An Interview with founder Phil Grauer of CANADA: Part Two of Two

by Art Fag City on February 23, 2007 Events

Sheep Self Portrait at CANADA
Photo AFC

In the second part of our interview series with CANADA owner Phil Grauer we continue to discuss the gallery’s unconventional tactics to garner their inclusion this year in the Armory Show in addition to art fair aesthetics. Be sure not to miss part one of this two part series!

AFC: It seems like it's really difficult for a gallery to survive without doing an art fair.

PG: Yeah, you hear that line, and I guess it's sort of true. We sort of did. We survived for a long fucking time before an art fair. We didn't thrive. I guess it sort of helps. It exposes you to people who wouldn't otherwise come down to Chinatown to buy art. We will in one week at the Armory get more exposure than we'll get in six years of being down here.

AFC: Do you see fairs as being part of your advertising? Or part of your programming, like part of your exhibition program?

PG: That's a good question. I think you strive to make it something valid. It's funny. I have a couple of different takes on this, sometimes the dealers try to make the art fair booth into a statement, into an installation. And sometimes it's actually pretty successful. I've had a pretty good time at art fairs looking at some pretty decent installations. I sort of like when that occurs. I also understand them as strict trade fair, you know, group show. Here's the leftovers from my showing year, you know, come and get them, and I also admire that. I like both. You know, where it's this cool, installation, meta-show, and sometimes the work is site-specific even, and it's an installation of the art market, and it's kind of okay, you know. Or it's my installation about the art market, and it's a hodge-podge, cracker barrel hanging, come and get it, 'cuz I'm just at a stupid art fair anyway, you mothers. That was what we did at NADA [The New Art Dealers Alliance fair in Miami]. I wasn't going to do some hot shot, okay, you're on, do your solo show at NADA. A little bit of everything that we do, and that is helpful because with a wide group show, you can introduce a bunch of stuff to people who kind of want to see something. It's kind of more democratic of me to cover more, every artist, and to give them the opportunity to make some dough and have their work seen. I think it can kind of interfere, that kind of cracker barrel hanging requires a viewer who can kind of see”¦

AFC: Do you think viewers are getting accustomed to art fair hangings?

PG: I'm hoping”¦

AFC: Well, it's sort of a whole aesthetic, right?

PG: Yeah, I like this conversation, the subject of the art fair hanging, and whether the work can still be seen. The weird context, whether it can overcome the context of this hanging and this environment. And I like to think, sure fuck, if it's good stuff, it can”¦

AFC: It can hold its own?

PG: That's always where my hope is”¦

AFC: But certainly some galleries achieve these goals better than others because there really is it's not hung, you can't sell it sort of aesthetic.

PG: Yeah, or the dealer is really fidgety and like things really clean, dealers that probably see their galleries as an extension of themselves or their home, and need this aesthetic, you know, in their booth.

AFC: Those who will lay in a brand new floor…

PG: Yeah, take the carpet out because the sculpture looks better. I think we're all different. Dealer people come from different places, and they have different ideas of how the work should be and look. So, good luck, you get yourself a booth at an art fair and you have ten or fifteen artists that you represent”¦

AFC: And you've got a day to put it together”¦

PG: Good luck to you. You got yourself into it, you filled out the order form. You went over to London to badger your way into this thing, and I think that's fair enough. I'm willing to take on that burden.

AFC: Did you go over to London specifically to badger people?

PG: Yes

AFC: Really?

Sarah Braman (codirector of the gallery): Yes. We scrounged together money to put him on a plane. Went to Target and bought a new pair of pants.

PG: Got my Target pants and got on the airplane, because it was at this critical moment. We already lost this bum artist because we didn't make it into the Armory fair, so we were fucked. So it was like, we're going to do this, wrestle our way, fuck our way into this thing. Or we likely be ignored by it because they don't need to care. It's sort of humiliating. To have to introduce yourself. You know you sort of want people to come to you, you don't want to have to go to them, but whatever.

AFC: But now it worked out, right?

PG: Yeah, but now we're in the thing, and it's awkward. You just want it to be worthwhile and decent. It's just sort of weird to be invited to the garden party late because you badgered your way into the wedding.

