Friday, July 9, 2010

Reasons to visit St Louis besides beer

I saw from Hyperallergic that the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts is putting on a show for Ann Hamilton. I love Ann. I was introduced to her by the brilliant Ren Weschler. Ren and I were bouncing ideas around for a show we did back in 2007 and he was like, "You know who you should call? Ann Hamilton." I think I said something like, "Uh. How?" To which Ren was like, "Oh, here's her phone number." Which, still, to this day, kind of blows my mind. That guy's iPhone is golden. He pretty much knows everyone in the art world. The best thing about Ren though, is that there is no pretention. He's just really, wildly, intensely interested in art and artists. Ren gets it in a way that artist's tend to get it, that is to say, he's not an artist but he thinks like one. And of course, he really is an artist when you consider his writing, so, there you go. I love Ren's series about Hockney's iPhone paintings. He's one of a handful of people that much on the inside to recieve directly this work and I love that he shares.

Anyway. Ren set up a panel discussion that year for the Chicago Humanities Festival with Ann Hamilton, Lucy Lippard, and Tara Donovan (whom we ended up showing - Donvan, that is) and Ann came to our opening night. Much like my experience with Judy Pfaff, Ann was someone I simply did not want to let go. She was intensely engaging without being overbearing. I simply wanted to keep talking with her. About anything. I hope I get down down to St Louis before next year to see her new work. I hope one day that we might show some of her work. It's tricky, though, as she does a lot of installation. You essentially have to get up-front funding to pull that off. I'm looking at you major investors in Chicagoland. Let's make this thing happen here!

Gallery Hop River North Friday or Saturday

Tonight is a good night to gallery hop in River North. Openings at Addington, Andrew Bae, Carl Hammer, Ann Nathan, Perimeter, Printworks, and Ken Saunders. (For the record - that oxford comma - that's for you Liora.) Also, if you're in my neighborhood, I highly recommend the Iceberg. A private space run by collector Dan Berger, Iceberg is really unique and thoroughly unmatched in terms of quaintness.

So Ann Nathan is opening and I'll stop by for that since our openings often coincide, I rarely make them. Ann is, well, Ann. There is totally no one like her. Over this last Art Chicago, I stopped in her booth just to check it out and Ann was showing a client some work by Rose Freymuth-Frazier. Ann's assistant (sorry, I forgot his name - but then again - they could have that info posted on their site, but don't so . . . anyway) Ann's assistant was busy with another client and couldn't help get the work out of their little storage area. Keep in mind, Ann is, like, 84 or something and Fraizer's artwork is (often) giant. So I was standing there and Ann is trying to yank this, like, six foot piece of work out of her racks, so I, being the gentleman that I am, said, "Ann, I can get that out for you." So Ann turns around and looks me up and down, like, sizing me up, giving me a little bit of a look that said, "And who the hell are you?" I forget what she actually said, which is too bad because I remember it being kind of funny, but not the kind of funny where I was supposed to be laughing out loud, so I had to try to keep a straight face, but it was along the lines of "Do you know how to handle artwork properly and who the hell are you?" So I showed her my badge and she let me help her get the piece out. I don't know if they sold it but I hope they did. That would make me feel good. As of several weeks ago though, they hadn't sold (or at least were still showing) Frazier's piece Hounded. Now, this isn't normally the kind of work I jump at, but there is just something so strange and arresting about this painting. I really like it. And remember, you can buy it.

Rose Freymuth-Frazier, Hounded, Oil on linen, 72x58, available at Ann Nathan Gallery

If you can't make it out tonight for hopping, feel free to join me tomorrow morning at 11am for a River North Gallery Tour that I will be leading. Every Saturday morning Chicago Gallery News hosts a gallery tour which visits 4 galleries in the district. With over 40 to choose from, each week there's something new to see. Plus, each tour is led by a gallery representative (often owners and/or directors) and at each stop a representative from that gallery gives the history and background on the current show. It's always enlightening and I often hear at the end of the tours that people are surprised that everyone was so nice to them. We get reputations for being bitches, but that's all misconception. I mean really, for sake of argument, Dan Addington and Ken Saunders are two of the most outgoing engaging people in all of Chicago. It's fun, I promise. This Saturday we'll meet, as always, at the Starbucks at 750 N Franklin (Chicago and Franklin) at 11am and visit, Habatat, Russell Bowman, Catherine Edelman and our very own David Weinberg Gallery. See you there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Do you buy it?

