Anonymous said...

funny, I know several people who have had dealings with Jack the P, and I checked these comments to see if they were going to be what I thought they'd be. And they were. It's not just one disgruntled artist, there are several I know that have had complaints about not getting paid. Lets face it, it happens at a lot of galleries. I think this is a good forum, gallerists take advantage of artists all the time. I'm happy to see the post by Don though, I may forward this to the artists I know who have expressed these sentiments, and they can all come forward together.

Anonymous said...

DON - Thou Dost Protest Too Much!

Don and Matt at J the P DO NOT PAY ARTISTS. THEY DIS GIRL ARTISTS the most! Shame. ... wise up!

Joe Heaps said...


Anonymous said...

this gallery has a good sense of humor. anyone who is willing to give up their space for a month to show my work has got to.
don gave me a lot of constructive criticism and inspired me to make a lot of paintings in a short time.
he also spent a lot more time trying to communicate with me about my work than any other gallery i've worked with so far.
although i haven't sold much for them, they were very cool about letting me trade with other artists through them. they also paid a lot of shipping costs for artfairs and even for some trades.
also, the show got a really good review.
if you get the chance, you should totally show with them.

my only regret is that i didn't have the foresight to snap some incriminating photos of don after the opening.

Anonymous said...

The Pelican like any one (artist/gallery/or dealer) has it faults; minor and grand... but the Pelican is still one of the few places in New York where art can be art, where experiment and the avant guard can call home. Where even if there is nothing at all to sell and utterly no way to profit off a show Don may still be interested cause it moves art forward... that speaks volumes. I will always be proud of the time spent there and draw from it how I go forward.

Anonymous said...

First, this gallery is still in business and not "RIP".

JTP has an exciting program and takes risks that many other galleries would not, but they are terrible about paying their artists and taking care of artwork (ie not damaging it) in their possession. I have personally had trouble getting paid and know many others who have had similar problems. I have also seen/heard about many pieces getting damaged. You do not want to enter their artwork storage area!!

Don is great as an "idea" guy but terrible at the business side of things. Very few artists or gallery staff work with him for more than a year or two. I enjoy visiting this gallery, and if you are a young artist looking to show in New York you could do much worse, but they're not going to do much for your career besides giving you a venue to exhibit your work. On a personal level, I like Don a lot and was saddened to have to end our business relationship.

Anonymous said...

wow, all that protesting from don... and he is still NOT PAYING HIS ARTISTS.

Anonymous said...

SOLUTION: (to those 'unpaid' artists)
why don't you sell yourself short, make inoffensive wall hangings, show at some milky chelsea gallery, sell your work, get paid (why evolve if you can make money right? ).Let's stop whining about JTPP. I've known Don personally and he is an honest and wonderful human being who would never take advantage of anyone, he has never made a penny off this gallery (if you knew him at all you'd know that he has spent years working for 'the man' in order to support the running of Jack the Pelican). Granted, he may not be good with the business side of things but he is the only person in miles of most that I have met since moving to this city that still believes in art in the true sense of the word. If you want a gallery that has this most beautiful and rare mentality then we should all be lucky to be in the closest proximity to it. I don't think that Don does all of the business dealings and I feel confident to make the asumption that these 'mistakes' and financial 'misunderstandings" are truly mistakes. If you have aproblem with the gallery perhaps you should stop by oneday and talk with him, person to person. I'm sure he would graciously accept any suggestions or even the dignity of sorting a matter out personally instead of bleeding all your angsty insecurities and misinformed fears all over a blog space. On the other hand maybe we would all be better off if the gallery closed down, then we can all say goodbye to probably the best, most inspired space that has ever treated the soil of Williamsburg.

Anonymous said...

Translation of last comment (4:38): you should be honored to show at such a visionary gallery so who cares if they "forget" to pay you.

Bulls--t. If a gallery sells your work, you should get paid. End of story.

The program is pretty hit or miss anyway. some cool stuff, a whole lot of amateur hour too.

motusmotus said...

