Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pseudo Galleries Or Art Pimps?

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with respected Sydney gallerist, Ray Hughes about the rise of what he called "pseudo galleries": places set up by people who have no knowledge or understanding of, or any long-term interest in, art. These people see only an opportunity to make some easy money. They sucker new or naive collectors into buying bad art with talk of investment value – trendy, meaningless adjectives such as directional are adopted from fashion jargon – and blue chip artists' names. Client lists are harvested from non-art-related businesses and the pages of the business press. The less a target punter actually knows about art the better.
I had a nasty encounter with one of these galleries yesterday. The manager had written to me and invited me to his Sydney gallery for a coffee. He meant, of course, for a chat about “working together”. He had told me that they organise exhibitions in Singapore, and are opening a new space in Perth.
What a fucking waste of time! The gallery looked like a discount convenience store. The staff had not been told to expect me, and even after I had introduced myself, they behaved like badly trained shop assistants. I was asked twice if I was happy browsing – huh? – and whether I liked the space.
Eventually, the manager walked me through the space, such as it was. He explained how the gallery operated in conjunction with another business selling a luxury product under the same primary brand. In one room, there were stacks of packing cases, and another was an open plan office with about ten staff, each with a phone and a computer. They were selling not art but the company’s other product. The art 'sales people' were housed upstairs and when we looked in on them, it looked like they were canvassing potential buyers like some bucket-shop share brokerage.
By the time the manager finally took me to his own office for our so-called meeting, I was already regretting having stayed so long. When his boss, the company’s managing director, joined us – wearing a pastel lemon polo shirt, and all the rest of the now anachronistic uniform of an ‘80s yuppie – the only thing I was convinced of was that they were low-brow, middle-of-the-road and completely uneducated about art. Nevertheless, the pompous head honcho tried to lecture me about the art business and his unfounded perceptions of what was ‘commercial’ in Asian markets. All of which I knew to be rubbish. After all, I number a few major Chinese collectors among my buyers. That didn’t stop him being condescending and treating me as if I was some na├»ve newbie. I laughed out loud at a few of his dumbest remarks. I just couldn't help it. Then I regained my sanity – and left.
“Motherfuckers,” I kept thinking. “Totally wasted my time.” Henry Rollins once wrote that having your time wasted is like being murdered slowly.
The gallery manager ran after me, keen to patch things up. Bizarrely, he thought that inviting me to their next opening party might do the trick. What an idiot!
Art snobs, I am rejoining your ranks.


sue beyer said...

loving your blog. i am just starting out, so it is great to read about some of the things you have and are going through. good and bad. thanks!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I've seen nearly the same setup and I have been silently insulted and frustrated on behalf of a wonderfully talented woman artist who was squeezed out of the local gallery due to the older women who run it having personal agendas.(They were threatened by actual talent). The artist, has since been featured in the Courier Mail, and when I saw the article, I was happy for her success and realised they'd done her a favour. I'm also enjoying your blog.

p0ps ( Stephen L. Harlow ) said...

Congratulations on laughing, leaving and on quoting Henry Rollins. Art is not a business, but communication.

elizabeth said...

I've been working on art for many years...still not sure what you mean by the 'real art'. as in 'the art world?' or something different. I am such an outsider when it comes to the art market, i might regret. It sounds like you are in a good place with it? I have 48 pieces in my one and only Gallery's 10th annual salon this week. but am i missing something?

e. tobin eckian