Featured post

Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice: Online Course Starting April 27th 2022

  Sign up to my new series of talks on Contemporary Narratives - Photography: A Short Guide to History, Theory, and Practice .  Starts on Ap...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Gallery Owner as Sycophant

A friend who has a gallery in London told me how difficult it is having a gallery, how you have to go to your own openings and travel around the world going to art shows. "I don't know how much longer I can do it," he says. "You have to talk to all these people. Some of them are decent, but most of them are just obnoxious, ignorant and aggressive. They are bullies who are rich and are used to having their own way and you have to pretend you like them because they are the kind of people who are going to buy your artists' work. Basically my job as a gallery owner is to be a sycophant. I came into art to work with artists and creativity, to do something I love but now I'm just a sycophant. How did I end up like this?"

I don't know if he's being dramatic or if that's really the case. And if it is really the case, is it just the case for gallery owners or is it for everyone - in photography, in art, in life?


Stan B. said...

"...They are bullies who are rich..."

I think he's remarkably undramatic, sounds like mere statement of fact to me. Of course,
I've known only bullies, and bullies who want to be rich. History however (any history) teaches that their general disposition changes little with wealth, since they only bully for more. As to your questions: yes, yes and most definitely yes.

Todd Walker said...

Even if one was strong enough to stave off the corruptive effects of coming into vast wealth, it affects everyone around you. Can you imagine if nearly everyone you met felt the need to be a sycophant because they wanted some of your money? If you never heard an honest opinion, how could you tell a dishonest one?

Stan B. said...

PS- In 25 years of going to photo galleries on a regular basis in NYC, I had exactly one gallery owner say hello (and one who fled in terror from me into her back room w/o my raising a hand or saying a word- but that's another story).

As to just how much of an (art) bully these owners (not to mention "non" profits) can be, make sure you see The Art of the Steal.


colin pantall said...

I agree Todd. Another sin of the rich is surrounding oneself with people who deliver dishonest opinions and so suffering from the subsequent self-delusion. The wealthy surround themselves with other wealthy people and people who behave in certain ways for a reason - to perpetuate this self delusion. And as you suggest, Todd, this is something to be deplored.

Ah Stan, I knew I could rely on you. But as Shah Rukh Khan teaches us in My Name is Khan, one is not a bad person simply because one is rich.

One can shake off the shackles of evil provided by the wealth by attaining the self-awareness that Todd mentions above - by understanding the mean-ness, exploitation, deceit and violence which created this wealth and seeking to overcome this - and let truth, honesty and love be the guiding force in one's life. I am not a religious man, but I understand this kind of thing is at the heart of all religions.

Wow - happy bunch in New York then. It is quite an isolated community and parochial in some ways I understand. I used to have a friend from Kirkby in Liverpool who always expected everything to be like Kirkby in Liverpool, especially a pub called The Molineux - and when it wasn't she was always terribly surprised and would wonder why and how this could be so. She was lovely mind.

New Yorkers can be the same - big city but not the most open to other environments or communities. Lovely though. Or perhaps I'm wrong on that.

Christoph Hammann said...

"Up to a point, minister."
I don't get this galerist friend of yours complaining about his chosen profession. If his sincere choice had been to work with artists, then he should have become an artist himself. No limit to cooperations with other artists there, except for interpersonal incompatibilities.
Instead, he became an art salesman and now complains about having to do what a salesman does.

colin pantall said...

I know what you mean Christoph. I think he is a bit shocked by having to be a salesman and the way that sales/business and having a corporate mindset seems to be a prerequisite for everything - and for him, that is a change from 30 years ago. The sycophancy and the expectation of sychophancy is definitely new(ish) and maybe reflects our obsession with wealth, celebrity and fame and how that is internalised by both the rich (of a certain type) and those who serve them.

I don't think he would be free of these dilemmas if he had become an artist, just a lot poorer.