Extract from the October 2021 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.
With art fairs still online or rather smaller as they grow – and dealers finding new ways to work together – is this the time for galleries with locals to thrive like they don’t. haven’t done in years?
The creation of LGDR – a merger of Lévy Gorvy, Salon 94 and Amalia Dayan into one powerful consortium – has led to much discussion about whether this would mean the demise of all art galleries except of the largest. The awkward-named entity – I’m tempted to call it ‘GDPR’, which is quite another thing – will see all four dealers working from one location, reducing attendance at art fairs except those in Asia, and offering a wide range of services, from artistic advice to the organization of exhibitions. But does this bode well for the end of all galleries except the largest? I do not think so; in fact, we could enter a new era, maybe not golden, but certainly silver.
When I ask the Society of London Art Dealers about this, its president, Nicholas Maclean, points out that he has not seen any gallery disappear so far; in fact, the number of members of society has increased. “Art galleries have faced so many challenges, for example after 1990, after the dot-com boom and bust and after 2008,” he tells me. “And they’ve always been resilient.”
Indeed, the latest mid-year report on Art Basel / UBS dealers is rather optimistic. Of the 700 or so dealers surveyed, 91% believe their sales will increase or remain stable over the next 12 months. While 2020 has been a tough year, with gallery sales down 20%, sales are said to have increased 10% in the first half of 2021, and anecdotally, many merchants have told me they are doing pretty well. well, given the circumstances.
What has changed is the way they do business. The more dynamic adapt quickly and find new ways of working, from strengthening their online presence to launching a secondary business (for example, Perrotin in Paris) to creating their own local events.
At the London Gallery Weekend in June, for example, 40,000 people visited the 140 participants over the three-day event hosted by the dealers. The model – of a collaboration between galleries based in the same city – is repeated around the world, from Warsaw and Beijing to Santiago and Mexico. In Germany, the dealer Johann König started an art fair in 2020 – Messe in St Agnes (MISA). For the second edition, it partnered with Berlin Art Week, and continued with an online sales platform, offering both primary and secondary works to collectors.
And since collectors are likely to be reluctant to travel for a while, some galleries follow the money for posh vacation spots, host pop-ups – in the Hamptons, Palm Beach, and Aspen – or open up permanent spaces, like Hauser & Wirth did in Monaco.
Another very trendy initiative is the concept of “shared space”. No.9 Cork Street in Frieze and Cromwell Place in London (disclosure: I am chairman of the membership committee) offer exhibition space in the capital without the cost of having a glass gallery on the ground floor throughout the year. This concept is so promising that a similar venture, organized by art investment and consultancy firm Artvest, is launched in New York in November, and Cromwell Place is actively seeking to expand the model to other cities around the world, starting with New York.
One of those exhibiting at Cromwell Place is Matthias Arndt, whose artistic agency has offices in Melbourne, Berlin and London. He holds exhibitions of his artists around the world and is optimistic about the future of galleries, but with this caveat: “The new world will be made up of many locals,” he says, which means that the merchants will focus more on their backyard. “Because people won’t be traveling to fairs so much, they’ll be going to their local galleries more, which is great because it’s a much better way to see an artist’s work in depth, as well as learning how to know the merchant. “
The best indication that art galleries will survive is probably another finding from the Art Basel / UBS report. Surprisingly enough, he found that Millennial collectors – defined as those between the ages of 25 and 40 – spent more on their collections than any other generation in 2020, and that art tended to make up a larger proportion. of their assets. Significantly, 55% of millennials surveyed cited the “expertise and advice” of art dealers as their most important role, and 61% said they preferred to shop at local galleries.
My conclusion, then, with apologies to Mark Twain, is that the reports of the death of art galleries have been greatly exaggerated.
Georgina Adam is a journalist and author. His most recent book is The ascent and ascent of the private art museum (Lund Humphries).
Is this a golden age for art galleries? For very few large well-capitalized galleries, absolutely. The bigger ones have opened numerous branches around the world in recent years, and lately they’ve been heading straight to their customers, landing in Aspen and the Hamptons, Monaco and Menorca. These companies have strong publishing branches, fund museum exhibitions and carry out ambitious extracurricular activities. Gagosian has an art consulting arm and a sushi spot. Zwirner has supported a promising sounding space that aims to operate at a slower pace, similar to a kunsthalle in New York City. Iwan and Manuela Wirth have restaurants and hotels. Pace is mounting digital extravagances through his start-up Superblue.
In short, business looks good. David Zwirner’s father, Cologne dealer Rudolf, told Artnet News in March that his son had had his best year during the pandemic. How? ‘Or’ What? He didn’t spend millions to attend countless art fairs.
There is something to celebrate in all of this: more (and bigger) exhibitions, more lavish art books and more well-paid artists. But there are also many reasons to be skeptical.
In 2008, the Big Four had 219 artists on their roster, according to a recent Artnet poll. Now they have 366. Part of the increase is positive: The market giants are finally diversifying their rosters. But new additions are almost always successful numbers leaving small galleries. You can’t fault people for preferring more lucrative environments, but when these movements occur at such volume and pace, they have a deleterious effect on the ecosystem.
A sexy artist can keep an adventurous dealer afloat showing non-commercial art, experimenting and holding a position. By joining a Big Four gallery, they become a new label at a luxury retailer that offers a little something for everyone. (Robert Irwin and Robert Nava on the same list: yuck!) Huge galleries host lavish exhibitions, but despite the means to take risks, conservatism reigns. (Note that wealthy merchants who made their way to Seoul, where I live, didn’t rush to sign untested Korean artists.) And, as merchants with deep pockets assemble dream talent teams and bolster their profile in museums and international collections, they oust artists with more modest representatives.
So, to state the obvious, the life of the vast majority of galleries remains precarious. Business rents have fallen in many cities, allowing new locations to open, but how long will this last? While established dealers, like the LGDR supergroup, have discussed reducing fair booths, fairs remain a key way for novice gallery owners to reach new clients and a bad exit can be disastrous. (I once congratulated a newbie trader on being accepted into a prestigious fair. They replied, “Thank you. We won the chance to bet on our business.”)
Art may be becoming like other cultural industries, with an oligopoly floating above everyone else. I sometimes think of a 1993 essay, ‘The Problem with Music,’ by producer Steve Albini, which details expenses that squeeze a band’s profits as middlemen keep popping up in art, promising to help. the merchants to compete. There are publicists and fairs. There are the flex-rental outfits: Cromwell Place and No.9 Cork Street (Frieze) in London, Art House (Artvest) in New York. And there are the online marketplaces: Artsy, 1stdibs and, now, David Zwirner, whose platform sells works from selected galleries, with an ‘add to cart’ button (Zwirner’s commission is 20% ). A collector who spoke to The New York Times explained that Platform is great because “I don’t have time to go to all the young emerging galleries.” But isn’t this the bare minimum that we should ask of contemporary art collectors?
There are more dealers, artists and museums than ever before. Huge amounts of money are spent. It’s a golden age for galleries, in a way, but it could be so much better.
We know the genius artist without buyers and the visionary merchant who cannot sell. If we’re not careful, we could find ourselves in a world dominated by big box chains, immersive experiences, and online viewing rooms, mistaking art simulations for reality. So we’ll deserve to be scolded by an old David Lynch line: “It’s such sadness you think you’ve seen a movie on your fucking phone. Be realistic.
Andrew Russeth is a Seoul-based writer.
Extract from the October 2021 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.