A few days ago Huffington Post published a review of a current New York exhibition by a Pittsburgh artist. Awesome, right? The artist, Cy Gavin, has been living in Brooklyn since 2011 but he’s still one of ours. So when HuffPost says, “His debut solo show at Sargent’s Daughters is definitely worth a visit” we should be damn proud!
Except for one thing. That statement is false. Cy Gavin’s “debut solo show” is not happening right now in New York. It already took place last year—in Pittsburgh. I wrote about that show, which was held at Revision Space in Lawrenceville. It was a big deal because it also the gallery’s inaugural exhibition. Remember? Of course you do. It was even picked up by Blake Gopnik on Blouin. So why is this HuffPost writer getting it wrong?
As it turns out, he was just following the press release. The document, available on Sargent’s Daughters’ website, calls Gavin’s New York show a “debut exhibition.”
Why would Sargent’s Daughters make a claim that is so clearly false? Could it be an honest mistake? Unlikely. For an older, better-known artist these types of “firsts” tend to slide into obscurity, but for a young artist like Gavin with a short exhibition history, a glance at his CV should have revealed the truth.
Maybe the artist himself hoped to re-write his CV to have his debut sparkle with the light of New York City. If so, that would be dishonest and rude. But either way, writing press releases is not the artist’s job. Gallery press officers are responsible for doing the research and getting it right.
This latest episode with Cy Gavin seems to reaffirm the sad fact that what happens in Pittsburgh, however awesome, stays in Pittsburgh. Revision Space is just too small and too far to see from New York City.
Recently I wrote about Outlines, a gallery that had everything going for it–including amazing artists who later became canonical figures–and still disappeared into obscurity. The notion that our current efforts could suffer the same fate saddens me. But seen from another perspective, in being passed over by the official record, we have good company. Julia Halperin recently reveled that “almost one third of solo shows in US museums go to artists represented by just five galleries.” This means that Revision Space isn’t the only one having its credit stolen; even a mid-sized gallery in New York, or a gallery showing less than totally commercially viable work, will be eclipsed by Pace et al.
Why does it matter who gets the credit for discovering and nurturing young artists as long as they’re successful in the long run? It matters because credit is a major currency in the art world. It’s a key component to the gallery’s reputation. And it is this currency, not hard cash that it accrues as it discovers and supports young exciting artists. A gallery is a weird beast, caught between the behavior of an investor and a merchant. Like an investor, galleries gamble on the success of untested products. But unlike an investor, a gallery can’t buy low and sell high, because it has to sell. It’s also a merchant. In other words, smaller and regional galleries take all the risks of an investor without any mechanism to reap the rewards.
This just one part of a huge, dysfunctional, outmoded system that is also almost completely run by power and money. For better or worse we are all in it together.