Chelsea: Baroque?

Roberta Smith’s recent article on the Chelsea gallery scene in the Sunday New York Times was informative Arts & Leisure fare, defending the neighborhood’s exponential expansion in recent years as a boon–not something to bemoan–while also offering useful guidelines for the casual Chelsea visitor.

She suggests that despite it’s megamall development, the neighborhood stretching from roughly w 13th St. to 29th St. along Tenth Avenue is in fact quite complex:

“The Chelsea gallery scene is exactly the opposite of monolithic or homogeneous: astoundingly diverse, a series of parallel worlds catering to different audiences and markets, from avant-garde to academic, blue-chip to underground. With art fresh from places as far apart as China and Williamsburg, Chelsea is messily democratic, the most real, unbiased reflection of contemporary art’s global character.”

But she also raises a provocative incidental point that would be interesting to pursue further. In the section titled ‘Big Dogs Acting Like Bigger Dogs,’ Smith asserts that, “The galleries that make up Chelsea’s elite often present shows that, in their ambition, expense and importance, are tantamount to museum exhibitions…When [they] serendipitously stage related exhibitions, the effect can be overwhelming, an unplanned mega-exhibition more exciting and convincing than many museum efforts.”

Given that admission to almost all Chelsea galleries is free to the public, this strikes a chord in the wake of MoMA’s new twenty-dollar admission. How might we further concieve the counterpart relationships between private (and commercial) and public institutions in the cultural sphere? As galleries continue to produce more elaborate, historically contextualized programs, how might this change an understanding of their essential market-oriented position? In the age of advanced corporate cultural sponsorship, is there potential for more open coordination between private, for-profit capital and institutional, not-for-profit funding (as well as intellectual resources) in the production of culturally significant exhibitions?