To Show or Not to Show : Open Thread
One of the hardest issues to deal with as a gallerist is telling a represented artist who is expecting an exhibition that you, the dealer, don't think their new work is strong enough and you're not going to exhibit it. This becomes even more difficult when the artist has had a number of solo exhibitions and has come to rely, either financially or reputation-wise or both, on them happening as scheduled.
I'm personally not dealing with this issue (at the moment), but a friend of mine who has a gallery is. Let's call this friend "Xavier." He's had a gallery for well over ten years, and one of his artists (let's call her "Madge") has had exhibitions every two years for the last decade. This upcoming January would be the fifth solo show for Madge at Xavier's gallery, except that Xavier is convinced the new work isn't up to Madge's usual quality. Moreover, Xavier has been working very hard to lift the gallery up a level and benefit all the other artists in the program in the process.
To Madge's mind, her new work is strong enough, it's her turn, and she's angry that Xavier doesn't want to show it. To Xavier's mind, the mediocre show won't do Madge's career any favors, won't do the other gallery artists any favors, and won't do him any favors either. The notion of Madge demanding "her turn" also chafes Xavier's neck a bit. He views each show as an agreed-on production, not Madge's birthright.
The agreed-on part is a critical component here to my mind. I have been talked into shows where we not only had nothing at all for sale but actually gave away thousands of dollars of treasures for free, where we turned the gallery over to a month of lectures and performances and invited the public to tell us why galleries and the commercial art world suck, and one that I couldn't bring myself to tell my mother about. Mind you, I am very proud of each of those exhibitions and each brought the gallery tons of press, but my point here is that I agreed to each of them as well. Moreover, the artists and I negotiated certain timing issues and production costs for each of them.
In other words, it was a joint effort, and we respectively compromised on what we could.
There are certainly times when an artist believed in something so much (even though I was skeptical) that I agreed to present it. Sometimes I was pleasantly proved wrong. Other times I was proved correct. But there have been times when I simply said no. I won't present that. Let's figure out some other exhibition. It pained me to have to tell the artist no, but I have never regretted doing so. The reputation of the gallery and the other artists who show in it depend on the dealer's ability to say no when they simply don't believe in the work.
Moreover, dealers consider it their job to not let any of their artists exhibit less than their very best work. The artist may not like to hear that the work's not up to snuff, but the possible consequences of not telling them (horrible reviews, loss of faith among collectors, damage to the artists and/or gallery's reputation) are far worse than their temporary disappointment.
But then this is all from the gallerist's point of view. I present it as such so that artists might better understand that it's both difficult and essential for the dealer to "figure something else out" when they don't believe in a new body of work. I'm quite sure there are considerations from the artists' point of view, or experiences, that it would benefit dealers to learn about as well here though. So consider this an open thread.