Monday, February 01, 2010

Toss the Bathwater, Keep the Baby

"Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don't "win," there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory," - Howard Zinn, "The Optimism of Uncertainty," The Nation, 2004.

I've never been much of a believer in the notion that it's better to completely destroy something just because it's flawed. The "build it from scratch" approach might make sense when the foundation of something is irreparable, but humans being imperfect, the notion that we'll get something "right" the next time if only we burn the current system to the ground ignores that, of course, the next system will be flawed as well, because we are. To my mind, it's better to work within the system, tough as that may be to make change, because only change that is won through compromise tends to last and not just prompt another revolution.

That's why I insisted when Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida suggested that their upcoming exhibition in the gallery (#class : see Bill's take on this issue on the exhibition blog here) would be better if they banished me from the gallery (something that's been done in commercial galleries before and not changed much, apparently) that they'd be missing an important opportunity. I understood their desire to surprise or disorient people as a means of hopefully cracking the shell of the current system and see if truly helpful alternatives emerge, but I also think far too much of what ails the system is wrongly projected upon galleries and that by simply taking the dealer out of the picture they'd lose the opportunity to include what's good about the gallery system and build upon that, and that they'd even lose the opportunity to have what's improvable about the gallery system be part of their overall discovery process. In other words, I honestly believe that galleries would be an important part of a better system and that the gesture of having an exhibition in a gallery without the dealer (i.e., the person underwriting the entire venture) would be to only play at finding alternatives or worse to have everyone else agree upon something except the person who would be actually able to do it because she/he wasn't included in the process.

Bill summarized my objection as being focused on how much I enjoy the dialog in our gallery (which I do), but my real objection is that dealers are part of the system, and as such both part of the problem and part of any solutions that will have lasting value. Banishing me from the space would be to pretend none of that was true and whatever alternatives were agreed upon would then (what?) be presented to dealers as their new marching orders after the fact (as opposed to being built with dealer's agreement and participation)? That will not change anything except perhaps how many people are willing to open a gallery.

When President Obama sparred with Republicans the other day, he noted how it is important to keep all sides talking to each other (something you can't do if you're banished) even when they know they'll disagree, because ensuring there is wiggle room in which to negotiate is critical to making any progress on matters you can agree on. By painting the president as a Bolshevik, many of the Republicans had made it impossible for them to agree with anything he wanted to do, even if they believed it would help their constituents. Shaking things up effectively can't happen if one side makes all the decisions and then presents them to the other side...that only builds resentment and hardens divisions.

Another effort to shake things up is happening in New York during Jen and Bill's show. "INDEPENDENT" is an art fair-like event that wants to re-examine art fairs. Like #class, it is a temporary venture designed not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but simply to rearrange the standard system just enough to see what might emerge from looking at things with a fresh perspective. Here's the press release for the event (its website is still being finalized):

INDEPENDENT, a new model and temporary exhibition forum, will take place at the former X Initiative and former Dia Center for the Arts at 548 West 22nd Street in New York from March 4 – 7, 2010, and will be open to the public free of charge, Thursday from 4pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to 8pm, and Sunday from 12pm to 4pm.

INDEPENDENT was conceived by Elizabeth Dee, New York gallerist and founder of X Initiative, and gallerist Darren Flook, from Hotel, London. Part consortium, part collective, INDEPENDENT lies somewhere between a collective exhibition and a reexamination of the art fair model, reflecting the changing attitudes and growing challenges for artists, galleries, curators and collectors. The weeklong program hosting presentations and installations by highly regarded international figures has been developed with creative advisors, Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services, New York and Matthew Higgs, Director of the nonprofit White Columns, New York.

The international list of participating galleries, independent curators and nonprofit spaces was developed through personal invitations from the founders, the advisors and, as well, the participants themselves. This approach has allowed the project to evolve through conversations, collaborations and shared conceptual engagements as opposed to the application process that typically characterizes the contemporary art fair. In so doing, the participants have entered into a consortium rather than a transactional arrangement with a governing party. Structured as a transparent financial cooperative, each participant is aware of the project’s expenses, including rent and the support services required. The collaborative process allows for both financial efficiency and the creation of more ambitious projects.

The individual concepts for presentation are met with custom spaces which are curated in relation to other projects, allowing for a dynamic and diverse flow through the vast spaces on each of the building’s four floors. There will also be a series of performances in coordination with the exhibits, collaborations between galleries presenting works together, and lectures on the ground floor throughout the week.

Additionally, INDEPENDENT will present an artist project by Claire Fontaine entitled Please God Make Tomorrow Better, 2008, a neon text work above the façade door which will be on view 24 hours a day during the run of the entire project.

The list of participants is as follows:
The Approach (London)
Artists Space (New York)
Laura Bartlett (London)
BolteLang (Zürich)
Bortolami Gallery (New York)
Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi (Berlin)
Elizabeth Dee (New York)
Dispatch (New York)
Gavlak Gallery (Palm Beach)
gb agency (Paris)
Hard Hat (Geneva)
Hotel (London)
Galerie Ben Kaufmann (Berlin)
Johann König (Berlin)
Andrew Kreps Gallery (New York)
Kate MacGarry (London)
McCaffrey Fine Art (New York)
Mestre Projects (Barcelona/New York)
mitterrand + sanz (Zürich)
Moss/Westreich-Wagner (New York)
New Galerie (Paris)
Maureen Paley (London)
Renwick Gallery (New York)
Reserved for Leo Castelli
Rodeo (Istanbul)
Sabot (Cluj-Napoca)
Stuart Shave/Modern Art (London)
Sutton Lane (London/Paris)
White Columns (New York)
Winkleman Gallery (New York)
Galerie Jocelyn Wolff (Paris)
Zero (Milan)

The INDEPENDENT Team is lead by Co-Directors Laura Mitterrand and Jayne Drost. They are joined by Exhibition Designer Ian Sullivan and Technical Coordinator David Shull.