To all the whiney artists about not being paid:
Sometimes it is indeed a problem. Many times the dealer tells the artist someone has "bought" the piece. It feels good for the dealer, and even "better" for the artist. HEy if i hear your work just sold, man, I am juiced and quite relieved, even proud. When the dealer tells the artist it sold, those are words, usually true. The rub is, that many collectors take forever to pay up!
If you don't believe me try working at a gallery. I know some dealers who pay their artists based on that promise. The long wait probably comes from the gallerist's payment delay. Also many of these deaers might be paying late, because they are buying the work with their own $ on top of paying for the gallery.
That said I know there are many deadbeat galleries, and to screw over the artist is just plain bad.

Anonymous said...

The official gallery saying goes "You'll get paid when I get paid."

Anonymous said...

Don is essentially the "Mel Gibson" of the Gallerists. He is a "Rob Peter to pay Paul kind of buisiness person. A Martha stewart criminal if you will. The main problem for him is he gets swamped in the trees weeded and cant see the forest. At best when drunk he has an un checked toilet mouth. Spewing ego driven meglomaniac doucheness. He gets caught up in himself and unwittingly in his percieved self importance. Avoid at all cost.

Anonymous said...

you guys are all wrong

Anonymous said...

@ ANONYMOUSE "Don is essentially the "Mel Gibson" of the Gallerists"

Interesting that you wrote this as the gallery had officially announced its closing - how well did you even know the gallery?

It's a shame that you spew this cruel and bitter criticism and assign it to a man that only wished to empower & excite people. Don was close to selflessness with that gallery. And gave so much of his time to many artists.

Yes, Don has an outrageous personality. And like great art, it offends small minds.

But what do you even know of his dealings?

With so many galleries that went out of business and failed to pay their artists: Don, through exhausting measures, and personal funds, paid every cent to whom he owed. You clearly do not know him at all.

If you visit him today, as I have, he is sitting with hundreds of artworks in his home, patiently getting them back to artists in the most honorable of ways.

You are a silly and anonymous troll. And you know this.

As I write this I wonder what it is that you do with your life?

I am proud to know Don. And I pity your lack of perspective that inhibits your ability appreciate the good in people. But instead take to such ridiculous analogies that only reek of bitter failure and smutty accusations.

The judgement is on you my friend, for lowering yourself, slinking around with all the bottom feeders that exhaust their already low self-esteem and waste their limited strands of anonymous dignity in such a crass and nasty style.

Can you not appreciate the efforts of people that spend their time providing platforms for progressive thought?

All this said and defended, Don is a person and he may or may not have read this. But you spent your own time, time that you could be spending making yourself happier, on degrading another human being in a public forum, with absolutely no tangible grounds. It's just pathetic.

I wish you well and may you grow out of this. Do something with your life... because if you can't see how obvious your bitterness and misery came through in your comment, life will face you with a painfully clear mirror. That's if it hasn't already.

Heather Morgan said...

Don Carroll does not require a defense, and yet here we are. The vitriol flows, and the grapes are sour.

At Jack the Pelican, Don fostered an environment that was supportive and fun. Events at the gallery were not *just* for drinking and schmoozing but a chance for us to take pleasure in the work we are doing, to meet and inspire each other. I was timely paid for work sold and my work well cared for while in residence there. Of equal importance, Don provided ongoing criticism in the interest of the evolution of my work. He is not a businessman, true (the business being mostly left to others), but an eccentric and passionate art lover. My personal experience has been that he only wants the artist to do better. The gallery has closed its doors, but Don maintains an interest in his artists, always willing to provide a reference or comments on the work, often opening up his home so we can continue to commune with one another.

Joe Heaps Nelson said...

Williamsburg is far more boring without Jack the Pelican. Now, it has been replaced by a furniture store. Don was always seeking out fresh talent, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of gallerists. The Mel Gibson comparison is just a low blow. If you are an artist who has a problem with Don, why not try and sort it out with him rather than anonymously bashing him on the internet.

Anonymous said...

If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years.
Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)