It has long been apparent to many serious and accomplished contemporary artists that the traditional art gallery is no longer an effective business model for serving artists’ or public interests. Out of necessity, many alternative models have been tried over the years. Looking at past and present alternative models will help to point a way forward for some artists.
Of course, if you are one of the “lucky” few artists who have fulfilled their professional needs and aspirations through the traditional venues, I suspect you won’t be reading this anyway, so move along and beware of what you wish for.
A list of common alternative models for the presentation of new art includes:
• Cooperative galleries
• Salons (think Gertrude Stein)
• Pop Ups
• Hotel shows and alternative art fairs
• Internet based platforms
• Artists’ groups (i.e. Blue Rider, Dada, Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists, Cubists, Surrealists, Imagists, Guerilla Girls)
• Street art
• Loft and studio parties and open houses
• Community art centers
• University museums
• Collectives and associations
I believe that all of these are good and more or less effective on a singular basis. It would be ideal to develop models that are flexible and might include any or all of these without excluding already existing structures such as commercial galleries and museums.
This is why I am currently exploring the concept of artists’ collectives and associations. I think that might be fertile ground that does not throw the baby out with the bath water.
In my opinion, what is important for artists to do includes:
• Make the best art you can
• Build a supportive community of colleagues, friends and people from other professions, backgrounds and generations. Like any other business or organization, it takes multiple skills and expertise to make a venture successful.
• Always listen, look and learn.
• Never even think about surrender.
• Do not implicitly trust the academy, elite power structure, gatekeepers, or media. Think for yourself in business as you do in art.
• Always remember, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”
• Pay attention to organizational structures in other fields
• Make exciting things happen so that others want to participate
• Remember that the arts are a conversation. Conversation is not just dialogue; it involves, using a musical term, “call and response.”
• Always welcome outsiders and newcomers.
Well, that’s a lot and I’d prefer to keep this a simple and useful point of departure for further conversations and developments. I’d love to hear from all who have feedback or an interest in these issues.
Bruce Thorn earned a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1975 and an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1987. He has maintained a vibrant art practice throughout his life. His works have been exhibited in the United States, Czechoslovakia, Canada and the Netherlands.
Top image: stock photo collage by Norbert Marszalek