New York Gallerist Says Goodbye to Industry Norms—from Art Fairs to Artist Rosters
Installation view of works by Bruce M Sherman at Tennis Elbow. Image courtesy of The Journal Gallery.
Michael Nevin, co-founder of The Journal Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, seems intent on happily dismantling the expectations of what a gallery could, and should, do.
Around two years ago, he stopped formally representing a roster of artists. Then, the gallery ditched the pricey mainstay of self-promotion: the hallowed Artforum ad. And finally, ground down by an international art fair circuit that included NADA Miami Beach, Art Brussels, and Art Cologne, Nevin made an ultimatum: No more art fairs, no more carting work around the world in order to court collectors who could be reached just as easily via email.
Now, Nevin and his partner Julia Dippelhofer have launched a small-scale project space within The Journal Gallery, dubbed Tennis Elbow, which has a speedy metabolism—it stages one-week-long solo exhibitions, opening at noon on Saturdays, which are actively promoted via a dedicated Instagram account.
Courtesy of The Journal Gallery.
Courtesy of The Journal Gallery.
It has been a gradual process of rethinking what works, and what doesn’t. Nevin is certainly not alone in evaluating the preconceived notions of his field, of course. Gallerists and artists seem to be experimenting more than ever: toying with one-night-only exhibitions in New York and Dallas; trading cities and spaces in order to reach new audiences; making real estate offices serve double-duty as white cubes; and exploring online-only sales models that privilege affordable works.
“I always had this thought that representing artists, doing art fairs, and advertising in Artforum didn’t make sense unless you were on the top of the pile, a really big gallery,” says Nevin. “We want to change the energy.”
Works by Joakim Ojanen, on view Oct. 14–20. Courtesy of The Journal Gallery.
He also wants to conserve some of his staff’s previously wasted energy in order to put it to better use. Showing at fairs, Nevin says, was at best a break-even proposition overall. “You’re doing it for the relationships,” he explains. “But at art fairs, the attention is so scattered these days. In Miami, for example, there’s so much going on. I don’t think they’re relevant anymore.” Add to that the excessive pre- and post-fair work required, plus the environmental cost of trekking large paintings and sculptures to other countries, and the whole thing stopped making sense.
Tennis Elbow is a way for Nevin and his team to reinvest those efforts into a project that, while intense, is also local. The name, he explains, comes from the common injury that one can get from “playing the game,” and also hints at a “a space where you could warm up or practice.” The informal price range for the project space tends toward $3,000 and below, with occasional exceptions.
Anne Vieux, //soft wavelength, 2017. On view Oct. 21–27. Courtesy of The Journal Gallery.
Anne Vieux, //interrupter, 2017. On view Oct. 21–27. Courtesy of The Journal Gallery.
The initiative resembles like-minded efforts in New York—like Allen & Eldridge, the basement gallery below James Fuentes; or Viewing Room, the cozy, Leo Fitzpatrick-curated project area in the back of Marlborough Contemporary. But it’s unique in terms of its rapid turnover, hosting up to four independent projects every month.
“The one-week show is a smart, nontraditional move,” says Polly Shindler, a painter whose work was on view at Tennis Elbow in late September until early October. “The limited run allows for many more shows—that benefits the artists with exposure, and it accelerates a gallery’s program.” Kyle Wood, an assistant for Tennis Elbow who works alongside director Sarah Guittar, reached out to Shindler about working together via email. As it turned out, she had just opened another nontraditional show in Williamsburg—a one-month viewing at Brooklyn-based bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown—and she and Wood were able to meet there to discuss her newest work while it was installed at the shop.
Polly Shindler, Communal Table, 2017. Courtesy of The Journal Gallery.
Nevin also wants Tennis Elbow to be a way to cut through what he calls “gallery smoke-and-mirrors.” On the Friday before an opening at the space, interested fans and collectors receive a PDF checklist of works on view (and for sale). “There are no reserves in this process,” he says. “If you want a piece and you’re the first to it, you have the opportunity.”
So far, he’s been impressed by the enthusiasm for the project. Foot traffic on Saturdays has been much higher than usual, which also generates extra eyeballs for The Journal Gallery’s main space shows (like the current one of Graham Collins’s work, up through November 4). Upcoming Tennis Elbow shows include Stevie Dix and Jennie Jieun Lee, who follow the likes of Odessa Straub and Zach Bruder; meanwhile, other gallerists are pitching Nevin on possible presentations. “I feel like this sort of idea and model,” he says, “is so much more relevant than going and doing an art fair in Dallas for a week.”