Middle Ground #4: I.G.A.: So What? – The International Galleries Alliance is Much Ado About Nothing

Essay / February 2022

Middle Ground #4: I.G.A.: So What? – The International Galleries Alliance is Much Ado About Nothing
By Jacob Barnes

         This week I’m in London, but by the sound of things, I’d much rather be in LA. Apparently, the art world is back in full swing after Frieze was in the city this weekend, but rather pathetically, the closest I’ve gotten to a cocktail poolside has been the combo of ibuprofen and honey tea I’ve been taking to treat Covid before my requisite quarantine showers. Now freed from my flat, I’ve been keen to take to the outdoors, but the remnants of rainy Storm Eunice have been less than welcoming.

I had said last week that I was going to write about larger galleries’ current predilection for increasingly young talent, citing my lack of concrete research for the postponement. Unfortunately, I will again have to postpone: my complete lack of social life over the last seven days has not translated into committed data mining on the internet and via email, but rather a series of illness-driven midday naps. Instead, I’m going to be writing about the recent (re)announcement of the International Galleries Alliance and it’s short- and long-term value, or lack thereof.

To spare you all the tension, I may as well come out with it: I’m skeptical. But to be clear, my criticisms are entirely impersonal; I think everyone who’s joined to date has done the understandable, and perhaps correct thing. Hell, I’ve looked into signing Grove Collective up. My criticisms have more to do with its structure and purpose than any kind of individual nitpicking – I find no issue with the members, only the terms of the gathering.

From the outset, the premise seems a little glib, no? If the intention is to hold bi-annual summits to tackle issues facing the industry and share knowledge, then why is membership being restricted (at the minute) to some of the world’s top galleries, and as the organisation expands, to galleries selected from and by these ranks? Surely, in all of the art world hierarchies, these are members least needy for industrial insight. If this in itself didn’t put a fine enough point on it, prospective applicants are encouraged to submit their websites for consideration. Thus, either the organising members have taken it upon themselves to amass an ungodly sample of Artlogic templates, or as could be assumed, the art world is as cliquey and opaque as ever, using pared-down websites and a pretense of collaboration to seal off entry, keeping key information among the chosen ones. At some point, one has to ask if they could have simply spared themselves the hassle and done nothing at all.

So, as I said before, I think everyone who has joined to date has done the right thing. If one could gain immediate admission, why wouldn’t one advertise themselves as part of the cool kids club? And of course, one should always hold out hope that this time will be different. But, as with all of the other gallery societies or alliances to date, we can drop the act: The I.G.A has about as large a chance of reshaping the art world as Putin does from staying out of Ukraine, and the shelling in Donbas is becoming more severe as I write this. From a both proud and frustrated ideological outsider, the inability of the industry to collectively see past the tip of its nose is annoying, but expected. As a soon-rejected applicant (if this newsletter has anything to say about it) and avowed futurist, I remain excited: if anything, this clarifies that the answer to many of the art world’s problems will have to come from outside, if only because the in-crowd evidently can’t think of them themselves.

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