It’s a volatile time in the NYC gallery world. Small galleries are having a tough time of it as gallery giants like Pace and Gagosian grow and as the relentless cycle of month-to-month art fairs sets a high-pressure, expensive rhythm that’s difficult for smaller operations to maintain.
At ArtBinder, we’re using the summer lull to catch up with some of our favorite emerging galleries to get their take on it all in a new Gallery Profile series. What is it like to be a small gallery owner in today’s art market climate?
We started out by talking to Max Marshall at Deli Gallery in Queens, New York. A former practicing artist and co-founder of Yellow Curve, Max knows his New York art world. Here are his thoughts on the role of Instagram, art market “win-wins”, and just how important it is to buy your friends a drink every once in a while.
AB: What role do you see small galleries having as opposed to the giants (Gagosian, Pace, etc)?
MM: If blue chip galleries are the international, big-box stores, then smaller galleries are local, owner-run businesses. I hate to liken what should be a creative space for exhibiting art to a store, but it’s a large aspect of making the enterprise sustainable.
Personally, I enjoy building relationships with smaller galleries and looking towards their programming for a more tailored and specific experience. When places like Pace are showing Richard Tuttle, next to Yoshitomo Nara, next to Mark Rothko… I don’t get excited about the accumulated message the same way I do with smaller galleries.
For me, having spent two years working for Pace and three years working for Matthew Marks, Deli Gallery’s goal is to take what works within that environment and apply it to artists who are emerging- while fixing or correcting things that don’t translate. It’s about growing together, both the gallery and the artists.
AB: What are some challenges and rewards of being a small space?
MM: When you’re running your own space you really are putting everything you’ve got into it. Whether it’s time, energy, money- it’s exhausting. I do it because I can’t imagine not doing it and because I believe it’s important. Ultimately the reward of looking back on a year’s worth of programming – exhibitions that might not have happened elsewhere – is more than enough to carry the gallery. And, of course, when you’re working with emerging artists it’s very rewarding to take that first step together- their first show, their first sale, their first piece into a museum collection. Often times these first steps are difficult and most crucial.
AB: How have shifts in the art market/gallery space affected artists’ trajectories?
MM: I can only speak to my personal experience, but I feel like as mid-range galleries continue to disappear that raises the stakes for small galleries. My job as an art dealer is to not only to find collectors and museums looking for emerging artists, but also build lasting relationships with the artists themselves. I see this as an aspect of the gallery space that is shifting now. When an artist that I work with has another show at a gallery, I don’t see this as an act of hostility but rather an opportunity to expand not only the artist’s base but my own.
In the future, I see the smaller galleries in my direct community working collaboratively and with openness. Maybe this is a naive or utopic view of the future art market, but I’m honestly inspired by the work of everyone around me and feel like we won’t end up in the same place as our predecessors. A good example of this is the recent CONDO programing where established NYC galleries are sharing space with outsiders. I think it’s a smart thing to do for both spaces. I think in general there should be more “win-win” situations like this happening in the art world.
AB: You used to be an artist before running Deli Gallery. Why curating instead of making?
MM: At some point making became less exciting or interesting than curating. My skills have changed throughout my professional career and I really don’t look back on my time making art with a wistful tear. I will say that through my experience making art I have established a profound understanding of what the process feels like. I know how to act in an artist’s studio and I don’t take for granted how much of an artist is put on display during an exhibition.
AB: You’re looking for an emerging artist you’ve never shown to do a solo show. What’s the first thing you look at in the artist and their work?
MM: The artist’s website is a crucial tool in presenting information that they would like to display to the world. In an ideal world work will be displayed in a clear and concise fashion, but often times artist’s like to use their site in a more interpretive mode. And I’ll admit it- I often check their Instagram to see what they’re currently working on or the works in their tagged photos. Sometimes a website is sorely out of date!
Then when it comes to the work itself and what I connect with- this is such a personal feeling that can’t be articulated fully. I think good art has staying power whether it’s through history or whether it’s just something you can’t get out of your head. I’m also interested in showing artists who have invested deeply in telling something through their work- not because it’s trendy or because it’s “interesting”, but because they have to.
AB: When you’re feeling stuck, where do you turn for inspiration?
MM: My community! Close friends- both in the art world and not. It’s so important to take out an artist that Deli has worked with for a while and buy them a drink, see what they’re looking at or thinking about, find out their goals for the next year or five. A few long term, inspiring projects have come out of open and honest conversations like that. Deli would be nothing without the community that supports it, so that is where I look to for inspiration.
Want to learn more about Deli Gallery or ArtBinder? Know of a great small gallery that deserves the spotlight? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on our social media accounts.
Keep an eye out for future gallery profiles!