Finally, exasperated, she turned to me and demanded, “What about the art?”
Living in a big South Carolina home, she was unaware of the almost mystical power that large spaces have on New York’s tiny-apartment dwellers. Of course she was right. I was spending far too much of my visual energy looking at the walls instead of what was on them.
Are you interested in the gallery's programs or its real estate?
Once I got over the novelty of the Chelsea spaces, I got back to the business of looking at the work on exhibition. If you don’t visit the galleries too often, whether in New York City or elsewhere, it’s easy to get seduced by the space—especially if you’re “shopping” for a gallery. Who wouldn’t want to show in a temple of art?
Focus on The Program
I have a friend who drops off packets to galleries with great spaces. He's so fixated on being shown in in one of them that he pays no attention to their programs. He's still looking.
And listen to my friend C, who is a partner in a Chelsea gallery with a beautiful ground-floor space:
“If you don’t have a track record, look upstairs.”
Sure everyone wants to show in those ground floor galleries with the sweeping interior views that beckon from the street, but, she says, “We’re paying an enormous rent. We can’t afford to show an emerging or untried artist. Look upstairs where the rents are lower, where the dealers are able to take more risks.”
While you’re up there
. Consider size: Unless you’re Richard Tuttle or Tomma Abts, if you have small work, a small gallery space will probably be more receptive to considering it
. The opposite is true if you work large
. Consider context: Whatever the size of the gallery, its program—the gallery’s esthetic as expressed by its exhibitions—needs to be of a piece with the kind of work you do
. Appreciate the opportunity, whatever the floor: there are some pretty great galleries upstairs, too
.Eventually (and against the logic of the business world) you just might work your way down
What About the Art?
And here’s a faux pas you don’t want to make, says C: “Don’t compliment me on my ‘beautiful space.’ Do you know how many times I hear that? I know it’s beautiful. I want to know what you think of the show.”
I'd add that brief, thoughtful comments by artists do make a difference in the artist-dealer dialog. Dealers don’t get out too much; they’re in their own galleries when the others galleries are open. A well-informed gallerygoer who connects the dots between and among previous shows in that gallery or among other current shows is a bright spot in the gallerist’s day—assuming they’re up for short chat. Don’t expect gallery representation to come out of it. In fact, don’t expect anything to come out of it except the pleasure of a brief conversation about the art. But your network grows incrementally over time.