The demise of the Falling Cow


I was talking with Tim Bowen of Falling Cow Gallery the other day. It was a sad discussion centered on the closing of his gallery and how hard it is to make a go of it financially in the art world. Bowen is a Tyler grad and painter whose works graced walls around town for many years. He showed with Chuck Moore when that gallerist had his Walnut Street space and in other places. Bowen’s got a show up now he called Hodgepodge and it is a retrospective of his own works from the 1970s to the present. I was blown away by his productivity and by many of the works I saw (my faves were from the 1970s and 1980s).

Tim Bowen, Masquerade
oil on canvas
54″ x 75″

Bowen’s not an MBA, he’s an artist and a musician, and he started Falling Cow about 18 months ago with a dream of helping young artists, creating a community and having a serious program of exhibits, focused on his own paintings and on works by young artists in Philadelphia like Ben Will, Candy Depew, Adam Parker Smith and others. The gallery got some press. The shows got reviewed. Libby and I did a Look! episode featuring the gallery’s Paper Cuts show earlier this year. And yet that wasn’t enough to sustain the gallery as a business. And so what started with a lot of energy and with a great dream now sputters and dies, an art world business casualty.

Philadelphia’s a hard town to sell art in.

It’s a lot easier to make art here than to sell it. Phladelphia’s trademark attributes — conservatism and curmudgeonliness — might be to blame for the lack of sales. However, there are those who think it’s a matter of a lack of public education about art that’s part of the problem. There’s some clothing commercial that talks about an educated consumer being a good customer. Well, sure. And that would be the case whether it’s trousers or a painting.

oil on canvas
32″ x 40″

We at Artblog like to think of ourselves as in the education business. Our reviews and writings come from our own inherent need to chatter away about art, but they’re also about creating a context about what is out there and giving indications of quality — all things that are important for someone considering a purchase.

People need education about art now more than ever.

We’re at a time when the art world is on hype-overdrive and there’s so much art available in so many styles and shapes and sizes and materials that it’s almost impossible to digest what’s going on and make sense of it. Gone are the days when one critic led the way, one movement dominated the discussion and museums were the only valid repositories for Art.

Nowadays the art world is unruly and undisciplined with thousands of critics writing their hearts out in magazines, newspapers and online. The only dominant movement is the market, and museums have been increasingly marginalized, losing the high ground to art fairs and private collectors who increasingly direct the conversation about what’s important. The only thing that seems to matter anymore in the candy store that is the current art world is the dollars and whether you place them on Godiva or Hershey’s. Art education’s job is to cheer on the art that has value and pooh pooh the puffed-up, trumped-up smoke and mirrors stuff.

Hank Williams
oil on canvas
60″ x 76″

And while we at artblog rarely get into discussions about the art market per se, we are always aware of it and worrying about it and worrying about the economics of the galleries in our city. We’re happy to see a new space arrive and saddened to see one disappear.

Has Money Ruined Art?

Bowen sent me a follow-up email after our talk. Among other things, he included a link to a marvelous Jerry Saltz article in New York magazine called “Has Money Ruined Art?” It’s an impassioned rant and I read every last word — and you should too.

Saltz is looking for a new paradigm to help us find a way out of the over-monitized market, and he mentions young artists working outside the standard market today as an example of how to get art back in the art world (and get the emphasis on $$ out). One of the names he tosses out is Ryan Trecartin, recent Philadelphia transplant and friend of the gang that started the new alternative space Bobo’s on 9th.

I was really happy to see that Philadelphia name mentioned because in spite of the problems with selling art here, — and those are appreciable — there’s no problem at all making wonderful art here. Whether that’s because Philadelphia is so far outside the big bad marketplace or not is not clear. But, like Trecartin, young artists in Philadelphia are increasingly coming together in alternative venues, collectives, co-ops and DIY spaces and while it’s unlikely any of these young collectivists will become millionaires that’s not the point. They’re in it to make art, and that’s a paradigm for the future and it’s truly one that can exist outside the standard marketplace.

Anonymous Artist. Light Box, 2006. 28” h x 48” w.
Anonymous Artist. Light Box, 2006. 28” h x 48” w.

Anonymous Artist

Meanwhile, Tim Bowen is regrouping under a brand he’s created called Anonymous Artist. While he’d like to have some art in Falling Cow as long as he’s got the space (another few months), he’s not sure at this point. Instead, what the artist will focus on now will be the new cyber drawings and paintings that he’s been making over the last year or so (and which debuted at Falling Cow last November in the show Simple-ism, all art branded “by Anonymous Artist”).

Anonymous Artist
Archival Digital Print, 2006
16” h x 20” w

The works, made in Photoshop and printed digitally on paper and mylar are charming. They’ve got pizzaz and a nice design sensibility, and Bowen’s going to try to market them in retail establishments that sell furniture and home decor. Since the line between art and design has blurred completely Bowen’s savvy new works will march in and look pretty great against the mostly mediocre pickings out there.

Anonymous Artist
Light Box , 2006
24” h x 30” w

So let’s talk about the market shall we?

And about how great Philadelphia is with the alternative scene but how terrible it is in gallery-land where people don’t buy and the economics of rent and overhead are are so rugged that many galleries close. Philadelphia will never be like Chelsea but surely there’s a way to stimulate sales here. Art business zones where there’s no sales tax on art? Small business loans/grants for start-ups? An art czar who will tell people it’s groovy to go out and throw down some bucks for a painting and lead by example?…Surely there’s something that can be done in Philadelphia to help the galleries survive and thrive.


falling cow gallery, tim bowen



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