The past year has seen pandemic-triggered migration patterns in the art world: As members of New York’s cultural elite moved out of town, at least temporarily, a number of the city’s art galleries responded in kind, opening satellites in places like Palm Beach, Fla.; East Hampton, N.Y.; and Aspen, Colo. The idea of gallerists following potential buyers is perhaps not so surprising (if a bit depressing), but the trend still amounts to a sort of decentralization. It is also a reminder that good galleries, of course, need not be in New York — and of the fact that, though the majority of press, foot traffic and sales still revolve around just a handful of mega-institutions, there are plenty of interesting and important American art spaces that exist beyond the city and the seasonal playgrounds of the one percent.
A look at the soul of the art world, and where it’s headed.
– Experts weigh in on just how to go about buying a work of art.
– What does “normal” mean to the art world now?
– The down-to-earth guy with one of the most exciting collections around.
– Artists on artists to know, and maybe even collect.
These places are part of a long tradition of galleries tuned in to both the wider art world and their own communities — and that have been or continue to be significant players in both. The Hyde Park Art Center, in Chicago, was established in 1939 and, in the 1960s, was host to a trio of important exhibitions from the Chicago Imagists, whose work was known for a surreal and singular comics-informed sensibility; in the late 1970s, San Francisco’s New Langton Arts exhibited many of the artists who would go on to become the biggest names in the then-nascent time-based video and installation art movement, among them Nam June Paik, Vito Acconci and Paul McCarthy; and, at the end of last century, the Providence, R.I., space Fort Thunder not only incubated the influential noise band and art collective Forcefield but also provided a rough template for living, making art and hosting happenings that would come to influence a whole generation of warehouse-dwelling young people.
More recently, though even before the pandemic, galleries started in garages and attics in the middle of the country have made their way to international art fairs, while certain established art-world characters have decamped to smaller cities to open up spaces. Without the financial overhead and territorial ruthlessness inherent to New York, these sorts of spaces are often able to take risks, emphasize engagement and carve out a real niche for themselves. What’s more, many of the trends that partly defined the past year — remote work, online sales — will no doubt march on in some form or another, likely only adding to their viability. “I think this last year has put some wind in the sails of cultural scenes all across America,” said John Riepenhoff of Milwaukee’s Green Gallery, one of 12 standout non-New York-based outfits outlined below. “People are feeling empowered to be anywhere, and not feel like they’re missing out.”