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Galleries Shift Shape to Survive in a Changing Art World (featured artwork, Rachel Rose and Rirkrit Tiravanija)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Art galleries, like museums, are in a state of flux, determined to find ways to survive and remain relevant in an increasingly hostile environment shaped by rising rents; development; absurd auction prices and a dearth of old-school collectors — ones who think for themselves.

The few that can are shape-shifting and scaling up, becoming more like museums, mounting shows with outside curators and even opening their own bookstores. Many galleries stage not only art performances — by now routine — but also panel discussions and conversations with the artists whose work they sell. As might be expected, these can blur the line between public service and promotion.



Rachel Rose, Sitting Feeding Sleeping (2013)

The word hybrid, referring to a museum-inclined commercial art gallery, was heard more than once in Los Angeles at the opening of the imposing arts complex that is Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. Its four buildings surround a large, street-accessible courtyard (with a 150-seat restaurant planned for September) that most museums would envy. (Amenities is another word you’ll hear.) Perhaps most telling, the gallery has a full-time staff member in charge of educational programs.

In the opposite direction, smaller galleries, especially in New York, are dispersing beyond established art neighborhoods like Chelsea, Bushwick and the Upper and Lower East Side, to far-flung locations, exploiting New York’s extensive subway system.

GAVIN BROWN’S ENTERPRISE Occasionally a gallery manages to do both, to become a bit more like a museum — or at least an alternative space — while avoiding gallery enclaves. Gavin Brown’s enterprise has evaded blue-chip status partly by deliberately favoring the margins (of SoHo, then Chelsea and most recently Greenwich Village) and partly by watching its biggest discoveries (Chris Ofili, Peter Doig, Piotr Uklanski) go off to larger operations. Mr. Brown, a British artist who relocated to New York in 1988 and opened his first gallery in 1994, was ahead of the amenities curve. His second gallery, on West 15th Street, included Passerby, a small fully functioning bar with a disco floor by Mr. Uklanski.


Rirkrit Tiravanija, untitled 1993 (shall we dance), Chairs, phonograph, record (1993)


Mr. Brown now has an outpost smack in the middle of the Lower East Side, but his new flagship gallery is in a four-story building at 439 West 127th Street in Harlem that is something of a mini Dia Art Foundation.

The opening show is the New York commercial gallery debut of the brilliant British video artist Ed Atkins, whose enigmatic digital animations create complex inner lives for figures more usual to video games. Mr. Atkins has installed a piece on each of the building’s three display floors. All involve double or triple projections that create a strong spatial experience, as do cutting-edge sound effects alternating with well-chosen musical accompaniment. And all feature a tormented, disheveled man loosely based on Mr. Atkins — or at least using his voice and (captured) facial expressions.

Tending toward a vivid grimness and a certain macho angst, these animations meditate on the alienating effects of technology, terrorism, modern travel and good old self-abnegation. In “Hisser,” our hero is sucked out of his bedroom to wander, naked on the white screen, muttering to himself. In the elaborate “Ribbons,” he is heavily tattooed and spends most of his time slumped over a pub table. The shortest piece is probably best: the nine-minute “Safe Conduct,” seen in the sky-lighted fourth floor space. Bins of human organs and body parts pass through a T.S.A. checkpoint while our protagonist watches. In baggage claim, he poses like a hostage and is finally seen in close-up gritting his teeth to the mounting, increasingly militant strains of Ravel’s Bolero. Thus is existential dread updated and digital animation given unusual gravity.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, untitled 2015 (bangkok boogie woogie, no. 2), 16 Bronze Tires, Copper Sheets, Video (2015)


Mr. Brown’s example of persistence and unpredictability is inspiring but also hard to match. Here are some other show places that are breaking the mold in their own ways.

All featured artwork, Rachel Rose and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

—by Robarta Smith – June 23 , 2016, NYTimes

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