The New York Times recently reported on the incidence of artists and dealers taking their galleries to the streets in vans, RVs and trucks. Why? For the obvious reasons–sky-piercing rents in New York City; artists sick of waiting for a gallery invitation; renegades wanting to turn convention on its head; mooning the establishment is fun!
The democratization of the creative is in full bloom. Unknown and über-famous artists in the literary, cinematic and musical realms are no longer waiting around to launch their work. There may be a lot of really bad writing, music and film out there right now (as there ever was), but the playing field is somewhat leveled. You might not have the distribution muscle of the big boys, but if you circulate your stuff and work it really hard, perhaps someone will notice, maybe even the big boys. It’s either that or having your masterpiece sit in a drawer for the rest of its formerly stillborn life. So, why shouldn’t visual artists and those who market their work take the food truck concept and roll it in their direction?
Not surprisingly, big gun art dealers in New York had a hard time keeping the contempt out of their quotes for the article. Oh, you know, artists will never be taken seriously without serious gallery representation. Excuse me while I buy a painting from an artist squatting on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Back in 1990 when we first opened Galerie Lakaye out of our Hollywood home, where it still lives, we got those same kind of smirking comments from the establishment, but we didn’t care. We were covered in every section of the Los Angeles Times over the years, but never in the Art section; and our exhibitions were never reviewed. (The director of the California African American Museum in Los Angeles told me that their exhibits are never reviewed, either. What’s that about?) So, we took our gallery on the road back then too; not in trucks, but almost. We participated in every art fair we could find — from prestigious and expensive trade shows in fluorescent and frigid convention centers to local street fairs. We also took the art to municipal venues, restaurants, private functions, fundraisers, public lobbies and basically, to whoever would let us install work on their walls. And it worked. We met many of our clients at these events, sold lots of art, and many of the artists who showed in our gallery have since gone on to exhibit in museums around the world.
I didn’t ask the artists for exclusivity because I think they should be able to show their work wherever and however they can; so the museum exhibitions that followed for some of the artists didn’t necessarily happen because of us. They happened because we worked tirelessly, and the artists worked their asses off on their own to create and promote their work.
Dealers provide a valuable function in the art world: the hard work of developing a client base, hosting and installing exhibitions, creating marketing materials on the artist and the work; providing introductions to art professionals and institutions the artist may not have access to, and more, including taking their art on the road. But the world waits for no one, and neither does art.
I say ignore the disdain of backward thinking gallerists and critics in the media and elsewhere, and do whatever it takes to get visibility for your work. With original ideas and technology to hold our hand there’s no reason not to.