Early in the evening on a brisk Thursday, four members of a small Pennsylvania gallery are chatting in a tiny gallery space in Chelsea. Not as gallery-goers, but as presenters. The gallery in question is Converge Gallery, run by Casey Gleghorn. They are in Chelsea for a pop-up exhibition for one of their artists, Jeremiah Johnson, which runs for one week.
These pop-up shows are growing ever more common these days. New York City rent is higher than ever, and instead of moving gallery space to the city, surrounding galleries have been renting space for weeks at a time. Converge Gallery is based in Williamsport, PA and exhibits outsider art from artists throughout the U.S. The artist chosen for this NYC pop-up event is a local artist to the gallery. Johnson is a mixed-media artist working on a variety of different scales and mediums. As he describes his creation process:
Written stream of consciousness as I'm working on the piece, the images and words all develop out of influence, inspiration, transient feelings and emotions. It's like I'm flipping channels to a television set in the back of my mind.
Jeremiah’s work has a sense of personal reflection upon his own life and what he is experiencing. Remaining introverted in the creation process is something that comes across in his pieces. For example, some of his larger pieces feature writings on them that seem as though there was only a moment’s notice between the thought’s and deciding to write them down. Johnson’s work requires some commitment as an onlooker. The message behind the work won’t be automatically apparent, if apparent at all, and there tends to be a sense of mystery clouding the details of each piece. Regardless, this NYC outsider felt right at home in Chelsea.
As for the gallery owners, a pop-up in NYC seemed like a no-brainer. Gleghorn wants to build his artists’ careers rather than take on artists that have already succeeded somewhere else. So any opportunity to increase the awareness of a represented artist is a great situation. Gleghorn elaborates:
For us, being an emerging gallery and dealing primarily with emerging artists, any venture like this is a risk. Not just a financial risk but the risk of reputation. We stand 100 percent behind the artists we show and the moves that we make. For that reason, we feel very comfortable hosting a gallery show in the Chelsea art scene. We always get a bit nervous right before any of our shows. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies but it is important that we walk through any fears and move forward no matter what. Sometimes that means putting money and your reputation on the line.
Opening night came alongside several other dozen gallery openings, from Gagosian to Gladstone, with crowds buzzing on the chilly city streets. At first, the spectators were slow to arrive, but soon the gallery space was filled and the wine bottles ran dry.
One of the things that Gleghorn was initially worried about was proper press coverage. Gaining media attention for any art exhibition is difficult, but the difficulty increases drastically as an outsider to the NYC art world. For the little press that the show did receive, it was nothing compared to the enthusiasm of the crowds on 24th street.
There’s no question that pop-up shows are risky for just about everyone involved. The gallery owner risks his or her time and money, and the artist risks talking to the gallery owner in an empty room all night. Without a strong collector base or geographic recognition, the fear of failure is ripe. The ability to make money is outweighed by the necessity to be accepted. And acceptance is something that was gained by Jeremiah Johnson and Converge Gallery. The possibility of future pop-ups now seems like a possibility for both Gleghorn and Johnson. Most importantly it is a testament to the risk-reward of galleries in a down economy. Whereas most galleries seem to be scaling back on their exploratory ventures, it is galleries like Converge that will continue to break through.