Rental galleries are whores that allow anyone who pays to hang on the walls. I had to laugh when Brunswick Street Gallery, one of Melbourne’s biggest rental spaces, was exposed accepted paintings by a toddler. Rental spaces are also known as “vanity galleries” but would prefer to be known as “access spaces”. There are lots of rental gallery spaces in Melbourne, too many to list in this blog, and such a list would be complex, as some galleries and ARIs, are also rental gallery spaces when it suits them. Now, this is not news to most artists but I am also writing about this for a broader public.
Rental space galleries are rarely cost effective for artists; the gallery directors are the ones who are making money from artists who generally have a low income and are in a poor position to afford to speculate on sales of their art. Exhibition in rental spaces galleries in Melbourne are, apart from this blog, unreviewed. And paying for access to these galleries, in my frequent critical opinion, leads to many exhibitions that should have been rejected rather than hung. Some of the rental galleries offer prize exhibitions to attract exhibitor and to demonstrate that they do something for the artist community – I’m not sure if these prizes are of much value other than in dollars and vanity.
Yes, I could go on putting down rental spaces (see the bias in Wikipedia’s entry on vanity galleries) but if there were no rental spaces in Melbourne then what would happen? There is a need for some rental gallery spaces – just as there is a need for prostitutes. It is hard to know what Melbourne artists would do without so many rental spaces; many arts and design courses have an exhibition requirement as part of the course. Other rental spaces are needed by groups, like the Melbourne Contemporary Art Society or for exhibition spaces for Melbourne’s many festivals (Midsumma, Sweet Streets etc. all use rental spaces). Perhaps, if there were no rental spaces, there would there be pressure on local councils, or other institutions, like art colleges, to provide access galleries for artists. Perhaps there would be more artist run-spaces, like 69 Smith St. that serve as a rental space.
The growth in rental gallery spaces in Melbourne demonstrates that they are of some value. There are alternatives to galleries, such as Platform at the Flinders St. Underpass and other spaces provided by local councils, there are pubs, cafes, restaurants and even furniture stores that exhibit art without charging for the wall space but these aren’t galleries. And now when young artists want to make a name they just paint or paste-up their art on a public wall; so will the rental space gallery decline?