Lisa Boyle, the owner of the 4-year-old Lisa Boyle Gallery, has just announced on the Bad at Sports blog that she’s calling it quits.

“Why is it so GOD DAMNED hard,” she writes, “to sell a piece of art around here? I can’t help asking myself this as I soon join the ranks of civilians outside the Art World proper and close the doors on my [gallery].”

Boyle acknowledges that she’s in good company, as “a handful of my compatriots are shutting down near the same time. 40000 last December, soon Navta Schulz, Gesheidle and others. Closings here, closings in New York, even my friend in Boston are hanging it up.” This leads her to ask, as many have, “Whose fault is it?”

She ponders the oft-cited local (Chicago) presumed reasons–lack of collectors, lack of critics, lack of museum support, nepotism in the market, competition from LA and NY–and then she comes to a realization:

…here’s the big bad bald truth, people: I’m just not that good at running a gallery. No, thank you for your support and encouragement, and I truly appreciate your assessment that I have a “good eye”, I do! It’s just an unavoidable truth to me that we’re being flushed out of our excuses, me and all the other quitters, by the simple fact that there are a few people out there who have been able to sustain important programs and be happy running a successful gallery in Chicago and certainly elsewhere. In other words, it can be done, so there’s no use in talking about how hard it is to do it… Making a life (if not a living) out of selling arbitrarily priced objects that no one needs is a very competitive venture. Not as easy as it looks. You have to want it. I mean really super bad. If you are going to create a successful system of supporting artists, connecting with institutions, and staying happy and successful as an art dealer, you have to want that more than a lot of other things. Like more than a paycheck, for example. More than every single Saturday for the rest of your natural born life. More than healthy exposure to the sun. You have to welcome payment in the form of some awkward social cache rather than in money, and you have to not mind being chained to a desk between four white walls for years, with the exception of those times you pack up your wares, like a traveling salesman, and take the show on the road. All of these things have to be fun and exciting to you…

Lisa added that she’s going to be working, part-time, in an academic office at Robert Morris College–no doubt relishing a new sense of sanity and stability, even as she gets a regular paycheck. I will add it’s refreshing to hear someone actually come out and speak truth in this matter of artistic failure–in this case, of just one gallery; though her word could just as well be applied to the entire system of arts in this country.

To her words I will add my own: As it happens, I too have just announced I am giving up, in much the same way and for much the same reasons as Lisa, my own three-year quixotic (dayjob) pursuit of a life and career of support in the arts (to go to work in a more stable workplace, associated with academia, that is closer to my home).

2 Responses to “Chicago Gallery Owner Calls It Quits, And She’s Not Alone”

  1. Sam says:

    Thanks for directing me over to the bas blog for this. I’m a bit confused by the “truth” you praise her for acknowledging in the quote. I agree that it’s a poignant observation, that she seems to be blaming, bottom line, her lack of ability as a gallery director. Pointing out that others have done it successfully, she concludes that it’s just not in her to make it, due to a combination of poor business skills and a lack of dedication.

    Without ever having met her or stepped foot in her gallery, I suspect that she’s correct. But doesn’t that go against your evolving thesis here that the failure of artists is largely due to forces larger than themselves? That it doesn’t come down to ability/skill/business sense, but to unwieldy social forces beyond our control? In her failure, Lisa Boyle seems to be reinforcing the idea that it isn’t dumb luck or random chance, but (at least in part) through individual decisions that one makes/breaks it. (BTW, it goes without saying that I agree.)

    Best of luck at the new gig.

  2. admin says:

    I don’t have a thesis that “the failure of artists is largely due to forces larger than themselves.” While market forces do contribute to the failure of art in this country, to argue that that’s the cause is too reductive and simplistic. If anything, I take artists and arts community members to task for their own contributions to their downfall just as often as anything else…

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