Pierce & Kwok LLP - Aaron Pierce is a former professional artist turned art lawyer who is very much still in the art game.
Pierce presented a workshop at Equity Gallery on How to Protect Your Art with Well-written Contracts.
Why did you want to become involved in the arts and law?
I moved to NYC for art. I was an actor and musician to start, but I realized over a period of time that it was a little bit difficult, based on both talent levels, drive, and reality, to make a living for the family and to accomplish other goals I had set for myself.
What’s the best part of working with artists?
It is certainly a community and a paradigm that I understand innately. The New York we live in can be, sometimes at all costs, financially driven. I find that artists are often instead single-mindedly true to themselves in pursuing a passion and a creative idea, well aware that it may or may not be monetized at any point. I find that to be very pure and exciting.
What is the most common legal problem artists have?
Getting into relationships without having contracts reviewed or with no contracts in place. Often, I enter the picture when someone is already in hot water.
How can artists be more proactive about dealing with potential legal issues?
Lawyer fees are something to avoid unless it's absolutely necessary. Go to as many classes and seminars as possible--take advantage of all the free Artists Equity workshops. Become as knowledgeable as possible within your community. I find that artists are exceedingly intelligent people and with just a very basic degree of knowledge, some of these legal issues can be avoided. At the end of the day, don’t put a signature down unless you have a lawyer look at the contract.
What do you do at Parsons?
I’ve taught a couple seminar classes at Parsons, and will be “graduating” to an adjunct professorship starting in September. I’m teaching strategic design for entrepreneurs. So, I teach different ways of looking at development models, different ways of approaching a start up, and I work with entrepreneurs. These are design majors who are approaching problems from all new angles and all new methodologies, so I find I learn just as much as my students do, if not more. They are artists in their own right, just using different instruments; the stuff that they come up with is incredible - really ingenious.
What are your personal outlets for creativity, now that law has become your first job?
I still play the piano, I own a jazz club in Williamsburg called the Rosemont, and I do paint semi-regularly, mixed media. Those paintings are largely for private exercise and meditation, and that largely goes for piano as well. I try to keep myself in the community: see as much theatre, go to as many gallery shows, and support New York’s art community as much as possible. It makes me feel good and like I’m still in the mix.
Do you create music on the piano?
I do. I write music. In fact, to some degree at the law firm, a lot of my hires are also artists or musicians as well. One of my senior associates and my executive assistant are very talented musicians. Artists often present a more well rounded and balanced view of the world we live in, and they have an underlying understanding of the art world that is very difficult to get if you’re not artistically inclined.
If you had to pick an artist, which one do you think you would most identify with (in visual arts)
I could certainly say Dalí, Picasso, or Rembrandt or any of these famous, older artists, but that doesn't tell you much about me. I think currently someone that I identify with is a local artist, Erik Foss. He’s a good friend, very talented artist, and very much has his ear to the tracks in NYC’s art scene. We’ve had somewhat similar trajectories in New York City. As far as values, talent, and personal trajectory, Erik Foss is someone who I consider very talented and business driven. For many years, he used to own Lit Lounge, Fuse Gallery, and Subculture Gallery. In a way, he’s a very communal artist; trying to create good energy and social space to share and interact--something that I do as well.
How do you balance doing work and enjoying the arts?
They really are hand in hand. Although we have a section of the firm dedicated to finance contracting and securities regulations, we are often an entertainment and artistically driven law firm, so it allows me to stay in the mix. Gallery openings, movie premieres, artist meetings, music performances, and theatre productions are often contract driven to protect everyone's interest, so just going and attending is part of the perks of work. I feel like I’ve done it [balance work and love for arts] to a reasonable degree. I try not to sit behind this desk too much. We probably work excessively, but I find time to go to galleries both in the city and out in East Hampton. There is an incredible artistic history out there as well and they tend to hold it near and dear to their hearts. It's nice to have homes in both areas and be able to really experience the artistic communities in both locales.
In the coming months I’m actually opening a new location for Lit Lounge in Brooklyn in the storied McKibbin Lofts. The Rosemont Jazz Club is also another really fun space, and part of my network as well, for finding clients and staying involved in the art scene (both musically and in visual arts like painting and sculpture). I think all of these play nicely together, especially at the Rosemont. It is a close knit community, like at Artists Equity, because people tend to know each other, and even if they don’t there is an instant camaraderie.
Finally, film production is a large part of New York’s Art scene and wonderfully combines the whole spectrum of arts within it. Creating a great film involves music, art, writing, architecture, and it of course has its very own poetic language. Film production and investment is also a big part of our firm’s practice.
Interviewed by Sarah Cho