I noticed the lovely Kathryn Born blogged that you should be reading my blog. Well, shit. I suppose that means I need to be writing more. I recently took a break from writing to think more carefully about what this whole thing represents. I am not only passionate about art, but I have a commitment to honesty. Now, it may sound like there's not any particular relationship there, or that if there is, it would be self-evident. But it's not that easy or pretty to be honest in this art world. If I could actually say what comes to mind sometimes, especially in those moments of passion, I would probably manage to get myself reprimanded at work (possibly for good cause) and I would certainly burn some bridges (intentionally and otherwise). This art world is small. So there is the struggle. What do you want to hear? And if I tell you, and it pisses someone off, does that matter?

Here's the deal though. Get ready for the truth. The real truth.

You need to buy artwork.

That's it. You need to buy artwork. I know that sounds self serving and to a degree I acknowledge that it is, but arts communities are not surviving and will not thrive the way they should without patrons. This is not to dismiss diy communities, since artists will always create them and innovation is going to happen with or without direct injections of cash. Art will find a way. But what does that mean for galleries? What does it mean for artists who are outside of those specific communities? How do artists find ways to support their creations while balancing their (often razor thin) finances?

I fundamentally believe that art is an integral part of our culture; of who and where we are in time. It's of staggering importance and lots of people overlook the fact that traditionally, historically, the arts is supported by wealth. Chicago is, even in this economy, rich with private wealth. But it is definitively not flowing to the arts as it should if you ask me.

I hear people say that great art succeeds no matter what. If it's bought or not. If it "shows" or not. But the reality is that sales make artists. Without sales, artists toil and struggle and make, but you won't know about it. Even great galleries can't help great artists if no one buys. I don't have enough fingers for the number of great galleries that have closed in Chicago - mainly due to lack of sales. And even right now, there are too many great galleries showing too much great artwork in relation to how much those galleries are selling.

This is not to say I know the books of my fellow gallerists. I don't. My sincerest, deepest hope is that they are all doing well. But I know all of them want to sell more. This isn't just some way to make money. Ask gallerists. It's a bad way to make money. We are all in this because we love art and we love artists. Our measure of success ultimately depends on your contribution.

So this is where I'm standing now. It's not new ground. It's the backbone of ArtLetter. Time and time again, Paul tells you to buy something. He's right. It is not just good for the artist, or the gallery or just for you. It's larger than that and you must, underline must, get involved. Gallery hop. Shake a gallerists hand. Hell, shake my hand and ask me how to get started. We want to get you involved. Not because we are dirty and capitalistic and money-hungry, but because you are the engine that keeps our passion moving. We want to share it, I promise you.

I was talking with Tamara English the other day about all this and I told her that I was thinking of just posting about what I'd buy. Keep in mind, I do buy, but I can't afford everything I want. But you can buy. You can just buy one. Or if you have the means, I suggest you buy a lot. It helps more than you know.

On that note, I effing love Adam Ekberg. Go buy his work at Thomas Robertello Gallery. Here's an example of a piece I saw as a postcard and it was the reason I fell in love.

Adam Ekberg, A splash in the middle of the ocean, Inkjet Print, 2006

Sunday, April 11, 2010

empirical evidence of why I don't tweet

The other night I was honored to take part in a panel discussion at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. The subject was "Galleries, Artists and the Market" and included, along with myself; our gallery owner David Weinberg; owner of the Rhona Hoffman gallery, Rhona Hoffman; founder of Three Walls, Shannon Stratton; and well-known collector, Larry Fields.

It was a blast for me because I really respect all of these individuals. I know it's a little early to be making this kind of statement, but by the time this year is over, I think I'll still be saying that the Richard Rezac show at Rhona's gallery was easily one of the best of 2010. I went back to that show five times and was fascinated every time, although I'm still a little shocked that, as of the last day of the show, most of the sculptures were sold (I suppose what you'd think of as signature style Rezac work) but none of the drawings had sold. Not only were the drawings exquisite and delicate but, frankly, they were affordable. I was surprised nobody snagged them.

Richard Rezac, Drawing for 05-04, 24.5 x 30.5, image from his website and works available at Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Three Walls is easily one of the best not-for-profit spaces in Chicago and Shannon does an incredible job with it. You can often find Cassi and I at their openings, events and lectures. I've donated money and I've purchased work from them. There needs to be more spaces in Chicago that are as pragmatic and far reaching as their program.

And Larry was a real treat. He works at the Merc and clearly loves what he does. Which is wild, because if you listen to him describe what he does, it sounds a little like art. Except it's all analytical and mathematical and feels very left-brain, but he's really seeing elegance in systems that I would guess, to him, feels more right-brain. Which is probably why he also seems deeply engaged in the intellectual depth of the best artworks.

