Greg Mason Burns

Copelouzos Family Art Museum – 35 x 35 Project

Copelouzos Family Art Museum

My Contribution to the Copelouzos Family Art Museum: Art Is Not Free / I’m Walking on Both Sides – Oil on Canvas – 35 x 35 cm (2020)


Scam or Not? Read On…

Scam might be a bit of a harsh word, but “uber-wealthy family asking for free art from emerging artists” is not far from reality. People need to know about this. I’ve given a bit of a timeline below for you to read and come to your own conclusion. Essentially the Copelouzos Family Art Museum in Athens Greece asked me to be a part of their 35 x 35 project. This project is simply a donation to their personal, private, family art collection.

After doing some research on them, I accepted the offer with a caveat. I would create what I felt was the correct response to their request. I have participated in donation-style exhibits before that have some similar elements to the 35 x 35 Project. Most notably is that these projects send the artist the canvas, publish the art(ist) in a book, and have a public exhibit. Many others scan and upload the artwork into digital databases and are accessible publicly going forward.

What differed from this project was the “… opportunity for us and the receivers of the book but also through the exhibition, to get acquainted with your work and begin a longtime fruitful communication/collaboration with you.” In other words, there was hope of future sales or commissions with this donation. As you might imagine, this never happens.

Is There a Public Component?

Also, there is no public component to the 35 x 35 Project. It is a “voluntary art project” and a “donation art project” where the art goes directly into the private collection of the Copelouzos Family Art Museum. The museum doesn’t even have a website, let alone a public component to it. In other words you probably can’t walk up to the ticket window and buy entry to the museum. It’s completely private. So while it is voluntary and a donation project, it might actually be emerging artists giving art to a very rich family in Greece so that they can add to their collection. This is especially true if the vast majority of artists who participate never hear from the museum ever again after their submission.

Other Artists Have Never Heard Back From the Copelouzos Family Art Museum

And that’s what happened, too. I contacted several artists who have participated in the past. While they said the book was decent (it used artist-submitted photos, so not all photos were up to snuff), 100% of all the artists who got back to me said that they never heard from the museum, the program, or any other collector or gallery otherwise again. In other words, they took the art and ran off with it.

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Imago Mundi Project

Scotland Collection Book of the Imago Mundi Project

For context, I participated in the Imago Mundi Project, which is another voluntary, donation art project. Luciano Benetton created it as a means to show the diversity of art throughout the world. The aim is to collect contemporary art from every single country, exhibit these works in all the countries so as to reach as many people as possible, and to create a publicly accessible digital database for research (<– This link is the specific collection that I am in). My submission was called Incomplete and is in the Scotland Collection. It is a reference to Scottish Independence, and the book looks nice, too.

Art is in the Eye of the Beholder

But here’s the real kicker. The Copelouzos Museum says they are collecting contemporary art, but in reality they’re puffing their own chests. Because I created a piece of work that they invited me to send in, and then they rejected it. They said it is “…a negative criticism to the 35x35project…”. But anyone collecting contemporary art should know that this type of activism is extremely popular. In fact, the Imago Mundi Project accepted work exactly like this by Spanish artist Eugenio Merino (Pay Me, 2014). So their criticism is not just dangerous with regards to muting artistic voice, but it clearly states that they just wanted something pretty to add to their collection, not uncensored contemporary art.

There are other donation-style projects that are fundraisers for non-profit arts organizations. I gave a free piece of art specifically to help these organizations raise money for their stated non-profit mission. I didn’t get anything in return (except for a tax deduction, which I may have or not even used) but I knew there was a community benefit. In fact, one donation was to an organization I have never even visited in the Studio Channel Islands in California. So I’m not against “voluntary” or “donation” projects. If I do participate, however, there must be a community component or they accept what I give them. If you want something special, you buy it. The Copelouzos Family Art Museum decided they didn’t want it.

If subscribing isn’t your thing, please buy a print. This link brings you to the artwork I submitted to the project, but there are many other works under my name. Thanks again!

