In September 2008, Damien Hirst bypassed his galleries and auctioned his work through Sotheby’s. This and other events in the last fifteen years have created a belief that there are other options to show one’s work—alternative spaces—and that the gallery system itself, is broken, bankrupt or just doesn’t serve artists as it should. Therefore, many artists choose to “buck the system” and do for themselves.
However, what do they mean? Showing in bars and cafés, art walks, store windows, theater lobbies, boutiques, consignment galleries, local art centers and online shopping carts such as Etsy.com have all been recognized as alternatives to showing in galleries. Most of these options are a great way to show work to the casual viewer, family and friends but will help little in building a successful career, gaining real recognition, or getting you into art history? These alternatives spaces are also not a reliable stepping stone for getting into the gallery system because the more years one spends in these alternative spaces the more their reputation becomes tarnished. If one plans to show in bars or store windows for 20 years…well good luck with that.
What then, does a gallery do for an artist? First of all, a gallery can sell work at a higher price level and create the opportunity to be reviewed in major publications. A gallery is also a link to museums, major collectors and curators. And most importantly, a gallery can help build an artist’s reputation. The above mentioned alternative spaces don’t even come close to offering this to an artist, unless you’re Damien Hirst, who actually built his reputation through the gallery system, anyway. So how can artists really buck the system?