Monday, April 12, 2010

Antiestablishmentcontarianism

Maybe it's the cloudy head my allergies are giving me, but I'm having a bit of trouble reconciling two comments Marc Glimcher made in the great interview with him by Sarah Douglas on the heels of the announcement that the super galleries Pace and Wildenstein were going separate ways. Now I should note that I'm certain Mr. Glimcher knew more about running an art gallery by the time he was 12 than I may ever understand, but I still can't piece together two ideas he shared into a cohesive whole:

One was actually very heartening:
When Sugimoto left Gagosian to join your gallery several months ago, it seemed to confirm Pace's reputation as an “establishment gallery.” Are you at all interested in changing that image? After all, you’ll be inheriting this gallery eventually.

The gallery is seen as establishment. I guess that has always bugged me. My father doesn’t get bugged by it, because he doesn’t listen to anybody. He doesn't see us as an establishment gallery. To him, it's about this: 50 years ago, his father died, and his brother told him he had to start an art gallery because they were broke, and he was a painter and called all his friends and they started a gallery for radical art.

Then that little gallery for radical art got bigger.

And a gallery gets to look pretty establishment when it gets big, and when artists stay for 30 years. It went from being a minimalism gallery to being an establishment gallery. That doesn't bother my father, never has. But it's natural for it to bug me. During the boom, some galleries did things to make themselves appear less establishment. But my feeling is that all the things they did were very commercial things to do. Go after this group of artists that you don't actually have any interest in and don't believe in, follow this group of collectors. Somehow following the trends and doing the most fashionable thing came to be what seemed anti-establishment. To me, those are the most establishment things you could possibly do. Whereas if you stuck to building a community of artists, and thinking of all these things that could be done for them and with them, you were in danger of looking like an establishment organization. So I say, all we have to do now is to push harder and further, and then that idea of whether or not we are establishment will be irrelevant, because we'll be doing things that have never been done before, like pushing the definition of an art gallery, and the boundaries of being an art dealer, and doing all of this in the service of our artists.
I have to admit that I've given such matters some thought myself and heard other dealers of my generation share similar concerns. (I'm going to introduce a rough nomenclature here...it's purely my own invention, used for brevity's sake.)

One can only strive to be seen as one of the hot new galleries for so long. Even if you are considered one of the younger galleries to watch, you still have to prepare yourself; eventually other, newer galleries will rightly take that title from you. So you hope to evolve then into an important gallery. One taken seriously by museums, collectors, the press, and other dealers, but still seen as on the rise.

If you look around, you'll see that many galleries level off at this stage. They are widely seen as important contributors to the cultural landscape but there's so little room past that level and so much that isn't related to working with artists that it takes to transcend it, that only a few of the most ambitious and uber-competitive of dealers rise to the stage of establishment galleries. Clearly, not every gallery wants to get to that stage. As Mr. Glimcher notes, it comes with some negative associations. But I never actually thought that it would occur to anyone who had attained that status that they should try to shake it. As Mr. Glimcher notes, and I understand now, it comes from having been born into a gallery family and, like anyone else, wanting to make your own mark on the industry.

Still, as much as I can empathize with that idea (not wanting to be viewed as establishment), it seems this other idea of Mr. Glimcher's would only seem like a good idea to someone entrenched in the establishment level of art dealing:
Is there a correlation between the ending of the Wildenstein partnership and a change in Pace’s overall direction?

There is. In 1993, it was clear that change was coming, but how that change was coming was unclear. We certainly made attempts to move in directions that would embrace it.

What change are you referring to?

The globalization of the art world. It has globalized in a different way than anyone thought it would. What it means to be an art collector, or an artist, is in flux, and that’s fantastic. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the whole “what does it mean to be an art gallery?” question come up. The answer, for a lot of innovative people, has been a franchise, a brand. That has been incredibly successful, and Pace has participated in it to some extent, but there have been a lot of dealers who, along with the auction houses, made the concept of planting their brand around the world a defining characteristic of what they do.

So what's the next step?

