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The Conscious Uncoupling of Texas Artists and Galleries

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A Bradly Brown installation at Dallas Biennial, aka DB14, in a warehouse in Trinity Groves

 

I went to the opening of a group show called “Sundowner” on Saturday night in Dallas. About half the artists were locals who have been pretty active on the scene lately— Gregory Ruppe, Jesse Morgan Barnett, Jeff Gibbons, C.J. Davis, Pierre Krause and Kris Pierce—and the other half were international artists who had been invited by the local artists to participate. It was in a still-newish commercial gallery in the Design District called Circuit 12, which has in its short history seemed open to approaches by outside groups for show proposals.

This is not a review of the show, or the venue. But through conversation and observation that night it was easy to assume that the DFW artists who organized the show, and Circuit 12’s owners Gina and Dustin Orlando, are not invested in one another for the long haul; this show is a one-off and everyone involved seems comfortable with that.

Given the experimental and non-commercial nature of much of the work, I can’t imagine much of it could sell. My sense was that Circuit 12’s location and space were completely beside the point of the show itself. The artists needed a venue, and these artists in particular have proven resourceful; “Sundowner” could have been installed in a warehouse, a storefront, an artist’s studio, even a house. I don’t know how viable a model it is for this gallery to turn itself into an alternative non-profit (that would depend on how well it could sell its more commercial shows at other times, or whether it cleans up at art fairs), but I do know that having these names show in its space is good for Circuit 12’s street cred, and that a certain doggedness and opportunism by younger artists is becoming the norm around here.

I’m considering this trend even more closely following last week’s announcement that the well-financed international ArtPrize is expanding into Dallas for 2016, and that major event will likely require close to 200 novel/alternative/unconventional venues to show all the entries, and they’re all meant to be within a three-mile radius of downtown Dallas. Artists from dozens of countries and most of the U.S.’s 50 states will converge on Dallas that spring—they’re each responsible for finding a 19-day home for their work for the duration of the event. The literature for ArtPrize claims that in its sixth year, in its originating city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the 2014 iteration (beyond occupying the expected museums and commercial galleries) took place in “bars, coffee shops, stores, hotel lobbies, public parks, bridges, laundromats, and auto body shops.”

Dallas is more than five times the size of Grand Rapids, and has plenty of these kinds of spaces in and near downtown. If you map a three-mile radius using the Arts District as its center, the area encompasses Deep Ellum, Fair Park, the Cedars, Bishop Arts, the Design District, Trinity Groves, Oak Lawn, Lower Greenville, and then some. These are the neighborhoods our artists deal with anyway; I’m not worried about lack of venues. Overall, the great ArtPrize Dallas venue hunt of 2016 will just be a larger echo of what’s been happening here for more than five years: Deep Ellum Windows,the Dallas Biennial, Aurora, etc.

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In fact, it feels more and more like the old-guard gallery system in Dallas, with a few exceptions, is not that interesting to artists like Ruppe and Barnett, et al. I don’t hear this generation of artists waxing over which Dallas or Fort Worth gallery they’d really like to show with or be represented by longterm, and I don’t see many of the established Dallas galleries taking financial risks around their kind of artwork, post-recession.

In older cities and art markets, the status quo for decades has been that commercial galleries, beyond just marketing and selling, give context, stability, and credibility to the work and artists. As the expectations of graduating artists (who are coming out in a flood these days) shift in a new economy, and as traditional  hierarchies dissolve in the digital and social-media age, I’m not feeling the commercial spaces keeping up with these shifts, because it doesn’t jibe with their business model. If anything, the populations of most Texas cities, along with the populations of artists, are increasing, but the number of more traditional galleries with traditional business models feels stagnant. In Dallas, the number of conventional galleries is just now recovering from its post-recession losses. Collectors are still conservative, by and large, and these galleries aren’t interested in losing them. A place like Circuit 12, however, reflects the youth of its owners (mid-20s), who have what seems like an obligatory built-in flexibility, albeit at the expense of stability. This rangier business model is related to the experience of artists of the same generation and region.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but much of what I’m writing here could apply to Houston, in part (though Houston has seemed more gallery-grounded than Dallas all along) and it certainly applies to Austin, which has always struggled to establish a gallery system, and San Antonio, too, which is in an exciting kind of art growth spurt of its own.

It used to be that the galleries “broke” the new artists, like record labels broke music performers. And generally the natural procession was that the artists are out in front of all trends, followed closely by the galleries that capture that energy and commercialize it for their collectors, followed by the museums who solidify the artists’ legacies. These old pathways are being tested and reshaped daily in this weird economy, locally and otherwise.

The slippage in the old system is perhaps more pronounced in newer, entrepreneurial cities like Dallas, anyway: Dallas never really got its gallery scene on the international map, despite the various galleries trooping off to the art fairs in Miami and New York every year. The established galleries here are diligent, curatorial, and respectable. They’re not known for taking crazy risks. Why would they?

I’d like to hear from both artists and gallerists about how their traditional partnerships are changing, evolving or dissolving, or how many new grads are gunning for traditional gallery shows anymore. We don’t know what the Texas art market will look like even five years from now, let alone ten or twenty, and maybe this is for the best. For the moment, all I can report on is what I’m seeing and feeling in Dallas, which is that 1) “Sundowner” artists and Circuit 12 are engaged in kind of consensual artist-gallery one-night stand; 2) Dallas artists are getting good at this kind of arrangement, and 3) the ArtPrize will solidify this kind of hookup culture in the region. I have no problem with this.

 

(Edited to add Pierre Krause to the list of local artists’ names in the first paragraph.) 

