Olive

The [news last Friday][1] was a blow for me personally. I love the [Olive][2]. Across the board, they have filled a niche in the Lawrence arts scene, nonchalantly straddling the expanse between academic ([Spencer Museum][3]) and populist ([Lawrence Arts Center][4]) with interesting, challenging shows that were rarely completely inaccessible. (For the record, that [dead pets show][5] was right on.)There has been discussion already-online and on the street-pointing to why Olive Gallery and Art Supply is closing.People don't support the arts in this town Downtown rents are too high Downtown is dying Art is for the rich Lawrence lacks big-money art collectors People are philistines Art people are pretentiousFrom the mournful to the mean, each armchair theory given has a core of truth to it. The Olive is closing for the same reason my favorite, should-have-never-closed Kansas City space, Joseph Nease Gallery, shut their doors: that's what galleries do. It's as if you should hand the bank your ass the minute you sign for the loan. You're going to lose it anyway.For all the blame, however, you'll have to call me an optimist. I don't think there is a lack of interest in contemporary art. People today are better educated, more cultured, and more open to experience than ever before. Compared to most places, Lawrencians tend to be more pro-local than the average city-dweller. People may not buy much art, but to be honest, they never have.But let's shift gears. What we need to address is this: Olive filled a niche, and now that niche is vacating. How do we fill it again? What does it take?My (humble) proposal: a set-up like that of [Grand Arts][6] in Kansas City. Margaret Hall Silva (you know, Hallmark) put up the money and curator Sean Kelly ran the show. Kelly took full advantage of his unique position-he had the means to produce shows without the worries of selling. From compelling, mind-boggling installation to poignant, boundary-pushing video art, Grand Arts set a standard to move mountains before the 501c3 board was established and without the institutional tie-ins that fret public relations departments of other contemporary spaces.Sure, it seems Lawrence lacks the multigazillionaires Kansas City has-the types who were bounced on Thomas Hart Benton's knee or engaged in awkward cocktail party talk with Warhol. But like I said, I'm an optimist. I'm on the lookout: Who is Lawrence's Margaret Silva? [1]: http://www.lawrence.com/news/2006/nov... [2]: http://www.lawrence.com/places/the_ol... [3]: http://www.lawrence.com/places/spence... [4]: http://www.lawrence.com/places/lawren... [5]: http://www.lawrence.com/news/2004/oct... [6]: http://www.lawrence.com/places/grand_...

Comments

alm77 13 years ago

Leslie, educate me here. How many art galleries does Lawrence have? I know that Fields just closed too, but I'm pretty sure I remember that article saying there were quite a few galleries here in town. Don't you think market saturation may have something to do with it?

This is the first discussion I've been in on this subject.

liz 13 years ago

Well, I guess the first step is to start throwing out names of people in town who actually have that kind of cash.

The ones that come immediately to my mind are either not known for supporting the arts, or seem to prefer the safer (and less costly) avenues of supporting the arts like serving on boards and donating to established non-profits.

lazz 13 years ago

Good column, Leslie, though I'd like to offer one small counter-point, if I might: I share your affection for Olive. Certainly not as deeply, and I wasn't as regular a customer as I should have been, but I dug it, you know? But I get nervous about leaping from "Fields closed" and "Olive is closing" to "Lawrence's art scene is dying."

First of all, those were stores. Art doesn't depend on commerce. Artists eventually will, in one form or another, but art doesn't. Second, it doesn't take a MBA to walk into the Olive, see a few displays of art supplies here and there, some funky inexpensive hand-made arty things here and there, and then a few walls of funky local art by and for a mostly younger crowd that just doesn't have the disposable income, and say, you know what, this shop ain't gonna make it. Same for Fields. Their poster collections were the heart of that business, and they became stale and they lost space to over-priced, over-considered statement pieces and a framing business that I never heard anybody support. In both cases, I'm SAD that the businesses didn't work. But they didn't work as BUSINESSES, not solely because of their content. When a restaurant closes, do we say, "Lawrencians don't support food"? Businesses come and go. Let's give ourselves a break from the self-imposed lashes for not supporting the arts. A final comment: I know some long-established shop owners in town who tell me rising property taxes downtown are really beginning to threaten their businesses. I can't imagine a funky, arty little gallery, where every nickel and dime really matters, could have a serious fighting chance for survival when even the local retail legends are on the rocks ...

Chris Tackett 13 years ago

alm77,

here's a broad collection of area galleries: http://www.lawrence.com/places/galleries/

Many of these aren't simply galleries, but do display local art so they make it on this list.

leslie 13 years ago

Great points, everyone. Lazz, I don't think you and I differ in our opinions as much as you think. I agree that the art scene is not dying. One of the reasons places like Olive don't sell a lot of art is because there are so many creative types in this town; it's easy to have a cheaply attained art collection and not spend much money. What we need to address, I think, is attrition. We need a venue that pushes in a direction different than the Arts Center and Spencer--funky, yes, but also in a way that keeps the dialogue fresh and in touch with larger contemporary art issues. I really think the Olive did the best in that regard. We also need to find a way to keep artists here--most end up leaving for broader horizons. Olive didn't do that, per se, but an anchor like Grand Arts could stimulate a more cohesive community.

alm77: The problem with a lot of so-called galleries is that they are actually stores, with no curatorial theme to their shows. They sell a piece of this and a piece of that, but rarely if ever work on a concept or present the statements of one artist at a time. There are indeed committed galleries; most sell "safe" work (landscapes and the like), which is fine, but it rarely illicits much dialogue with a fresh visual language. Indeed, oversaturation is an issue, but I'm more quick to blame the many art auction benefits in town.