Imago Mundi Project

My page in the Imago Mundi Scotland Collection Book

Timeline of Events

Here is the timeline of events. Please note that I have the email thread from the director of the program, so what I’m stating is true and I can prove it legally if need be.

  • Jan of 2020: The Copelouzos Family Art Museum asked me to participate in the 35 x 35 project. They would send me a canvas and I would create a free piece of art and donate it to the family’s museum. They would hold an exhibit in Greece (I was invited) and I would get put into a published book. The deadline to submit the artwork was noted as “until the end of April“.
  • Jan: I asked if there was a social component similar to that of the Imago Mundi Project. The museum told me that any work I created would be “included in the permanent Museum’s collection.” They hinted that this could be an opportunity to “begin a longtime fruitful communication with you.” Therefore, no social component.
  • Jan – Feb: I accepted to participate. For about two weeks there was a back-and-forth discussion on where to send the canvas (their expense). I received the canvas late Jan or in early Feb.
  • March: My contact at the museum asked me to send a photo of myself for the project. I hate selfies, so I sent a self-portrait that I often use. They didn’t like that, and asked for a proper head-shot. I also let them know that the artwork was still wet (painted thickly with oil) and needed careful handling when it arrived (something I also said to my Imago Mundi contact, and that person duly noted to handle the work with care). The museum told me to hold on to the work until April when the courier would pick it up.
  • April 23: I sent in my self-portrait again as well as a description of the artwork. I stated: “This piece represents how artists are constantly being asked to provide artwork for free despite the high costs of creation. However, artists often have little-to-no choice on how to proceed. Therefore, this piece represents both how agreeing to participate dilutes the artist’s standing, while saying no continues to block access to collectors and markets.” Yes, it is worded strongly, but that should not have mattered to the recipient. They asked for an art donation, and that’s what I gave them. But I digress…
  • April 23: My contact responded claiming that my text is “…somehow a negative criticism to the 35×35 art project…“. In this email I was also told that if I “do not feel well with the idea of offering/donating this 35×35 cm work, then you should decide not to participate.” My contact also stated that “Of course, you are free to express your opinion, even to protest wherever and however you like but if you disagree with the whole idea of this art project, you should express to us your disagreement and not participate. We respect everyone’s opinion, we do not expect that everyone share the same opinion with us.”  At this point I kind of knew they weren’t going to allow me to participate. I was a bit surprised they didn’t reject the work outright, however. It was up to me to withdraw, but of course…
  • April 28: I responded stating that I would not withdraw. And I told them that I had changed the text to the following: “Created during the COVID-19 quarantine, this work reflects the struggles of artists to stay afloat during a time of work stoppages and a dwindling supply of art buyers and patrons. A dual criticism of the art market and the artist himself, it shows how the artist was woefully underprepared to engage in a market where surface funding stopped and left little support underneath.” So yes, I remained in the project and changed the description to fit their mood better. And BTW – that whole COVID-19 losing work thing is true. I lost my job during this period due to work closures. I told them that, too, stating that we were all in this together.
  • April 28: My contact agreed that were in this COVID-19 thing together and asked me to send the rephrased text. Note: this is in response to the email I had already sent earlier that day with the rephrased text in it already. The contact simply didn’t open it, didn’t read it, or didn’t acknowledge it.
  • April 28: I responded again with the re-worded text. This time I added the line at the end: “It also shows how the lack of availability of wealthy patrons deeply affects the market of art development, which is an essential, expensive process where ground-breaking art is developed.” Hey, if you aren’t going to read the first one I sent earlier in the day, this is what you get for giving me a second chance to respond.
  • April 28 and 30: My contact sent two emails requesting an image of the artwork, of which I replied to. There was also an exchange about my head-shot, which I finally relented to and sent in something more proper.
  • May 1 to May 5: Crickets. Nothing. I followed-up on May 5 and my contact never responded.
  • May 10: The day I am writing this post. April 30 was the deadline, and they never asked for a pick-up or responded to my responses to their own requests. It is clear they rejected the artwork by silence.
  • June 15: More than a month after I wrote my original post, and more than six weeks after they requested my profile photo and gave my statement to them (and six weeks after their deadline), the shipping company got in touch to send the artwork to Greece. What’s funny is that it was the shipping company that got in touch, not the museum. I was suspicious, so I sent an email to my contact at the museum and that person confirmed.
  • June 17: DHL picked up the package off the front porch, at least I think so. I never saw them coming and I left it there as instructed.

