When NADA opened its first fair in Miami 11 years ago, the methods of building a collection were vastly different from what they are now. The ease with which collectors are adapting to acquiring works from emailed images has allowed galleries to consider physical location differently. (Even as the cutting edge fair in 2003, the initial exhibitors hailed almost exclusively from New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston.) This evolution has led to an increasing number of galleries in cities where traditionally one would not find successful and trendsetting dealers. Parallel to these developments, NADA has increasingly identified and promoted galleries from outside of the bicoastal American art centers, and this year is no different, with spaces from Dallas, Oakland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas, and Portland, among others, exhibiting at the fair. When speaking to the owners and directors of these galleries, one quickly learns there is a diversity of approaches in developing a gallery in a non-traditional art city: one can build from the local scene and expand outward, draw in from the major art cities and create opportunities that are not available in the more crowded markets, or find a specific niche and—regardless of location—stand as the identifying voice of that market.
Creative Growth opened its doors in Oakland, California 40 years ago, as a studio where people with disabilities could come to make art and put it on display in the adjoining art space. While the work being made in the space is almost exclusively by local artists, the gallery found that it was European collectors who were initially receptive to what was inherently Art Brut (or “Outsider Art”). Creative Growth has grown to exemplify how a gallery can thrive by drawing from its local talent and amplifying their visibility both within the United States and globally. Jennifer Strate O’Neal, the gallery’s project manager told Artsy, “We find collectors from Lausanne [Switzerland] seeking out Creative Growth as a must-visit gallery in the Bay Area, standing next to visitors from around the corner stopping in, thinking they discovered the place.” From the vertex of Oakland, Creative Growth has seen conical success, in terms of its longevity and its international reach.
At the core of the Chicago art scene is the formative institution School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and local dealer (and part-time art history professor) Shane Campbell has made gathering the strongest graduates from the school a defining characteristic of his gallery. Zak Prekop, Paul Cowan, and Amanda Ross Ho all show with the gallery and over a quarter of the roster have a degree from SAIC. Parallel to this group of younger artists, the gallery shows many established artists from within the U.S. In defining the balance that he tries to strike at his spaces, Campbell says, “It is more critical to export work from Chicago and to import work from outside in order to contextualize the choices we make. We make a strong effort to keep work in Chicago as the city has a strong history of collectors who support contemporary art through collecting and also through philanthropy.” The result is a dynamic and symbiotic space where the local scene is supported through a meaningful and respected program, while the growing community of midwestern collectors have access to exhibitions that, until recently, were reserved for the coasts.
Similar to Shane Campbell, the Green Gallery in Milwaukee is split between Wisconsin-based artists and the pull of New York. Director Jake Palemert views having works from recognizable New York names as crucial in developing the work of homegrown artists. He is a realist in terms of the mechanics of developing and growing a program: “We love the work from our local artists. We show a group of artists and use the opportunity of the known artists to pivot and expose artists who are not as known because of their region.” As a city, Milwaukee is not particularly important to the gallery; Palemert insists the gallery characterizes itself not by where it is, but instead by what it shows.
The strong regionality of the art world means that there are restraints on who can show what within a city. James Cope of AND NOW states emphatically, “I get to work with artists, many of whom are my friends, whom I could not work with if was in one of the major art cities...the draw is that it is not New York or London, it just happens to be Dallas.” At NADA, he will show a solo project of Eli Ping, the painter and gallerist from Brooklyn, whom he has shown twice at the gallery in Dallas, a presentation that indicates his indifference toward geography.
A standout among galleries of this ilk is Portland-based Adams and Ollman, whose owners opened its Oregon location because of their personal circumstances. It demonstrates that with an extremely tight concept, a gallery can set itself apart in any region; Adams and Ollman focuses exclusively on self-taught artists. As one of the few authorities on the genre, the gallery is a destination sought out by collectors of this specific type of work. “I have been excited to explore what is happening here in Portland—and there are artists here doing very interesting things—but we will only incorporate it if it makes sense with our program and established interests. For example, I am working with Ellen Lesperance, and I am taking her to the fair because the work is excellent and timely and speaks to the concerns of other material we show, so it is not out of an obligation to Portland, it just works with our vision” says co-founder Amy Adams, who hails from Philadelphia.
The expectations and demands on these flag-planting galleries vary, and questions arise about what exactly the responsibilities are for the first internationally recognized dealers from these cities. With limited time and resources, how does a gallery perceive its obligations to its community, its roster of artists, and of course its collectors? There is no doubt that while having a physical presence in an established art city is no longer necessary to be a successful gallery, increasing the visibility of one’s space is ever more important. NADA provides a perfect venue for these galleries to reach an audience that may not be as geographically open-minded as they are, and next week, galleries from outlier cities will show work side-by-side and be mentioned in conversation among the now established Lower East Side and L.A. galleries. And as the NADA nonprofit has established itself as one of the preeminent identifiers and cultivators of emerging galleries, one might ask if participation in this fair is more valuable than any hip zip code.