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DC and Chelsea: Will never happen!

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Gopnik, Smith, Chelsea and Artomatic

How can all these issues be related you ask? Read and absorb:

My most recent walk through AOM, triggered by Chris Shott’s article on the after effects and ripples of Blake Gopnik’s rootcanalization of AOM, revealed a whole set of new works, comments and anti-Gopnik energy in the building. I still maintain that AOM artists should send Gopnik thank you notes, as his brutal review is the best gift that Gopnik could have delivered to AOM: it united a lot of voices, created a lot of interest in the show, and I am sure that it translated into a lot more people visiting AOM.

Roberta Smith, writing in the New York Times this Sunday has a very interesting piece on the Chelsification of art. Smith discusses that the 230 plus galleries now crammed into Chelsea “for art-world professionals, it is the place they love to loathe.”

Degrees of separation: When John Pancake, the Washington Post’s Arts Editor was hunting for a Chief Art Critic a while back, he first offered the job to Smith. She declined, but recommended Blake Gopnik, who at the time was writing for a Canadian newspaper.

Back to Smith’s article. She writes:

“As a result of this explosion, the inevitable anti-Chelsea backlash has been on the rise, too. The rap against Chelsea is that it is too big, too commercial, too slick, too conservative and too homogenous, a monolith of art commerce tricked out in look-alike white boxes and shot through with kitsch. This litany is recited by visitors from Los Angeles and Europe, by dealers with galleries in other parts of Manhattan or in Brooklyn and often by Chelsea dealers themselves. As the Lower East Side gallerist Michele Maccarone put it recently in an interview: ‘The Chelseafication of the art world has created a consensus of mediocrity and frivolousness.’

Degrees of separation, part two: But is Gopnik advocating more towards the Chelsification of DC art when he writes?

“As things stand, too many local artists, as well as a few of our dealers, get attention they wouldn’t get in any city where they faced some decent, savvy competition.”

And as we know, Blake has also written eloquently and positively about Chelsea galleries (he has never written about DC area galleries) and submits that:

“This year the [Chelsea] scene seems to have grown, if that’s possible. It now takes two full days, morning to night, to visit just the best-known Chelsea galleries. But for the first time that I can remember, doing the autumn rounds felt mostly worthwhile. There was real variety on view — of medium, subject matter, approach, scale. More important, there were a few artists and works that didn’t fit into convenient pigeonholes. There were shows that left questions hanging in the air.”

Degrees of separation, part three: I know I’m stretching this, but isn’t that same challenge (time required to visit 230 galleries, diversity and quality of artwork offered, etc.) some of the same issues Gopnik denigrates in his AOM piece. If one takes the time, then at AOM you will find “real variety on view — of medium, subject matter, approach, scale. More important, there were a few artists and works that didn’t fit into convenient pigeonholes.”

One big, insurmountable problem with AOM in Blake’s mindset: It is located in Washington, DC; not New York.

I for one, would love some “decent, savvy competition” (whatever “savvy” means). I still think that the best thing for art galleries is more art galleries. And although the Greater Washington area is one of the wealthiest areas in the world, it is incredibly hard for an art gallery to establish a foothold, develop a collector base and survive in our area.

Part of the blame is the fact that (unlike New York), galleries get very little coverage in our local press. I am still astounded as to how many Washingtonians come into Canal Square every day and say “I didn’t know there were any galleries here.”

And the link between decent media coverage and growth and recognition has been established and proven. The Washington Post has exceptional coverage of our area’s many theatres; even theatres in Olney get great coverage! As a result, our area has now one of the most vibrant theatre scenes in the nation, probably second only to New York’s and challenging Chicago’s.

Meanwhile, the Post plans to cut their gallery coverage in half.

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