Molding Exhibit and Contractual Models

by Michael F. Langhoff

The contractual space no more?

The contractual space no more?

At first I was interested in contracts.  This is no longer the case.  Learning that agreements happen in all shapes and sizes, a contract just isn’t what it used to be.  Or maybe they’re just not as ivory as I perceived them to be.  Instead of writing out long [dis]agreement forms that state what artists can and cannot do, I am finding that there is much less restriction for artists showing in galleries and institutions than I initially had in mind.  From exchanges that I have had with representatives from the MCA, AIC, SAIC as well as smaller spaces such Around the Coyote and the Swimming Pool Project Space I have gathered there is a natural push away from formal written contracts and much more happening through emails and conversations over coffee.

Liz Nielsen of Swimming Pool Project Space (Chicago), says that formal contracts are written by request of the artist.  Otherwise most of their agreements are necessarily informal.
“Funny enough, that is how it has been for me as an artist for any galleries I have dealt with, even the ones I have been represented by.  In fact, I’m wary of the formal contracts that I have had to sign.”

Formal contracts for curators and artists and administrators are avoided unless there is a serious liability in exhibiting the work.  Whether for flexibility sake or for sheer fact that writing up agreements just takes up to much time, there is an air of efficiency that comes with dodging this (sometimes necessary) step all together.  In some cases, major decisions aren’t pulled until moments before the opening and adding stacks of paper work into the mix just isn’t sensible with low-risk liabilities.

Ok, this isn’t entirely new to us, but we are certainly erecting newer processes and forms of agreement to keep up with exhibiting works of art that are moving and changing.  My concern was that perhaps these new processes are inadequate extensions of old forms.

Let me try to make this clearer.  When artists move away from object making, and the framework of the institution is required to shift accordingly, how will this change the dynamic between artist and institution and what practical steps are institutions making to house ‘non-objects?’  Will artists still need galleries 20 years from now?  Of course!  Artists love them, the public loves them and curators need them.  The model works.  It’s up to the artists to keep making things that will work within them.  Otherwise the MCA would simply be white paint, track lighting and the empty space between.

Maybe these spaces will be more reliant on programming and events, but I am sure the essential model will continue, it’s just a question of how.  And this leads me to my deeper concern which is for our artist friends.  Is art practice being modeled by the system or is it developing nuances through breaking out of these (very enticing) molds.  The relationship is mutual for sure, but we ought to question who is generating the greater influence.  How are emerging contemporary art forms challenging the contextual models that are our primary support systems (galleries, museums, project spaces and institutions) and to what degree are these support systems being challenged?