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This image is part of Bernard Martin's "Remembering Poor Richard" series.
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John Wayne as the Ringo Kid in Bernard Martin's "Stagecoach" series.
As 2013 drew to its close, several galleries for Richmond art went dark. The trio of losses are the Red Door Gallery, which closed its Main Street location, moved to Crossroads and is now seeking space; Art6, which calved from the still going artspace, and Gallery A. The latter is holding a celebration of life — at least for its location of three years — on Saturday (Jan. 18).
Beneath the swaggering and cinematic Stagecoach series by Bernard Martin is his Remembering Poor Richard, a series of often oblique statements paired to images. Two seem appropriate for this post. One, “Will Trade Paintings For Money” adjoins a panel containing an actual $100 bill. Another features a woman’s gaze in a rearview mirror. There is a sense of desperation and pursuit. The quote is, “Vision is about the past. I look into the night sky and see a star as it existed many light years ago. I have no knowledge of what has happened since. I look across the room and see you as you existed a brief fraction of a second ago. I have no knowledge of what has happened to you since.”
Gallerist Al Calderaro helmed the space for three years and organized compelling shows, the last of which is indicative. Martin's Stagecoach series comprises 24 sequential paintings, each the size of a big flat screen television, that depict a second of movie time. John Wayne, as the Ringo Kid in his first big role, appears like a heat mirage at 18 minutes and 30 seconds into the film. He stands in front of the coach, twirling his Winchester rifle while shouting, "Hold it!" Martin depicts this instant that embodies much about Hollywood mythmaking of mortals and history, film and perception.
Calderaro, who graduated through the arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University and lived and worked in New York's TriBeCa before it became white hot and hip and rents went up, found himself in a similar situation in Richmond. He’d gone into commercial real estate appraisal, “That was my day job for years,” he says. But he wanted to return to the studio. A good friend of his, Calderaro says with a laugh, was concerned about his sanity. He offered a space he owned that had been vacant for a year. It earlier served as offices for Baskervill architects and after that a financial tech business. The friend explained that there was enough room to show art and a small office where Calderaro could continue his appraisal business. When he walked into the place, he was reminded of his old New York loft and thought of it as a good gallery space even though the front door was glued shut. “We had to come in the back door,” he recalls of that moment a little more than three years ago.
“It really began with this, ‘What the hell,’ notion,” he says. “Which, when you think about it, is the essence of life. You plunge in. You don’t know what’s going to happen next or how it’ll turn out.”
He wanted to show compelling, unusual work by regional and national artists, and since the place was run by him, Calderaro’s tastes and interests reflected the roster, which included Darryl Starr, Myron Helfgott, Martin Johnson, Norberto Gomez, Jr. Valerie Hardy and (GLasS)PHATasMOGORia International VCUarts Craft/Material Studies Glass Graduate Alumni, including Kazue Taguchi (New York) and Jack Wax.
Martin’s show would’ve been difficult to present anywhere else in town because few public places have the necessary wall space. TheMuseum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles toyed with the possibility of showing the Martin paintings but ultimately nixed the show. Calderaro says wryly, “They said they couldn’t think of anything to pair it with. Maybe … horse paintings? Stage coaches? Or maybe something totally different?” Calderaro had no problem: he put up the wisdom of Remembering Poor Richard.
Calderaro says that he’s not yet ready to say goodbye to gallery managing, and he stressed — as did all the gallery participants I spoke with — that there is no bad guy in this story. Before returning however, Calderaro needs another space similar to that which he’s leaving — and a business partner. This week, he’s shooting a video for YouTube that, he hopes, may gin up interest. Calderaro still thinks that with another two years, Gallery A would’ve been on more solid ground, as Richmond's art scene expands, but wearily concludes that if artists are sometimes viewed as irrational, then running a gallery is completely nonsensical, in terms of business. “People don’t flock to you as investors for something that’s breaking even, though, for the arts, that’s pretty good.”
Gallery A’s final and 15th show in its present location ends on Saturday with the open reception, from 5 to 9 p.m. I reached the Red Door's Jerry Shapiro as he was arranging to bring art to theAloft Hotel in Short Pump. A longtime building contractor in the region – he was the owner’s representative for the fanstastical Uptown Alley in Chesterfield — he and his wife, Kay, traveled the country collecting art. Shapiro renovated a West Main Street space and for seven years showed a variety of work, paintings and sculpture by local and regional artists. He still holds substantial inventory, just with no place to show it other than his home.
A move to the Crossroads Galleries on Staples Mill, “a marvelous location,” was temporary. “Frankly, with the kind of art and what we're selling it for, you need someone to talk with the buyer who knows the artist, his history, where he's been, where he's shown.” He adds, “No one goes into anything related to arts based on a good business plan. There's nothing in the numbers that tells you, 'Man, I want to open an art gallery!’ ”
Art6 Gallery held its final event on Dec 31, also due to the owner wanting to modernize the building. The building at 6 E. Broad St. with its dramatic center atrium and mezzanine gallery has been a staple of the Broad Street arts scene since it was first occupied by artspace in the early 1990s. At one time or another, almost every discipline of art was presented there, including poetry, dance and theater. When that gallery moved to Manchester’s Plant Zero in 2003, some of the artists chose to remain on Broad. The membership chair and treasurer, artist Alan Entin, says that despite the closing, Art6, which is a cooperative, has added a few new members. "We're looking at other exhibition oportunities, perhaps pop-up shows. Nothing's off the table."
Another group of galleries opened late last year, we'll address them in a future post.