In November 2018, the second edition of How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, a book I co-authored with Edward Winkleman, was released. The following month, my gallery partners and I announced we were closing our own two-and-a-half-year-old space, yours mine & ours. Fun timing, no?
In fact, the sequence of events didn’t feel all that surprising to me. The economics of a small, multi-partner gallery require either independent wealth or a second job, which limits the business’s ability to grow. Compound that with a rapidly slowing emerging art market reflective of structural shifts in the US economy and you can begin to see what we, and others like us, were dealing with.
Before opening yours mine & ours on New York’s Lower East Side, I had worked at two other galleries, Judi Rotenberg gallery in Boston and DODGEgallery in New York, both of which closed. (Look out for my forthcoming memoir, How to Close a Commercial Art Gallery.)
When my partners and I sat down to develop the model for yours mine & ours, we sought to push against industry norms that seemed to hamstring small businesses (a big space, participation in too many fairs, a large stable of artists, splashy print ads).
Content to remain small so we could control our overhead, we wanted to show many artists but represent few, often giving representation only when the artist asked for it. At a moment when galleries all around us were closing, we felt it was more important to offer opportunities for artists we believed in to show their work. Many of them moved on to work with other larger galleries, a fact we’re proud of and embrace.
What It Really Takes
Just a few years ago, the art industry was deeply concerned about the closure of midsize galleries. It used to be that if you were big, you were dominant and safe, and if you were small, you were nimble and safe. As the bifurcation in the broader economy has grown, however, that’s changed—and the shifting economics are having a big impact on the way galleries operate.
In our book, Ed and I note that you either need to have a large amount of seed funding or a second job in order to support yourself during the early days of your gallery. By the time we opened yours, mine & ours in 2016, I knew that I would need to keep my full-time job, first as director of partnerships at Artspace and then as director of arts at Kickstarter, so as not to rely solely on income from the business. Similarly, my co-founder Nick Rymer would continue to teach and, in turn, our third partner RJ Supa would be the main presence in the space. As many know, you don’t have to be physically in the gallery to work on its behalf.