Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Gallery-Industrial Complex

I don't know all that much about how the Art World works. But it seems to me that there are gatekeepers, gallerists who represent and promote artists. The "usual path" for an artist is to get a show in a minor gallery, maybe accept some representation, then move slowly on up through galleries and representation until whatever peak possible is achieved. Representation and Gallery Shows are, I think(?), loosely coupled, but not strictly.

There's a finite number of galleries out there. Every gallery needs to shift some artwork for some real money, to make rent. They're a business, with rent, staff, insurance, credit card processing fees, a marketing budget, blah blah blah. This means they all want, ideally, to maximize revenue and minimize overheads. This suggests fewer higher value artists, making as many saleable pieces as possible. As a general rule of thumb, within the confines of the kinds of clients and artists each gallery can attract.

I recently watched "What Remains" while on a business trip. It loosely follows Sally Mann's work on a large project about, basically, death. It's built around Battlefields, Body Farm, Faces, and some other things, I think. All up, she spent years working on this, and wound up with a high end gallery show in NYC. Except that the gallery cancelled it at the last minute, after she'd started packaging things to ship and so on. She'd shot the photos, made a bunch of very large prints, spent countless hours planning and arranging, and then the plug simply got pulled.

One of the finest and best respected living Artists on the planet got yanked, and was utterly crushed. The film shows her crying freely.

All is redeemed when she gets a museum show instead (which merely shows that someone in the museum world was mildly on the ball, as this was a monumentally important show).

Still, we see the endgame of more or less top-end Gallery-Industrial Complex (GIC) operations. Vast amounts of labor are expended. Years of full time effort and god knows how much expense, potentially up in smoke because the gallery needs to make a stack of money, and they realized belatedly that sales of enormous prints of dead bodies are likely to be low.

The GIC demands scale and tremendous amounts of work from the artist, but potentially gives back nothing. In return for your blood, sweat, and commitment, you get, um, nothing.

Eschew the GIC. Think small. Work, but not for the big score. Work for love, work small, for a small audience.

That's my thought, anyways. Probably sour grapes.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are absolutely correct. Read 'The Supermodel and the Brillo Box' by Don Thompson.