So you’re probably wondering why I would send the artwork in. The answer is that I should. This only makes sense. They sent the canvas, and I accepted to participate in the program. Considering I wrote this post, it is only fair that I follow through with my original intentions. However, I will continue to update this as I learn more. This is because submission is supposed to mean an exhibit at the museum and well as publication in a book. I’ll be waiting to see if I get the book and proof that it was, in fact, exhibited as noted. The museum has yet to schedule an exhibit.

  • July 2: I received a phone call from an associate of the family / museum. This associate asked me to not name him, but it is not the same person who I associated with during the submission process. This person stated we had had a conversation in the past, but that was not true (neither email nor phone call, unless one of the emails was attributed to my “normal” contact but was actually written by the person who called – and I wonder if they were, in fact, the same person all the time. I have no proof of this and it may not be true, but I wonder). In short, however, it was a productive conversation. I should stress that my contact wanted this conversation to be informal, and it was. The conversation was healthy, and we both provided our arguments. There was no animosity during the call, just some polite disagreement and clarification of miscommunication on both parts. This is the summary below. I could not record the conversation because recording is illegal in Maine without the other person’s permission.
    • The conversation revolved around a few things that were definitely not clear before. I was initially asked to remove the social media exposure regarding this blog post. But I instead said I would add something positive to my social media by the end of the call. Essentially, that meant I would update this post and spread the update. I did do this, in fact, but I would have done it anyway.
      • The museum stated that they used professional photos in the book. This is contrary to what one of my artist contacts had stated. It is unclear if they used artist photos in earlier editions and professional photos later on, or if my artist contact simply didn’t know the difference. My artist contact in this regard did say that the photos had varying quality, but my phone contact disputed that.
      • There have been no exhibitions of past 35 x 35 project submissions (previously from China, Russia, and a few other countries). However, the Copelouzos Family Art Museum never stated that the exhibit would happen at a specific time. They stated that a larger exhibit of all the participants will be held in the future, and not in 2020. I should note that I’ve been told this before by another museum that accepted a free piece of art from me in Brazil, and while I have had good relations with that museum, that exhibit has also not yet happened. So it is only talk until there is an exhibit.
      • He stated that the museum cannot be public because it is on the grounds of the family’s living estate. Of course, this confirms that this is a family asking for free art to add to their private collection.
      • Furthermore, the contact stated that it was difficult to buy all the art in the project. Also, the museum would never notice artists such as myself all the way from Greece, which I agreed. I also agree that donation-style projects do inherently expand an artist’s exposure. BUT art is not free, and there are enough artists who don’t make ends meet. This isn’t just part of the system, it is inherently unfair. Support your artist, because if you like art, it’s the right thing to do. One thing I want to make clear: They asked me to participate in this project.
      • They asked via email, and that email came not long after I was connected on LinkedIn via my first contact with the museum (who is oddly no longer connected to me). I never applied or requested to be a part. I was told twice (once by email and another on this phone conversation) that if I didn’t like the project then I should withdraw. Each time I declined to withdraw.
      • According to my phone contact, COVID-19 explained the silence in the months of May and June. But also miscommunication between shipping agents in Greece and in the US played a part. I can understand this to some extent. It may very well truthful and heartfelt. However, my email contact was always quick to respond before. Why would they not respond to multiple emails leading up to their own self-imposed deadline? It is a strange gap that may be partially explained, but definitely not completely so. My phone contact noted it was a small staff and a large project. Yeah, I can imagine that some parts of projects are more difficult to manage than other parts considering the same-sized staff. I’m still not sold 100% that this is what happened in May, but I can believe this being part of it.
      • I stated that my artist contacts from previous projects never heard from the museum again. My phone contact asked me if the artists had ever re-initiated contact with the museum after submission. It’s a fair point, and I don’t have an answer. I’ll try to get one if it’s possible. However, now I know what the museum looks for. And I may have a project for them to sponsor. I guess we’ll see how that goes. I’m honestly curious.
      • My contact specifically said, “Our goal is to support the artist.” That may be one of their intentions. They are very active in the Greek art scene, promoting various projects and events. I don’t think they are bad people. I just think they didn’t think this this out. They needed a social component, and they don’t have one. The contact asked me to send info about other donation projects with a social component. I plan to do so. Maybe this will spark a change.

