Marlborough Gallery prohibits photography

Will Ryman The Bed 2007 papier-mâché, magic sculpt, resin, acrylic, wire mesh, wood, cloth [detail of installation]

(the artist taking notes)

No, that headline is not about the fact that Marlborough doesn't seem to have ever shown artists whose work is photo-based, but rather that the gallery will not permit photography goings-on in its spaces.

This afternoon I watched the attendant at the front desk race across the floor to tell an unsuspecting enthusiast visiting the current installation by Will Ryman that pictures were not allowed. When I followed her back and asked whether the rule was general or only for this particular show, she said that it was regular Marlborough policy, and added by way of explanation (I'm paraphrasing here) that the owners didn't want people to use their photos for something unauthorized.

Sure, that would be something like, um . . . selling t-shirts with images of Will Ryman sculptures? I don't think the artist is going to worry about that. Nor do I think he would regret having visitors extend their memory and their pleasure in what should be treasured by all, circulated and displayed, as a demonstrably visual art. Even better, what about the ability of photography (the modern word of mouth) to enable others who are unable to visit the gallery to share in the pleasure of someone who can, before the work itself disappears into the home of a rich collector? Maybe the unauthorized snapshot would be simply the equivalent of taking notes.

Perhaps when we visit Marlborough and galleries with similar policies we're actually in the wrong century or on the wrong continent: Photography hasn't been invented yet, or it must be some foreign sorcery being used to steal our souls (or "copyright"). Would a visitor be permitted to sketch the work or scribble some paragraphs on a pad?

Barry and I have admired Will Ryman's work for some time and both of us have mentioned his show appearances on our sites. I'm very sorry that our shared position on the stupidity of photo prohibitions will prevent us from reporting on such a major event as this one. The Marlborough Gallery has never been featured on either of our blogs, but because it was Ryman's this show was included in the listings (we made it a pick) on ArtCal listings, our on-line edited calendar of New York gallery shows. As long as the management maintains its current policy it won't happen again.

[image from Saatchi Gallery]

no photos allowed??? is there a fever going on? it's stupid, stupid, stupid. Art is made to be seen!

Hi James,
I have to back you up and say that I can't really fathom why on earth these policies are in effect at some galleries. In addition, there never seems to be any indication as to what purpose this policy serves, the only response you get is "not for unauthorized purposes".
I know that personally, through my own experience working at galleries in the past, we were informed to say to people that it was ok to shoot as long as it was not for any type of reproduction, only for personal use. The reason is that the gallery pays to have their exhibitions photographed and they only want these specific images going out. Or, I wondered, is that they want to reserve the right to refuse offering images to someone who is convering their exhibition if they don't want them to? If so, this seems to be a very bad public relations model.

The other thing I am not able to understand is that if you compare this to the journalistic aspect of covering an exhibition alone, critics or journalists never "need" to have authorization from a gallery to publish something about their shows, anyone can walk in and write anything about any exhibition and publish it at any time and anywhere without informing anyone at the gallery--the exhibition in this sense is considered part of the public domain. So why should photography be considered any different? A photograph documents exactly what is there at the gallery--so why would some galleries want to hide what is already available for the public to see there anyway?
As artist who has had their work shown on your site before, I have felt happy to have the opportunity for people to see the work up there. I'd be curious to read any arguments from people that are to the contrary.

Hi James, and Barry, we have never met but i was scrolling through your website and saw this and i want to say that I'm sorry for the fact that you couldnt take photos at my show. I was unaware of the this policy. as an artist i feel lucky to be able to have my work shown, and want people to photograph it if they wish. I take it as the ultimate compliment regardless of the reason. I myself do not understand why this policy is in place. Its snobby, and silly, and quite frankly reflects one of many aspects of the art world that i hate. Anyway, I want to thank you for your voice on this.