the UNVARNISHED REALITY of the ART GALLERY
Updated: Mar 27
I’m sort of down on gallery shows these days, and that’s the main reason I went into book publishing. I'm not actually bitter about the venue, I had a dozen or more shows between 1980 and 2015 and a few of them were decently successful, far as that goes.
All of them are now forgotten as king Zozer in his tomb.
That’s one reason why gallery shows no longer call to me. Another reason, of many, was the hard labor and endless preparation involved.
To start with, I despise framing. If there is a special place in hell for evil artists it is certainly the framing factory, right next to the rock quarry, where the glass always cracks, the mats are always crooked, and everything is either 1/8 of an inch too big, or 1/8 of an inch too small, for all eternity, which, as Woody Allen remarked, “is a very long time, especially towards the end”.
And then there’s the expense. It got to the point where, if I sold enough to clear framing cost (plus the gallery’s 50% chunk) I was popping corks, if I could afford the booze.
I don’t like enterprises that operate at a big net loss.
The exposure seems like a big deal on opening night, but that’s an illusion. It’s a strictly local affair, and it’s really just a very expensive party that you agree to decorate. Sometimes people look at the decoration, sometimes not. After that, tumbleweeds blow through the open doors of your exhibition. When the doors close in a few weeks most of your magnum opus ends up in the garage, where framed or mounted work occupies 10 times more space than otherwise, and obstructs the washing machine.
Group shows are marginally better I suppose, only because the expense and inconvenience are spread around.
As alluded to before, yesterday's trash is less forgotten than yesterday's art show. Unless your life’s work becomes part of the national gallery archive, it’s going to be junk. I have known many artists, of real talent, who cherished a simple faith in baby Jesus and in the idea that gallery shows would preserve their legacy. Baby Jesus was a safer bet. Some of those artists died or became too ill to work any longer and their stuff was either scattered to hell and gone or stacked up against a wall someplace where the roof leaks.
Aside from museum galleries with million dollar endowments, galleries don’t do legacy, they do profit, and very little of that. They come and go like fire sales. 98% of them will go bust after 6 months of rent in arrears, and they will vanish. As a side note, I’ve never been much impressed by the people who own or curate art galleries. There are exceptions of course, but as a general thing they have about the same sensibility as rich housewives with a passing grade in Jr college design class, for whom fine art, or any kind of art, is defined in terms of bathroom decoration.
The gallery exhibition is a relic from the 19th century. Back in the day, when reproduction was awful, a show was all you had, but I can think of almost no venue that is much worse for actually looking at art. You are on your feet, ten hut, for as long as you can put up with it.
I recall a show at the Getty in 2015. It was good stuff, Hellenistic sculpture, and I really wanted to spend some time with it. There was no place to sit down, no photography allowed (special exhibition) and after a half-hour of drawing on my feet with a bad back I was ready to confess anything to the enemy. Six hours on jammed freeways, total, and I came home with nothing but a backache. At that moment I became seriously disenchanted with art galleries, especially big ones. They’re built mainly for roller blading. The careful examination of just about anything that hangs on the wall of a big empty room is an unpleasant affair, psychologically distancing, and it leads to a quick, grateful exit.
I like to examine a good piece, make a drawing of the composition and so on, and I found myself just buying the exhibition catalog, if that was available, taking it home and perusing the work at leisure. Sure, the F2F with an original is a nice buzz, but not if you have to endure torture.
And a book has a buzz all its own, if it's worth anything.
Then it hit me. To hell with shows. Just put all the energy I used to waste on a show into a book.
And that’s where I’m at. Admittedly the venue is a bit better for graphic art and photography, but hardly exclusive to that.
A book is easy to put away for future reference. It's cheap and simple to print these days. Modern reproduction is pretty good. A book can’t crash or get deleted and It lasts, potentially, for centuries. If you want legacy, that’s where it’s at, at least for us regular pencil or brush pushing geeks who, for all of our sunny little dreams, are never going to end up in the Tate, the Frick, or the Getty.
I for one no longer give a damn. JDA
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