A Communal Business: Meetings with Sam Wilson and James Fuentes

As a fairly regular gallery visitor (and former gallery worker), I’m the first to confess that I don’t usually think about gallery spaces as ones designated for business. I think of them as a place for networking, a place where some business interactions take place, but I rarely—and in fact, I really try my hardest not to—think of the art world as a cold, cut-and-dry, suits-and-ties-and-stocks numbers based industry, revolving around the same pillars of supply and demand as the rest of the world’s economy does.

Perhaps it’s utterly naïve of me—and honestly, it probably is—but a large part of me still wants to think about art as a community, a place for free-flowing thought, for “screw the standards and expectations.” In other words, a place free from those straightlaced business strictures.
Which is why I found it so very interesting that not everyone who runs a gallery space agrees with that. And frankly, it was disappointing.


We met with James Fuentes in his gallery space, as well as Sam Wilson at the Klaus Gallery this morning. The meeting with Fuentes was… eye-opening, I suppose. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was disheartening, but I will say that it was surprising, the lack of warmth and the feeling that even as we were looking through a screen, we were on the other side of a glass wall, looking in but not allowed past a certain barrier. For someone who claims that there is no set way to enter the art world, who notes his own frustration with New York elitism, who believes so strongly in seeing and experiencing art, Fuentes somehow seems to buy into every element of the concepts he criticizes. He’s a New Yorker, and seems to genuinely not believe that there’s any other way to properly enter the art scene than to be… in New York. He doesn’t seem to think that the internet is truly key to art accessibility, despite having expressed his own frustration with art accessibility as a kid. I was deeply disappointed to learn that Fuentes might not think there’s only one path into the art world, but he clearly does think that there is only one way to experience art, and anyone who tries anything else is… doomed to fail, at least as far as business goes.

Fuentes’s model clearly works, as he’s gained incredible success from his work. The last thing I want to do is impugn his work, his gallery spaces, or the artists he shows, nor do I want to suggest that he doesn’t love art (in its ‘acceptable’ forms). No one throws themselves head-on into the art industry unless that’s the case. But it was a genuine relief to leave Fuentes’s space and go to the Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery for a chat with Sam Wilson, who was everything I would have expected in a gallery owner/director prior to meeting Fuentes. An artist himself, Wilson was open about the struggles of being an art kid with an art degree in the art world… and still not necessarily being able to put the pieces together. He talks about artists not as commodities but as people he can grab a beer with. Wilson was, in a word, human.


Forgive me for saying it, but I think that art loses most of its value when it’s reduced to a number, a trend, a thing to be bought and sold. I realize that art is an industry, and that people in the industry need to make money—from artists to gallerists to curators to museum directors. But I hate to think that the people making and representing the art (and their thoughts, emotions, and intentions) aren’t what matter, just the bottom line.

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