Sunday, August 15, 2004

I'll be the first one to admit that Blake Gopnik has shattered my almost 100% cemented opinion of him in relation to the area art scene with this excellent idea published in today's Sunday WP.

He calls for the creation of the Washington Collectors' Project. And he writes:

"Here's how it would work: A consortium of the city's best collectors of contemporary art would come together to make their art available for exhibition. They would find a modest, white-cube space and invite independent curators to fill it with selections from their holdings."
My kudos to Blake for a great idea! And I agree that such a project "might even set an example that could get other well-heeled Washingtonians purchasing contemporary art."

Of course, we'd all get into an immediate and fun argument as to what "contemporary" means. To Blake it's obviously at least Arbus, Judd and Hirst - names that a lot of young curators and collectors may already find old and quaintly traditional -- that's what happens when one endorses the "new" rather than what's good. To some, Arbus, Judd and Hirst may already belong in the company of the Matisses and Oldenburgs.

It's a great idea, although Blake shows his inexperience in the business aspect of running an art space if he considers that the "cost would be minimal." A key to it would be a free space (rent is the killer for most art galleries and institutions), but heating and cooling costs, added to the astronomical cost of insuring artwork, plus the cost of printing materials, plus the cost of publicity, not to mention salaries of all involved all adds up to a substantial amount of funds just to get the place kick started - even if a dozen wealthy collectors threw in their financial backing at once.

If as Gopnik suggests, the area's embassies are involved, then perhaps an international arrangement also involving finances could be included!

Let's say that the concept of operations, as suggested by Gopnik, could be to include the embassies to help bring international curators to the WCP - why not then perhaps expand the concept to have one quarter of the exhibition program be dedicated to international exhibits and tie that to financial assistance from the culture ministers at Embassy Row? This will demand careful scrutiny, as it could be borderline "vanity" curating, but I am sure the kinks could be worked out.

A few years ago a small European nation forked over four million dollars to a local area museum to showcase one of their artists. That was almost downright "vanity museum show" but it implies that there exist financial resources that (if ethically approached) could be used to help finance a WCP.

Another way for the WCP to possibly raise funds would be for the project to develop a really good website presence that also offered contemporary artwork in an online auction venue, where collectors and other donors (artists) could put their work for a hands-free auction to a worldwide audience and give the WCP a normal auction house cut (15%) or as an outright donation. Both approaches have merit: A normal auction house cut would ensure a constant flow of works to be auctioned off, while outright donations means a full tax write-off for collectors (not artists). The auction process could involve contemporary original work by both established contemporary artists with a secondary art market record as well as emerging living artists with little exposure (and thus more affordable prices).

With the right legitimacy, an online fine art auction presence will work. While Sotheby's had its online auction presence, we, as Associate Dealers for, were selling on the average around $20,000 worth of art each month by mostly area artists to collectors all over the world, seeking good, edgy, contemporary work by young, emerging artists. It can be done! Read this.

I am dumbfounded that museums or other legitimate art institutions have not tapped into this void left when Sotheby's folded its online operations (due to astounding lack of knowledge of online business practices on their part - in my opinion) that were allegedly selling one million dollars a day!

Kudos to Blake for a great idea - now it's time for the volunteers and wealthy area collectors to step forward.

I'll be glad to help - count me in!

A while back I made some comments on the subject of galleryphobia. Other similar experiences by other gallerists soon followed.

Today, as I sit in the gallery, and observe that Bethesda Plaza is once again packed with people awaiting to be called to the Original Pancake House, and yet only a few brave souls dare to enter the gallery, while dozens float back and forth attempting to view the entire exhibition through the glass walls, I am reminded of another gallery phenomenom: Bin Magnetism, also sometimes called Print Rack Magnetism.

Print Rack I've not only observed Bin Magnetism evidenced at our two galleries, but also at every single gallery that I've visited that has a floor bin (or print rack) loaded with shrink wrapped matted two dimensional work.

You know the kind; nearly every gallery has one (they usually look like this)- loaded with art work that can be purchased and (usually) taken away immediately - as opposed to the month-long permanence of the scheduled exhibitions on the walls.

Anyway, what I have observed is that there exists a phase two to galleryphobia.

Once the galleryphobia-afflicted person has received enough counseling and encouragement, and then (after a deep breath), dares to actually enter the art gallery, he or she is often immediately and irresistibly attracted by some invisible and powerful force directly to the art bin, much like a stranded swimmer making his way to a floating log in the middle of the ocean.

This is phase two of galleryphobia, hereafter referred to as Bin Magnetism.

And if the gallery happens to have more than one floor bin, then the person usually contracts a more severe and acute case of Bin Magnetism and then makes his way from art bin to art bin, as if swimming from one safe spot to another. Sometimes they work their way around the gallery that way, breathlessly going through the shrinkwrapped artwork, eyes locked onto those pieces, avoiding any eye contact with anyone else, and unfortunately often not even looking up at the exhibition actually hung on the walls before they make their way out of the gallery.

The Bin Magnetized victim can often be rescued and cured by approaching them, smiling at them and starting a light conversation. Once they get over their startled look at discovering that the gallerist is (sometimes) a human being capable of speech, the disease if usually cured on the spot.

In rare ocassions, the Bin Magnetized victim will be allergic to this proven cure and react by either fainting or running away at an Olympic clip.