THE NINE: The Northern Ohio Art Dealers Association in the 2nd Year of its Rebirth
How many serious commercial art galleries are there, here in northern Ohio? Venues that aren’t museums or college campuses, but where people actually make a living by selling art? Places an exhibiting artist, or an aspiring collector, or any informed visitor might find to be professionally impressive? Maybe 50, 100? Probably less.
Of course the nation’s heartland isn’t its artistic epicenter, not by the numbers anyway. Even 100 galleries here wouldn’t be that big a deal from a national perspective. In New York the Chelsea area alone has three times that many. But Northeast Ohio is not the desolate frontier either. Just as we have world-class music, film, and performance, we have some impressive visual and conceptual art. In fact there are plenty of individuals and collections who go shopping in northern Ohio, including major museums. Some even come from New York to do just that. After all, art tends to be cheaper around here. Additionally, much complex and beautiful work is made within sight of Lake Erie’s shores. And of course top shelf national and international work can be purchased through local vendors. Right now, despite growing community support (like CPAC’s Creative Workforce Fellowships for local artists, or the emphasis on home-grown art at the new MOCA) these artists and the galleries representing them remain an underappreciated resource. It’s a buyer’s market. If there’s anything lacking here, it’s probably broad-based professional organization, and it turns out there may be a cure for that.
Though there’s no point in counting storefronts, a number that means something on the Ohio scene just at the moment is the number nine. That’s how many galleries and dealers are currently working together under the banner of the Northern Ohio Art Dealers Association. NOADA enjoyed a trial run some twenty years ago, mounting a fine arts exposition in the English Oak Room in downtown Cleveland, and after a long period of quiescence began to regroup last year. NOADA’s initial, resurgent joint effort, its Expo 2012, was the closing exhibition at the old MOCA facility, helping to mark that institution’s transition to a new level of prominence, and attracting a large local audience of its own.
“Collegiality, professional conduct,” says Tom French, NOADA’s president, summing up a couple of goals on the agenda of the small but distinguished band of fellow gallerists and dealers. French’s own family-run business has been going strong for twenty-five years, and like several other fine art dealers in the greater Cleveland area French’s operation hasn’t included a bricks-and-mortar display room – so far, anyway. Northern Ohio is his base of operations, a place to live and sometimes store his stock-in-trade. But virtual shows take place online or in catalogues, attracting clients from all over the map. A widely distributed base of private collectors commonly makes up the bread and butter clientele of most galleries, but French has also sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Chicago Institute of Art, and several dozen other public institutions. Then there are the art fairs, great and small, around the country and abroad, racking up frequent flier miles for French. A large part of the fine arts market has always been a matter of going on the road.
In this French is fairly typical – certainly he’s not the only member of NOADA whose business model has involved a lot of traveling. The Lesko family (of Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery) did the same thing until they settled into the West 78th Street arts complex a few years ago. Even those with a firmly established physical showcase–like the Verne Collection, Tregoning & Co., and Corcoran Fine Arts–have always needed to find ways to reach out to a wider client base.
Other NOADA members are William Busta Gallery, Bonfoey Gallery, Harris Stanton Gallery, Riley Galleries, and 1point618, and if they have one thing in common it’s a track record for professionalism, not to mention sheer longevity. Bonfoey’s dates back more than a century, and Tregoning has been in business since 1973. Several others are approaching the quarter century mark.
One advantage the Cleveland art market hasn’t enjoyed is the sort of annual or biennial cooperative art expositions found in many other cities. We have neighborhood art cum food events like Tremont’s second Friday Art Walk, and Gordon Square’s Third Friday events (made especially interesting every month by the major galleries that take part, including three from NOADA’s roster). But even short Cleveland memories still recall the attempt to start a homegrown art fair made by NOADA’s first incarnation back in the early 1990’s. When Tregoning and Bill Busta (William Busta Gallery), French himself, and principals from Bonfoey Gallery, James Corcoran, Michael Verne, Thomas Riley, Harris Stanton, and 1point618 Gallery, among others, began to talk about a revival, it was an idea whose time had come – again.
This year’s Expo should be even more interesting. On display for three days starting on May 10, Expo 2013 will fill Fred and Laura Bidwell’s new Transformer Station museum, just off Detroit Avenue in Ohio City. The museum itself opened on February 1st , with a selection of photographs and photo-based art from the Bidwells’ own collection. Among the highlights of the upcoming Expo will be works by rising art star, Sedrick Huckaby, courtesy of French’s gallery. Another not-to-be-missed artist on the international scene is the British artist Jane Millican, whose pencil drawings are part of Lesko’s stock in trade, along with Clevelander Judith Brandon’s works on paper.
The Transformer Station space isn’t overly large for a show of works in numerous mediums (Riley is known for their amazing glass objects, for instance), culled from nine different galleries. But it represents the vanguard of twenty-first century changes happening here in our own art world, making the right statement at the right time about the seriousness of NOADA and its aims.
NOADA ARTExpo 2013 Gala Preview, 5 pm to 9 pm Friday, May 10, $50. Exhibit hours 11 am to 5 pm Saturday, May 11 and noon to 5 pm Sunday, May 12, $10. Transformer Station, 1460 West 29th Street, Cleveland.