The collapse of Salander-O’Reilly Galleries brings down yet another eccentric gallery space. A visit to Salander’s longtime 79th Street lair was always good for some surprises: low-level employees and interns operating a telephone boiler room, cold-calling collectors, for example. The gallery’s archconservative taste in contemporary (Paul Resika, Graham Nickson) attracted an aging raffish crowd to its openings, and, after a few trays of champagne, one could find a fellow oldster napping on a nearby couch
Eccentric spaces to hang out in on a cold afternoon are long gone in gallery-world, of course. In the ‘60s, Wickersham Gallery on Madison Avenue had private openings on Friday afternoons, at which its Noel Cowardish director could tipsy up boys on their way home from school. Leo Castelli used to sit behind a glass partition in his West Broadway space. Any struggling artist who brought in a book of slides received a $500 check from the beneficent Castelli, but only once.
Yvonne Muranushi and Russet Lederman’s SoHo Gallery in 1993 featured all-day sessions of board games like bridge and backgammon, free rugalah and referrals to a tattoo service. Then, there was the annual Bee-In at American Fine Arts, a weekend-long fiesta dedicated to creating images and food around the honeymakers. The bees are disappearing and so has the Bee-In. John McEnroe’s shuttered space in SoHo had a monstrous deep orange sofa, where February art-trippers could defrost and make out for hours. Willoughby Sharp’s late-‘80s Spring Street space found its owner snoozing late in the bunk above his office under a large Nicholas de Stael canvas. Rousing the bear, after a rumble or two, was always good for a sip and a smoke mid-afternoon.
The guy who ruined all this conviviality was, of course, Rirkrit Tiravanija, with his foul-tasting curries and staged gallery get-togethers, which sucked in all the swells, who get invited to too many dinners anyway, and shut out the wannabees and neverweres who used to rely on opening wine and cheese to avoid a trip to the flophouse. Now trust-funders slum at Deitch Projects and Russian prostitutes troll for $500 a hole ("pick a hole, any hole") outside the auctions. As the ‘60s taught us, it’s better when it’s free.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).