Copelouzos Family Art Museum

Copelouzos Family Art Museum Book: The book is heavy, thick, and well-put together

  • Jan 2021: I finally received the book. It’s a good book, honestly. Heavy, well-put together, well-bound, and the images were not artist-images, or at least mine wasn’t. And yes, I did a comparison vs. what I had sent them. They then contacted me twice to get my thoughts, which was nice. I responded to the second email because I didn’t have time to respond to the first.

The book’s quality is good, but there still needs to be an impact for artists here. The book does nothing if all it does is sit on my studio entrance table for people to browse. Maybe it makes a potential buyer look at me differently. But are collectors really seeing artists if there are hundreds of artists in one book? What is the book’s impact? I’m not one for ego here. Yes, I’m appreciative that the book turned out better than I thought.

If that’s true, then that’s great, but improvement needs more than just the book. Artists in the project need to have public exposure. Artists deserve positive impact. We’ll see what happens on that end. Since the book is good, and since they are making a point of contacting artists to get their opinions, then I hope that there will be a next step.

  • May 2021: Remember their response to other artists never having heard from the museum again after submission was if the artists themselves had reached out? Well, I actually did reach out. To be fair, I kind of knew what the response would be considering how I had written this post and how they felt about it. But I did it anyway just to test them. I reached out and asked if they were willing to participate in my project that I was going to further develop at a residency in Galway, Ireland.
  • June 2021: They replied to my request stating that the “museum doesn’t run a program for financial support”. I replied to them stating that I wasn’t looking for a cash handout, but merely wondered if they had an interest in buying any pieces related to the project. I would have given them a fair price, of course. In my eyes their participation would have shown that they really had an interest in cultivating a relationship with their participating artists. Think about it, of any of the artists who participated, if they had agreed to participate with me then they would have blown my argument out of the water. It would have shown a genuine interest in supporting the artists rather than simply taking free art for their own private use. One good thing from that email was they stated they are in the process of developing a website of their projects. This is a step in the right direction, as it helps to put a public face on the collected works. Whether this happens in a good way we shall see.
  • Dec 2021: We are now approaching the end of 2021 and I have yet to receive a response from the museum regarding my request for participation in the project I spent time developing at a residency in Galway, Ireland. That residency was in Nov, 2021, so they very clearly missed that opportunity. I am doing another residency in 2022, but since they rejected my request the first time I figure they will continue to reject or ignore me going forward. For transparency’s sake, I did receive a grant from the Maine Arts Commission for this residency. The Maine Arts Commission is a public, state agency that is partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. So yeah, my residency was not a scam – it was a legit project validated by this grant.

Copelouzos Family Art Museum

Copelouzos Family Art Museum: My page inside the book

Copelouzos Family Art Museum

Copelouzos Family Art Museum: The box they sent the canvas in.

What Can You Do?

  • Share the shit out of this post. Not for my popularity’s sake, but to call these guys out. If they had a social component to this, then that’d be different. But there isn’t. Artists need to stop this kind of relationship. We deserve better. Share this so that we can change this project for the better. The more artists who know the more who will ask for change. If the Copelouzos Family Art Museum decides to start buying art for the project instead of asking for donations, or decides to respond and provide a social component, then I’ll fairly update this post.
  • Support me on Patreon: Yes, I’m getting some value out of this in the end. By subscribing you’ll get updates on my progress and you’ll be supporting an out-of-work artist (due to the COVID-19 work stoppages). The minimum is $1/month, and you get rewards. (note: yes, Patreon says there are images on my page not suitable for minors: yes, I’ve attended nude drawing sessions like any other artist. No, they aren’t unsuitable. Yes, Patreon is stupid.).
  • Buy a Print: If you don’t want to subscribe, then please buy a print. Doing so will not only help support me as an artist, but it will also spread the word that what this museum is doing isn’t cool. The more people who buy prints the more people who see this post.
  • Remember to fight back. Yes, it sucks that artists often have to participate for free exposure. It’s part of the market and game. But it doesn’t mean we always have to do so. Stand up for yourself. Maybe you’ll get screwed over it, or maybe you won’t. Either way, you’ll own what you do, and as artists that is one of the most important things we can do.