What I see as the next evolutionary step after the franchise is the network. Creating and being part of a network is something that the rest of the world has been deeply engaged in for at least the last 10 years. Because of its strange characteristics, the art world is genetically behind the rest of the world, so the idea of networks is just now taking root.
Now, there are plenty of details left out in how this might work, but--call it the latent socialist in me--I read "network" in this context as "conglomerate," taking the selling of art past the corporate level and into the sort of commercial empires that dwarf (in terms of economic power) a large percentage of independent states. Yes, the rest of the world has been deeply engaged in building conglomerates for the past 10 years, and we've seen a rise in terrorism and other anti-globalization movements in response to that. And we've seen politicians put the needs of those conglomerates above the needs of the people who elected them. Fortunately, we've also seen visual artists (protected by a highly individualized industry) be among the most outspoken critics of this trend.

I'll cut to the chase of what's bugging me here: How could a Pace artist whose work deals with critiquing the impact of globalization on the people of poorer countries (or any country) be taken seriously if they exhibited within such a network? A company can't be both non-establishment AND have a built-in corporate need to turn a blind eye to such critiques.

Now, I've had neo-Marxist artists criticize even my participation in the commercialization of art (the same artists had no problem selling their work out of their studio, mind you...they simply thought galleries were inherently evil). So I know there's a bit of "take the plank out of your own eye" in my post this morning, but a mom-and-pop shop gallery doesn't have the same bureaucracy a "network" will have. It doesn't have systemic needs that have nothing to do with art demanding resources or considerations. The reason this smaller shop system has remained in place within the art industry, whereas nearly every other industry has already gone conglomerate, IMHO, is the intensely individual nature of it. It's not only the non-mass-marketable aspect of unique objects, but the individualistic culture of the visual arts world.

The problem with the Pace plan as I interpreted it is that networks thrive through a never-ending push for enhanced efficiency, and that push for greater and greater efficiency will reach back into the workplace of the creatives in any conglomerate. In the typical conglomerate, the needs of the network will demand it.

Again, there are plenty of details left out in how this might work for Pace (and Mr. Glimcher would be a fool to share them with the world), but if I were an artist in that program (particularly one whose subject matter included critiquing globalization), I'd want some more information about those details. Of course, there's no reason Pace needs to work with artists who feel strongly about such matters. There are plenty of other artists exploring plenty of other issues/concerns. It just makes one look a bit more like the establishment to need to exclude them.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or maybe he meant 'network' in a more Latourian way, as in actor-network theory. It's hard to say what he meant by 'network', and hard to say what the difference between the Marxist or Latourian versions would mean in terms of his idea for a gallery, but I imagine a Latourian version would involve galleries maintaining their own unique identity while at the same time being able to share certain resources in certain ways instead of becoming one giant entity.
But that is probably more just my bias on what would make a good network than what would really happen...

4/12/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Yes, he hints at that. Again, the details would answer all. He does say their Bejing gallery operates in an autonomous way. Not sure that the one giant entity wouldn't still assert itself in ways that threaten individuality at times, though.

4/12/2010 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Networks... I could also see a beneficial overlapping of the artist / gallery / archiving realms through some networks. Most artists have a web prescence, so what if the gallery and artist have a network relationship to their mutual benefit?

For example: I'm not part of the Winkleman Gallery's stable of artists, but imagine what if the W Gallery has a network relationship with me? On my web site the Winkleman logo appears and a link back to the W gallery site is available. My site,my effort to develop it, but if a collector sees a work they enjoy through my site, they clic through to the Winkleman gallery, there the W gallery closes the sale> The collector is comfortable with an established business, and the artist has a closed sale.

The network being a relationship of concerned participants. Where we do what we do best. The W gallery doesn't expend energy on a group of non-stable artists, but can develop a relationship /network with a broader range of collectors and artists. Likely the % ratio would be different- but the overlap of network participant realms if you will could thus be exploited without "competing".

The network might include galleries/artists/framers/deliverers in different geographic sectors,allowing the collectors the security of working with someone they are nearby to without being limited to the artists in the galleries stable.

Not sure exactly where, but I could see network relationships working to a lot of participants benefits.
Likely networks could even open more access for more participants. I can even imagine museums tapping into those currently exclusive databases.

hmmm seem to be dream-scheming outloud here

4/12/2010 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric said...

