When I was a boy, my father and I would hitch a ride on the Miss Point Pleasant for a day of fishing off the Jersey shore in the Atlantic at dawn, at which point my dad would turn to me and always say, "Chas, the point of fishing is not to catch fish."
I thought of this during the ridiculous kerfuffle -- timed perfectly by lazy minds for lazy August -- newly aborning from the Art Newspaper to the Winkleman blog to Artinfo about "the failure of the gallery model," based on some moronic study citing the rise of the art fairs as a harbinger of doom for our beloved way of gallery life (someone didn't bother to tell the dozens of galleries in last week's Chelsea Art Walk that they are goners, but I digress).
These deep thinkers, wool gatherers and statisticians of white cubes going dark are all proceeding from a mistaken hypothesis: the point of galleries is not to sell art, it is to show art. Forty years mooning around the New York art world have at least shown me that galleries emerge and continue for a variety of economic reasons, but always for one sociological one -- that of exhibition.
Indeed, from Betty Parsons charging her artists for wine, press listings and invitations, to André Emmerich dealing pre-Colombian treasures on the sly, to OK Harris (Ivan Karp) hustling shows for a fee to every arts professor in mid-America, the methods of keeping a gallery going are creatively legion. Look no further than the latest testament to the strength of galleries among the true believers who continue to start them up: pop-up galleries.
On this past July 14, I attended the opening on one of these phenomena and was astounded. The show was called "What Works,” a one-night exhibition at ArtStar's Space on Chrystie Street followed by three days of opening hours "by appointment only." Situated on the eighth floor of an office building near Sara Delano Park downtown, this popup effort was more professional than some of the shows I see at (I don't know) Winkleman Gallery.
The theme was collaborative work between artist couples, emphasizing their influence on each other. The work was highly stylized and accompanied by erudite wall texts and rivers of mediocre wine. The opening was jammed. As an example, one piece by Katherine Newbegin, Hotel Slavjia, Belgrade, Serbia, was a seductive C-print of a bathroom decked out in geometric blue patterns, while her partner, Todd Knopke, responded with a fabric piece called Chapel, a miniature done in the same blue patterns, and full of tiny religious clutter.
Especially innovative was one of my fave photographers, the great David Levinthal (partnering with Kate Sullivan), who offered an unlimited edition of toy photos at $85 a pop (complete with silver frame!). All this for a one-day pop-up gallery, mind you.
But there are similar stories throughout the world of art, as there always have been and shall ever be, because the urge to show it all off shall never, ever die -- and for that urge the art gallery, as a sanctuary, however temporal or temporary, remains superior, in spite of the whining sales folk in their dull stalls.
“What Works,” July 14-17, 2011, ArtStar, 195 Chrystie Street, 801B, New York, N.Y., 10002.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).