Thank you!

Comments: 20
  • JOSEPH BALLETTA August 1, 2020 12:18 pm

    I have had a similar experience with this museum. Is anybody investigating this further?

    • Greg August 3, 2020 7:42 pm

      Hi Joseph, not that I know of. I only know of what I’ve written above.

  • Mauro De Giorgi November 6, 2020 3:16 am

    Thank you so much for your heads up, guys. I’ve just received the same email from this Museum, and I was about to walk into the same trap.
    I wish you all the best in life. Keep up the good work and stay safe!

    • Greg November 6, 2020 3:18 pm

      Glad to be of service, Mauro. Best of luck to you (and please share so more people can see this).

  • Michael January 22, 2021 10:53 pm

    Thanks for writing this!. I appreciate your zeal and how you approached this. You are in the right yet the artist’s experience in this world is a tough road. I participated in this project, a calculated risk, figuring I’ve done more for less, and who knows…. Anyway, this book is supposed to arrive next week, so we’ll see.Best of luck! -Michael

    • Greg January 23, 2021 3:38 pm

      Sure thing Michael. I’m curious about the book, too. I’ve heard they use the artist’s photos and don’t take professional photos themselves. That was in the past, so we’ll see if they’ve improved things. My book is supposed to arrive on Tues.

      • Michael January 26, 2021 8:21 pm

        Hey, so I got my book today and was quite impressed with it. I’d say it was a worthwhile venture from my perspective. I hope you wound up satisfied with your experience too.

      • Greg January 27, 2021 11:31 am

        That’s great to hear Michael. I haven’t received mine yet, but I know it is enroute as I spoke with DHL yesterday. Do the photos look user-submitted or do they appear to be re-taken by a photographer there? Which page is yours?

      • Michael February 2, 2021 12:03 pm

        I submitted a headshot as requested and it looks good. From what I observed of other artist pages I think it was well done. Black and white filtered and perhaps touched up somewhat, good resolution. Im on page 408.

    • Greg February 2, 2021 1:05 pm

      The book is in my studio right now, and I’m home due to a snowstorm, but I’ll check it out tomorrow. I think my page is in the 170s, though you can see for sure from the Index. I hate my profile pic, but I’ve never been a fan of pics of me anyway. For sure my profile pic is my fault, not theirs.

  • olga alexander January 27, 2021 3:24 pm

    very interesting and thx for the info, now I don’t feel bad for not participating! A friend of mine who did just posted that she got a catalogue from them with her in it for the 35×35 project so I am a littles confused about their status now

    • Greg January 27, 2021 6:16 pm

      Hi Olga,
      They were supposedly always going to publish a book of some sort. Past recipients have suggested it was not a high-quality book, with artist-submitted photos only, but someone above noted that their book received in 2021 looks really nice, so maybe they have improved the quality.
      Having said that, whether you should or shouldn’t have participated is really up to what you wanted to get out of it. I did it to report on my experience with them, and this was intentional. I would not have done it just to participate because I don’t believe in giving wealthy families art for free to keep in their private gallery collection(in fact, my piece is titled “Art is Not Free”). If there were a public component to this project, then I would not have had a problem participating (such as the Imago Mundi project). The Copelouzos family have stated that a public component was not possible because the gallery is on private property (i.e. – their estate), but I personally think that is a lousy excuse as they have plenty of money they could have spent showcasing these works in a public space. They have thus far chosen not to do this, and that is disappointing.

