//Ad libs: Instead of art openings, galleries closing

Monday, August 24, 2009

Instead of art openings, galleries closing

The red pen is getting a workout, and not in a good way. While gathering info for the fall arts preview issue, super-intern Lauren Jow and I crossed five art galleries off the list from last year.

That's five galleries that have closed here or are about to: four in downtown Palo Alto (Aicon, Hot Mango Pickle, Kathleen Avery Fine Art and Tercera) and one in Los Altos (ZYT Gallery).
Tercera shuts its doors Aug. 31 after a closing sale. Five galleries gone feels like a big number here. And even if you couldn't afford fine art anyway, we all may feel a little bereft.

In my visits to Aicon, for instance, I learned so much about Indian and Pakistani art. The
miniatures tradition of Pakistan was fascinating to me, like doors opening in an array of media: human hair, tiny boxes and pins, paint applied with a traditional squirrel-hair brush. Now Aicon is just another in the line of empty storefronts on the increasingly gloomy Bryant Street.

As for Kathleen Avery, I was just thinking the other morning as I walked by that I'd never heard of public exhibitions there, and yet the lines of the figurative sculpture in the window still added something lovely to my day. That afternoon, the blinds were closed and a For Lease sign was up.

In most cases, the economy seems to be to blame, unsurprisingly. No one's alone in this. The New York Times
reported in June: "Some two dozen galleries here have folded. ... The most notable among them ... are midsize galleries, where the reputations of up-and-coming artists first gain traction." Are up-and-coming artists here losing a place for their voices, too? Or do you have to be pretty settled to score good real estate in downtown P.A.? Fledgling artists can mingle with the experienced on the walls of the Pacific Art League, but the league also focuses on art classes and other community events rather than being a glossy gallery.

If you're a gallery owner, perhaps creative -- and dramatic -- marketing and moves can help you survive. In yesterday's
Chicago Tribune, the happiest-sounding gallerista was David Leonardis. He shuttered one gallery location but kept the other, where to keep the cash flowing he held a buy-one-get-one-free art sale, and then started selling pieces from his private collection for 70 percent off.

Coming soon, a leaf from the federal government's book: The Tribune reports that Leonardis is "now planning a 'cash for clunkers' art sale/exchange."

Pictured: "Ghost Chair #1," a 2006 wood-panel, chair and paint piece by Garry Knox Bennett, one of Tercera Gallery's artists.