For Megan Bradley, director of Montreal’s Parisian Laundry, the right balance involves a mix of local and imported talent. “I often try to pair a local artist with an invited artist, to ensure that people come out to see the shows,” she said, “as there’s still a bit of that lingering sensibility—that people inevitably like what they know, or want to see local names they recognize.” But, she added, “this has changed over the years, and as I’ve persisted with this type of programming, my collector base [has become] more and more adventurous.”
Echoing Nina Johnson, Bradley also noted that “place” itself can be a malleable concept. Ample studio space and a lower cost of living make Montreal a destination for artists from across Canada. “One of the very elemental things about being a ‘Montreal artist,’” she said, “is that many of them are not actually from Montreal, making the scene diverse and interesting.”
Ultimately, a gallery’s investment in its home base involves more than the percentage of artists on its roster who are “local.” And as a city’s art scene matures, it’s important to have a balanced ecosystem—one that can support regionally-focused projects as well as galleries mounting shows by artists from other cities or countries. The real responsibility for dealers is to maintain a sense of respect, nuance, and engagement.
If that’s not happening, a gallery is likely to feel the ire of its neighbors. Consider one West Coast dealer—who shall remain nameless—recently roasted on Facebook. “She doesn’t show any local artists, is largely disengaged from the local art community, and her gallery is often closed because she’s out of town,” an armchair critic wrote. “From the day she started her gallery, it’s been pretty clear that she views [the gallery’s longtime home base] as being too small for her ambitions and wants to be somewhere bigger.”
Conversely, a gallery trying to win the respect of its community should be able to show its commitment to where it’s based; that this is a conscious choice, not just a weigh station en route to an art-world center. “Reyes | Finn didn’t drop into Detroit in some sort of Wizard of Oz, ‘the gallery has landed’” scenario, Finn joked. Instead, she and her partner have built up a program that makes sense in the city, one that seeks to be responsive to the pulse of the local art scene and act as a hub, connecting Detroit with broader conversations and practices.
Likewise, Manuela Paz and Christopher Rivera opened Embajada in San Juan, Puerto Rico with an eye to strengthening the island’s art scene and its economy.
“We’re firm believers in being responsible community members and business owners,” Paz said, “especially given the fact that galleries play a role in gentrification. We take ethical responsibility very seriously. This means not only supporting local artists but also supporting and promoting local and independent businesses whenever possible.”
While their roster boasts a majority of Puerto Rican artists, Paz and Rivera stressed the importance of inviting artists from beyond the island to stage exhibitions and projects there. And they’re helping to provide a platform for local talent to gain acclaim on a wider stage: Daniel Lind-Ramos, an artist they represent, is a stand-out of the 2019 Whitney Biennial
Perhaps the true mission of any gallery is simply to help tap into and contribute to the larger, interconnected story of contemporary art.
“I don’t want to be considered regional—yet I want to support my local community of artists, and offer some reflection of what is going on here,” said Bradley of Parisian Laundry. “Part of this responsibility is providing them with opportunities to converse and show alongside artists from elsewhere.”