  • Michelle February 2, 2021 2:56 am

    I was asked to participate in this project in 2020 as well. My timeline was about the same as yours regarding contract, delivery of the canvas, pickup, etc.
    I agreed to participate because 1. They weren’t asking that much of me (a 13”x13” canvas is pretty easy to fill); 2. They were providing and shipping everything for free; 3. The subject matter was up to me; and 4. I could now put that I was in a permanent collection of a museum in Greece on my CV!
    To me, as an emerging artist, that was a win-win.
    I received the book last week, and it’s absolutely gorgeous! I believe they took professional photos because I had dimensional elements on mine and the shadows on their photo were more pronounced than what I sent.
    I plan on sending a follow up email which includes information on where I’m exhibiting, and access to my artwork for sale, which they asked about in the letter included with the book. All-in-all an excellent experience for me as we both got something out of it, whether they ever contact me again or not.
    Michelle Renée Bernard

    • Greg February 2, 2021 11:44 am

      I think that’s great that it worked out for you Michelle. I would counter one point in your comment, though, which is the part you get to paint whatever you want. They pushed back HARD on what I painted on the canvas, asking me multiple times to withdraw, including once by phone. In my opinion, that was unacceptable on their part. They really didn’t want to publish what I had originally written, either.
      Also, regarding the museum collection on you CV, you need to be careful with this stuff. Professional art institutions know which other institutions are juried seriously or more vanity-type. The Copelouzos Family Museum is definitely on the fringe in this regard.
      However, please share your experience with following up with them regarding furthering the relationship, since I don’t yet have that info on what they say or are committed to. I plan on doing so myself, too. Since I wrote this post, and they know I wrote this post, I may get a very different reaction than what you get (i.e. – I have been publicly critical and you, as far as I can tell, have not). It would be interesting to compare results.
      I need to update this page since I have, too, now received the book. It looks good, but I haven’t had time to further investigate the photos thing, but your comment is a good one, as that is exactly what I was going to compare: my photo vs. the published photo. I’m glad yours worked out, and I hope they do more to further your relationship with them. Artists need all the wins they can get.

  • hana gauer February 15, 2022 12:55 pm

    I suppose that this is nice trick for tax exemption in Greece. Creating foundation, ‘investing in young artist’, the only cost is a book for each artist (small edition costs little money), no distribution, no exibition…But giving a estimated value to each canvas (donated) you can create a taxe exemption certificate having big value. I have got the same proposal…but I do not beleave in miracles!
    That’s also the reason to switch every year to another country…not easy to track the story…and all artists are emerging…and waiting for miracles…

    • Greg February 24, 2022 6:18 am

      That’s an interesting perspective Hana. I had not thought of that before. I wonder if it’s a tax break for them after all. I know the family is supportive of the arts in general in Greece.

  • Florence Blanchard February 23, 2022 6:16 am

    Thanks for posting this, they just contacted me. Thanks to you I won’t waste my time. Always amazed these people exist. what a strange project to want to take advantage of artists – so many levels to this society!

    • Greg February 24, 2022 6:17 am

      Glad this helped you out Florence. That’s the goal. Please spread it around to make this more known!

  • Lioda Conrad March 3, 2022 4:56 am

    Hello. I too received the email. And I’m now very engrossed in reading all this. I actually agree with all viewpoints given as representing the pro’s and con’s, all astute observations. My question is – is an artwork worth the cost of the book and personal bragging rights? And agree…. they could buy our work. My previous addition to a permanent collection was bought. Mmmmm. what to do?

    • Greg March 3, 2022 9:29 am

      Hi Lioda,

      It’s a nice book, but I don’t think it was worth the value of the art. The piece I created could have sold for a few-to-several hundred, maybe even low thousands depending on framing and where it was put up for sale. The book probably would have cost someone US$150 or so to buy if they wanted.

      My whole stance has always been that artists deserve better. We struggle enough as it is that we don’t need ego-propping books that never get seen by people who could actually help us to prove our worth. We need legit buyers who can help us put food on the table and continue to do good art work.

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