The Established Anti-Establisment
Echoing the earlier call by Jerry Saltz for galleries to get some "attitude," Roberta Smith today sings the praises of "deviant or alternative galleries"...I'm beginning to suspect these two know each other ;-). And while I don't want to take anything away from the examples Roberta highlights, I will point out that the primary players within the majority of them are extraordinarily well connected within the art establishment, and more than one of them are what I'd call heavy-hitting movers and shakers (and were before they launched their "deviant" efforts).
Which isn't to suggest that they're insincere in any way, but to point out that these players are as involved with the "art-as-product orientation habitually ascribed to the Chelsea scene" Roberta decries, or more so, than a number of other, less-connected examples that I was very sorry to not see make her list. Of course, one defense for why these efforts were chosen over others could be that in addtion to bucking the trend, they also show "better" art (but, of course, that's debatable), OR one could argue that change needn't come from outside the system necessarily, but if the point is to focus on galleries trying to "brake their ascent to establishment status by interrupting the flow of monthly shows and finished objects," here are three few examples of excellent New York-based efforts in galleries run by folks who haven't already ascended (yes, a few in Roberta's list fall in this category, but some clearly don't):
- First and foremost is the highly innovative programming at Parker's Box. From their Summer Shorts series to their multi-location International Art Market, which "turn[ed] the tables on galleries representing artists, in order to have a number of artists “represent” their galleries through specific projects presented together under the same conditions and in similar spaces" (btw, artforum.com called this event "a genuine alternative to [Chelsea gallery's] increasingly homogenized sheen, trading high stakes for high spirits and collectibility for down home community."), director Alun Williams continuously shakes-up what it means to run a commercial gallery.
- Cinders continues to redefine what a gallery can be as well. This article on artforum.com summarizes some of their innovations.
- Noted in the article on Cinders is another program that continuously went out on a limb, eventually becoming totally virtual: Open Ground. One of their last physical exhibitions was a collaboration with Berlin's Galerie Scherer8 called Williamsburg Wedding, which was the very spirit of what Roberta termed "art as a process and a mind-set rather than a product."
Let me switch gears now though. As Roberta admits at the end of her article, there's a paradox of sorts involved here. If anyone is interested in combatting the "art-as-product orientation" of the scene, one would assume it's the artists themselves, but
But even the folks at [Lower East Side alternative gallery] Reena Spaulings admit that their artists want big careers and that they were impressed by the activities of deliberate, rather than accidental art dealers while participating in the Liste art fair in Basel, Switzerland, last spring. At [the "the intellectually inclined new collective gallery"] Orchard, an invitation from Extra City, a fair starting in Antwerp, Belgium, is under consideration.
So the trick seems to be operating a gallery that takes advantage of the systems in place that can generate "big careers" but not become an end unto itself (i.e., not turn the art into a "product"). As we prepare to join the circus in Chelsea (for a host of reasons, but definitely including to help our artists reach a wider audience), I'm curious about which elements of the "art as product" side of the system are most objectionable to artists, critics, curators, collectors and even dealers? I mean everyone will say it's a bad thing, but what--specifically--about it is "bad"? What I'm looking for mostly are warning signs that I can recognize and try to combat should we find ourselves heading more that direction.