Galleries, Collaboration, and Performance

I spent the best part of 25 years organising art exhibitions and each would involve collaboration, at least with the artist I had invited to show, and more often than not including other including private collectors and museums, artists’ estates, and publishers, as well as the people working with me at the gallery – engaging, if you like, with the whole of what Bourdieu terms the ‘Field of Production’, in that the very essence of being a gallerist – my role for the last ten years – is one of collaboration and facilitation, while hopefully not losing too much money.

So, when I saw the word collaboration in the context of this CDP conference, it was natural to reach out to an artist I had come into contact with through the PhD community at Kingston, John Hughes. While his work is in the end a private endeavour, and I have no input on that, my research is into ways that galleries might support artists at the emerging stage of their careers and John is definitely their, so it seems appropriate. While neither of us are CDP students as such, I am a TECHNE National Productivity Investment Fund supported PhD student and that in itself brings the collaborative context with it – my partner is a research organisation in Dublin called Arts Economics, owns and run by Dr Clare McAndrew, and who provide the statistics for the The Art Market review published annually by Art Basel and UBS. It is a relationship that I must nurture as otherwise there is not much on a month by basis that we would really need to collaborate upon. However, as Arts Economics mostly concentrate on the galleries with a turnover of over 1 million, then it is a nice reciprocation that my research is mostly on the sub 1 million, and even sub 100,000 (the currency being immaterial) turnover spaces characterised by the single owner/single employee gallery model. 

My collaboration with John was more selfish than I should admit to, in that I thought a possible method of presenting the outcome of a series of interviews I am making could draw on John’s own methodologies he employs when performing his own story-telling practice. To my great relief he agreed to be implicated in this, by taking scripts I will make from different transcripts of interviews with gallery casualties and survivors (it remains to be seen who, once they have got out, is the former or latter) and arranging them to be read aloud by different voices. The voices themselves are bound to affect the reception of the words they speak, and the meaning of the content they espouse. It is my hope that the outcome as a whole adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts – I guess that, in the end, is what we all hope for from our researches.

 This then is an experiment and it strikes me that the conference platform is as good a place as any to do that, to treat it as a laboratory where experiments are tried out, whether they fizzle or sparkle. It has been quite a revelation just how performative the PhD process is in general, from speaking in class, to Pecha Kucha and presentations such as this. I realise now that I quite enjoyed hiding behind the gallery façade I carefully built up over the years preceding this moment, but perhaps a gallery is no such place to do that any more.

– Bruce Haines


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