New UN partnership signed in Venice places visual arts sector at heart of climate battle
May 12, 2024
Dispute over a potentially Nazi-looted Egon Schiele goes to trial in New York
May 12, 2024
New UN partnership signed in Venice places visual arts sector at heart of climate battle
May 12, 2024
Dispute over a potentially Nazi-looted Egon Schiele goes to trial in New York
May 12, 2024

A new non-profit initiative aims to showcase seminal New York gallery exhibitions in a free and openly accessible digital database. Called the New York Gallery History Project, the initiative is a collaborative effort between the Independent art fair—which marked its 15th anniversary in New York City last week—and the Contemporary Art Library (CAL), a Los Angeles-based non-profit recognised as a pre-eminent digital repository of contemporary art documentation.

Comprising extensive visual records of notable exhibitions from influential New York galleries spanning the mid-1980s to the present, the online database seeks to serve as an essential resource for artists, dealers, scholars and the broader public. Simultaneously, it aims to digitise and archive a comprehensive record of the city’s historic contemporary art scene, preserving crucial materials from closed spaces that risk being lost to time.

“This project is so close to my heart, and it’s something that I have been thinking about for a very long time,” says Elizabeth Dee, the founder of Independent. A longstanding force in the New York gallery ecosystem since 2002, known for showing a global roster of influential contemporary artists at her former, eponymous gallery—including Ryan Trecartin, Adrian Piper and John Giorno—Dee’s personal connections, paired with a mission to promote accessibility and preservation, have been fundamental to Independent’s partnership with CAL.

Dee was connected with CAL’s executive director, Forrest Arakawa-Nash, through Lisa Darms, the executive director of the Hauser & Wirth Institute. Dee says she had expressed to Darms her ambitions to preserve and record New York’s rich contemporary art legacy after witnessing a great loss of documentary and archival material as once-influential galleries closed. She likens a gallery to a rock band, explaining that a gallery programme represents a particular moment in time and culture, facilitating movements around artistic expressions and ways of thinking. “If a gallery fades away over years or decades, we risk losing that entire legacy,” she says.

Dee was grateful to learn that Forrest Arakawa-Nash had been considering and pursuing a parallel mission on the other side of the country. The CAL was founded in 2021, 13 years after Arakawa-Nash launched Contemporary Art Daily—a platform that published documentation of current exhibitions daily—and learned that visitors were continually using the platform as a resource for research.

“We already had hundreds of thousands of images in our database, and people were searching for it, but Contemporary Art Daily was never meant to be an archive, and it wasn’t designed for doing research,” Arakawa-Nash tells The Art Newspaper, explaining that the platform was a curated digest that was not intended to record a comprehensive history of contemporary art.

“So that was the impulse to say, well, it seems like people are looking for a reliable, trustworthy place to find documentation of work by contemporary artists, and it seems like something that we would be in a good position to provide,” Arakawa-Nash says.

“We think of the internet as forever, and I think in some fields that’s the case, but for contemporary art, that’s definitely not the case,” he adds. “Especially if we’re talking about high-resolution, or high-quality media documentation. There’s just no permanent place for that content to live.”

The CAL is already the largest online database of contemporary art documentation, granting visitors access to a catalogue of information on important contemporary art spaces and exhibitions. The site is designed as an unfiltered library, organised as an easily navigable database that allows searches by artist and exhibition space with the intention of promoting a more accessible and inclusive engagement with contemporary art. Leveraging 15 years of content from Contemporary Art Daily, and drawing from documentary materials contributed by over 80 founding partners and an expanding roster of closed spaces, the non-profit is dedicated to collecting, digitising, and conserving a vast repository of contemporary art history.

Dee and Arakawa-Nash quickly connected over their shared passion for broadening the art historical canon and facilitating a more accessible engagement with contemporary art. The decision for CAL and Independent to partner and develop an archive of pivotal New York gallery spaces and exhibitions was a natural progression from their conversation, with both organisations contributing unique perspectives, resources and connections to the initiative. “It became clear that this was a non-profit initiative to help raise awareness and funding around, and also connect to key legends who have been sitting on an image repository of all the exhibitions they curated with all of these artists before they became known,” says Dee.

Installation view of an exhibition featuring works by Haim Steinbach, James Welling, Sarah Charlesworth and Meyer Vaisman at Jay

Gorney Modern Art in 1988, New York

The project’s inaugural installment, launching later this year, will feature a complete exhibition archive from Jay Gorney Modern Art (active from 1985 to 1999), a pivotal space during the rise of the East Village art scene during the 1980s. Noted for representing influential artists who have since gained global acclaim, including Gillian Wearing, Barbara Bloom, Catherine Opie, Haim Steinbach and David Deutsch, Jay Gorney Modern Art’s influence represents a significant period in New York history that, without proper documentation, risks fading into obscurity. Through the partnership’s fundraising efforts, Gorney’s extensive physical archive will be digitised and organised, resulting in a comprehensive collection of installation images that showcase, in many cases, the foundation of these artists’ careers.

“So many of [Jay Gorney’s] artists are legendary and are now collected at museums around the world,” says Arakawa-Nash. “He was often showing important bodies of work that we now take for granted, at the time they were made, but we don’t always get to see how they were shown and seen when they first debuted.”

Ahead of the inaugural installment of Jay Gorney’s archive, the CAL launched an archive featuring photographic records from Independent’s fairs dating back to 2010, including thousands of images comprising 20 past editions in New York, Brussels, Independent Projects and Independent 20th Century, with plans to continue evolving with documentation of future fairs.

Looking ahead, the New York Gallery History Project will identify and collaborate with historically significant New York galleries and artist-run spaces that are no longer in operation, raising funds to collect, organise, digitise and present archival records of gallery programmes on the database. The project will undertake the ambitious endeavor of reconstructing a robust library of every public exhibition held in these spaces and collaborating with sources to fill gaps in documentation.

“Jay’s archive is something that scholars will refer to for generations, and the fact that they’ll be able to do that so easily via Contemporary Art Library is exactly what we hope to do over and over again from now on,” Arakawa-Nash says. “It’s incumbent on us and on everyone to try to figure out how to digitise and preserve as much of this material as we can, while it’s still viable.”

First appeared on…

Comments are closed.