During the last year or so, a number of Chicago galleries have closed shop. This seems to be taking a number of people by surprise, but I’m not that sure it’s that much of a shock.
These galleries were in areas that pretty much attracted a party (hipster singles) crowd with the gallery owners being the party hosts. These young artists (a lot of them are recent MFAers) and gallery owners just want to be part of the current “scene” and are making an income that is not related to selling work. There is a shelf life of about 3-5 years for these gallery spaces (any small business takes that long to just get off the ground). As time passes, it gets tiring for both artist and gallery owner. For the artist, their art takes a back seat when they start families, get a “real” job and when the rigors of making art become too demanding. For the gallery owners, rent and expenses go through the roof, plus they have to mind an empty art gallery on their days off. This could be different if there was a strong collector base that sought out these places and purchased the work.
I think this is why some have derided the Chicago art world as “academic” and the art as being “academic schlock.” No one ever is in the business long enough to make or do anything well. Unfortunately, I think it might be different if there was a strong collector base here. Collectors that would purchase art because they are moved by it and not because it was made or sold by someone important. As it stands now, the person with a few extra dollars is more likely to buy something at The Gold Coast Art Fair or Macy’s than something at GardenFresh (which is one of the galleries that closed).
Maybe this is as it should be. This scene is where an artist can shake things out. Perhaps maybe even find out if one has what it takes to devote a life to being an artist. It takes a lot of stamina, passion and effort. Some people just don’t have it in them. I think there are also those who realize that their contribution to the art world may be doing something else. This is where the serious artists are weeded out from the crowd.
I’ve seen a lot of junk at these spaces and I’ve also seen stuff, that while lacking in quality, shows promise. I’ve also seen really good work and some that has blown me away. Because of this, I hope that there will be other galleries to take their place.