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13 Responses

  1. Regarding Houston…

    1) I know some artists who manage pretty well without galleries. Some of these are older artists who at one time had gallery representation but have established clientele at this point and just no longer need it.

    2) Galleries in Houston are precarious, low margin business with lumpy cash flows. They go out of business all the time (there have been several recent gallery closures that I know of). It’s not a big money business in Houston. I assume that this is mostly true everywhere that’s not New York. Galleries that survive do so out of a combination of luck and hustle.

    3) Some Houston artists don’t have galleries in Houston–they depend on their galleries in New York and elsewhere.

    4) The farther your artistic practice is from painting, the less important having a gallery is (in Houston, and probably Dallas, too).

    I love galleries–they’re like little free museums that change their shows every month or so. But at any given moment, they only represent a certain slice of a local art scene.

  2. After revising my comment several times, I will leave it at this:

    Based on my overall success as an artist this year I am inclined to say it is in part due to changes in the art business paradigm. My work is not formally represented by a gallery / in a gallery and yet I’ve met some lifetime goals in 2014.

    This almost begs to consider a set of rather interesting questions about the future and function of galleries…

  3. ‘Slippage’ is not the appropriate term. Its meaning has softened some what since it replaces ‘backtracking’ in the 90’s; but the connotation of dishonesty is there, and harshly inappropriate. If a business model is changing it is because of forces beyond the moral integrity (or lack thereof), of anyone. Including those who use the self righteous language that spawns such terms.

  4. A big drawback I’ve found to showing work in Dallas (and now Austin is doing it too) is the property tax bill I got from the city charging me property tax on my work. This is not a sales tax on work that’s sold, it’s tax on any work that’s in the gallery, whether on the wall or what’s been in the closet for years. I never got a property tax bill for work that I showed in NY or LA. I don’t understand it. Can someone please explain?

    1. Christina Rees

      Julie, as far as I understand it, it’s a tax on inventory, i.e. property that the seller has bought in to be sold. This is something retailers deal with; the city or county were starting to try to apply it to art galleries around 2006-7. Most art in primary-dealer Texas galleries is on consignment from the artist and not owned by the gallery, and thus not inventory in any conventional sense, therefore it should not be taxed. However, if the gallery buys your work off of you to keep as inventory, it could theoretically be taxed. Can anyone help me out here?; it’s been ages since I’ve heard or thought about this… .

      1. The tax bills I received, from Dallas and Austin were both for work I had there on consignment. I even argued with a really nice person at the tax office in Dallas but got nowhere. So yes….help please?

        1. Paul Slocum

          You maybe should hire someone to help you with this if the tax bills are high. There are probably tax tricks that reduce or eliminate the amount you have to pay.

          I got bills like this at And/Or Gallery, but the amounts were too small to spend time on, so I just paid it.

  5. The old gallery model, warts and all, at least ended up sustaining or attempting to sustain their artists. For a variety of reasons that model is gone not only for visual artists but writers and musicians. Artists are both brave and correct to seek new pathways.
    But don’t look to Artprive to be the new champion of artists. That’s not the purpose of Rick Devos’s entrepreneurial model. In the beginning of my home town art scrum he was quoted as saying that he didn’t come from the position of the art world and what he wanted to do was start a film festival but that proved too expense to produce.
    Artprize is about money, but not money for the artists who have to pay for everything plus a application fee. No,Artprize is a business model to make money for the downtown businesses who in the case of Grand Rapids made $22million dollars off of the backs of artists. Oh sure there is this big carrot of a prize dangled in front of artist and they provide programming to make it seem like it’s about real intellectual conversations about art but the real key to Artprize’s success is the promotion of a new populism about art. The Artprize party line is that you don’t have to know anything about art to come down and voted for who you think deserves the grand prize.
    Whether an American Idol type view of art good for art in the long run is a question to be debated. But it’s important to at least realize what the people behind the competitions purpose is. It’s not art, that’s for sure.

  6. As a “non-traditional” gallerist, I feel like there is a topic in all of this that I would like to engage with but I don’t really understand what you are asking.
    What would you like to know?

  7. howard sherman

    This is an interesting article, Christina. You’ve made a lot of valid points. I spend a lot of time in galleries looking at things. Now more than ever, I see fewer tastemakers. To be one you must do your homework, have some vision and be ready to take chances. Rarely do I see that happening. It’s sorely missed these days in the art world. You’ve pointed out many reasons why already. Here are a few more:

    As sad as it might seem, some people no longer feel the need to experience art in person before buying it off a computer screen. This doesn’t help physical gallery spaces.

    While this behavior is nothing new, headline news is focusing more intensely on the latest auction sales at the very top end of the market. Many artists are now rushing to make a cheaper, lesser Christopher Wool, Jeff Elrod, etc. Other art world institutions reinforce this behavior. It’s aversive to experimentation and reinforces redundancy.

    The reaction that just occurred at Circuit 12 is risky. And healthy.

  8. Kim Steinhagen

    Really interesting article, Christina. As a collector, I tend to purchase works from galleries because I feel the galleries have a vested interest in helping the artists they have selected build their careers. The best galleries work to publicize their artists, get them into strong collections and help get them into museum exhibitions. As much as I enjoy seeing work by young artists, I hesitate to purchase it without that gallery representation.

    I agree with Howard that it is disappointing that so many people are resorting to purchasing art online rather than seeing it in person. I think we’ll see that trend increasing, especially among younger collectors who rely on social media. I am sad for them. They will miss out on the thrill of the discovery of walking into a space and being blown away by the emotional impact art can have.

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