Friday, September 04, 2009

What Have You Done For Me Lately? Open Thread

You know those kinds of mornings when you're just so grouchy you'd kick a puppy or drop a wad of chewed gum in a blind man's cup or pick up a catalog from a decade-old Whitney Biennial and count how many of those artists no one's heard from since?

Well, it's a beautiful day, Bambino and I are heading to the beach with some very fun friends this weekend, and I'm not even remotely as grouchy as all that.
But I did think back this morning to that tendency in the art world--you know, that sphere in which the second thing someone invariably says to you at your solo show opening, right after they air kiss you and squeal "Congratulations!!," is "So, what you got coming up?"--to devour ideas and images and people like one does the free hors d'oeuvres at a charity benefit (you know who you are...standing near the entrance to the kitchen and mobbing the cater-waiters before they get three feet with their trays over to the rest of us...I'm watching you).

It can be a thoroughly thankless task to wish to bring love and light into the lives of your fellow humans through art sometimes.

But this is New York, and the thin-skinned need not apply.

Still, I was briskly woken up by a line in the article Roberta Smith penned about the art market today, titled "
The Mood of the Market, as Measured in the Galleries":
An art gallery is like a single-cell organism: it is the crudest but also the most essential life form in the art-world food chain. It is among the easiest of public forums to start up, and therefore the most efficient means of introducing new blood into the system. All it takes is one person with the single-minded determination to get the work of an artist or two seen and a reasonably clean, well-lighted space of almost any size — something that is becoming a more affordable option as rents soften and storefronts, even in some of Chelsea’s chic new condos, sit vacant.

At the same time keeping a gallery going is usually fairly hard, and can seem impossibly daunting when sales slump. As small operations, galleries are highly vulnerable to changes in the economic climate — canaries in the coal mine, as they have often been called. So it made sense, as the bottom fell out of the art market last winter, that many people predicted galleries would start closing fast and furiously.

As it turned out, it is hard to know if this summer has brought much more than the usual in the way of closings, along with relocations, expansions, contractions, splits and alliances. So far the list of galleries that have closed is barely two dozen long, and only if you include galleries that closed several months before the crash; galleries that, to be blunt, will not be missed; neophyte galleries that had yet to establish either a financial or critical foothold; and galleries that closed for reasons only partly related to the market, or not at all. [emphasis mine]
Wow, I thought at first, I can think of several galleries that closed before the crash that I do miss...and Wow, that's one impressive ability we have in this realm to forget someone in infinitely less time than it takes to establish a financial or critical foothold. But that was just my bleeding heart speaking. Afterward, I slowly realized that I do know exactly what Roberta means. With hundreds of galleries in Chelsea alone, who can muster the energy (seriously) to miss all that many of them once they're gone? Further, when you multiple the galleries times their average artist roster, you realize this "here today, who? tomorrow" effect is even worse for artists.

I have a stock answer to that for artists: focus on your studio practice, make the art you want to make, tastes and careers fluctuate, blah, blah, blah. But for dealers I tend to have nothing more in my encouragement bag of tricks than to point to those who've managed to regroup, with a new partner or new program, and reopen (always after a hiatus long enough for the art world to forget why you closed, which, as we've established, takes about 3 weeks or 3 martinis, depending on who you're asking).

I'm not sure why I'm feeling so frisky about so grim a topic...guess it's the thought of cocktails and the sound of the ocean washing away all my cares.

Consider this an open thread on ways to keep fighting the good fight and thickening one's skin.

Oh, and Happy Labor Day!

Labels: art world, open thread


Blogger Mark said...

Don't forget the sunscreen or you'll be very grouchy tomorrow, have a great end of summer weekend!

