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An empty Space to fill

Cullum’s Notebook: Holiday sales continue online; Sandler Hudson show closes early

A growing number of small-works shows from December are lasting into mid-January. Some gallery group shows were completely focused on holiday shopping, even though it was very high quality holiday shopping, but the concept is evolving.

For one thing, the prolongation of the pandemic has led to more online galleries to supplement in-person sales. Swan Coach House Gallery’s Little Things show, curated by Michelle Laxalt and ShowerHaus (Abigail Justman and Jacob O’Kelley) is open through January 6 and features works illustrated and purchasable online. The pieces in Kai Lin’s Wonder (through January 21) are likewise available for gallery and online viewing. Spalding Nix’s Ensemble show of gallery artists remains on the walls through January 14, and it too is fully documented online.

The art world has long bewailed the “commodification” of art. Too many transactions seem to be based on whether the palette and proportions suit a particular interior design, rather than creating an environment in which the artwork comes first. But the fact remains that artists and galleries survive by selling. What’s interesting is that many galleries are creating new methods of selling without selling out.

Sandler Hudson
Scott Taylor’s “NW11,” 2021, oil on canvas, is one of the many small works in the group show “An empty Space to fill.”

Whitespace resisted holding a December group show and instead is presenting (through January 22) a poetic and splendidly challenging solo show by Teresa Bramlette Reeves, She’ll Be Late, which deserves independent consideration. But Whitespace also inaugurated an online small-works shop of well chosen individual works by other gallery artists.

It’s remarkable, then, that Sandler Hudson presented — until an unintentionally early shutdown because of flooding — the ultimate anti-commercial small-works show, curated by William Downs. An empty Space to fill, on the day of its opening, not only had no wall labels, Downs had not provided a checklist of artists and titles, despite the gallery’s urgent requests. (A full checklist has since been assembled.)

Although the identities of the artists were available by request on opening day, this suggests that Downs took seriously the implied message of his title, that this is an exhibition of, as the exhibit statement puts it, space-filling work by “a group of artists from all over the United States that I’ve met through my travels or who are within a five-mile radius of my life.”

The artists were listed in the statement but juxtaposed in a manner that suggested that the gallery space might well be the main point of the show, in spite of Downs’ statement that it was about how individual artists fill an empty space with the forms of the works they create. The show was installed in a rhythm of empty space and tightly arranged juxtapositions that placed the emphasis on the overall rhythm of adjacent works, rather than encouraging careful study of each work individually. Whether or not Downs intended it, the small works were distinctly secondary to the space in which they operated.

Combined with the December 18 opening date, this de-emphasizing of specific works by specific artists made An empty Space to fill the ultimate anti-holiday exhibition. Sandler Hudson compensated for this with an honestly named online Holiday Gift Guide.

It is painfully ironic that a show responding so intimately to its surrounding space had to be closed prematurely because the gallery flooded. At this point, it exists only in online documentation, while the Holiday Gift Guide has, for the moment, been left in place.

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Dr. Jerry Cullum’s reviews and essays have appeared in Art Papers magazine, Raw Vision, Art in America, ARTnews, International Journal of African-American Art and many other popular and scholarly journals. In 2020 he was awarded the Rabkin Prize for his outstanding contribution to arts journalism.

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