“The last thing London needs is another art fair,” Vanessa Carlos, a dealer in the British capital, said last week. If she seemed fatigued when she said this, it wasn’t because the London Art Fair was rolling into town just days later. It was because she decided to do something about it.
Condo, Carlos’s new month-long experiment addressing that issue, opened on Sunday and runs through February 13. As part of the project, eight London galleries have turned over some or all of their spaces to a total of 24 visiting galleries. For her part, Carlos’s own gallery, Carlos/Ishikawa, has given the floor to New York’s Essex Street, Berlin’s Mathew, and Zurich’s Freymond-Guth, and put it together as a group show called “Artists’ Clothes.”
Carlos got the idea for Condo when she showed at the Liste fair in Basel, Switzerland, last year, and explained the project’s origins, “Of course, there was this idea of young galleries coming together, because I think that a lot of these inherited models of galleries for the ’90s, which worked then, aren’t really functional for young galleries anymore. It’s a way of enabling each other to exhibit abroad and, of course, enabling the artists, which is the ultimate goal. I was excited to try it out as a kind of experiment. It doesn’t replace an art fair.”
As Carlos sees it, our attention span for art has become dangerously low. It could be because of fairs, or maybe biennials and the current gallery system—she isn’t sure, but she did have this to say, “The mainstream idea of what a gallery is and what a gallery does is very commercial. With that comes a very conservative type of exhibition-making and art production that I don’t think is healthy for art and artists—the idea that, as a young gallery, you spend £10,000 paying for an art-fair booth, and the artworks cost £2,000, whereas if you’re a big gallery, maybe you pay £100,000, but your artwork costs millions. As a young gallery, you don’t want to start limiting what you sell by math. You won’t be able to build the kind of conversation you want to build.”
When it comes to Condo, the numbers aren’t the point—visiting galleries pay the bare minimum to their host spaces, just to cover installation costs and rent. There’s no admission fee either, because Condo isn’t a fair—it’s a project that takes place across London. Even an accompanying film-screening program is free, thanks to support from the Zabludowicz Collection, which is known for commissioning work from emerging artists. “People across the city pooled together to support the project, which is nice,” Carlos said.
She continued, “I just don’t want it to be this provincial, closed-off community of people, if you know what I mean—like a small, little gang [of galleries] in the city that know each other. I really wanted it to be expansive and open, but not to be cliquey.”
The galleries Carlos asked to participate in Condo were given free reign to do whatever they wanted within their allotted space. When I spoke to Carlos over the phone, she was busy overseeing “Artists’ Clothes.” It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it features Spiderman costumes by the Lloyd Corporation, sweatshirts by Darja Bajagic, and a T-shirt with a picture of corn kernels on it by Puppies Puppies, among other things.
I asked Carlos who Condo’s audience was. If this wasn’t a biennial or a fair, and if this was mostly foreign galleries in London, who did she want to see this? “It’s almost like my target audience is the actual art-seeing audience. It’s also the galleries themselves,” she said. “We all make up the landscape together.”
Carlos is interested in re-staging Condo in other art-world landscapes, perhaps São Paulo sometime next year, or maybe Athens. But she made sure to note that, depending on the city, Condo might change a lot. She brought up Jeanine Hofland’s A Petite Fair, a fair in Amsterdam where, in 2014, 12 galleries had booths in Hofland’s eponymous gallery for a weekend. (The 2014 iteration was A Petite Fair’s second edition.) That could work in Amsterdam, but probably not in New York or London, cities with spread-out gallery scenes that require a more sprawling set-up for successful fairs. “I think it would really depend on what relationship the galleries in those cities have to each other, and what that city needs,” Carlos said.
“I think the main thing, for me, is that this project just started, and it doesn’t eliminate anything—it’s just a proposal for one different way of doing things, which is really important for my generation of galleries to rethink,” she added. “The structure is extremely problematic for us and for the artists we represent. In the next few years, we’ll have to create our own breathing spaces, our way of doing things. We’re inheriting this structure, but is it what we want?”