The Idea of Galleries from an Artist's Point of View

Posted by Gregory Johnson on

I recently did a little tour of art galleries in the Columbus, Ohio Short North area with my son and business partner, Aaron. Our aim was to try and get a feel for what type of art contemporary galleries are representing these days, and to see how my work might fit in. What we found were a group of lovely people. If there was any snooty around, I never found any.

The first one, Brandt Roberts, was very typical in its presentation, with the usual array of beautifully rendered works tastefully displayed. By a stroke of luck, one of the represented artists was there looking after the place. (Many galleries require the represented artists to volunteer their time.) Aaron asked a question that he would pose to them all, and one which I was eager to know the answer to: How does a gallery balance making a profit and displaying cutting edge work, which may not resonate with paying customers? Alas, the answer was in essence "Therein lies the rub". How indeed? At least in this particular gallery, it was a very well defined line. Tastefully decorative. Their affluent customers consider art an investment. A commonly asked question: "Will this increase in value?" How is he supposed to answer that? But this attitude about art permeates the business, and in effect, holds back true creativity.

The next gallery was a few doors down. Its name was Studios on High, and turned out to be a collective owned and operated by artists. The two artists tending the place were open and welcoming, and happy to discuss art and their approach to it. We had a lovely discussion with Beverly Whiteside, who had done a particularly beautiful mural in the Short North area. This visit really got me going, because that type of attitude toward the arts is so important. Artists should have control of their work. The pieces here went a little bit further than the norm, but I was pretty certain my stuff would probably not fit in. But I left uplifted and hopeful.

Next up was Sherrie gallery. We met the owner, Sherrie Riley Hawk, who was truly happy to speak about the gallery approach to art. Her gallery was exceptionally diverse and open minded with some truly amazing work displayed. When asked the question about contemporary versus cutting edge, she said that basically she exhibited work that she liked, and had stopped worrying about anything else. Ahhh more hope bubbled to the surface, not so much for my work, but for art in general. Mainstream art exhibitors need more Sherries.

Then off Short North on a side street, we stumbled into a little gallery called Emergent Art. There we got into a great discussion about how art can and should be something more than a decoration that goes well with your couch. Some really cool and interesting work can be found there. That was a gallery in which open mindedness is the norm. More hope.

We ended our little tour by visiting 83 Gallery's exhibit at Blockfort entitled "Death, Taxes, 83 Gallery". 83 Gallery had been a powerhouse of cutting edge art for many years, and the originators decided to reunite with a show that was for me the perfect cap on a hopeful day. Every type of art attitude was represented, from highly polished to highly garish. And when I say garish I mean beautifully kick ass creative garish. I don't want to get too hyperbolic here, but those who are familiar with my work will understand how exhilarating this show was for me. In this case, there was NO problem with the gallery. It represented all that I hope art to be: not only decorative, not only an investment, but a legitimate voice of the deeply creative.

So, as an artist, what role do galleries play from a standpoint of career? The answer seems to be that if you are true to what you want from your art, and that you are well satisfied with it, then you and your representative will eventually meet. Not from the artist standing around and waiting, but with active participation and effort.

The bottom line? Keep working.