Q&A with Temporary Space’s Richard Shelton

Temporary Space, a new exhibition platform expressly for mid-to-late career artists, launched in March with an exhibition by Richard Shelton.  Richard Shelton, 50 Years of Painting will be on view through June 2015.  Unlike a traditional gallery, Temporary Space presents the complete archives of selected mid-to-late career artists through exhibitions and a proprietary digital application, which is viewed on an iPad. The digital overlay provides collectors with an unfiltered interaction with the artist’s entire body of work. Temporary Space, founded by Richard Shelton, has a mission to empower artists. Following is a conversation with Richard Shelton…

Who is Richard Shelton?

I’m an artist who has been producing art for 50 years and is fed up with the art establishment, which I feel is corrupted by the business interests of art dealers and collectors. I’m an artist who is standing up for the rights of artists by challenging the values of the contemporary art establishment and proclaiming it is time for a change. I, together with my fellow mid-to-late career peers, am forming an alternative platform for exhibiting and selling art, just as the Impressionists did in the second half of the 19th century.



Temporary Space was your idea. How did this come about?

I have been thinking about ways to modernize the gallery system for years. The art gallery model is a 20th century model. It was a very successful model for exhibiting and selling art, but it no longer meets the needs of 21st century artists.

About three years ago, I teamed up with fellow artist Stacie Meyer and we began brainstorming ways to revitalize the gallery system. Our original idea was to develop an e-commerce digital online gallery. About a year into the project, I became discouraged. I have, for the past two years, been writing an art blog—Richard Shelton Blast Blog. I had assumed being on the internet would expose my writing to a large audience. It never did. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the right time for an e-commerce web gallery. That’s when we decided to combine the e-commerce gallery with an exhibition space. We narrowed our ideas down to a few key points. One, create a digitally interactive viewer friendly environment to allow viewers to broaden their understanding of the artists’ work. Two, compliment the physical exhibition with an online digital exhibition so we can reach out to a broader audience. Three, create a digital archive for each artist we exhibit so we can exhibit and sell the artist’s entire body of available work. Four, eliminate the salesman so the artist can deal directly with the collector and retain 75% of the profits from the sale of their art. Five, instead of having a permanent location, do “pop-up” exhibitions so we can bring art to different neighborhoods.

About ten months ago, Stacie put together a team of art professionals, Melissa Urcan, Julie Yamashita, and Alex Horn, to make our ideas a reality. Next year, we intend to develop a non-profit educational arm for Temporary Space. In the next few years, if all goes as planned, we intend to open Temporary Space exhibitions in other cities across the country.



You’re an artist, and are having the first exhibition at Temporary Space.  Is this a vanity show?

Temporary Space is an innovative, alternative exhibition model for mid to late career artists. I am one of the participating artists. I would have preferred to be the 5th or 10th artist to exhibit at Temporary Space but that wouldn’t be practical. What we are doing is unprecedented. Someone had to be available to work through all the problems associated with the development of our project, in particular with the technology and archival components. I’ve been working long hours with designers, technicians, and our archivist, Julie Yamashito. We couldn’t expect the other artists exhibiting in our 2015 schedule to commit that kind of time to this project.

I’m also of the belief that there is no such thing as a vanity show. If an author publishes his own book, is that a vanity book? If an actor produces, directs, and stars in his own film, is that a vanity film? If a musician produces his own concert, is that a vanity concert? No. So why are artists singled out? The label “vanity show” is a relatively recent concept devised by the art establishment to discourage artists from mounting their own exhibitions. Artists have been mounting their own exhibitions for centuries, the two most famous modern examples being Gustave Courbet’s exhibition in 1855 and Edouard Manet’s exhibition of 1867.

You are putting a lot of time and resources into Temporary Space.  What are your expectations?

To provide an enjoyable and meaningful experience for the artist and viewer. To gain recognition for talented, undervalued mid to late career artists, and to earn them money.

Are you worried about having any backlash from the art business world?  

No, not at all.   I expect our alternative platform for exhibiting and selling art to open up a healthy dialogue about the need for change.  The current gallery system is outdated.  It no longer meets the needs of the artistic community. I think what we are doing will benefit everyone in the art world. I also think it will attract the “other” 99% to contemporary art by offering them a more informative and engaging opportunity to experience art.

If there is such a need for something like Temporary Space, why hasn’t this been done before?

Art dealers have controlled the art economy for over 100 years.  This 20th century business model became enormously profitable in the latter half of that century.  Why would dealers want to change a business model that has been so successful?  The incentive for change has to come from the artists whose artistic and economic needs are no longer being fulfilled by a 20th century business model for exhibiting and selling their art.

Artists aren’t businessmen. Doesn’t the traditional gallery medium address this?

Historically, artists have been involved in selling their artwork.  In the 20th century however, as art galleries replaced the Salons as the dominant sales venues for art, artists relinquished control of the business of selling their art.  Under the Guild system and the Academy system, artists managed both the creative and the business aspects of their careers.  It is only in the past 100 years that artists have chosen to rely upon salesmen to manage the business of selling their artwork.  Artists have paid a heavy price for allowing art dealers to control all of the financial aspects of their careers.  Paying an art dealer a 50% commission for every artwork they sell is a bad business decision.  Artists won’t become worse businessmen if they begin managing their own careers. There is nowhere to go but up.



Does this mean that artists are selling their works for 40-60% less than at a traditional gallery?

All pricing is entirely up to the artist. I don’t think many artists will choose to sell their artwork at a lower price just because half of their profit won’t be going into the pockets of art dealers.

Are the needs of art buyers neglected in the current art world?

No. The art exhibited in the galleries today is tailored to the taste of collectors.  Galleries exhibit art their collecting base supports. It is everyone else’s needs that are being neglected by the contemporary art establishment.

What if galleries start emulating the Temporary Space model? How would you feel about that?

I would be very pleased if art galleries follow our example.  It is time for art galleries to begin supporting the artists they represent. Currently, the majority of the artists in our culture are struggling to survive economically while art dealers and collectors are profiting handsomely off of their labor. If we can provide a better support base for artists, we would have accomplished our mission.

Why launch in Los Angeles?

Because we live in Los Angeles and are a part of the Los Angeles art community.

Check out the gallery at 5522 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles and online at temporaryspacela.com.

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