November 12, 2007

IMHO: Gallery for Rent in Connecticut

Alva Gallery has always been about both contemporary art and a commitment to the city of New London, Connecticut. Unfortunately, after trying to cultivate an art market for nine years and barely breaking even, Alva Greenberg has decided to close shop and pursue other interests. I stopped by the gallery on Saturday to check out their last show, where I met longtime Alva employee Susan Hendricks, a dedicated member of New London’s art glitterati. We chatted about what the gallery closing means for New London.

New London has always seemed like a place where artists and the arts should thrive: it contains scads of underused buildings ripe for studio space, and plenty of vacant storefronts. And in fact, civic-minded locals have tried to revive the city culturally by renovating historic buildings and rebranding New London as an arts community. But the reality is that landlords’ expectations for rent are too high, and there aren’t enough collectors to nourish the artists and galleries. Supporting the arts isn’t merely providing affordable studios and gallery space for exhibitions. People need to buy the artwork, and that is what hasn’t happened. Looking at the houses, yachts, and other indicia of a fat wallet, there are plenty of wealthy people in southeastern Connecticut. Imagine what might happen if people started buying art from galleries and living artists instead of the poster shop at Ikea. The CT Commission on Culture and Tourism generously provides educational programming for artists and arts organizations, but that may not be the best allocation of resources for revitalizing arts in the region. A campaign aimed at wealthy people to promote the purchase of original artwork might be more effective. If more galleries close, artists may have to start selling their artwork on eBay and Etsy, where a more clued-in audience awaits. In that event, gallery owners will move on to other more remunerative endeavors, and New London will be the poorer for it. Heiress Alva has deep pockets, so she has been able to stick with it for almost a decade, but other gallery owners lack that kind of staying power.

It is not that the work arising from smaller areas like southeastern Connecticut, outside the cultural radii of New York and Boston, is inherently unworthy, or the shows poorly conceptualized. The current exhibition, curated as usual by Alva, is loosely based around the notion of “Ceremonies and Celebrations” – a well-considered concept for a thematic group show that is at once broad enough to elicit diverse artistic interpretations and sufficiently defined to keep them on message. Traditionally curators establish a theme based on current issues and ideas they detect among art makers, then select specific pieces to examine and refine that theme. In this exhibition, Alva posited a general idea, and aptly asked artists whose work she admired to submit artwork they felt addressed the idea in some way. The work submitted to the show, however, doesn’t fully articulate a cohesive point of view. Much of it smacks of the proverbial student art project, doggedly and obviously exploring the assigned thematic conceit. Yet some pieces do manage to quietly embrace the theme while still standing strongly on their own....

Read the entire article at Hank Hoffman's Connecticut Art Scene, where I will be writing occasional reviews and commentary.

Related posts:
Mysteries of Pittsburgh
IMHO: Artists Retreat

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