I did not need to wait until the moment my UBER driver informed me I have a "bad passenger score," to realize everything in this contemporary version of reality is about RATINGS and where these place us in comparison to others.
Anybody who has lived in New York knows that life is not about becoming a better person, striving to create a somehow more comfortable situation for yourself, while spending time with those of your peers you happen to like a little better than the rest of these morons. Hell! Life is not about YOU at all! It is about the person next to you at this party and how you can upstage them faster than they can say “Ignore”.
In the art market ratings play as central a role as -in my opinion- misleading one. There has been a lot of talk lately about the different websites rating an artist’s career, evaluating the “investment”. The same kind of thinking could apply to galleries of course too; done correctly it could be a valuable tool for someone starting out their career, trying to decide which gallery to go with or what gallery to look for. Done incorrectly as it is being done right now, it only adds to the general confusion and feeling of discontent.
Gallery "ratings" at the moment usually come from A. Real estate. Size does matter as does location. B. Money or rather the insinuation of money, partly evident in real estate and art fair participations and partly deriving from some kind of word of mouth branding declaring: “they are doing well”. A third factor is the “coolness” of the gallery fed by urban legend phenomena related to its owner’s or artist roaster youth and/or public party life. (The fact that you probably do not want to do business with a megalomaniac, psychopath of a womanizer cockhead remains mostly an afterthought, for this is the nature of our game).
So entering the artrena you are entering a short of Olympics games, or maybe something more random and a tad childish... Lets call it the Cock Paper Scissors Game... You have to be constantly on your toes as the power dynamics drift, change and can disappear faster than the galleries on Brunnen str... As always we are here to help. Let's say for example Gagosian trumps Zwirner trumps Rosen trumps Eller trumps some gallery on the LES I don't want to offend, trumps some gallery in Brooklyn I don't remember the name of. You can of course take the exact opposite way and argue Clearing in Brooklyn trumps King&Lyles the newly opened gallery in LES trumps the dead end mausuleum many argue Marlborough in Chelsea to be. (A recent article on this was titled “Artist leaving Marlborough for upstart gallery”- putting the journalistic focus where it should be... not in the fact that a young artist made a difficult choise in her career or that a young gallery in LES is cultivating the right kind of artists relationships that inspire trust and hope- but the fact that people lately think that Marlborough sucks.)There is really no way to win this.
It took me all of 2 seconds to agree to join my first gallery in Vienna. Had absolutely nothing to lose and absolutely no other offers. It took me a few days to take the plunge on the second one, mostly because I was terrorized by a collector's warning that once you get in a certain "gallery level" in New York you will never get out of it. Last year I mulled over the decision of joining my gallery in Berlin for a couple of weeks. Things do get a bit more complicated as you move on, doors opening mean other doors are closing and while it might seem impropable now, there will be a point where gallerists come after you. (Bear that in mind, but don't count on it.) At the end of the day I don't think it really matters what gallery you are with, if your work is good enough. I also believe that in life, in the arts and in Ikea you will never find exactly what you are looking for...but by accident and under often very mistimed circumstances you will find what you need. And I will say this again and again- this is a system that might still become obsolete in our time.
Here however are a few thoughts that should at least cross your mind when in the happy position of being asked to commit and before you tear up.. I DO.
HARD FACT LIST to check when joining a gallery
-does the gallery exist?
-do they have a website?
-do they have a physical space, where somebody pays rent monthly and nobody spends the night?
-are they open five days a week?
-do they participate in at least at one international art fair, even if it is in their hometown?
-do they pay their artists?
I do not mean to imply that alcohol might have reduced your basic understanding to that of the wall you were leaning on, when you got their business card. These are all pretty basic questions… but you would be surprised. Collectors passing off as gallerists, usually abandoning the project 2 years in is maybe the most prominent example. If the answer to any of those questions is closer to NO then to YES, it might be an interesting situation for a one-off project, but nothing you want to seriously commit your name or your work with. However “desperate” you are.
-what other artists, other galleries are they affiliated with?
-how many of these artists are women? (just for fun..)
-how many of these artists do work similar to yours? In other words does the gallery have the collector base for your type of work.
-where is the gallery located?
-how long has the gallery existed?
-how likely is the gallery to close down? (Again. You would be surprised..).
So you have made your choice. Congratulations! Your troubles are just beginning. First thing you have to do is find a second gallery. More on this later…