Let’s talk about two New York dealers. Dealer A, a veteran expert in a certain esthetic field, has had a rather sketchy career, filled with abrupt gallery closings, fights with prominent collector backers and court battles over estate representations. Dealer B, a cutting edge type, has kinky tastes in private life, a domineering approach to artists and spends money like water.
Both have had their share of curatorial triumphs, but each is not quite at the top rank in their respective fields, because of a tendency to bentness. Now dealer B long ago fell behind on the rent, and, despite faking nice-nice with the landlord, was under severe pressure from said landlord to cough up or move out. Dealer A proposes a solution: If Dealer B will "lend" Dealer B's most prominent artist to Dealer A for a career survey show, Dealer A will pay off some, but not all, of Dealer B's rent debt.
The artist in question is a tempermental piece of work, but acquiesces, particularly since Dealer A, with a mysterious sudden infusion of cash, is expanding operations. Now Dealer A, fully aware of Dealer B's profligate spending habits, gives Dealer B just enough cash to keep Dealer B's space open throughout the period of Tempermental Artist's boffo show at Dealer A's deluxe space. Soon enough, Dealer B closes, throwing a huge stable of artists onto the street, who will be in demand from other galleries, putting career pressure on the whole food chain of artists all the way down the line.
Dealer A now has the top artist in the stable, presumably, and Dealer B, making brave protestations of continuing in the art field, while being crushed by a mountain of debt, has but one satisfaction: that Dealer A, with a long history of cutting corners, will once again cut off the nose to spite the face.
Funnily enough, the best solution was always right in front of them: a merger of operations between Dealers A and B, which would have led to reduced debts, a bigger and better space and continued employment for dozens of artists. But each was too monumentally self-involved to consider the temporary sacrifice of ego necessary for such a sensible solution.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).