Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Appreciation

Gallery owners returned from their summer vacations this year to a stark new reality about the market, their livelihoods and that of their artists, their cash flow, and all those plans they had made, both professional and personal. So too had much of the world, I realize. However, for an industry that relies on consumer confidence much more than non-luxury industries do, for an industry that had grown to unprecedented heights based on a cultural embrace of the most conspicuous of consumption, this seemingly overnight national thriftiness was indeed a rude awakening.

Observers of the industry have predicted dire outcomes for a large percentage of art galleries, and indeed over the past few months the economy has claimed some truly stellar spaces, but I wanted to take just a moment to note how very impressed I've been with both the resilience and the resourcefulness of most of the art dealers I know in handling the economic crisis. In a world in which behemoth corporations like Lehman Brothers, Circuit City, and Washington Mutual have gone belly up, in a city in which restaurants and clothing stores and other vendors of things people need to survive are closing left and right, in a world in which everyone is re-evaluating what their true needs vs. wants are, the surprising story isn't how many art dealers have decided to pursue other interests, but rather how many are fighting tooth and nail to stay open.

More than that, as countless out-of-town collectors who visit New York galleries every few months or so, as well as collectors who live here, have told me recently, New York galleries are putting on fantastic exhibitions this season. Across the board, from Williamsburg, to the Lower East Side, to Chelsea and Uptown, the galleries and their artists are bringing their A-Game to the public. It's a great time to go gallery hopping (a past-time that's free, mind you), and because that's corresponding with the economic downturn, I've had to wonder why that's the case. Perhaps it's a sense among those involved that it's important to put on your best show. Perhaps this sense of higher quality is simply a natural result of years of plenty reaching their fruition. Whatever the reason, though, I tip my hat to those artists and dealers who continue to forge forward and hang tough. It is not easy, I can tell you.

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13 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

Amen brother. If we can make it through this it's all cake and ice cream (wine too) on the other side.

2/11/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Re: great shows up now, I was in Chelsea recently and really enjoyed the Evan Penny Show at Sperone Westwater, the Jan Koop videos at Martos Gallery & FYI there is a documentary film about women in the art world at film forum that is playing through Feb 17th called Our City Dreams that features Kiki Smith, Marins Abramovic, Ghada Amer& Nancy Spero.

2/11/2009 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

I'd first like to tip my proverbial 40oz bottle to those who are no longer with us. They hung tough, will be missed.
(One of which was the venue for my first group show in Chelsea).

I have to say though, this type of scrapping it out is what a lot of us have been doing all along -good economy or not. Sometimes I think non-artists don't fully understand that it's not just about money - it's about time. An art show is not just a performance, it's a production. We didn't now (as in the last 6 months) just start putting our best foot forward... it goes further back. Granted during flush times, a lot of art that deserves to be flushed down the toilet instead gets hyped under those bright lights. As far as artists problem solving with reduced resources - that is an art form! And I give credit the galleries that have been using the creative methods that artists do to. Oh, we have so much to learn from each other...
(you can decide who the "we" is in all that).

2/11/2009 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Gabriel Boray said...

Let's stay positive and powerful.

2/11/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you Edward. I haven't seen so many good shows in Chelsea and LES for a really long time. It looks like galleries are putting their sh*t together.

2/11/2009 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger jeff f said...

In the words of Margo Channing (aka Bettie Davis) "fasten your seat belts it's going to be a bumpy night..."

2/11/2009 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Always, L said...

There has been lengthy, opinionated discussion online about the effect of the market on the art as of late.

This post clearly presents the sentiment expressed by many I know in the art world.

Well said, Ed.

2/11/2009 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Granted during flush times, a lot of art that deserves to be flushed down the toilet instead gets hyped under those bright lights."

Aaron, are you saying that galleries show art that the gallerists themselves know to be bad? Why is that? There are always more artists than galleries can show, so why do they show (and hype) what they feel is bad art? Is it because it's easy to sell? It's something that is in fashion or derivative of other successful artists' work? Or at the time they are hyping it do they feel it is good art and then later, they change their minds about it's value? I know this sounds naive, but I would like to hear this explained from the dealer's point of view.

thanks.

2/11/2009 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bad economy makes better art shows. Goodbye crap!

2/11/2009 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Bad economy makes better art shows. Goodbye crap!

The plural of anecdote ...the plural of anecdote...let me see...ah..there it is. Nope! Still not data. :-P

2/11/2009 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

The art marked is the last truly unregulated area of our cultural economy. It’s always been “survival of the fittest.” Now you see why that resiliency is important. No government regulations, no government control (or very little), less government input (money), nobody’s too big to fail, capitalism at its best (or worst). I don’t agree one hundred percent with Ed’s assertion about the overall high quality, but there is certainly enough good stuff out there to make any art fan proud. (Some of the historical surveys have been fantastic.)

Regarding why dealers would show crappy work when times arte flush? You don’t have time for all the answers to that one.

2/11/2009 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Historical note:

Although the 30s (which Saltz conventiently ignores) when the full brunt of the depression was felt, were not really so great for art. There was Surrealism from around 1925, and then? Well there was harsh reactionary social realism, regionalism, jobs but hardly excitement. And of course that depression ended in a war, so... bummer really.

2/11/2009 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

CAP,

Interesting post. The funny thing is that our current situation started with a war and I read that people are doing the opposite to other downturns, in that we are now saving during bad times rather than spending. Traditionally I guess people saved during "flush" times and spent the egg during bad which helped pull things up. Well like the partying squirrels who never thought winter would come we spent during the good and now have nothing during the bad. So the whole situation is arse backwards...weird.

I live in humble Cleveland and even here there is a lot artistic buzz, its rather exciting. No money, but at least the creators are excited about making art.

2/12/2009 08:06:00 AM  

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