9/04/2009 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

This may be sound like a dumb idea, because I don't see many signs of it happening in the art world, but I wonder if it wouldn't be a bad strategy for galleries to attempt mergers in order to keep costs down. If it works for oil companies, accounting firms, etc., why not art dealerships? Some jobs might be lost, and of course there are always egos, but if 3-4 galleries with similar programs started to partner with each other, there could be some consolidation of resources like physical plant, accounting, advertising, utilities, etc. There could also be a major benefit to the consumer (sorry, the "collector"). In a business where there are some 500 little independent stores (sorry, "galleries") spread out all over the city, it is physically impossible for a single collector to visit every one of them, and therefore some potential sales are inevitably lost. In addition, if galleries merged, they could help offset each others' gains and losses as the market fluctuates with time.

9/04/2009 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Jason Gringler said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/04/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Many galleries have two rooms where they show one artist in each, many do 2-person shows in one room, many do group shows. And a gallery may have much more additional work in inventory, including flat files and that sort of thing. (Think of Pierogi in Brooklyn: in addition to the pieces on their walls in two rooms, they must have 700 artists in their flat files - which are now largely cataloged on-line for easy home perusal - as well as shelves and shelves of pieces wrapped in bubble wrap.)

A good-sized space where 3 or 4 artists are exhibited at a time does not seem to me impracticable. If there are 12 3-person shows a year, that's 36 artists per year. Make that 12 4-person shows a year and you're up to 48.

I'm not an art professional, and I'm not claiming to have offered anything fool-proof. It's just an idea offered to help think outside the box a little.

9/04/2009 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

a couple of days ago I commented on one of Jerry Saltz’s facebook posts, regarding the state of gallery closures. I wrote that I’d counted something like 40. That evening Jerry
e-mailed me to see if I could send him the list. I did, mentioning that the list had been compiled with the help of John Haber, Hrag Vartanian and Steve Kaplan. (There may be some mistakes, closures out of the timeframe or galleries in transition but…) here’s that list:

31 Grand,
Amy Smith Stuart,
Cohan and Leslie
Brooklyn Fireproof
Pat Hearn,
Curt Marcus,
Steffany Martz,
Museum 52,
Point of View,
Rivington Arms,
Roebling Hall,
Guild & Greyshkul,
Phillips de Pury,
Moti Hasson,
The Proposition,
Andreas Grimm Gallery,
Feigen Contemporary,
Fruit & Flower Deli,
Kinz Tillou and Feigen,
Werkstatte Gallery,
Esso Gallery,
BUIA Gallery,
Heist Gallery ?,
Charles Cowles,
Pocket Utopia,
Janos Gat,
Dinter Fine Art,
Plane Space,
Zieher Smith
Caren Golden
Hudson Franklin Gallery
Ad Hock
Cheryl Pelavin,

In the first draft of an article titled “The Lies We Tell Children” appearing in the Sept. Brooklyn Rail, I stated (but was magnanimously edited out) “Some local art critics have put forth the notion, with what I call the “Auschwitz Guard Attitude,” that those (art and artists) that have been forgotten, deserve to be forgotten. They see their mission as keeping the shabby faceless crowds under control and in line on their way to oblivion. Occasionally someone will catch their fancy and they’ll pull them out of the queue and put them to work in some useful capacity, maybe playing violin to calm the others as they slowly move towards their inevitable fate.”

Look at this list, think of all the artists, galleriests, visitors and patrons who invested their hopes efforts and monies in these ventures, and tell me which ones are better off forgotten?

9/04/2009 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger J Bills said...

I have to ask - which came first, the picture or the post title?

9/04/2009 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I had a somewhat different response to the article, which you can read here: In general, I think Michele Maccarone came out looking fine (and actually kind of funny) but I don’t know that I’d want to be quoted and portrayed as the only dealer out there struggling in the NYT (particularly when Roberta implies some harsh things about the galleries that have closed). I think that in journalism (even if you’re a great critic), you should quote more than one source (in this case another dealer) complaining about things–particularly given the current climate. Inside the art world, no harm done; outside of it, I don’t know. The article felt loaded and incomplete to me.

