How Stefan Simchowitz “Makes” an Artist

Is the art dealer a patron or profiteer?

L.A. art dealer Stefan Simchowitz is reviled by some in the art world. As writer Michael Kaplan explains in “Why Art Gallery Owners Love to Hate Stefan Simchowitz,” his profile in the March issue, he’s accused of treating art as a commodity. He buys multiple pieces on the cheap from young artists, gaining enough leverage to pump up their value and sell the pieces for a relatively quick profit. (Well, that’s part of the reason. For more, you’ll have to read the piece.) Some artists feel exploited. Most of those Kaplan spoke to did not. Case in point? Here’s a timeline from Kaplan tracking the ascension of Zachary Armstrong, a Dayton, Ohio-based artist in whom Simchowitz took an interest.

December 2013

Armstrong receives an email from Simchowitz, who has seen a painting of his on Instagram and would like to purchase it. He asks for the price. Armstrong tells him $2,000. Simchowitz requests Armstrong’s telephone number and calls him immediately. “Stefan told me that he loves my work and that it could really be something,” remembers Armstrong. “He said he wanted to buy a few paintings and wanted me to come to L.A. He promised to get me a career. It was everything that a poor, young artist would like to hear. At that point, I had been struggling for ten years and selling, like, one painting per month.”

January 2014

Simchowitz buys ten paintings from Armstrong but pays only $1,000 per painting. “Those paintings could have sold for $5,000 each, so he knows it was a low number,” says Armstrong. “He told me that if this works out, I would not have to worry about living month to month. I was thrilled and trying to keep my cool with him.”

Art by Zachary Armstrong
Art by Zachary Armstrong

Photograph courtesy Zachary Armstrong


April 2014

Simchowitz calls Armstrong and tells him that some of the paintings had been sold and that things were going better than anticipated. “I’m guessing he sold them for $5,000 a piece,” says Armstrong. “That’s when the machine went into motion.”

May 2014

Suddenly, Armstrong is besieged with emails from people who want to buy his art and give him gallery shows. He assumes that the attention is Simchowitz-related—possibly as a result of social media postings—and stays in touch with Simchowitz, using him as a sounding board.

June 2014

Armstrong gets a show at the East Hampton gallery of Robert Blumenthal. “The larger pieces were priced ad $10,000 but probably got marked down to $7,000,” Armstrong says. “Everything sold.”

July 2014

Armstrong rents a U-Haul truck, loads it with art, and drives from Dayton to Los Angeles, where he stays in Simchowitz’s guest room. He brings 10 or 15 paintings with him. Simchowitz purchases all of them. Armstrong recalls being paid about $20,000. “He started paying for my studio and supplies,” says Armstrong. “I still sell him art at a discount. But I make a lot of work anyway—and he buys lots of crazy things that nobody else would want.” That includes the stack of canvases shown above. “It’s great for me,” he adds. On the L.A. trip, Armstrong meets the women who run Night Gallery downtown.

August 2014

He moves from two small studios in Dayton to a single, large space.

September 2014

Night Gallery offers him a show for 2015. Armstrong begins working on material.

More art by Zachary Armstrong
More art by Zachary Armstrong

Photograph courtesy Zachary Armstrong


December 2014

During Art Basel Miami, Night Gallery participates in a satellite art fair called NADA. “They had a big painting of mine there, priced at $18,000,” says Armstrong, who flies to Miami for Basel. “It went to a really good German collector who probably paid $16,000.” He leaves Miami, flies to L.A., and then travels to Australia with Simchowitz and family. “I worked like crazy in Australia.”

April 2015

Armstrong , who figures that Simchowitz has purchased a total of 40 or so pieces from him, will be having his show at Night Gallery.

June 2015:

Armstrong will be exhibiting his work at Depart Foundation in Rome.

More art by Zachary Armstrong
More art by Zachary Armstrong

Photograph courtesy Zachary Armstrong