I think Network just means that I can come into your gallery without being your artist. You only get a contract for the exhibition I'm doing in YOUR gallery, with your percentage of that.


Personally, I'd much more prefer sending an exhibition offer to each gallery and see how it is accepted, than getting to show always in the same space. As in "hey ,I've got my show at Mary Boone, my show at Deitch, my show at Winkleman, my show at Gago..oh did we do Gago? Oh no, we didn't do Gago.." Etc...

I'll dare say that I think the time of a dealer protecting the career of 20 or so artists is over. My "network" model benefits as much to the artist as the dealer, who don't have to put up with artists that no-one is interested in for so long.

Basically you transfer the alternative space model to the commercial, that's networking.

No?


(No, Cedric, you're always talking of things you know nuts about)


Ah well,

Cedric

4/12/2010 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(No, Cedric, you're always talking of things you know nuts about)


correct

4/12/2010 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Shouldn’t be getting into this but …

Edward, when you say conglomeration are you thinking of the formation of large international holding companies that let their individual holdings operate more or less independently? An industry with a big creative component that I am familiar with is advertising, where the majority of agencies over a certain size are now owned by four huge companies (Omnicon, WPP, Publicis and Interpublic). Or are you thinking of a more tightly coupled organization?

Either way I can see it making a lot of sense, especially if the goal is to develop and serve markets all over the world. And if it’s going to happen, it’s got to start somewhere, and it might as well start now. And I would say it’s better coming out of the artworld as it now exists than coming in from outside (like media).

BTW I still think the web is going to take over everything but that’s not really in opposition to what Marc Glimcher is talking about. It’s interesting that he brings up information in the interview. What is the Internet about if not information?

4/12/2010 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's the "more or less" independently part that I think is potentially problematic. In fashion conglomerates, one of the closest parallels to what most folks suggest art galleries might turn into, you frequently see the original name of a line muscled out or marginalized...when you have mass production, that's one thing, but when you have individualized creation of unique objects, well...

4/12/2010 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

I see your point. Even if it’s hard to predict exactly how things would play out, there would be powerful eyes, remote from the day to day business and culture of the individual galleries, looking at numbers and questioning what they deem to be underperformance. I can see this turning into direct pressure on the galleries to make adjustments to their rosters and even their programs (words I learned from your book, they work great). Though there would be exceptions, the general effect would likely be a decrease in risk taking, which in my uninformed opinion would be bad for art.

4/12/2010 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

(Continuing from my previous message) On the other hand, if the top level of the organization has vision and confidence in its galleries, it might enable them to stick with their risky bets longer and give them more chance to pan out (and subsidize them in the mean time).

It could also, with its deep pockets and diversified positions, serve as an incubator for new cutting edge galleries and other innovative projects and enable things to happen that individuals couldn’t do on their own for lack of funds or creditability.

Maybe this kind of thing already goes on in the artworld but if so I haven’t heard of it.

4/12/2010 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric c said...

Oh, Anon, my idea was still better than your anonimity.

Cedric

4/12/2010 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Networked, an older example might be Marlborough Gallery which has branches in Europe that seem to have their own stables of artists.

Regardless, it might be good for business but it's not where the most interesting art is.

4/13/2010 12:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Randall Anderson said...

When Mr. Glimcher speaks of "network" I think "mono-culture". And what happens in a mono-culture? Disease hits, spreads quickly, and is usually fatal. Words like "franchise" and "brand" are so last century! But, I like to think of Robert Filliuo's "eternal network". (speaking of last century) This is more about the stuff of art, about an exchange of ideas, about making culture, not marketing and consuming it. And here we are, participating in a network, but one that isn't about branding. The "smaller shop" that Ed speaks of is more about surviving on the street, multi-tasking in order to respond to the realities - thinking on one's feet. Disease comes along, and you step sideways, moving around it and moving on. I applaud #class and wish I could have been there. A project like that represents a moment when we can all stop, raise our heads and look around to see where we are, then move on, hopefully in a new direction informed by what we saw. Mr. Glimcher's "network" doesn't strike me as one that could change direction easily, thus it will walk right into the next plague.

4/14/2010 06:09:00 AM  

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