By MATTHEW NASH
The last few weeks have seen several important announcements, and much more speculation, regarding the state of the arts in Boston. As we reported on our blog on March 17, Allston-Skirt Gallery will be closing their doors at the end of their current exhibition. On March 25, Greg Cook added to the list with a piece in The Boston Phoenix that Bernard Toale Gallery would close, and that "[p]lans are for gallery director Joseph Carroll to take over much of the space and open an independent gallery there in September. Carroll's new venue would continue to feature several of Toale's major local artists..." A week later, on April 1, we reported that Space Other would be closing as well.
Along with the news of these closings, several moves and shifts also were made public. Cook posted in a mix of reports and rumors that Howard Yezerski Gallery, Miller Block Gallery and Gallery Anthony Curtis would move to 450 Harrison Avenue, Beth Urdang Gallery is looking for a new home on Newbury Street.
Rumors also circulated regarding The Rhys Gallery, MPG Contemporary, and newcomers Julie Chae Gallery and Gallery XIV. It seemed, for a few days, that every gallery in Boston was rumored to be closing, moving, or changing ownership, and parsing fact from gossip became problematic. In the current climate, many dealers are refusing to state (at least publicly) their plans, leaving much of this gossip unrefuted. However, there have been several positive signs, and many off-the-record conversations, that lead me to believe that things are not as drastic as they appear.
Admittedly, Bernard Toale Gallery and Allston-Skirt are two of Boston's best galleries, with strong rosters and established, supportive audiences. Their departure will be a blow to the arts, which will be softened somewhat by Carroll's new gallery when it opens. Similarly, Space Other has become an important gallery for international contemporary work, and the loss of their vision is a shame.
In the grand scheme of things, though, this is a minor shake-up by Boston standards. Big RED & Shiny has already written extensively on the decline in galleries and alternative spaces in Chinatown, Fort Point, and Cambridge between 1999 and 2004. During that time, many commercial galleries moved to the South End, created the current Harrison Avenue district, and paved the way for new galleries to open. In 2006, a Big RED & Shiny survey of commercial galleries reported:
On average, galleries have been open about 6 years, but only in their current location 3.5 years. Considering the major uprooting of many galleries into the SoWa complex a few years back, this is not surprising. When Judi Rotenberg Gallery's 20+ years are factored in, the average time most galleries have spent in their current location drops to 2.2 years. The high rents of desireable areas, and the recent rise in commercial gallery activity, account for much of this short-term occupancy. Weighed against 5 respondants whose galleries have existed for 7 years or longer, while only 2 have been in their current location for that time, and we see clear evidence of the real estate explosion of the past 5 years.
While the close timing of these announcements is a bit surprising, the history of the SoWa complex is full of galleries that are no longer with us: Clifford-Smith, Gallery Katz, Genovese/Sullivan and Locco Ritoro all closed within the last two years. Of course, the closing of Locco Ritoro and Genovese/Sullivan paved the way for the openings of Gallery XIV and Julie Chae Gallery.
There is a lot of speculation as to why Allston-Skirt and Space Other are closing. The news of a possible economic recession has led to rumors that the collectors are spending less money, and galleries are feeling the pinch. Randi Hopkins of Allston-Skirt says that was not the case, as reported by Greg Cook:
"It wasn't financial," says Randi Hopkins, who owns and operates the gallery with Beth Kantrowitz. "Our lease is up [in November]. It's been nine years working together. Our two visions want to go in different ways."
Space Other announced that they will be leaving their space, but continuing to create exhibitions in non-traditional venues:
For the next year Space Other abandons its sessile exhibition space in Boston's South End and proceeds to develop a series of exhibitions under the umbrella title 'space other at other spaces', which will take place in non-traditional exhibition spaces in Amsterdam, Berlin, New York, and San Juan during the remainder of 2008. During the fall of 2006 we participated in an exhibition where we took over an empty store space in a commercial district in Hamburg for one month. This is the nomadic model to follow. A self published book compiling information on the 21 exhibitions and the many artists presented in Boston during the last three years will be published this fall.
As for the other rumors of closures, there does not appear to be any impending doom. One SoWa dealer described the rumors as a "ripple from the uncertainty in our neighborhood" -- which is probably the most accurate description of the gossip spread in recent weeks. More importantly, unbridled rumors of gallery collapses harm the overall perception of the Boston art market, which ultimately does hurt galleries and artists. If the looming economic recession becomes a reality, and drags on for too long, we may hear of more closings in the future. For now, though, we are only seeing a few changes are not too surprising to those who follow these things. Despite all the gossip and hand-wringing, the arts in Boston continue to be strong.
Looking back on the past four years of Big RED & Shiny, I thought it would be helpful to list some of the commercial and alternative galleries that have opened, closed or moved since we started in 2004. I've limited the list to galleries within Boston/Cambridge, but it's pretty clear that these new changes are not necessarily indicators of any drastic, city-wide collapse of the art market.
|2004 - 2008 Galleries opening
Julie Chae Gallery
The Rhys Gallery
Atlantic Works Gallery
Diamond-Newman Fine Arts
Green Street Gallery
|Galleries that have moved
The Rhys Gallery