Last week we mentioned that some city-owned rental space, even in buildings one imagined would be very rentable (the Staten Island Ferry terminal, for example) were being offered free to artists to use as exhibition spaces. Today the Times tells us the city’s not the only landlord to give over its moribund commercial spaces to daubers. So have the owner of a dentist office, the owner of a stretch of Flatbush Avenue Extension “squeezed between a McDonald’s and an Applebee’s,” etc.
The Times calls the phenomenon of landlords and business groups loaning their space to artists “pop-up galleries” and says it’s British. But we remember, in the East Village’s transitional days, art shows in what later became the lobby of the Red Square condo, rock shows in a disused auto showroom in Soho, etc. Don’t get us started, you know how we get. The point is, this happens any time New York starts to go downhill….
We are happy for anything that gives life to darkened storefronts and a venue to artists, and we appreciate artists’ advocates such as No Longer Empty who facilitate such hook-ups, “suggesting new models of community art” (with trained curators, yet).
We do wonder, though, if there isn’t an “observer effect” at work here. Once upon a time, artist incursions into unaccustomed spaces were usually ad hoc — some guy knew a place, and he told some people. It had the same run-and-gun nature as graffiti, only it was mostly legal. That was part of the thrill of it: randomness, plus anyone with their eyes open could get in on it.
Now that there are companies that handle negotiations between needy artists and needy landlords, you might say this former underground art frontier has been colonized. You’re doing a show in a garage? Oh, who set it up for you? Who was your curator? It’s basically a new, diasporic circuit of the same old art world — name-brand indie art. It might be very nice, and will certainly feature a lot of up-and-coming young artists of good pedigree. But for some reason we’re just not that interested.