Friday, December 3, 2010

Framing Nostalgia Locally, Buying Globally

Tonight, in Birmingham, Alabama, Bare Hands Gallery hosts its final opening, before closing December 30th. I can only imagine it will be a huge night, with well-wishers, collectors, artists, the curious, the caring and the casual all pouring out onto the sidewalk on 21st Street South. While the forthcoming display of love and care will be touching, the demise of Bare Hands Gallery simply illustrates the difficulties of art organizations in middle-tier cities, and the challenges they face.

Problematically, many artists in smaller cities approach the business model differently than an artist represented in a major city might. In the former, the production, display and sale of works forms the basis of a “more is better” equation in which the greater the output, the greater the opportunity for sales. In a city like Birmingham, apart from monthly exhibitions, artists have the opportunity to participate in Magic City Art Connection, ArtWalk, the Moss Rock Festival and other similar events. Then, in many instances, they seem bewildered by why their works don’t seem to sell as well at galleries when they have their biannual exhibition or are included in a group exhibition.

This isn’t an argument for availability or scarcity. Instead, I believe that the actual art-buying public is reasonably small. In many instances, worldwide, artists trade their works with other artists rather than each purchasing them in commercial spaces. Many artists have studio sales. Time and again, the opportunity to saturate a limited market may satisfy the legitimate need of an artist to make a living from their work. But somehow, this simply can't be reconciled with partnering with a commercial gallery to exhibit the same pieces and create the same sale opportunities.

How do we address this disparity between artistic production as day-to-day supply item versus artistic production as limited availability object that creates increased demand, and therefore increased value. It is a basic economic argument, a relationship between supply and demand.

I love Bare Hands Gallery. My wife and I had our first real meeting at an exhibition opening. Over the years, we have purchased pieces by a number of artists. But like someone said recently, “If your idea of supporting a space is putting three dollars in the tip jar and drinking a few beers, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out why someplace is closing.”

Galleries close every day. It is a fact of business as much as it is a fact of life. I encourage people to buy something from Bare Hands Gallery during its final month, but out of a desire to support local art since it’s too late to save this local business, it would seem. And remember, nostalgia for something after it’s gone is nothing like supporting something while it is here. Just imagine if we’d all bought something last week, or last month, or last year.

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