Even as new galleries seem to open faster than ever, there is plenty of movement away from the white cube. When Gagosian gallery revealed that it was closing its vast space in London’s Kings Cross, it also announced the launch of Gagosian Open, a nomadic exhibition programme that began last month with a two-week show of objects bound by Christo and displayed in an east London building that became a home (and manufacturing base) for a persecuted Huguenot community.
Stefan Ratibor, a senior director at Gagosian, enthuses about the flexibility that the project gives to artists and the appeal of art that visitors can “come upon” serendipitously. The unusual venue and relatively short run also “gives an urgency” to the show, he says.
Putting art in unexpected places is a tried-and-tested concept, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s monumental wrap works have proven since the 1960s, and as Banksy regularly reinforces today. But the public’s increasing demand for new experiences, particularly now that social media content can instantly reach millions of eyeballs, is understandably appealing to commercial dealers. The works in projects like Gagosian Open are still for sale and free to see, just as in a normal commercial gallery show, but the sheer number of people they can reach is exponentially greater. And by cutting out the heavy expense of a long-term lease, creative gallerists are freer to pursue some welcome experimentation.
Ratibor acknowledges the “very powerful” significance of a traditional gallery space, particularly for premiering artists’ work. But that’s not a luxury everyone can afford—or indeed wants to. In September, the London gallerist Taymour Grahne announced he will close his permanent space and instead run four- or five-week-long shows per year at different sites. “Our generation inherited old-school models, but things are changing,” he says.
The evolution of the art fair plays a major part. For years, more and more of these short-lived shows have been popping up around the world and generating an increasing amount of satellite cultural activity (and associated media coverage) outside their walls, including with their own separate events. The major fair organisers also used to dictate that the only dealers eligible to apply were those who operated a permanent gallery space—“We were scared not to,” Grahne says—but have now relaxed this rule.
It is tempting to cast eye-catching, shorter-term projects as less weighty than gallery shows based on the visual history and market tradition we have inherited. But who says something appealing to the social-media generation can’t also be serious?
I chose to visit the Gagosian Open project amid a slew of gallery openings in the run-up to Frieze, partly because it was more temporary and a bit different. I did not regret the decision, and not just because of the 500 likes (and counting) on my Instagram post of the Christo show.
The wrapped packages in rooms with mezuzahs on the doorframes brought to mind my Jewish grandmother, whose family escaped Russian persecution and moved to London’s East End only to nearly be wiped out by Nazi bombs. We are all immigrants, and it took Christo: Early Works, on a Spitalfields back street, to remind me. Here’s to the alternative future.