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Can Artists Succeed Without Gallery Representation? CJ Hendry Says Yes

All / Contemporary Art / Reporting / Reviews / June 4, 2019

CJ Hendry

It may feel like ages ago, but the first week in May was a flurry of activity for galleries, artists, publicists as well as art writers hopping from one fair to the next as New York City was inundated with as many art fairs as you can imagine in practically every borough. If you ventured uptown, you could see fine arts and antiques at TEFAF; if you made the trip to Randall’s Island, the small island in the middle of the East River, you saw blue-chip gallery exhibitions on view at Frieze; if you stuck downtown or headed to Brooklyn, you could experience the emerging yet still popular fairs including Superfine, Moniker, 1:54, and The Other Art Fair.

The art world was buzzing and brought into question the idea of representation as well as what that actually means in the art world. At one point in time, finding representation was a sure-fire sign that you were moving to the “next level” in your career as an artist and that moment of discovery was crucial in terms of having gallery support and the hopes of having that gallery connect you with private collectors. Maggie Carrigan from “The Art Newspaper” addressed the financial bonuses that having gallery representation can bring you—materials, canvases and the like are expensive. Yet, more and more artists are shying away from this traditional approach and are choosing to represent themselves.

Previous: CJ Hendry, “Rorschach.” Pen on paper, 2019. Above: Installation view “Rorschach.” Photograph courtesy of the artist’s studio.

Last month, I had the opportunity to experience CJ Hendry’s Rorschach bounce house in Dumbo. Unlike most artists, Hendry has no representation and you will not find her art up on the walls of a gallery anytime soon but this begs the question: does representation by a gallery still hold cachet? Or does the method of finding appealing art, whether it be via Instagram, a friend’s recommendation or an app, trump what used to be a concrete distinction?

I have been following Hendry’s work for awhile—her exhibitions (which this time around called for jumping around a bounce house turned insane asylum that paired well with Hendry’s drawings on the classic Rorschach test which you experienced after your bounce session) beg for interactivity and is a refreshing break from the classic “art is not meant to be touched.” I have never met Hendry, but it’s incredible to see how engaged and excited people are to see her shows and to take goofy selfies while they experience the art. Rain or shine even with an endless line, people will show up for Hendry (I missed seeing her monochrome exhibition in a Brooklyn warehouse because day after day, the line didn’t seem to get any shorter) and it’s hard to say the same about most exhibitions. To date, #cjhendry has been tagged in 4,732 photos and she has over 364,000 followers having only 1,129 posts.

CJ HendryCJ Hendry in “The New York Times.”

“The New York Times” recently dubbed her as an “Instagram artist”, which from the perspective of a resident Millennial—seems to be a backhanded compliment. Hendry, however, is unconcerned since she regularly sells out her works and the price tags can go as high as $250,000. If anything, “The New York Times” is simply not on her level— the Australian-born artist who works out of her studio in Greenpoint is a stalwart entrepreneur who at 31 years old has cracked the code in terms of what works best for her as an artist, and is raising a new level of excitement that is not reliant on constantly providing her audience with more content.

“Rorschach” was taken down almost a month ago, yet people are still engaging with her posts whether it be a photo of her dog Ace or older photos of past works. It is unclear if it is Hendry herself posting to Instagram or if it is a team member, but the way in which she communicates and presents herself makes it feel like you scrolling past the photos of an old friend.

Further proof that her studio is largely self-sufficient, or can be as inventive as any gallery out there, the artist has created a virtual 3D tour of the exhibition available on her website. So, the exhibition lives on.

It is undeniable that galleries still hold much clout in the art world, however, the popularity of artists like CJ Hendry who successfully manages fabrication, exhibition production, PR, and sales presumably with the help of freelancers and studio staff under the umbrella of her studio proves that the art world is adapting to a new generation of artists who are basking in their outsider status. In this case, going against the grain is good and reminds us to dial it back a little–it’s easy to get swept up in the all-too-serious and scene-y aspect of the art world.

CJ HendryTesting out the art. Photograph courtesy of the writer.

Rather than trying to correct other people’s notions that she is indeed an artist, Hendry is providing people with an experience that is different, at times comical, definitely Instagram worthy since no two photos will be exactly the same, and affordable (she charges $10 per visitor to help cover her production costs, and the first 20,000 guests also received a pair of black-and-white Rorschach inkblot socks). The purpose of art is to stimulate thoughts, emotions and to open your eyes to something new.

 


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Alexandra Israel
Alexandra Israel
Writer, Cultbytes PR specialist. Alexandra Israel graduated from Bates College in 2010. A museum aficionado since her introduction to Jean Dominque Ingres' portraits as a small child, she enjoys spending her free time at museums and finding off-the-beaten-track gallery shows. Israel has been working in PR for over seven years, primarily within book publishing and in the art world. She has held positions at Penguin Book Group, Aperture Foundation, and Third Eye among others. l igram l




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