Those visiting the Lower East Side gallery district on Thursday, Nov. 3, may notice that some of its principal players have gone missing. That happens from time to time, of course, as dealers embark en masse to art fairs, but on that day, Lisa Cooley, Candice Maday of On Stellar Rays, Joel Mesler of Untitled and Rachel Uffner will be in St. Louis, Mo., as the featured guests at a gala for White Flag Projects, a six-year-old nonprofit space known for showing breakout artists very early in their careers with startling regularity.
Though galas typically honor esteemed veterans, White Flag’s founder and director, Matthew Strauss, has taken the novel approach of using his organization’s first-ever gala to “introduce” area collectors to those dealers. “If you think about how things work, having relationships with gallerists is an important part of collecting, and encouraging our native audience to collect relevant emerging art is good for White Flag and good for St. Louis’s art scene in general,” Mr. Strauss told us by e-mail. “People buy from who they know—and right now there’s this base of interested people with the resources to collect that are largely untapped.”
The art world’s not-for-profit and commercial spheres frequently interact (galleries loan work to nonprofits, curators at nonprofits organize shows at galleries), but they rarely do so openly. “[N]onprofits think they have to be very careful about how they acknowledge the more mercantile aspects of what we all do, of how we cooperate, but I guess I’m not super-sensitive to that.”
Why those four dealers? “That list could have been a lot longer,” he explained, “but these are galleries we’ve cooperated with on loans recently, and it was a little more comfortable hitting them up for something so unusual—take my word for it that it sounded pretty weird the first few times I said it out loud to people.” He added of his unique gala model, “In terms of real change this makes a lot more sense to me than ‘honoring’ someone, and if it’s successful it’s repeatable—maybe next time we do it ‘with an introduction to the gallerists of Chelsea’ or the West Village or Los Angeles or Berlin.”
White Flag has asked many of the artists its worked with over the years for artworks for the gala’s benefit auction, but here too it’s taking an unusual step, splitting any proceeds with the artists. The Kitchen art center in Chelsea, which follows that practice, inspired that decision. Among the lots are works by Erin Shirreff, Phil Wagner, Sara VanDerBeek, who will curate a show at White Flag next year, and Uri Aran, who was the first participant in its new screening series, which invites an artist to pick a film to screen and carries the stipulation that the title will never be publicly revealed. So while White Flag’s reputation may be for proselytizing for new artists, a few secrets will remain firmly in St. Louis.