AFC: Right, yeah”¦

PG: I didn't even think about art fairs until some of the artists started going to them with or without us. And then it was like, by gumbo, we got to get into one of these art fairs. So at first, we talked to NADA because they seemed kind of youthful, and then last September, we applied to a Swiss fair and we finally got to Europe, which was useful because you get to show up in Europe. Say the artists have been in Paris or Berlin or London, showing their stuff and finally you show up too. We were a little late in getting there, like, oh you guys, I thought _______ showed with ________, who the hell are you? Showing her too? A lot of this sort of stuff, so you're in Switzerland and you have to straighten out the story because the secondary dealers who show your artists don't really talk about you. They don't really care. They've got this work, it's important, it's selling. They don't really talk to their collectors or curators about where it emanated from. Who showed it first? Until you the dealership show up, you finally get to make a case for yourself. Because it's not a very big community”¦

AFC: I know, it's tiny. I mean are you sure there’s a connection between your getting in and the badgering? I mean, the gallery over the last couple of years has become much more high profile.

PG: I think they needed their cage rattled a little. I'm not certain of that at all. This is the problem I have I think the committee is likely too small and likely too old to be able to really discriminate and know what the hell's going on downtown. They're very busy people. They're doing their own damn shows. Their neighborhood in Chelsea, all on Gideon. I don't think it's the mandate really to kind of go into the outback to find the dealers and the galleries that are doing the heavy work.

AFC: Unfortunately it's not really necessary for them to do that, so you have to kind of make it necessary”¦

PG: Yeah, you do. It's a weird thing. I'm not sure of this yet, but I think that these art fairs have an impact, like going back to the advertisement thing, like your name on the list or your position in the fair be it in the coach or whatever has some bearing on why someone might choose to take your artist to a museum show or buy them or whatever. I think, yes, likely it helps. I don't know how that should be decided on, whether this board of five Europeans and two New Yorkers should have all that the authority because it does advertise and change the currency and demand likely of the work here. They have quite a lot of power, it turns out. I'm not sure exactly how it should work. You know, it's like, I want an ad in Artforum, I call up Knight Landesman, and say, here's your $2000, can you run this ad? And it will happen. But if I need to get into the Armory fair, it's not just because I filled out the form and gave them the $500 fee. There's some other voodoo going on. And good luck, to decoding it, if it's your ambition. I think a lot of galleries probably just say, ah, fuck the Armory, it's a queer garden party and I ain't going anyway. Yeah, okay, good luck, that sounds cool too. But I think for those who think it's useful and that the New York art fairs should be something significant and are important to the New York art world, then fuck. I hope the fair does some justice in the future for the galleries that are deserving, that's all. That's my one hope, and I'll watch them. When I head this gallery or that gallery got in one year and out the next and what replaced them and why, it's curious. Who did we replace? Who got knocked out when we got in?

AFC: Yeah, I hadn't really though about that.

PG: Yeah, it's a bit of a musical chairs.

AFC: It's every year too, it seems like the Armory gets bigger. Although that's really not the case, it's just art fairs are getting bigger.

PG: There more satellites. Like you were down in Miami”¦

AFC: That's insane. I get the sense that it's going to be less insane here, than it was last year.

PG: This is the bigger story, really, because of the musical chairs thing. Is it getting bigger or smaller? And how long does the party get bigger? This is the other question that people are all asking. Is the bubble going to burst? And all this crap. I don't even know, I've never been aware of a bubble. I've just been doing this thing, but apparently there are a lot of galleries and a lot of art being sold on the market. And I guess there is the community to support that. We've broke even or done well at all these things somehow, still sort of shocks me. But that's because I'm Canadian.

AFC: (Laughter) I know about that.

PG: Selling art is still a slap in the face. I still can't believe it. (Laughter)

AFC: Like it's hardwired into us.

PG: It's the last thing you buy. Nobody buys art.

AFC: Unless you're Ken Thomson.

PG: Right. And isn't he dead? [Editors note: Ken Thomson died in June of 2006]

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