In 2019, we wrote reviews for just under 100 gallery shows of photography (98 to be exact) on view in New York city. These select shows were pulled out of the rushing river of gallery shows flowing by each and every month during this past year, our team of reviewers wandering the streets of the city and wearing out our shoes in search of noteworthy photography to think and write about more fully.
To say that we saw everything photographic on offer in such a vast and diverse city would of course be a completionist’s fantasy – we didn’t, but collectively, we certainly saw a massive fraction of it, and in many cases, we went back more than once. So the 98 reviews that ultimately emerged from the entire possible universe of gallery shows of photography were chosen with a decent sense of context, and of the relative import any one show had in relation to what else was on view.
One of the challenges that we face when writing gallery show reviews is that we are largely at the mercy of the arrival rate of great shows – we can’t choose what is available, only which subset of the whole we think is most worth discussing. So while we might have been eager to see the new work by photographer X or the classic images by photographer Y, if he or she didn’t show that work in New York in a gallery this past year, we can’t easily write about it. (As an aside, this is part of the reason our interest in photobooks continues to increase, as they provide us a significantly wider field of photography from which to choose, thereby allowing us to essentially “rebalance” our coverage to include photographers who are being left out, overlooked, or underappreciated by the gallery system in New York.)
As we turn to the new year, we have a chance to step back a bit and take stock of the entirety of what we reviewed last year. Essentially, in this analysis, we are looking for patterns in the data that tell us something more about how the gallery system of photography is functioning, and where we can see trends or directional movement, perhaps even how it is evolving. In the tables below, we’ve tallied up some resonant statistics, and tried to draw some conclusions about what these numbers might be telling us.
|Galleries with Most Reviews in 2019|
|Howard Greenberg Gallery||4|
A simple tally of the galleries with the most reviews this year is a rough proxy for measuring which galleries have consistently strong photography exhibition programs.
Of course, specialist photography galleries, which show photography in every slot in the calendar, have a distinct volume advantage over contemporary art galleries who only show photography now and then. Similarly, galleries who run their shows longer, and thereby have less total shows across a period of 12 months, have less total opportunities to get our attention. So reading too much into this statistic would be unwise.
That said, the three galleries listed above repeatedly delivered thought provoking photography shows this year, all three smartly alternating between vintage and contemporary work. As context, no broad-based contemporary art gallery had more than two reviews from us in 2019, though many hit that mark.
|Gallery Reviews by Gender|
|Male (55 reviews)||56.12%|
|Female (36 reviews)||36.73%|
|Multiple Artists/Group Shows (7 reviews)||7.14%|
This is the first time we have tracked the gender numbers of our gallery reviews, and given the preponderance of male-dominated gallery stables, the split above isn’t entirely unexpected. Also at work is the cyclical timing of shows – some artists make new work every 18 months like clockwork, while others go several years between projects, so it is certainly possible that the gender mix above could be arbitrarily affected by how fast certain artists work – while gender and speed are uncorrelated, if a few of the women take their time and a few of the men work faster, the numbers can shift quite quickly, given an already male-skewed sample.
While we can’t control what gallery shows are available to review, we can control which ones we choose to write about (within some bounds of ensuring coverage of the most obviously “important” shows), so it seems clear that if we want to achieve gender parity in our reviewing, we need to make it a priority. Collectors also have the indirect ability to influence this mix – when collectors demand to see (and buy) work by women, the responsive galleries will adapt, leading to a more balanced calendar.
|Gallery Reviews by Artist Nationality|
|USA (54 reviews)||55.10%|
|Multiple Artists/Countries (7 reviews)||7.14%|
|UK (6 reviews)||6.12%|
|Japan (6 reviews)||6.12%|
|Germany (6 reviews)||6.12%|
|All Other Countries (19 reviews)||19.39%|
At the most basic level, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that more than half of the our reviews written about gallery shows in New York cover the work of American photographers – there is certainly a “local” or national effect taking place. Additionally, geographic origin isn’t necessarily relevant in a place like New York city – there are plenty of artists who have come from the far reaches of the globe but are now New Yorkers, regardless of what their birth certificates might say, so the numbers above might skew even more toward the USA if we we reassign a few transplants.
And while we did see (and review) solo shows from photographers from Iran, South Africa, Vietnam, Lebanon, Jamaica, and other distant locales this year (and several of the group shows we reviewed gathered work from different regions), and the traditionally strong photography locations of Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom were well represented, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that our galleries are still missing a massive amount of exciting photography from around the world. If we’re interested in Chinese, or Latin American, or Scandinavian, or Islamic/Arab, or Russian, or Indian, or African photography (just to name a few), we may simply not find what we are seeking very often, or at all.
Our first step as reviewers is to be aware of the choices we do have in terms of geographic diversity, and then to more actively include it as a variable we consider when selecting which shows to write about.
|Gallery Reviews by Gallery Location|
|Chelsea (36 reviews)||36.73%|
|Lower East Side/Tribeca/Soho (26 reviews)||26.53%|
|Midtown (17 reviews)||17.35%|
|Uptown (12 reviews)||12.24%|
|Brooklyn (7 reviews)||7.14%|
This cut of our gallery review data set is likely only interesting to locals and industry professionals, but the numbers tell us something about the ebbs and flows of our art neighborhoods. As Chelsea continues to evolve upward toward the high end of the market, mid tier and emerging galleries are continuing to move out in search of cheaper rents and less corporate vibes. The exodus initially started with relocation to the storefronts of the Lower East Side, and in the past year, Tribeca has taken over that momentum; in the coming year, the Upper East Side feels ready for further rediscovery. And so the swirling redistribution continues.
While we have adapted our rounds to cover these changing dynamics, we need to redouble our efforts to get to the galleries in Brooklyn, as this is often where experimental first efforts are finding a home – if we stick to the well worn ruts and clusters, we risk missing out on the risk takers, outliers, and new voices. In the coming year, we’ll be trying to do a better job of covering not only the photographic center but the excitement on its edges.