Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Do We Mean by "The Dialog"?

Murat and I have been graciously invited to present a series of lectures in Tallinn, Estonia, on How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery. Most of the lectures will deal with practical matters--established business models, legal considerations, logistical concerns, etc.--but one of the topics we'll cover as well, knowing that at least some of the attendees are interested in opening or working in contemporary commercial art galleries, is "the dialog."

I've gotten tangled up in discussing "the dialog" in similar contexts before, especially when the audience included people with a mix of niches they intended to focus on within the art market. The main problem here, of course, is that "the dialog" means different things to different people. There are, for example, dialogs that are international in scope, regional, national, and local; dialogs that are medium-based; dialogs that are conceptually based; and on and on to the point that you might be forgiven for concluding "the dialog" is a useless term in discussing practical matters.

But actually it's not. When a group of galleries (i.e., committee members) are asked to weigh in on whether Gallery X should get into trendy Art Fair Y, there is a very specific and practical (not to mention potentially economic) meaning to their conclusion that Gallery X isn't right for Art Fair Y because their program falls outside "the dialog." That doesn't mean the art that Gallery X shows isn't of the highest quality within its niche, just that their niche doesn't reinforce or support the statements being made by the other galleries already associated with or participating in Art Fair Y.

And so, because it's a shorthand loaded with practical meaning for those in the contemporary art gallery world, the concept of "the dialog" is, imo, an important one to discuss in considering how to start and run a commercial art gallery (in addition, obviously, to being important to being well informed about what contemporary artists are up to...but the context in which I need to discuss it most immediately is for new business owners). But it would surely be easier to do so with an accurate and flexible metaphor. In particular, this metaphor needs to be flexible enough to account for the way "the dialog" works within the increasingly global contemporary art sphere.

One metaphor I've considered fleshing out for this (and will test on lucky you!) is weather.

I realize this is probably way too complicated (and full of holes) to help in a lecture, but perhaps any feedback to it will steer me in the right direction, so I'll offer it all the same.

In this metaphor, artists are huge meteorological events, like tornadoes or hurricanes or tsunamis (stick with me offense intended :-). Although normally few people would pay much attention to the weather in a location half way around the world, should there be a powerful event there that disrupts the normal flow of things or has an impact on a wider swath of the world, big powerful weather events (localized by definition) get more of the rest of the world's attention than they would otherwise. That's why collectors in Shanghai know the name Jeff Koons, for example, and why collectors in New York know the name Ai Weiwei.

There is also importance in the infrastructure, industry, or symbolism of a location that can focus our attention on its weather. Consider, for example, the way all of the US pays close attention when a hurricane rips through the Gulf Coast even when it barely results in a few rain drops up north. It's not only concern for our fellow citizens living down there, but we also care because any damage or disruption to the oil refineries there will be reflected in what we pay at the pump in Poughkeepsie. How many days the refineries are closed is therefore carefully analyzed across the country, if not the world, by businesses as they try to predict its potential impact on the prices of transport, heating, goods, etc. Likewise, although there's a local art scene in Venice, Italy, and the art world pays an appropriate amount of attention to what happens there day to day, when a huge, powerful event like the Biennale takes place, each detail of that event is scoured and analyzed for significance to what it will mean for future trends, artist's careers, or national rankings on the international scene.

The metaphor works (I think) to discuss the daily impact of "the dialog" as well. Whereas you might visit or read the arts publications to see what the "weather" was like in Venice every other year, and keep up with global climate change (global art trends), usually you're more consumed with the local weather (the local dialog). Will I need an umbrella today? (Is local critic Z stopping in, and will he/she agree that this show is important?)  

How helpful is this in understanding the role "the dialog" plays in setting up and running a commercial art gallery? I've fallen so in love with my metaphor, actually, I'm no longer sure. Feel free to point out any part of it you think might be useful...or suggest another metaphor...otherwise, I may simply say (in practical terms, in this context) "the dialog" can be boiled down to the consensus of which artists are important as reflected by the power of their galleries and strength of their markets...but that would be a shame, really :-).


Blogger Tim McFarlane said...

Another thought-provoking post. I actually like the weather metaphor in the context of demonstrating how people, events, and institutions affect the art worlds of various places and other practical matters on the business side of things. The 'weather' is good short-hand to get your audience thinking in a more dynamic way about some of the practical matters that they have to face.

That said, I still think that 'dialog' might be the better phrase to use when it comes to discussing the art-making side of things; about how artists are communicating and exchanging ideas with each other and their audiences through the works they make.

9/13/2012 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Saskia said...

Love it. Thinking about subtle and not so subtle ways businesses react to the weather.

Coincidentally, this reference also popped up on my blogosphere radar this morning.

9/13/2012 12:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

play the devils advocate a bit here:

can you bring into the metaphor how outside influences can change the direction and content of the dialogue? Can it show the value and limits of jargon.

I think in part of el nino and el nina shifting the typical seasonl patterns ,or maybe a volcano erupting that cause ash plumes and drastically modifying the normal weather patterns., or maybe industrial affects that cause global warming (the nouveau rich)...

I guess I'm asking how the metaphor can keep the dialogue as an open ended one, one that changes from influences inside or out. Otherwise the dialogue appears as the establishment, only what was, whereas it is likely more a fickle one that shifts and moves from outside they have Chinooks or North Easters in Estonia?

9/13/2012 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous markc said...

Nice. And I can see this metaphor working as way of describing how one can find a particular system or front/context for a gallery's program. And I could be saying this with a completely inaccurate idea of weather systems as separate with separate paths and evolutions, but I see that describing how an artist or gallery finds their context that works for them.

9/13/2012 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous zipthwung said...

Metaphors, though esthetically pleasing, can often confuse the issue (heavenly spheres, for example). While art (a metaphorical/abstract mind-space that enjoys "the music of the spheres" and such) might be great for juggling the cognitive dissonance of high vs low or any other dichotomy, true or false, you would like to focus on, much art in this particular dialogue is not great for clarity.

If you say that your tribe or affinity group or brand experience or cash cow is in a different head space or the same head space, that's great.

But if you say it is different (maybe even superior), then you are talking about a negative rather than inclusive definition of art and people start throwing around populist/elitist labels.

Sometimes art is all about timing (as withthe NYT arts section yesterday) - plugging theater of the absurd/cruelty, breaking the fourth wall and whatnot).

Sociology may be more interesting than a lot of blue chip art that claims value based on its "relevance" but maybe I'm just jaded.

9/17/2012 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I Dont want to be Weather. I am Godzilla and everything impeding my goals is Tokyo. rarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

9/17/2012 12:53:00 PM  

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