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Alison Silverstein
Artist Alison Silverstein doesn’t have gallery representation, but that doesn’t mean anything.

Represent, Y’all

UN highlights famous artists before the fact

September 30, 2009, 12:00 am

UN, short for “unrepresented,” is William Shearburn Gallery’s two-part exhibition that showcases some of the local talents working without the auspices of gallery representation.

For the topic of a show to be a pointed challenge to Santa Fe’s art market is audacious and funny, but curator David Solomon’s approach also is a missed opportunity. It is a gesture steeped in benevolence, but the subtext of inferiority (or is it superiority?) to the local market interferes with an otherwise strong assembly of work.

Institutional critique and the questioning of taste-makers has by now seeped into our psyche. Gallery representation, though perhaps desirable, is less a validation of art’s quality than a reflection of the market in which it resides. Conversely, one should not consider a lack of representation as invalidation.

And this is Solomon’s point. He attempts to garner support for those he deems deserving. Really though, this is just a reiteration of the market model Solomon is critiquing—an economy built on tastes.

The fact is, the art market is a business contingent on sales. For Solomon to concoct an exhibition under the guise of some overlooked alt/indie art movement is to lend too much credence to the galleries he purports to scoop. Yes, there is good art to be found out there. Yes, the stuff in galleries sucks sometimes. But no matter how beautiful or truthful or clever an artist’s work, a gallerist has to think about his or her profit margin.

Putting on an exhibition costs money, and it is done in consideration of a collector base. A dealer is simply not going to take an artist into the gallery’s stable if the gallery can’t earn from that artist. As an artist, you have two options: You can follow the market and try to make things that people will buy, or you can make what you make and hope that the market finds you. Beyond that, I recommend you just try to enjoy yourself.

My point is the galleries are not wholly at fault here. Some may be complicit in dealing in the below-average and the status quo, but they cannot be conduits of the avant-garde when they are also at the mercy of their buyers. That is why we have the Center for Contemporary Arts, SITE Santa Fe and Meow Wolf. By eliminating the need to meet a bottom line via sales, the kind of work shown can vary drastically. Conceptual and post-studio artwork has a home in these institutions that can afford to work around the retinal and decorative motives of most commercial galleries.

Indeed, the William Shearburn Gallery, where Solomon works, is a blue-chip gallery. It is able, through the money it makes in the secondary market, to put on a show of relative unknowns. It can, on a limited basis, operate like a kunsthalle.

I applaud the owner and Solomon for attempting to pay a tithe to the local talent, but I wish the show did not target the issue of representation so directly. This is akin to promoting a concert and making a big deal of the fact that the bands are all unsigned.

If it really wanted to help, Shearburn should just buy out the shows and start putting some of these gifted locals on the secondary market where they might generate even more sales. Exposure is nice, but money helps fund more art. And that is what we’re talking about, right?

In the future I hope Solomon, who has a good eye, will keep his mind on the work and away from the exterior forces at play. A curator should attempt to show us something about the art. They need to teach us why they think it is worth looking at. It is in the discourse of the work that statements are made, and it is there that the difference between curators and dealers is clear.

UN, Part 2
Through Oct. 10

William Shearburn Gallery
129 W. San Francisco St.


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