Why Do We Show?

Artists could reasonably expect that the whole point of their métier is to create works of sensitivity, subtlety and power, and that once that is done their job is over.  Of course the pesky matter of paying the bills comes up, so showing and selling one’s work could be put down to financial necessity.


I take a different view.  For me a work isn’t actually finished until it is shown.  In fact I could say I don’t even begin to fully understand a work until it I see it installed and people responding to it.  That could be in a gallery or commercial setting but not necessarily.  There are pieces that haven’t been finished in my mind until I saw them in their final homes, in space that they seemed almost born to inhabit.


These musings come as I wrap up the last few details for the opening of a solo show at my gallery in NY.  Recent weeks have been drearily familiar:  long days with literally a hundred specific tasks relating to completing a variety of works and getting them ready to install.  Packing, crating, then working with the gallery through one very long day disgorging everything out on the floor, figuring out where it is all going (early plans inevitably being scrapped once pieces are actually on site) and getting it all up and presentable.  Then more days with more details, information sheets being edited, hooks being re-positioned, staff being trained, photos being circulated.  It hardly seems like art at all, and it isn’t exactly fun.

Bob at Lambert Opening 2013-L- Bob Clyatt Sculpture.jpg


Nonetheless its important for the reasons stated above.  I am doing all this so I can see the work come together as a whole, so I can start to understand my work beyond whatever pieces I am working on at the moment and see them finished, together, hiding from each other, smiling or shouting at each other.  I am asked about the work and so need to use words, somehow, to talk about it which forces me into new ways of understanding what I was thinking.   When I am in the room I get to see people come in and stop, engage, mist up or (more commonly) walk past and completely miss something, which keeps me grounded!  I do this with the same spirit I put a lovingly modeled clay piece into the inferno of a high-fire kiln – to see it transformed, possibly destroyed, but if not, then to emerge as a different thing than went in.  Showing my work is a kind of crucible.  Watching this process gives me a lot of rapid learning--  basically it’s an efficient way for me to improve as an artist.