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Celebrating Art For Its Own Sake (in Chelsea, of all places)

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Last night, over 1800 people flooded the old Dia Art Foundation building in Chelsea, now the home of X-Initiative, for the opening of No Soul For Sale. Originally conceived by art-world jester Maurizio Cattelan, it is a sort of anti-art-fair fair showcasing three dozen non-profit arts organizations from Hong Kong to Brooklyn.

"We saw a need to react to what's going on," said Josh Altman, the assistant director of X-Initiative, and the show certainly feels reactive. The work is not for sale (according to the title). The show is not an exhibition or a fair, it's a "festival" (according to the press release). The participants are not "alternative" organizations (according to Not An Alternative), they're "independents" (according to hotshot curatorial director Cecilia Alemani, who described Chelsea--half-jokingly, I think--as "the evil all around us"). Well, whatever it is, or isn't, No Soul For Sale boasts an impressive collection of venues, programs and publications supporting artists around the world.

"We invited people whom you may have heard of, but nobody's seen their program," explained Alemani. "It's an occasion for them come and present their programs, and they get so much visibility because we're in Chelsea." The Moroccan L'appartement 22, for example, runs artist residencies in Rabat and Fez. Vox Populi is an artist collective in Philadelphia promoting experimental work. The Kadist Art Foundation collects and exhibits work and has a residency in Paris. "It is also a chance for them to meet more-famous colleagues like White Columns," said Alemani.

"As galleries keep more of an eye on the bottom line, getting into them is trickier and people are responding to that," said attendee Joshua Smith, co-founder of the "wildly popular" Apartment Show, explaining why alternative spaces (or whatever you want to call them) have been getting so much attention lately. "There are a lot of one-night shows right now. It's dawned on people that, with things like Facebook, it's really easy to flyer for an event and build a community. In the last month I've been to ten different shows people have thrown up in their apartment buildings. This guy just did a show in the yoga studio at his gym. He's a member there and said 'Can I do a one-night art show here?'"

No Soul For Sale runs through June 28. It is free and open to the public.

Jonathan Melber is an attorney and co-author, with Heather Darcy Bhandari, of ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (Free Press), a professional-development guide for visual artists.