Gallery&Studio co-founder Ed McCormack was a big fan of artist-run galleries, remarking that “artists are the best proponents of their own work.” For many artists trying to exhibit and sell their work, artist-run, artist-owned, and cooperative galleries offer alternatives to commercial galleries in major urban centers like New York and Los Angeles; less dependent on profits, members often feel freer to take creative risks and experiment with their practices. Ranging from medium-sized conventional “white-cube” spaces sharing space in commercial buildings to innovative displays tucked away in surprising locations, artist-run galleries are more nimble and able to pivot and adapt during times of economic and social upheaval like the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
What does it take to successfully steer an artist-run gallery? Besides creating artwork, members must meet myriad challenges that are otherwise handled by larger commercial gallery administration: promoting and sustaining the work and the space, creating business plans, attracting foot traffic as well as virtual eyeballs to visit the work, building collector lists, and keeping abreast of the current discourse and trends in the art world. In addition to these skills, it is helpful for an artist-run/cooperative Gallery Director to be both diplomatic and decisive; to be able to identify and leverage their members’ strengths; create a welcoming and inclusive environment for artists and visitors, and encourage a spirit of cooperation, problem-solving, and a sense of togetherness among all involved in the gallery.
One building that houses several artist-run galleries in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is the Landmark Arts Building, with entrances at 547 W. 27th St. / 548 W. 28th St. Completed in 1899, this striking Gilded Age building has many spaces filled with abundant natural light from large windows, a gallerist’s dream come true. The Building is owned and managed by Jim Pastreich, a long time supporter of the arts, and the Pinetree Group. Gallery&Studio recently talked to several artist-directors in the building to get their thoughts about nurturing a gallery, including Vernita Nemec (Viridian Gallery); Marianna Winterdale (Noho M55 Gallery); Denise Adler (Pictor Gallery); and Marcia Clark (Blue Mountain Gallery).
Directors were asked about the history of their galleries; their mission; their artist-members and their practices; any advantages or disadvantages that faced artist-run/owned galleries; and how they are envision future goals/exhibitions at each of their galleries. We are so grateful for their generous, thoughtful responses.*
*The following is a summary of each gallery director’s responses. The complete responses may be viewed on the G&S website: galleryand.studio/2021/07/28/shared-visions
Vernita Nemec, Viridian Gallery
Viridian celebrated its 50th year in 2018. The gallery started in Soho as the Second Story Spring Street Gallery and eventually settled at 548 West 28th where we are now. At Viridian, we pride ourselves on showing outstanding art of underrepresented and emerging artists of all ages. We call ourselves an “artist-owned” gallery rather than a cooperative gallery: my assistant director and I handle all the gallery business, and the artists have complete control of what art they show. I feel those of us involved with showing at and running artist-owned and cooperative galleries are the “real” artists who continue to make art from our souls rather than for the marketplace. We have been creating new programs that focus on Young Artists and Artist Estates, and have also expanded our digital presence. In August, a week-long exhibit of Japanese artists curated by Sai Morikawa. In the fall, a competition, juried by Susan Harris. In addition, we will be doing more online activities, including studio visits and interviews of gallery artists.
Marianna Winterdale, Noho M55 Gallery
M55 Art was formed in 1969 and Noho Gallery in 1975; in 2012 the two became partners. Our gallery is eclectic; new members are selected by a group of their peers. Artists’-run galleries are a good way for artists to evade commercial gallery trappings, free to create their own preferences and to explore, knowing that changes in styles are not frowned upon. Short-term goal: reopen the gallery successfully in our new place with a group show in August. Long-term goals: identify viable markets, encourage creativity, give young artists opportunities, help with specific issues facing our senior artists, and invest in advertising and online promotions. Aug. 4-28: our opening group show: “Scene Again.” Upcoming solo shows include John Beardman’s “Accidental Faces–Incidental Faces” Sept. 28-Oct. 16.
Denise Adler, Pictor Gallery
Pictor Gallery is brand new; not having a history gives us freedom to make our own rules, think outside the box, foster a more intimate experience with today’s art lovers. The work we show is diverse: artist work in a wide variety of mediums and styles, from traditional to experimental. All members (both affiliate and full) share ownership of our gallery, creating an environment where the success of the artist equals the success of the gallery and vice versa. Pictor Gallery is a labor of love; success of our gallery will be measured by the success of our member artists. Our first Invitational: TOGETHER till Saturday, August 14th. Tuesday, 9/7 – 10/2 Solo show by Gail Comes in Gallery 1 and a 3 members group show in Gallery 2. The Pictor Salon on 9/23 6-8 presenting a short film “New York Story” and Q&A with the artist/writer/filmmaker – Paul Schwartz. October 5 -30 Ken Nelson Gallery 1 and Gallery 2
Marcia Clark, Blue Mountain Gallery
Starting as Green Mountain, a commercial gallery in the late ‘60s, Blue Mountain Gallery became an artist cooperative since 1980, starting in SoHo and eventually moving to our new location in January 2021. We represent artists working in traditional and hybrid media with diverse styles, mediums and subject matter; we also host lectures, educational events, panel discussions, poetry readings and concerts which are open to the public. There is a good balance between painting, group outreach and shared management involved in running the gallery. We hope to maintain a strong gallery and online presence, welcoming and encouraging diverse viewpoints, as we have done throughout our history. Along with our solo exhibitions, we continue to expand our online offerings, as well as continuing to share interviews and presentations. G&S