Art and Arnold

Austin’s Salon: why grayDUCK is a good gallery. 

Over the past several months, I’ve witnessed a reoccurring criticism directed at grayDUCK. Either printed in reviews or discussed in art-chatty circles, there is a running critique that the gallery shows too much work. And to be completely honest, at times I have felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art that gets packed into their tiny space. But, I never completely bought the logic that a lot it bad. The reason for this comes down to two things: prestige and market.

Museum aesthetics train us to position the art object as a relic. We expect to see art roped off, framed, and displayed with 10 plus feet of buffer space surrounding it. We are told from an early age to talk soft around it and don’t touch. In my opinion, reverence such as this is best left for the dead. It furthers the already existing physical space between art and life to the point where we forget the necessary links between the two. As much as I disdain the Rococo with all of its pastel fluffiness and gleeful giggling, I give a big thumbs-up to the salon aesthetic that emerged from that era. Art was not a pristine object of awe kept at a safe distance from itself. Instead, it was stacked on top of itself and forced to compete for your attention.


-Pietro Antonio Martini, Exposition au Salon du Louvre 1787.

If we think about the old cliché that art reflects life and vice-versa, doesn’t that type of aesthetic do a far better job mirroring the contemporary than the isolated art monolith alone on the wall or in a room? In today’s plethora of touch-screen imagery with infinite updates, I think the era of the silent monolith is over. And this brings me back to grayDUCK.

I never expect to see silent monoliths displayed there. In fact, if I walked in and saw only 2 or 3 artworks sparsely populating the gallery, I would immediately worry about Jill and Mark’s health. That’s not what they do there. Instead, they re-create the salon aesthetic. They seem to understand that today, art not only completes with itself, but it also competes with other images in the world. The daunting task that grayDUCK takes head-on is how to keep the viewer looking at the art and not his or her smart phone.

There is always one more thing to see at grayDUCK and one more detail to consider. And that consideration becomes enriched by all the other details around it that are ready for comparison. Whereas the singular prestige painting expects you to take time with it so you can pretend to consider its every nuance while your mind actually thinks about something else, grayDUCK’s exhibitions require you to take time with them and give your mind very little space to wander.

Maybe this is where that criticism of too much came from. Maybe we like to pretend more than actually do the work of looking.

The positive result of more product is more capital. More objects available means more objects sold. The commonality of red dots at grayDUCK proves this, and they are refreshing to see. Art belongs in the world. It needs to be out among it in people’s houses and offices. Art needs to hang over dining room tables and babies’ cribs. It needs to live past the gallery, and in order to do this, it must be sold. This is that delicate edge galleries walk between kitschy commercialism and avant-garde extraordinaire. The solution requires finding a balance between the two. The work must be both common enough to be purchased and extraordinary enough to be called art. That is not an easy task to accomplish, and I’m not going into the issues artists face when considering it in this review. However, what I appreciate about grayDUCK is their constant ability to find artists with this balance.

Although Elizabeth McDonald, Terry Maker, and Hiromi Tsuji Stringer have very divergent aesthetics, they share that commonality. They manufacture artwork you could imagine in someone’s home. Mental leaps such as this keep art and capital circulating. They develop an art scene that pursues a cliental base and not just a grant base. However, I’m not claiming that grants are not essential for what goes on in East Austin. They have allowed for some very special spaces to emerge and thrive. But, I do grow leery of an art scene that only functioning because of them. From my understanding, it feels like the gallery is working for a grade, and that grant proposals are term papers where passing means getting enough cash to go on for another year. This type of financial reliance makes me uncomfortable, especially with the rising tide of gentrification. At least grayDUCK puts art into the gentrified homes and reminds the new rich that what goes on in those galleries they visit is an important cornerstone of the culture they bought into.

If in fact gentrification is the unavoidable change Austin faces, the task any artist or gallery must undertake is figuring out how to work with it. grayDUCK offers one approach where I feel everybody wins.

Posted 19th July 2015 by Arnold, H.C.

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This entry was posted on February 16, 2016 by .
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