Friday, November 1, 2013

Does This Snapshot of the Durham Art Gallery Scene Remind You of Anything?

One of my paintings at the Goin’ Postal Fall Art Show was titled The Outsider. Several people commented on the piece including Patricia Lenz, a former director of the Duluth Art Institute. The next day she saw online an article about the Durham art scene. The title drew her in, in part because of its harmonic echo of the piece she’d just taken a shine to: "As Outsiders Art gallery closes, Durham is still an art scene under development."

Upon reading the story Lenz, who has been active for several decades in the local arts scene, sent it to my attention, for reasons that soon became apparent. Change a few names and you will be describing a lot of what is happening all across the country in mid-sized communities like Duluth-Superior, Durham and (probably) Durango.

After four years of exhibitions and parties, Outsiders Art gallery is throwing one last bash. On Friday night, owner Pam Gutlon will gather her festive cabal of food trucks and musicians to the colorful Victorian house on Iredell Street in Durham—ground zero for the community-based resurgence of the city's art scene—before closing the visionary art gallery for good.

The article then proceeds to share details regarding the various other galleries in Durham which have been invigorated by its creativity and Third Friday art nights. The closing of Outsiders reminds me a little of the recent closing of the Ochre Ghost. The arts activity there reminded me of the activity at The PROVE, using food, art and music to create community.

Author Chris Vitiello does a good job of unearthing the economics of the Durham gallery scene. One gallery takes zero commission from the sales of art by its artists, but relies instead on donations. The Carrack has sought non-profit status and uses the artists to hang their own shows and staff the events. No one is getting rich off the venture, but then again this is not its aim.

A few blocks away, the Pleiades Gallery represents eight artists who share wall space and feature a different artist for its various shows. Echoes of The PROVE again, as well as the Washington Gallery but on a smaller scale.

Roylee Duvall of Through The Lens Gallery (photography only) makes most of his money through framing, and very little through art sales, a business model that sustains some of our other Twin Ports exhibition spaces including Lizzards and Art Dimensions in Carlton.

Several other galleries get examined in the piece, and many other galleries here in the Twin Ports should be mentioned, but questions have been rolling through my mind as I mull on all this. Patricia Lenz begins with a few herself.

First, I think it's so indescribably weird that art of the famous fetches such huge prices at auctions and [writers] rarely do features about the "out of most peoples' range art" or refer to good art available for prices in the hundreds, not hundreds of thousands. The general population could easily become collectors since the cost of entry is so low.

Someone said to me last year that many people who have the resources will not consider buying art locally because it can't be as valuable as art from Chicago. Which sounds to me like the same dismissive pooh-poohing by New Yorkers who see anything outside the borders of Manhattan as irrelevant and paltry. Lenz noted that there are several very knowledgable local artists who could advise collectors as regards what is good and has value. "Art in this region can be bought for the price of a monthly cell phone bill, for god's sake. Its exasperating," she said.

On the other hand, this whole discussion lends itself to questions about why artists who make art are demanding that the public support their ventures, ofttimes perceived as misadventures. Once the art world intersects the corridor of commerce, is it altered thereby?

This is the age-old dilemma. Is the true artist confirmed by her commercial achievements or her critical acknowledgements? In business, when companies make products that consumers don't want, they go out of business.

This whole business of marketing art is a very complicated matter, and I for one would like to have more dialogue about it sometime.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Have a very special weekend.

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