The Month of Least Resistance
There’s a question I’ve been turning over in my head for the past two weeks or so, just as I do every year at about this same time:
If you’re a gallery, why not try to own August?
Those of you who pay attention to the for-profit art events calendar already understand why I’m asking. For those who don’t, we’re once again in the midst of the gallery sector’s annual month-long drift through a barren wasteland of programming. Anyone hungry for the excitement of opening receptions, the substance of meaty new exhibitions, or the novelty of special events will be hard-pressed to find anything of consequence happening in the marketplace until after Labor Day.
The last notable gallery shows opened in July, and many of those were the typical uninspired mid-summer group offerings–the equivalent of slopping a ladleful of suspicious mix-and-match stew into your guests’ mouths and calling it a day.
Most galleries stay open for business throughout the month. They just keep the real nourishment stashed in the root cellar until September. Some switch to reduced ‘summer hours,’ closing earlier and sometimes even lopping off the fifth day of the work week.
Others don’t even bother to make either of those gestures. Instead, they shut down entirely under the guise of a 'summer break’ that stretches for most, if not all, of August and pick back up when the calendar flips.
In total, the situation leaves the art-going populace little choice but to scavenge for a few shriveled berries and chew boot leather until after Labor Day.
And I feel like I must be hallucinating every time I survey the landscape and find that no opportunistic gallerist has tried to capitalize on all this.
I understand that some clients take vacations. I get that there’s a degree of European scheduling influence at work. I totally respect the necessity of timing your A-list openings to the eternal spring-and-autumn peaks of the art world’s circadian rhythm.
But if you ran a company in any other industry, and you knew in advance–with 100% certainty–that there would be an entire month every year where the bulk of your competitors would crawl into a cave and hibernate in unison, wouldn’t that be considered a tremendous market inefficiency? Wouldn’t you try to exploit the living hell out of it?
I know I would. Especially if I owned an emerging gallery with some momentum behind me and an eye toward growth.
There’s a smart way and a dumb way to try to do it, of course. And you would have to keep your expectations realistic even in the best case scenario. No gallerist is going to single-handedly alter the habits of every collector, critic, and artist accustomed to throwing a shroud over the month of August like a birdcage at avian lights-out.
But if you could schedule a series of special events–pop-up shows, exhibition “re-openings,” one night only performances, etc–you’d essentially be guaranteed high visibility and high interest due to being one of the only beacons along the blasted horizon.
In fact, I’d go out of my way to try to conjure the wildest programming I could. If your rivals leave their houses unlocked for a month in a time of famine, don’t just sheepishly sneak in and liberate a few bags of rice that might not even be noticed. Back up a U-Haul, clean them out, and roll back to the streets distributing turkeys like a rapper giving back to the block on Thanksgiving.
How much value comes out of this strategy? It’s impossible to say. Maybe it doesn’t net you a major windfall, either in cash or outreach. Maybe it doesn’t even reach middling status.
Maybe I’m wrong about everything, and the entire plan implodes.
But even then, four weeks of disappointing performance won’t crater a well-run business. Especially because wild programming doesn’t necessarily mean expensive programming. If you want to hedge, there’s a relatively low cost way to execute this strategy as proof of concept. Like all good business, it just demands creativity and awareness.
What I know for sure is this: No gallerist who tries to make August an event will sell fewer pieces or sacrifice more exposure than she would by joining in on her peers’ 31-day siesta. Not everyone who can help your business is in Turks and Caicos slathered in tanning oil, sex sweat, and MDMA powder until September magically yanks them all back to some semblance of respectability.
So why not take a shot?
I don’t have an answer. And if the rest of the industry does, they’ve done an expert job of keeping it locked away during the years I’ve been listening.