The woman who loves to show off her Nylon
Mary Jane's gallery exhibits a revolutionary trait: art for artists' sake. By John Windsor
Saturday 24 October 1998
It is enough to make an old-fashioned Cork Street gallerist scratch his head in disbelief. Especially upon learning that none of the artists are under contract to Nylon. They could take away their pictures and offer them to other galleries whenever they wanted.
The no-contract rule is at the heart of the new deal. There are no ties that bind. Nylon (a combination of NY and London) is the first British outpost of a network of American art galleries that act as a communal clearing house for the work of a multitude of artists, thus giving them maximum exposure. The same works can be shown in numerous galleries. Nylon, which opened in April, has already begun networking with galleries.
The movement started with the setting-up in the early Nineties of "artists' spaces", studio-galleries in lofts and warehouses where art is both produced and sold - an attempt by artists to bypass the established gallery system, with its traditional 50 per cent commission, or to sell despite rejection by gallerists. The East End of London now has hundreds of artists' spaces.
New-deal galleries, often run by artists, have the same go-it-alone spirit. They amount to a deregulation of the traditional gallery concept under which the gallery makes exclusive contracts with likely-looking artists, agreeing to promote their work, while forbidding them from selling elsewhere without the gallery's consent. In its most binding contractual form, the gallery pays the artist a fixed annual salary in return for taking the pick of his work.
Aladren, aged 32, abhors contracts and charges only 30 per cent commission for work sold from her files, 40 per cent if the sale is the result of a gallery show. She says: "If I'm not doing my job right, then the artists won't stay with me. It's as simple as that."
In the "new deal" culture, "loyalty towards the file" supercedes loyalty towards the gallerist, the collector or even the artist.
"The file" means the flat file of the kind that stands in Aladren's gallery, containing artists' original work, photographic records, press cuttings, CVs. It has acquired symbolic status. Whatever is best for the file, in terms of marketing and distribution, is best for the trio of artist, collector and gallerist.
It sounds fanciful, but it is based on trust of the "my word is my bond" sort. The trio works in unison on behalf of the file: collectors may decide to subsidise the exhibitions of an artist whose work they like, in return for concessionary prices. The artist may make a voluntary contribution to the gallery as a thank-you.
As an art collector, while employed by Estee Lauder in New York, Mary Jane Aladren bought works on paper from Joe "Pierogi" Amrhein's studio- gallery, Pierogi 2000, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Amhrein is an artist whose premises is part of a community of some 2,000 artists, of whom about 350 are on his file. He found he had talent as a dealer, and more and more artists gave him art to sell.
He did not raise an eyebrow when Aladren rummaged through his file then headed off to visit 100 artists' studios. He allowed her to take original work to sell in London, with the artists' consent, without asking for a percentage. Nevertheless, a modest percentage of 5-10 per cent will shortly be heading his way from Nylon.
Aladren persuaded Mark Sladen, director for contemporary art of the Entwistle Gallery in Cork Street, to let her sell the work of Charles Avery, an artist Entwistle had been promoting. She sold for pounds 5,000 Avery's series of five pencil and acrylic paintings, "The Creation of the Omniverse", a jibe at evolution theory, showing two decrepit old deities knocking over a waitress carrying a glass of rainbow-coloured cosmic fluid.
Sladen says: "I had had some contact with Pierogi, so I knew that Mary Jane's concept had been tested elsewhere and been shown to work. She and I have different client bases; we have high-value international collectors whereas she serves a local audience. As a result, the artist got that little bit extra that he might not have got if he had been tied to just one market niche".
One of the novelties of the new deal is that new collectors are encouraged to get involved - to get to know artists and sponsor their exhibitions, a modest version of the old patronage system.
Avery, 25, says: "On the one hand, people are scared of art because of its ambiguity and intellectual content. On the other, artists need to explain their work more in order to sell it. That way, they would be less likely to have to resort to painting and decorating in order to pay for being an artist."
Both Nylon and Pierogi 2000 specialise in relatively low-priced works on paper. At Nylon, there is plenty in the pounds 100-pounds 500 range. The test of the new deal will be whether it can survive the kind pf pressures where an artist's exhibition can cost a gallery pounds 20,000. A gallerist who has spent that kind of money promoting an artist who he suspects is about to jump ship will be tempted to reach for a contract before it is too late.
Aladren says: "I really hope I never have to resort to that. It would mean there was a lack of trust".
Nylon, 9 Sinclair Gardens, London W14 (0171-602 6061); Drawings by Charles Avery, `The Creation of the Omniverse', Monday and Tuesday evenings (6pm- 10pm), Wednesday-Saturday (12 noon - 6pm) until 18 November; Peter Harris, `Physiognomy: self-portraits by proxy', joint exhibition with the Andrew Mummery Gallery, 33 Great Sutton Street, London EC1, 27 February-23 March (0171-251 6265)
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