Long considered by the arts community as the "vanity gallery" option that very few serious artists would consider, the somewhat controversial business model—cutting out the gallery owner who takes up to 50- or 60-percent commission on artwork sold and, instead, renting a gallery to show and sell one's own work—is being mulled by a growing number of artists unable to find traditional gallery representation.
Dubbed Opportunity Gallery by Alan Ziter, executive director of the NTC Foundation, the space (2825 Dewey Road, Building 202, Suite 103) was formerly the headquarters of the New Americans Museum (it will be again this fall when the museum is set to reopen). When the museum went on hiatus in 2010, Art Pulse used the space from 2011 to 2013 for Pulse Gallery, which moved locations last year before the arts nonprofit recently announced plans to close.
Artist Vicki Walsh is the first to rent out Opportunity Gallery. Last week, she opened Mostly Mortal, an exhibition of portraiture by her and six other emerging artists. The show is up through July 30, with a talk (full disclosure: It's moderated by me) featuring Rabbi Lemore Bohm, the Reverend Eleanor Ellsworth and art critic Robert Pincus happening at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 26.
"What's my alternative?" Walsh asks, standing in the gallery, just moments after she and her friend, artist Stephen Curry, finished hanging the show. "I can't get a gallery for anything. They say people won't buy paintings of other people, but they do, because I sell paintings all the time. It's a battle I'm tired of fighting."
Walsh says she's aware of the negative connotations that come with paying to show her work, but she's willing to risk it. Besides, Walsh says, this feels like her only option, noting that the space's recent past is an indicator that local galleries are closing faster than opening.
"I am part of the gallery system, but I do feel kind of like it's a dying breed," agrees Curry, who's represented by Quint Contemporary Art. "I think this is a model that has to work, to a certain extent, because I don't think the other model is working."