Liz: I don't know who our Margaret Silva could be. Silva is an anomoly, even in the KC art world. Crosby Kemper would like to think of himself as someone as daring as her, but his hubris gets in the way (see how many heads have rolled at the Kemper). But I'm a dreamer. If I had a choice for Lawrence, it would be a Silva/Kelly duo.

leslie 13 years ago

Thanks for the list, Chris (we cross-posted). I would say a definite strength of our art community is the coffeeshop and restaurant support. They are excellent venues for new artists to get their work out there before they're ready for full gallery shows.

Chris Tackett 13 years ago

Leslie,

Perhaps A solution (not THE solution, and not that there's just one) would be for some of the higher-end restaurants to host "gallery nights" where they push some of the tables and chairs to the side or away from the walls, forego the normal dining menu for an evening and open their space as a Gallery/restaurant instead of their usual M.O. of Restaurant/gallery.

They could still sell hor'dorves and appetizers, drinks and wine to soften the blow from their lack of dining business for the night and really cater to the wealthier Lawrencians. (maybe we could get the party pic guy to snap some shots for a "who's who" or "out on the town" in Lawrence Magazine or the like.)

None of this alone will make people start buying more art, but we all know a lot of high-dollar art is purchased bc it is expensive and the folks with that kind of money (sometimes) like to show it off (for lack of better terms).

In my opinion, I haven't seen these types of Lawrencians around at showings or at Red Balloon. It always seems to be a mix of the artists friends - who are often "starving" artists themselves, simply there for emotional not financial support - or youngerish people that are there to look, not buy.

I think the Lawrence artists and scene will flourish financially when it becomes chic and fashionable for the wealthier Lawrencians to own local art and "see and be seen" at openings and at a Krause Dining, Tellers or Pachamama's "gallery night".

leslie 13 years ago

Chris, look at you being all pragmatic and sensible. I think you're onto a great idea, though. Indeed, the KC arts scene exploded when the galleries became a place for divorcees w/ money to meet each other.

Chris Tackett 13 years ago

well, i never intended to be pragmatic, oops!

but i do think it would be a way to market art to a crowd The Olive wasn't or may not have been reaching. However, you're still left without a great place to host the really funky stuff one could find at Olive.

The restaurant gallery night would also make up for the lack of "official" galleries, who will always struggle to pay the bills.

I also am really surprised we don't have a monthly gallery walk.

Joel 13 years ago

Ah, I hate that you beat me to this, Leslie.

I've got my own blog brewing about this topic, but it has more to do with personal guilt.

It'll get clear, I promise.

Tim vonHolten 13 years ago

baldwin city has a gallery walk and a great and affordable studen-run gallery. maybe that's an answer; for ku to start putting its money where it's mouth is (not that they've ever done that when it comes to the arts - lied center, indeed) and invest in a downtown space. maybe instead of buying the engineering school a new building every two years, maybe ku could be our silva/kelly.

WilburM 13 years ago

Even in KC it's hard to make a buck running a serious gallery, In Lawrence, 20 years ago there was 7E7, then Lynne Green's "Artists en Masse" over the Casbah -- a serious gallery that brought in affordable modern art, both local and national. Without schlocking up her inventory, Lynne couldn't turn a profit. Most wealthy folks in Lawrence will not buy anything beyond a Bob Sudlow. Signs of Life has had some decent shows, and there will be more galleries (and there are lots of places to hang art -- but that's different). A genuine co-op gallery might well work, but artists would have to nurture it.

This is a useful discussion -- the commerce of art is important; in the end, folks have to write checks -- whether it's for $100, $1000, or $10,000. And while they're willing to spend lots of $$ on cells and cars and clothes, they find it hard to write a $500 check for a small Lisa Grossman or a large Justin Maribel (to name only two talented local artists). So it goes.

Dave Loewenstein 13 years ago

Thank you Leslie for opening up this topic.

Visual art has always been in an awkward place compared to other art forms like music or theater. Most music and theater performances aren't for sale. Instead, their audiences are asked to part with the price of a ticket in exchange for viewing and / or listening. Even when the venues hosting performances let artists sell recordings of their work (cds & dvds), they're not dependent on those sales to keep the doors open.

Not so with the majority of galleries, where the tables are turned. There, the audience gets in for free, the art is for sale, and sales are integral to the life of the business. Imagine how much easier it would be to sustain real curated gallery spaces if they asked for $1 from everyone who came in the door on opening nights and 50¢ at other times.

