Alternate Gallery Spaces

In my blog post “The Value of the Contemporary Art Gallery” I described 3 types of galleries: The big galleries that exhibit only established artists (like the ones in NYC’s Chelsea district), the smaller non-profit types of which Les Malamut is an example, and the gallery/store that sells not only artworks but other items and/or does framing. There is also a fourth type that I am calling “alternate galleries” which exist in spaces that you wouldn’t normally consider as a gallery.

Many restaurants, bistros and cafes turn their walls into an art gallery so that their patrons have something visual to enjoy while dining. Some of these establishments actually “curate” what is shown over time and actively seek artists to exhibit. Two examples I’m quite familiar with are the Cosi franchise restaurants and the Rock’ N’ Joe coffee shops. They are bright open areas, ideally suited for hanging works of art. Another type of venue that displays art, are NJ town public libraries. The artwork is usually hung on open wall space between bookcases. Also you can see artwork hung in the public spaces of office building lobbies. Here either the landlord or one of the main tenants actively seeks artwork to decorate the space. And then there are really “alternate” spaces like vacant stores that become temporary “pop up” galleries, or sidewalk shows that last only a weekend.

If you are an artist looking for an exhibit opportunity, especially if you are just starting out or your resume is sparse, these can be jumping off points to building that exhibit list, getting recognized, and could lead to other professional exhibit opportunities. However, there are drawbacks. In some locations the lighting can be so poor that your artwork will not be shown to its best advantage. Some spaces don’t understand how to hang artwork, so the piece might be placed too high to see details or placed in an area where no one will notice it. You will also have to do all your own promoting from press releases to postcard takeaways. It is the rare venue that will mention what artist is currently exhibiting and on some walls it will be hard to affix labels for information. The benefits are that almost always no one will take a percent of any sales made, and your work will be viewed by individuals who tarry in the space instead of just walking through it.

For the lover of art, these alternate galleries present a wonderful variety of style, subject matter, and price. In my opinion, some of the most delightful or thoughtful or original artwork is by artists who haven’t made it into a “big” gallery. And yes, some professional artists will do shows in these spaces because they love the intimate atmosphere. Lastly, you can sit down for a couple of hours and “live” with the piece if you are contemplating buying it!

Sometimes alternate spaces become true galleries. There was one in Hoboken that started out in an old theatre and was a delightfully large open space great for exhibiting big paintings and having wonderful opening receptions. Unfortunately, the owner sold the property and the new owner chose to tear down the building. Then there is the Casano Community Center Art Gallery that I started in a high trafficked hallway. It’s birth was a result of my looking to exhibit some very special work I did about Ground Zero and I wanted to display it around a 9/11 anniversary. I received permission to hang it on the wall in that hallway. The center’s director and the town’s mayor found this such a fantastic idea, to have a gallery in their downtown community center, that now after 4 years and 24+ shows it has a professional hanging system, a sign, and is no longer considered an “alternate” space.

 I’d love to hear about some really strange alternate spaces out there. Or another success like my Community Center gallery.

 “Painting With Words” – Leona M Seufert

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