Friday, October 17, 2008

v for ... well, for something, anyway

The coincidentally concurrent closing (at month's end) of Vaknin and Vinson Galleries is offset by the appearance of more than one new gallery (Emily Amy and William Turner being cases in point) and more commensurately, by the reopening soon of Saltworks and Get This! as neighbors.

It is the non-buying segment of the art public that is most impacted by hard times in the global economy: It is already the case that some of the city's truly cool art (along with a great deal of work that falls into an opposite category) is never seen by anyone but the art rep and the purchaser.

Certain galleries have long complained that they're sick of providing entertainment and free wine for the masses and a few have followed the example set by David Heath in the last years of Heath Gallery, and have turned their opening receptions into invitation-only affairs, what the British so aptly call private views.

But unlike the case with most of the city's public exhibition spaces for art, it still costs nothing to walk into the gallery and look, and at least one gallery has complained that even if they present globally famous artists, scarcely anyone comes to view the work.

The perennial dilemma in Atlanta is that, as another gallery owner famously said, the galleries are not museums, and the market is the ultimate determinant of whether or not they keep their doors open.

Lately, more and more gallery owners have been realizing that the only way they can afford to sell art is not to pay rent on a public space, and in more than one case, to have a day job to support their habit of wanting to represent artists.

The alternative-space owners have always already had day jobs to support their habit of exhibiting work by emerging artists.

Art has always gotten made and shown even under the worst circumstances; I think of the Carlos Museum show of Liubov Popova's Spatial Force Constructions, which were painted on cardboard (a couple of decades before the onetime slave Bill Traylor used the same material in Montgomery) and folded for transport in a suitcase at one of the more difficult moments of the Russian Civil War.

So we will continue to have art and performance no matter what happens. But only those who have watched the scene crawl back painfully from economic downturns, with certain niches left unfilled by successors to vanished institutions, will feel inclined towards hoping for the best even for those spaces which one happens not to like very much. It would be a shame to see the scene end up divided between a scrappy underground art scene and a set of investment-grade and to-the-trade-only dealers equally invisible to the general public, who will continue to turn out only for the most obvious of and blatant of blockbuster exhibitions. As why should they not; since the print media can only write about what is available locally, how can anyone outside the art scene itself ever find out what they're missing because it has never been exhibited where they can see it?

Heck, leaving aside the recent lecture I probably can't write about for reasons of conflict of interest, tonight we have competing lectures by Martha Rosler and Alfredo Jaar. I bet hardly anybody in the general public is wringing their hands at having to choose between two legendary figures of activist art, or at having to decide how they can also go support the highly regarded artists who are having openings at the same time.

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