At a Chelsea Art Gallery, an Age Requirement: Over 60 Only
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The gallery Marlena Vaccaro runs in Chelsea has the usual white walls and the usual nice light. What it does not have is artists under 60.
Talented 20-, 30- and 40-somethings need not apply. Ms. Vaccaro will not show them. They can send her JPEG after JPEG, the digital equivalent of slide after slide from an artist’s portfolio, but Ms. Vaccaro’s reply will remain: Wait. She will not lower the age threshold at the Carter Burden Gallery, at 548 West 28th Street, near Eleventh Avenue. And the artists on her roster could not be happier.
“This gallery has made age very hip,” said Angela Valeria, who is 76 and has a mixed-media painting on unstretched canvas on display in “Summer in the City,” a group show that runs through July 20.
The gallery began several years ago when Ms. Vaccaro decided that someone should counter an art world problem: Older, lesser-known artists were being passed by just because they were, yes, older. She had heard stories. Ms. Vaccaro was a painter and printmaker who also worked in mixed media. She had owned a gallery in TriBeCa.
“If, by the time you’re 40, you haven’t demonstrated earning power in terms of sales, it’s hard to get the attention of a big gallery,” she said. “I don’t think it’s only ageism at work. It’s the economy of running a gallery. Sure, there are tons of galleries that show older artists, but they are the high earners. Everyone who was big and famous in the ’60s and ’70s is older now. They’re still represented if they’re still alive, and their paintings still sell for gigantic dollars.”
Ms. Vaccaro is looking for the “re-emerging older artist.” Some in that category had fast starts and sold paintings for $25,000 or $30,000 in the ’70s, only to stall.
“In the last 10 or 15 years, they haven’t had that record of sales,” she said. “They’re excited at being back in a gallery, but they’re looking at slashing the prices for work they used to get so much more for. It’s a difficult conversation: ‘I was reviewed in The New York Times in 1965.’ I’m like, ‘Doesn’t count.’”
Others never made it big. Ms. Vaccaro understood. When the planning for the gallery began, she was only 51. “That made me too old to be viable at other galleries because I hadn’t had that big success,” she said. “I’d come up in the world like hundreds of artists. We’re pretty good. But none of our names are above the title, you know?”
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