Sunday 28 June 2015

Opening Galleries

The Dealer
photo collage C. Ascher

Why do people who are not artists or who know very little about art’s history, practitioners or techniques want to open art galleries? I have over time observed that there are two motivating factors: 
1) they love art as a superior endeavour, think that artists are ‘special’ humans and want to be part of their world, and/or 
2) they imagine that they will make great profits with little effort. 
Many in both of these camps fail. They either become quickly disillusioned with artists, often not the most reliable or easy people to deal with, or they find that despite the huge amounts of effort on their part, the money flows in completely the wrong direction.
The thing with art galleries is that their owners have to build interest, not only in the work and the artists they display, but also in the gallery itself. The essential ingredients are time, consistency, lack of pressure and increasing trust. These are all difficult things in this age of fast, variable and stressful. It takes patience, and alas, it takes a budget that can sustain something that will for a long time not necessarily be profitable, if it even pays for itself, or that may draw limited numbers of very demanding visitors, even if they are appreciative. (A public of family and friends is perhaps encouraging, but long-term, unless they are rich and collectors, or are actively engaged in promotion, they don’t really affect the gallery’s success).
All I can say when asked my opinion is this: If you believe in the art and in the artists you show and follow their evolution over a sustained period of time, if you don't need them to draw extra customers or to generate income, if you can spare the time and the space and schedule thoughtful, competent and engaging exhibitions, then your reputation as a curator or dealer will grow. Art audiences are demanding, they need to have informed, informative, stimulating and open discussions about what they see even if they are “expert’ – sometimes especially then. You must be able to provide them.
 I usually tell people it takes three to five years for a community to become truly engaged with a gallery and its artists. I also emphasize that places that try to razzmatazz, that is, galleries that resort to doing all kinds of 'entertaining' things to draw attention set themselves up for huge expenses for little gain. They end up constantly having to outdo themselves to keep the audience coming and burn out pretty quickly. In fact, they run the danger of drawing the 'wrong' audience for art because art isn't 'entertainment' and art isn’t about ‘instant gratification’. What art is, well, that’s open to discussion.

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