INDEPENDENT has been sponsored in part by the exhibitors, The Jane Hotel, Café Gitane, and Mousse, Milan. For more information, please contact Laura Mitterrand at +1.917.414.7941 or Visit our new website soon at
Mind you, INDEPENDENT is not an anti-fair event (just like #class is not an anti-gallery event). Many of the participants in INDEPENDENT are also participating in the other fairs taking place in New York at that time (including yours truly, we are also delighted to be participating in PULSE New York). INDEPENDENT merely represents an opportunity to try things a bit differently to see what might be learned.

In both experiments (#class and INDEPENDENT) there is no underlying expectation that the world as we know it will be forever altered by its conclusion. As the late great Howard Zinn noted "Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society."

Labels: #class, alternatives, Art Fairs,


Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

I do not mean to be belligerent or disrespectful out of conscience (and for the sake of my own future of some day having my work seen in a gallery); but how is this different? INDEPENDENT appears to be yet another art fair only a slightly more collaborative affair of those with enough money and connections to have skin in the game. The BRING YOUR OWN ART event happening this Wednesday at X-initiative seems to have more potential (though likely less promotion) to shake things up.

2/01/2010 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think that's a fair (no pun intended) question, Bernard. At this point, the difference will be evidenced in the actual fair production mostly but I think the model is a bit different too in that the financial transparency of the event (the "financial cooperative, each participant is aware of the project’s expenses, including rent and the support services required.") is not something I've seen emphasized in any other fair I've participated in. From a dealer's point of view, the costs issue is one of the points of pain in art fairs. "Am I getting good value for my fee?" It's not always easy to judge before you participate. Knowing ahead of time where/how the money's being spent helps.

Again, I think sometimes you make real progress with tweaks and surprises (something I think the experience of INDEPENDENT will hold) more than you do with revolutionary new models.

We'll see in March, though.

The "Bring Your Own Art" event probably won't impact how art fairs are run or organized that much (it could, I guess, but...), so I think it's a different arena it stands to shake up.

2/01/2010 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Art dealers are parasitic middlemen, who operate for the convenience of the collector, who are by and large too lazy and herd-like to have their own taste.

Is that what you want to hear?

You are welcome.

Yours in hackneyland.

2/01/2010 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You're coming to an event or two, aren't you Zip? Wouldn't be the same if you didn't show.

2/01/2010 03:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
-R. Buckminster Fuller
I always found that quote compelling, but poor Bucky was never very successful at it, was he?
His designs were always way ahead of their time, but never really took off in a big way...

2/01/2010 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems to be just an overblown exercise in rebranding. I'm not sure whats supposed to incite change or give that fresh perspective. A group of well-known galleries, showing the same artists to invariably the same group of collectors. Is this just a ploy to go after a different collecting base? While I don't begrudge any of the galleries for complaining and trying to do something about the ridiculous associated costs of art fairs, I spell a whole bunch of PR hot air.


2/01/2010 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...


Artists also show in different venues: commercial galleries, non profits, academic galleries, open studios. These different kinds of exhibition spaces offer different opportunities for showing in terms of size, amount, degree of experimentation, price range, the other artists we exhibit with. We vary our "diet" because doing so keeps us well fed conceptually, creatively, socially and politically. I'm guessing that's why the dealers are doing it, too.

(I'll be at all the fairs as a blogger, and thus get in free via a press pass. But if I had to pay at the door for each fair, I would think long and hard about where I put my money. With the Independent fair offereing free entry, I'd make a beeline over.)

2/01/2010 06:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a suggestion: why aren't the artists bannishing themselves from the gallery?

Oh, I forgot, I do that all the time.



2/02/2010 12:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

In the spirit of Cathy’s wonderful poetic metaphor for blogging on the internet (or was it internet useage ?) as a slumber party , well, if this digresses too much, it is just that I nodded off during the small talk and just re-awoke to add to the chatter and maybe it is too late as I nod off again …

I recall reading this the other weekend and thought it might be good to hear. Written by Dave Hickey, who eloquently states: (in Air Guitar)

" ... I know, of course, what my colleagues think of Leo Castelli, Richard Bellamy, Laus Kertess and the Janis brothers, because they are (or used to be) art dealers and thus, the very embodiment of Satan. Even so, when I was a youngster adrift in Manhattan, these people recognized me the second or third time I wandered into their stores. They came out and talked to me about what was hanging on the walls. They even pulled stuff out of the back so we could talk about that, knowing full well (by my outfit) that I was a cowboy and no kind of collector at all. That was the best thing about little stores. If you were nobody like me, and didn't know anything, you could go into them and find things out. People would talk to you, not because you were going to buy something, but because they loved the stuff they had to sell. ..."

It's this space for talking, sharing, disputing, elucidating and discovering that is so wonderful about art.
And maybe about slumber parties too. You’re right Ed, not to have that tossed out.

2/02/2010 05:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

here is a nice paradigm shift from over at

the blog there deals with musicians but the paradigm shift might apply hear too it is a different approach to considering access -:
"Get over the idea that your success is equated with selling the right to listen, or selling control over when people listen. Relinquish the opportunity to make money by controlling who can listen and when. That's gone. It's over. It would be like a bakery selling the right to sniff the fresh bread or a wine maker selling the right to look at the cool label. It's now a public good, something you see as you walk by.
What you can sell, what you better be able to sell, is intimacy. It's interactions in public. Souvenirs. Limited things of value. Experiences. Memories. People will pay for those things, IF: your art is actually great and if you make it possible for them to buy them. "

2/02/2010 12:52:00 PM  

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