The notice from one Chelsea gallery reads, “We are in the process of relocating our gallery and plan to open a new exhibition space in NYC in the fall of 2009. During the transition period, we will continue to work with our artists and clients without interruption."
A trendy space on the Lower East Side advises, "We will be closed for an extended summer (May 1 to August 31) and will re-open in a new space in September. Stay tuned. . . ." A respected Chelsea space trumpets (I have omitted the address details), "We are expanding! We have left our original location and are currently renovating a new gallery space in Chelsea. We will be showing new work by our artists at a temporary space on West. . . , Suite. . . . All visitors are welcome by appointment only." Yet another Chelsea gallery advertises its March show on its website, even though its space was subsumed by its large, wealthy neighbor in April.
All this tentative handling of what might be bad news is the flip side of the secrecy which runs the art world. Failing businesses normally shout their demises from the rooftops: 90% OFF! EVERYTHING MUST GO! But the art world, with its very private faux gentility, must coat itself with the germ-killing hand-cleanser of denial. It is an emotion as old as civilization, shame, and it is driven by shame's shameless purveyors, the self-regarding wealthy, quick to snap you up when things are hot and the first to deep-freeze you when things go cold.
So as the summer ushers in a string of abandoned gallery storefronts as potentially extensive as the abandoned boutiques of Madison Avenue, let me suggest some pie-in-the-sky (because, let's face it, the swells who run this town are not creative or courageous enough to do it). Nothing would please me more than to see the Madison Avenue Gallery District of my long-gone youth fully restored. Flu crisis denier Mayor Bloomberg could finance the restoration out of his own pocket and, additionally, tap into that Federal culture stimulus money.
Bloomy Baby, why not persuade the real estate buddies pushing you for another term to rent, long-term, their unused Madison Avenue storefronts to downtown galleries who would otherwise be closing? And, for those galleries to qualify for these deluxe spaces, require them to open all their business records for public inspection? It would be a new dawn for New York art and some instructive bedtime reading for us art journalists.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).