Lawrence has lots of places, like coffee shops and restaurants, to show art casually, but most of them wince at the idea of showing anything out of their perceived safety zone. Nudes are out of the question at most. The same goes for anything with a whiff of political or social commentary. Also, as Leslie mentioned, these spaces aren't really organized or curated. Often it's even hard to find out who the artist is and whether the stuff is for sale.

I agree with Leslie, that the answer to creating vibrant sustainable contemporary art venues in Lawrence probably won't be found in trying to expand the market or lower prices. The answer (or at least part of it), I think, is to create spaces that are not dependent on sales to keep the doors open. Places like Grand Arts that has patron support, a cooperative gallery that is run by artists themselves, and, as Tim wisely suggested, a gallery in town, supported by KU all could work.

I think all of these are feasible in Lawrence. God knows we've got the artists, and I think there are people here who have the $ and / or skills and enthusiasm to make them happen. Any takers?

thetomdotdot 13 years ago

As an outsider, I see the traditional tension between patron and artist reduced in Lawrence to a sort of Eastside v Westside speak. Sure, rising appraisals hurt small ventures, but they spell success for developers. My work keeps me astride both worlds, and I will never cease to be amazed at the capacity for condescension each side has for the other.

I'm a believer, though. And I believe the success of any one of the above mentioned initiatives will have at its point an individual or group of individuals who understand where East meets West.

liz 13 years ago

The KU idea makes sense in that it seems area philanthropists are already active there, and seem to be comfortable spending their money that way. The names Oldfather, Beach, and Simons all grace the front of campus buildings. If I'm not mistaken, Beach is also on the front of the K-State art museum.

Is there a precedent in other college towns of satellite, off-campus, more "daring" galleries? How would you ensure that something like this wouldn't just compete with or take away from the Spencer?

Dave Loewenstein 13 years ago

As it is now, the Spencer shows very little work made by students, their professors, or other local artists. That may change, hopefully, with Saralyn Reece Hardy at the helm. And yes, I've heard of off- campus galleries supported by university cash in St. Louis and Chicago.

leslie 13 years ago

These are great ideas. Student-run galleries are always a little sloppier, and in turn much more energetic and exciting, than their academic counterparts. The Spencer should continue presenting academic, historically focused shows; a student-run gallery would be an excellent compliment.

(I do not count the Art & Design Gallery as such--the room is much too large for undergraduate exhibitions, getting to it is a barrier for most, and the rotation is much too quick.)

I also like the idea of a co-op. There are many, many issues that go with any kind of co-op setup, but an initial idea would be a set membership price with a guarantee of a solo show every 2 years, and a required shift duty schedule. A trusted member would need to be charged with making final decisions. Could be tricky, but could also work.

A blog I've been mulling over for a while is our desperate need for an arts booster in Lawrence--someone who is comfortable with artists AND patrons. Kansas City has a number, the top 2 being Bruce Hartman @ the Nerman and Raechelle Smith @ Artspace. Big-money patrons respect their expertise, and artists appreciate their ability to steer patrons to their studios. Whenever I buy a car or a computer (any large-ticket item), I research it first. I don't think there is anything wrong with that as far as art is concerned, either, especially when you're spending hundreds to thousands of dollars. At that point, it's an investment.

funkdog1 13 years ago

It's no secret that there's not a single, successful artist in town--i.e. someone who actually makes a living from his or her art and doesn't have a day job---who makes that living by selling the art here. The "big" artists here in town sell their work in galleries on the coasts, Arizona....the only midwest towns that seem to support art sales are St. Louis and Chicago. This isn't a Lawrence problem, per se; it's mostly due a down-home, Midwest sensibility that says that art isn't necessary, it's an extravagance. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it's just the way we are. There have been several people on several forums in town who have said that the art is "overpriced," yet many of those people wouldn't think twice about dropping $350 for a new game system or $1,000 for a plasma TV. It's just the way we're wired here.

funkdog1 13 years ago

p.s. I bought an original Nathan Rightmeier painting from the Olive for $150. I figure it's an investment.

Chris Tackett 13 years ago

Dave: "Lawrence has lots of places, like coffee shops and restaurants, to show art casually, but most of them wince at the idea of showing anything out of their perceived safety zone."

You're exactly right. That's the obvious shortcoming with the "gallery night" idea. Though like we all know, there isn't going to be one solution. There are great ideas here and I think Lawrence needs all of the above. wishful thinking, i know

Jill Ensley 13 years ago

Dave, thank you for the great lead-in....

"As it is now, the Spencer shows very little work made by students..."

But it is, in fact, changing...

http://www.spencerart.ku.edu/

The new show (Made In China, featuring yours truly) is made up (mostly) of KU students. The photo on the left is one of mine and I'll also be writing a blog about it soon.
As far as art, this town, and the grand debate....I just can't put my heart into it right now.

Dave Loewenstein 13 years ago

Jill, Glad to give you the lead in... The Made in China show sounds really good, and it shows that not all is lost. Institutions can change. Thanks for correcting me, the Spencer HAS been doing great things of late and they need our support.

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