Art neolocalism, part II: a beneficial alternative to the supermaket

Stefano Pirovano

These days, from Paris, the contemporary art world looks dreadfully calm. As calm as someone who is experiencing a tough hangover after a party that has lasted a bit too long. Almost three years on, and now: extremely volatile stock markets, increased interests rate in the US, oil prices issues, no quantitative easing in US (apparently), under performing emerging economies. The feeling that the contemporary art system has abruptly returned to a pre-2013 situation is slowly becoming the general consensus, as proved by the certainly not impressive quality of those artworks which nonetheless Phillips and Sotheby’s brilliantly sold this week – yes, brilliantly, considering the economic global scenario.


Nevertheless, as we recently wrote, something is moving under the art land’s surface thus producing new energies. We would call it art neolocalism.


Since the beginning of the year, especially in Europe, we have noticed that some galleries generally supportive of the so called international art are opening their doors to artists from the country, region, or city, where the gallery is actually based. It may be too early to call it a trend yet, and there is still an evident asymmetry between the main cities in the US and the ones in Europe – taking into account that since the end of the Second World War these latter have been affected by esterofilia more than they would be willing to confess. But our feeling is that here someone is finally realizing that: 1) when you know what you are looking for, scouting artists in your area is easier and more convenient; 2)  This is also why they travel and, point 3), there is no chance to find a good pizza in Paris, London, Berlin, New York or Los Angles. You can export pomodoro and mozzarella, but not the Italian air, sun, sound, or smell.


At a certain level art is like oil. It is not be found only in the Empty Quarter. But once you find an oil field you need structures to extract it (galleries), pipes to ship it (communication), and a market to sell it for the best price (auctions and art fairs). Moreover – points 2 and 3 – keeping a good a relationship with the community where the oil is extracted makes the job easier and more profitable.


As one now may argue, the exhibition dedicated to early Concrete art in Cuba that David Zwirner is hosting in New York would be not the best example, primarily because NYC is not Havana and, moreover, because this same show was on display a few months ago at Zwirner London. But as a matter of fact many leading European art galleries are increasing the presence of neolocalisms in their programs, getting more and more interested in scouting specific areas.


Daniele Balice, from Balice Hertling gallery that we visited a few days ago and that is currently hosting a group exhibition which includes 9 French artists, told Cfa that they are going to focus their attention on artists based in Paris. “I’ve recently spent two months researching in Los Angeles” said Balice “and I’ve realized that the real promised land is the city where we already are based, Paris. In terms of artistic heritage the two cities can’t be compared, even if Los Angeles has institution such as the LACMA and the Getty” – and this latter has recently proved its extraordinary financial capabilities with the purchase of the $30 million Danae by Orazio Gentileschi. Balice recently rented a second space in rue Ramponeau, which will open in the near future, and has probably regarded it as a good news that his colleague Jocelyn Wolff is going to stay in the area, where other respected contemporary art galleries such as Sultana – which has recently moved here from the Le Marais – and Antoine Levi are located. Also WoIff is going to open a solo show dedicated to a French artist, Colette Brunschwig, a sophisticated painter who has spent most of her artistic career in Paris (from 18 February).


Meanwhile, in Lisbon, one of the cities where young Europeans are moving to find affordable real estate prices, cheerful creativity and good quality of life, Matteo Consonni, Italian and former director at Galleria Franco Noero, with his Portuguese friend Gonçalo Jesus, a biologist with a taste for contemporary art, are opening a new gallery. “We would like to create a dialogue with the city’s extraordinary energies, attract a lot of people from abroad and expose them to the city’s vibrant atmosphere – said Consonni to Cfa -, hence we have chosen to locate the gallery in a 30 squared meters space in Madragoa, a traditional central neighborhood, instead of looking for a larger former industrial space that could have offered totally different possibilities”. They will open at the end of April (date to be announced soon), with a solo show of Italian artist Renato Leotta. But “the show will be entirely produced here” explains Consonni, who is going to have in the gallery’s roster at least two emerging Portuguese artists such as Sara Chang Yan (1982) and Luís Lázaro Matos (1987). “Localism is a key element of the project – Consonni continues. I just moved to Lisbon, and my associate grew up here. The gallery will be called Madragoa, addressing its location, and our web site is a .pt instead of a neutral .com”. At the end of the day, as mega collector Uli Sigg once stated regarding his experience in China “art is everywhere, but it needs to be discovered”.


These two quite different cases may prove that when the global approach is not sustainable anymore, or just not convenient, getting local could be a beneficial alternative. But you need to know how to handle the matter, while respecting the standards required by the international art market, wherever you are based.


Obviously there is also someone who doesn’t think that this will be a trend in the near future. Despite his gallery is hosting a group show gathering together 9 artists from Belgium aiming “to put a spotlight on talented artists who haven’t yet had many opportunities to showcase their works” (as stated by Balls&Glory‘s introductory text), Rodolphe Janssen points out that in 2016 he will organize 12 exhibitions and only 2 of them will be dedicated to local artists: “It seems it will be the same in most of the Brussels’ galleries – he says – and concerning the international collectors, I think they are all related to the country where they are from, and even if they are interested in international artists, I am sure they do also take into account local galleries, art institutions and museums”. Perhaps he is right, and the buzz about neo-localism will soon evaporate or not affect Brussels at all. But our feeling is that the artists and artworks’ geographic provenance is going to become more and more a distinctive factor in the global hyper connected art system, especially for those collectors who are seeking for alternatives to exhausted macro visual categories, such as the rudimentary dichotomy between abstract and figurative art.

February 12, 2016