In Defense of Commercial Galleries, Part III
|Unless something highly newsworthy happens, I promise, this is the last post on this topic (at least for a while), but reader Aurix was kind enough to point to this response to Germaine Greer's article by Matthew Slotover, co-publisher of Frieze magazine and co-director of the Frieze Art Fair. Here's the essence of his response:|
Of course whenever contemporary art achieves a public profile, there is always criticism, and this year, to my surprise, the most vehement came from Germaine Greer in Monday's Guardian. The piece suggests that it is degrading for artists to have to create objects that can be sold. Greer then (rightly) praises Martin Creed's Turner prize-winning artwork, The Lights Going On And Off, concluding her elegant elegy to the work with the baffling sentences, "Best of all, you can only remember it. You can't collect it."Slotover cites other examples of work one might have assumed was uncollectable but been incorrect about:
At the fair this year, a gallery from China sold a work consisting of a person sleeping in a bed. In the 2004 Frieze Art Fair the Tate bought Good Feelings in Good Times by Roman Ondak, which consisted of a line of people queuing.He ends his response to Greer with the kernel of why I feel anti-commercial-gallery arguments are too often very ill-considered, myopic dogma:
85% of visitors to Frieze have no interest in the market - they're just there to see some of the best art from all over the world. Commercial galleries offer a great service to the non-buying public as well as collectors, putting on free exhibitions open to everyone, month in, month out. Buying and selling is not the only way to engage with art. But in the end, it is the engine that supports artists. What's philistine about that? [emphasis mine]Any given month, the number of people who visit a commercial gallery who never have and never will buy anything at all from that gallery greatly outnumber those who might buy something. It's got to be about 300 to 1 in our space. Many galleries, ours included, offer as much information and assistance to each non-buying visitor who makes an inquiry as we do visitors who might buy, and not only because you can't always tell the difference, but because we want to talk about the work. Moreover we host scores of lectures each year (for students and other groups), talking for hours each month to them; we have free take-away information and images (that's not free for us to produce); we host opening receptions with free refreshments (that we pay for as well); and in none of these situations do we distinguish between those visitors who will financially support the gallery and those who won't. Oh, I know there are sometimes haughty gallerinas in spaces that seemingly undo all the public service other galleries provide with their glares and sneering refusals to be polite, but even in those places, despite the fact that the work on exhibit is often world-class (and expensive to produce and showcase), anyone at all can walk in and experience the work for free.
But beyond that, as Slotover noted and others did in the previous comment threads, the distinction between work that can be sold and can't be sold is not as clear as some critics would suggest it is. More and more collectors are rising to the challenge artists continue to present, taking huge leaps of faith in doing so, and purchasing work that is impossible to just hang on one's wall. To demonize the commercial system is to insult those bold folks as well. More than that, it reveals the poverty of thought Greer put into her suggestion that "Perhaps that's the way to know the 'good' artists. They will be the uncollectables."