CONDO NY, June 29–July 28, 2017
For the duration of one of New York’s soupiest summer months, CONDO came to town bringing 20 non-New York galleries and a handful of artists with it. A project founded by the London dealer Vanessa Carlos, led in New York by Simone Subal and Nicole Russo, the CONDO mission is a noble one—to challenge existing models while “pooling resources and acting communally.” In concrete terms, this means New York galleries approached by the CONDO team make room for exhibitions curated by participating galleries from around the world for a month. Essentially, a commercial gallery residency program. Following the map online (which resembled a kind of nuclear fallout zone in its layout) through 16 New York galleries clustered in Chelsea, Tribeca, and the Lower East Side reinforced the presence of spaces in neighborhoods, as well as their distance from one another. This system, absent from the clinical regularity of art fairs, made for more considered seeking and looking and the rewards associated with such activities. In fact, the initiative glows with so much good will it is a wonder what anyone gets out of it. The sixteen New York galleries apparently negotiate privately with the galleries they host (along with a small fee for CONDO), and the visiting exhibitions add hands-free global cachet to their summer rota while those being hosted cover costs for shipping and install. In the end, it appears they break even. It is also refreshingly free of formula.
Some galleries made efforts to integrate guest exhibitors into the broader character of their summer shows—for instance, Bridget Donahue hosting Project Native Informant’s airbrush artist Harumi Yamaguchi alongside the pastel washed works of Satoshi Kojima—others simply provided space in a less obvious upstairs or downstairs level. Thematically, the works were at ease in Bridget Donahue, but Yamaguchi’s work seemed to be located in the gallery office antechamber, where staff sat around a table going about their business, and a dog snoozed on a blanket under one of Yamaguchi’s dewey pink pinups. The feeling was obliging, but not so obliging as to detract from the gallery’s core program.
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The comparison of CONDO to an alternative art fair is somewhat misguided, as it is missing the obvious benefits of access, hyper concentration of galleries, and temporarily carpeted VIP areas. It does, however, give galleries some presence beyond fair season. And while art fairs capitalize on seasonal buying and the tides of the art market, CONDO unassumingly targets the slower mid-year months. The program had a slight air of musical chairs: Callicoon Fine Arts for example, hosting Mother’s Tankstation Limited in the 2017 New York iteration, having itself been hosted by Rodeo during CONDO London 2016. As befits July, gallery hours were odd, staff were sparse, and info on the CONDO collaboration was on a kind of need-to-know basis. Still, it felt like an art world “buddy system”, where New York galleries become participants in an unlikely collective of like-minded global dealers great and small, drawing visitors who might not ordinarily make an effort to chart gallery territory in the summer. Queer Thoughts, a tiny gallery in an aging Tribeca office building, explained that the majority of their July traffic had been through CONDO (despite not including the visiting artist Deborah Schamoni in their A4 gallery guide). Chatting to another participant gallery, we discovered a surprising degree of openness around the work on view, and a willingness to embrace the ad hoc nature of the collaboration without commercial responsibility. Whatever its merits, the model appears to be working, with CONDO slated to be expanding to Mexico City and Shanghai 2018.
Many participating galleries built on relationships generated through the fair scene, with CONDO also working the economies of scale to suggest pairings where appropriate. The latter requires dexterous knowledge of geographically specific art scenes, while understanding counterparts and cousins elsewhere. Leo Xu’s understated yet challenging curation in the upstairs of Chelsea’s Metro Pictures felt like a perfect union, and made as much of a statement about the symbiosis of the relationship between the two galleries as it did about any of the work on view. This dynamic lent the whole experience a distinctively meta feel, with artists featured by galleries embedded in other galleries who spoke to their artists. But with lower stakes, the visitor entry points were refreshingly no strings attached, and CONDO should be commended for stripping the art world down to its summer skin.