In general the panel discussion rested on the concept that we would impart some logical and practical information to the curious graduating student body at SAIC. I hope we did. If I'm honest though, I think it would have been more fun for Rhona and I to duke it out a little more (figuratively.) It was clear that we had some theoretical differences concerning how to run a gallery and which artists to focus on. What would have been nice about a more spirited debate is that I don't think either of us would have been "wrong." We just see it differently and I think that's largely due to where we are in our respective careers.

Rhona was, I think, a little surprised that I consider whether or not I think I can sell work from a given artist before I move forward with a show. To some this may seem a logical step. If I can't sell the art, I can't pay my bills - or myself - and therefore have no gallery. Pretty simple and really the crux of my argument.

Rhona though, was surprised at that kind of thinking - and said so (sort of off mic). She said (I paraphrase) Oh, I just show what I like and figure other people will like it too. Which is also what I do, I just also consider the economic reality of what I like, which can limit what I show. In other words, I never show anything I don't like, I just don't show everything I do like. And mostly, the stuff that I like that is wickedly complicated, difficult to install, giant, heavy, insanely expensive or some sort of new media usually takes a back burner because I'm still building that niche clientele. I think Rhona's perspective is that if it's good art, it will sell, but I know for a fact that that is not true.

There is proof of this concept all around the art world, and, in fact, in Rhona's own gallery. For example, Rhona will soon be mounting a solo for Chris Garofalo. Chris' work is really really great stuff. Also really affordable (at least it was last time Rhona showed it) and should sell well. But prior to Chris showing with Rhona, she showed with Aron Packer. I'm sure Aron sold the work well, and I'm not suggesting that the only reason (or that it was a reason at all) that Chris left Packer for Hoffman in 2006 was that she felt that she could get increased sales at Rhona's, but come on. She (Chris) can rely on the name of the Hoffman gallery, which, no offense to Aron (because I adore him and his gallery) is better known outside of Chicago (Rhona is one of only 5 Chicago galleries who is a member of the American Art Dealers Association.)

So, is the work selling because it is good work? Yes. Is it selling because Rhona likes it? Yeah, sort of - I suppose. Is it selling because of the awesome history that Rhona has established? Undoubtably. But it is also presumably (I have absolutely no proof of this, by the way) selling better at Hoffman than it was at Packer. So if Aron showed the work because he liked it (because he did) and didn't sell it like Rhona can or does, then how much of that value is added due to the simple fact of which gallery's walls upon which it hangs. I'd say quite a lot, and this is why I have to consider deeply how, and if, I can sell a piece or not. Rhona has the luxury of history (and it's a great one that she worked hard for and has earned.) I hope to create that for David's gallery, myself as a dealer, and for my artists, but it takes time. And Rhona is the first to admit (because I've heard her admit it) that the art world was a very different place in the 70's when she started.

Chris Garofalo, detail of work to be included in aquibotanous zoolatry at Rhona Hoffman Gallery from 5.21.10 to 6.30.10

But in this world, one in a deep recession, one where, if you don't have a lot of clients to rely on already, you are forced to cut through this nasty fog to find them, it simply becomes more of a risk to show work that you might not sell. One example for me is R. Justin Stewart. I love this guy's work. I've been checking back in on his website for well over a year now, working on identifying just one client ahead of time so that I could bring some work in. (I've done all of this with out once contacting Stewart.) And while Rhona might have the clients to buy this, it would be a major risk for us. I mean, who wants a 24 hour 3-dimensional diagram of the Twin Cities Metro Transit System from 2am to 2pm Sunday morning? I love this thing - it's awesome - but where's it gonna go? Seriously?

R. Justin Stewart, 2am-2pm, copper, wood, thread, steel, dimensions variable, 2008 - image from his website and works available from Plus Gallery (Denver)

There are people who can not only afford this kind of stuff, but frankly should jump at it, but I'm still figuring that part out. And it is clear the clientele is out there. He's got commissions by Esquire and JESNA NY to name a few, but, again, in this economic climate - man - it's hard. So I'm sitting and waiting. And quietly searching for those niche clients to compliment the one's we've already got buying paintings and photos. And once I do, trust me, I'll pounce. But I can tell you that right now, I just don't have the stomach to trust that, just because I show great work, it will sell. I've got a responsibility to my artists regarding sales. The most rewarding part of the job is paying the artists. It's super gratifying and I take it seriously.

In the end though, I loved being a part of that discussion. It's always an honor to get to brain-pick some of the best artistic minds in Chicago (or in Rhona's case, anywhere) and I love that she has dedicated so much of her time to the intellectual side of stuff. I still have a ton to learn from people like her and Roy Boyd and Cathy Edelman and Kavi Gupta and Tony Wight and a lot of other great Chicago gallerists. I love that there is such diversity here and that we are all pushing really great work really hard.