How Fickle Is Art-World Fame? One Gallery Is Now Showcasing the Work of Forgotten Market Darlings Found on eBay and in Garage Sales

Mitchell Algus Gallery’s January show will focus on “exceptional art acquired from eBay or other extra-art world sources” as a means of commenting on a fickle art market.

Do you have artwork bought on eBay? This dealer wants to know. (Photo by: Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Veteran New York dealer (and perpetual artworld iconoclast) Mitchell Algus plans to kick off 2020 with a group exhibition featuring an array of once-prominent artists who have since fallen out of commercial favor. It’s a savvy bid to subvert what he describes as “the illogic of the market.” 

The gallery is stipulating that each of the works on view must be culled specifically from what Algus terms “extra-art world sources”: sites such as Ebay, Etsy, and 1stdibs, as well as other nontraditional purveyors, from antique emporiums to garage sales. While he’ll be exhibiting artworks that he purchased himself, the dealer also asked the public to submit choice works that were bought under similar conditions, with an extra provision that “art acquired from mainstream auction houses will be accepted if it was ‘won’ in a way–and at a price–that would characterize the work as being ‘under the radar.’”

Algus hopes to highlight that formerly high-value artworks can later end up in the dark corners of the Internet or on the dusty shelf of your local antique shop. He cites examples of artists who have only recently regained commercial traction after long periods of obscurity, pointing to painter Gertrude Abercrombie—whose resurgence he directly credits to having germinated “from the obscurity of Ebay”—as well as abstract filmmaker and painter Jordan Belson. 

Mitchell Algus, circa 1998, in front of a work by Nicholas Krushenick.

“Recently, I’ve bought work by a few artists who were very well-known in the last century, but have since receded from view,” Algus says. “At the time, their work was shown at and collected by major museums….The idea of focusing on work that is out there in non-art world venues, or in smaller private and provincial galleries, seems provocative.” He remained tight-lipped about specific artists to be shown, preferring to leave the reveal for the official opening.

“As usual, I am focusing on art world lacunae,” Algus adds, describing the forthcoming show as reflecting “a political perspective” on the market as well as a critique of “the tyranny of consensus“ that often dictates success for only a handful of buzzy artists. It’s a welcome reminder that collectors willing to think outside-the-box can find discoveries (and bargains) in unexpected places. 

The exhibition, tentatively titled “Acquired on eBay, et al.”, will open in early January. 

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