9/04/2009 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Auschwitz it's not. Let's have a little perspective here.

9/04/2009 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

Wow, I had no idea so many galleries shut down.

Did Feature really close?

Must come down to New York and check it out myself.

9/04/2009 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

It would be interesting to hear Roberta answer your question, JK.

Her article just strikes me as more whistling in the dark, the ‘green shoots’ when the glass is only half full.

Otherwise known as denial.

But there’s also an attitude that strikes me as uncomfortably like the corollary to the free-marketeer’s ‘Too Big to Fail’ rationale. Namely if you’re small or not popular enough, then you pay the price of swimming in the tank with the big guys.

Yeah, the verdict of the market turns out to be survival of the fattest.

The argument about numbers I leave to others, but the broader economic picture is still far from clear and these are early days, if economists are to be believed….

9/04/2009 07:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I love James Kalm! He sound like a good fellaw.


9/04/2009 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Nothing like bolstering your argument with a Michele Maccarone quote, "Like, OMG! You guys! I like, didn't take a day off all summer!"

9/05/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I've been tastefully comparing the art world to a concentration camp for some time. I'm heartened to hear there are other disposable parakeets in the coal mine.

Divide and conquer is one of my cri de cours or whatever goes on your sleeve these days.

Some people like snake pit, rats nest or barn yard. Other proles like the more theoretical factory, assembly line, sales floor distributorship and consignment shop.

These sorts of descriptions or metaphors or literal truths used to shock people when they had illusions. Remember those?

A few facist leaning mystics go for happenings, tent revivals, assemblies of the elders, druid circles, cross burnings, religious orgies of food and sex, and ritual sacrifices.

What is memorable? A good concert? A riot? An epiphany? A realy well organized desk? A leaky faucet?

Does art have to be memorable? I thought spectacle was too easy, as obvious as shooting every tenth prisoner.

9/05/2009 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

My thing with the way the article portrays M. Maccarone is that, yeah you have to work a little harder now, yeah you have to do things you wouldn't normally do- but so does everyone. To ask "How's it going?" is a totally normal question, not only to an art gallery, but to any business who you may care about.

9/05/2009 06:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heist and Museum 52 never closed. Heist had a smart show spoofing closing that was taken too literally, Museum 52 moved and has been open all summer.

Zieher Smith closed for a short period to re-locate; they have already sent re-opening press announcements.

9/05/2009 09:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Cas said...

There's at least 5 galleries in that list that I visited frequently, and usually I'm very ponderous about the shows that I visit. I think Roberta spoke a little too fast.


(But I still see it as: they are about 4 artists I will really like in a gallery, and though I understand Edward's idea that most have a "program", I can't think of a gallery of which I love the entire program. So to me many galleries have many non-essential artists and a couple more essentials.)

9/06/2009 02:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat Hearn? That gallery closed years ago...

9/06/2009 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an artist who showed with one of the more beloved (although a bit under the radar - galleries on that list, I think Roberta is right. Most won't be missed, except of course by the artists that showed there.

9/07/2009 09:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

++Most won't be missed

I thought the people at Feigen were a notch nicer than in most galleries. Was it just me? Maybe
I'm deluded but my sixth sense was very positive about the vibes at that place. At Roebling Hall too, employees were particulary nice, though I only visited them during their brief stay in Chelsea.


9/08/2009 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

In a fast paced microcosm of the fast paced world, memories are short, and feelings are shallow. It is the energy of the moment that keeps you engaged and fighting.

But there is liberation when you are one news/gossip cycle from obscurity - because it is so much easier to make a mark and be crowned at the games, or start again if you fall!

(It is this headiness that made me fall in love with Silicon Valley in the 1990's)

9/08/2009 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Is there anything else that can be done by artists for the good of the system? I'm thinking of something like an artist led coalition. Many of us may be willing to donate a little bit of our networking/business side to help open a new show, or to keep a gallery going for a little longer.

9/08/2009 07:30:00 PM  

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