Things Still Being Only Whispered : History Repeating? Open Thread
Behind the summer lull, it's been a tense, tumultuous few months for contemporary-art galleries in New York City. As if enduring its own version of the London blitz, the art world seems to be holding its breath, waiting to see which galleries will still be operating when the dust settles and Labor Day is past.
Although some dealers say they think the art market is stabilizing and perhaps beginning a slow recovery, others are less optimistic. But all of the nearly dozen people interviewed tend to agree that galleries are having widespread difficulties as they struggle to bring 1980's overhead -- especially rents -- into line with the contracted art market of the 90's.
Recent months have brought more gallery closings, and certainly more rumors of closings, than any other summer in memory. At least six galleries have closed, most of them relative newcomers in SoHo that concentrated on showing younger or less established artists.
In addition, more galleries than usual have moved over the summer, often lured by lower rents, smaller spaces or more central locations. In a seeming contradiction, some galleries have moved to buildings that other galleries had left: in the soft real-estate market, the new tenants negotiated lower rents. Other galleries have cut back on the amount of space they rent, reduced staff or scheduled fewer but longer-running exhibitions for the new season.
I stumbled upon that article in researching something else, but it literally might be applicable, virtually word for word, a year from now, if not sooner, according to things still being only whispered but rising in volume in Chelsea.
And on Bad at Sports, former Chicago dealer Lisa Boyle offers a very honest take on why she closed her 4-year-old space (although I took exception to her alluding to the influence of--among the obvious factors like the downturn in the economy, the strength of the Chicago market, and the impact of not getting into the right art fairs--"how all the successful galleries are connected in an incestuous web of nepotism and homosexual ego stroking"...I mean the "gay mafia" is not without its influence, but it hasn't stopped heterosexuals from running at least 8 of the top 10 art galleries in the country). Among the sentiments Lisa shared that rang true to me was this gem:
Making a life (if not a living) out of selling arbitrarily priced objects that no one needs is a very competitive venture. Not as easy as it looks. You have to want it. I mean really super bad. If you are going to create a successful system of supporting artists, connecting with institutions, and staying happy and successful as an art dealer, you have to want that more than a lot of other things. Like more than a paycheck, for example. More than every single Saturday for the rest of your natural born life. More than healthy exposure to the sun. You have to welcome payment in the form of some awkward social cache rather than in money, and you have to not mind being chained to a desk between four white walls for years, with the exception of those times you pack up your wares, like a traveling salesman, and take the show on the road. All of these things have to be fun and exciting to you. Additionally, should be armed with the knowledge that this span of time from start-up until you can comfortably travel the world attending all the most exclusive art parties will very likely stretch out longer than you or any one else expects.Of course, by swapping out just a few nouns of place and the odd verb, this describes perfectly the plight of every artist out there.
OK, so what's really going on, though? Clearly the economy is bearish and predictions range from "the worst is yet to come" to it will remain this wobbly for yet another year, and yet, among the dealers I talk with in Chelsea two things seem to be consistent: traffic among middle-tier collectors is down, but folks are selling as much if not more than they were this time last year. "Big stuff is selling," is what you hear again and again. Indeed, word out of the most recent auctions in London confirm this:
The contemporary art market season has drawn to its close with a series of three consecutive evening auctions, which confirm that significant works by a broad list of fashionable artists are continuing to attract powerful bidding competition.Indeed, galleries in London seem to be popping up like mushrooms. Every week it seems I get an email from a new one announcing their inaugural exhibition. Likewise for spaces on New York's Lower East Side (artcal.net lists 34 galleries open there now).
There is the arrival of the time-honored indication that the market is heading south, though: Gagosian is expanding his empire again. In her simply breathtaking profile of Larry, Sarah Douglas noted:
On a December evening, in the teeth of a financial gale that may yet blow away the art boom, Larry Gagosian opened his seventh gallery, a 700-square-metre space in Rome. Even as many of his competitors braced for a recession, Gagosian did what he has always done: he forged ahead. The Art Newspaper brooded on recession, quoting an unnamed former associate: "If this one really kicks in, he's sure to be opening yet more new spaces, in Moscow, India or China." As it happens, Gagosian had already made headway in Moscow, taking a temporary space there in October, and, a few weeks after Rome opened, New York magazine aired a rumour that he was scouting in China. Gagosian has become such a force, synonymous with the market itself, that this spurt of activity may indeed herald a downturn.From where I sit in West, West Chelsea, things look more or less as I would expect them to given the housing bubble bursting and the Dow dropping the way it has. Then again, we started in a garage on a tough street in Brooklyn. The first full day after our inaugural opening reception, a reporter for a major New York newspaper walked in and introduced himself. "Wow," I thought, "This publicity thing will be much easier than I expected." But after establishing that I owned the joint, he asked if I could tell him anything about the person who had been murdered on the corner about 4:00 am the night before. In comparison to that, a bit of a downturn in the market is a factor we'll just do our best to deal with.
Consider this an open thread on the future of the art market in New York. Try to keep from descending into wildly unsubstantiated speculation if you can. :-)
Labels: art market