Monday, November 17, 2008

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition...

A young artist I adore recently told me that a gallery in another city she had scheduled a solo show with told her they were closing instead. I felt awful, because I know she had been looking forward to that show, but I was a bit surprised when she voiced the opinion that the other gallerist should have been able to prepare for the economic crisis hitting us all and made contingency plans. "He should have expected and planned for this," she told me. Again, I was quite surprised.

Most of my surprise came from knowing that in normal markets it takes 3-5 years for a young gallery showing emerging artists to turn profitable (the reason for that becomes clearer when you realize many seasoned collectors wait for a new artist's second or third solo show to start buying their work, even when they're intrigued upon introduction). So this gallerist in the other city never really stood a chance to get prepared for the downturn...he was in the every-dime-goes-back-into-the-business phase of building his business.

Another reason the statement surprised me is that I know how long in advance most dealers put things in motion. You have to pay for many of your key promotional efforts way in advance (like advertising, or art fair fees) and having that much money wrapped up in something that may not pan out can seriously impact your cash flow and ability to respond to rapidly changing economic realities.

But the final reason the artist's response to the news surprised me was that in an era when companies like Lehman Brothers, Circuit City and possibly even General Motors are failing, it seems a bit much to expect a small business owner with less than 2 years' time to plan to be able to predict and prevent what teams of high-powered captains of industry were not able to predict and prevent.

Indeed, the key sensibility that keeps jumping out at me as I read the art market press and hear the speculation from the rumor mills (they are cranking at full speed these days, don't ya know) is how focused everyone seems to be on expectations of effective prognostication. Consider these quotes from the New York Times report by Carol Vogel on recent auction sales, titled "In Faltering Economy, Auction Houses Crash Back to Earth":
Still, given the depth of the global economic crisis, auction house experts were expecting worse. [...]

But timing was not kind to the auction houses. The sales were put together in summer, well before the financial picture darkened, and were overloaded with works from sellers trying to cash in on the last several seasons’ wave of inflation. [...]

Mr. Ruprecht of Sotheby’s expressed similar sentiments: “We’re preparing for a different market. We are out of the guarantee business at least for a while. It’s too hard to predict what tomorrow looks like.” [...]
Indeed, the situation everyone finds themselves in at the moment is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Predictions are somewhat of a fool's game at this point. This leads me to believe that normal expectations aren't so applicable any more. That leads me to feel that everyone involved should give everyone else involved a bit more benefit of their doubt. Don't assume the worst motivations (or competency) of people simply trying to stay ahead of a situation unlike any they've ever seen before. That cuts both ways, for sure. Collectors, artists, auction houses, and dealers...everyone is in unchartered territory right now.

Labels: art market


Anonymous Cedric C said...

I'm surprised that you are surprised. I thought that shitty personality was to be expected from artists. Maybe ask her what is her plan in case her art career drops down?

Maybe that gallerist was "prepared". Maybe the option was "close the gallery" if his economy was going wrong. What the heck is she talking about.

Once, a teacher of mine sacrificed her spot in a gallery because she wanted me to show at her place. The gallery (an art centre) refused because the selection is made a year in advance with a comitte in whatnot. The space ended up being empty for a whole month. That's simply how much galleries prepare in advance what they are going to show. The crash
wasn't predicted over a year ago.
Frankly I think the assertion is insulting to her gallerist.

Cedric Caspesyan
prepare in advance

sad to hear that people like that are artists.

11/17/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Oops, the part that goes "sad that.." is from a portion of the comment I thought I deleted. I was giving examples of other deceitful remarks I heard from artists when I realized i was (again) off the mark. Sorry.


11/17/2008 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I actually mean it when I note that benefit of the doubt should be extended to all involved, including artists. I don't think this young artist was being intentionally insulting...the reality of the situation is simply something she was unaware of (hence, this post).

11/17/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I checked reality the other day, but I couldn't figure it out.

11/17/2008 11:12:00 AM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

I know that this isn't your intention, Ed, but it's hard not to read this post as an indictment of the Selfish Artist.

I mean, banks are closing left and right and the dow is below 9000 and it's layoffs as far as the eye can see and retail outlets are preparing for the lowest-selling christmas season in history...

...and the gallerist in question really should have taken better care not to let down this one artist?

I wish I had something pithy to say about the larger picture and how this is an opportunity... but everything I write turns into a variation on "artists can be real a-holes."

11/17/2008 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think its indicative of the type of artist who expects the system to owe them a living, and a certain generation of younger artists expect this, as they grew up and got the mfa's in a time of relative prosperity, this person most likely will end up doing something else eventually or learning a lesson sitting behind the desk of their full time job, because she/he wont know how to work with no attention being paid to them.

11/17/2008 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think I really should have written this more carefully. I do not think this artist was being as selfish as it's seeming to come across. My bad.

My goal here is, as always, to provide insight into what problems/issues/etc. a dealer is dealing with, not to make any artist feel sorry for them, but rather to help artists navigate the system more effectively.

I would be seriously bummed if (were I an artist) a show I had lined up (possibly even on my resume already) got canceled. So my heart goes out to this artist, as I've noted...but my surprise is more the sense that she had expectations that the gallerist could have / should have had more control over the situation.

This new economic reality hit everyone like a ton of bricks.

None of this makes me feel the artist was selfish...just unaware of what the factors leading the gallery to close were.

11/17/2008 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Selfish? Owed a living? Come one. This is naivete, plain and simple. If she's a young artist, then she's simply unaware of the market issues that Ed pointed out.

Artists and dealers are opposite ends of the same stick--same kinds of expenses, planning, PR, etc. Until everyone understands that we're all in this together, the dichotomies and misunderstandings between artists and dealers--and, yes, dealers and artists--will continue.

I wrote about the downturn in Chelsea on my blog, post up now (, and if there's one point that stands out it's that artists and dealers are facing the same issues. Differently focused, but the same essential issues.

11/17/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

If the gallery closes, other galleries are probably already lurking at the roaster. If the artist get picked up it is only a sign that you're doing something good. If not, than maybe it is a good lesson to try something else.


Cedric Caspesyan

11/17/2008 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

It was only a couple of months ago that people posting at this blog were pleading and hoping the “market” would collapse and all the art world high rollers would get their comeuppance. Now, like the election and democracy, people realize that though they might get what you wish for, there are always unintended consequences.

On my beat out here in Brooklyn, I watched intently over the summer as a cute little townhouse was refurbished in a trendy new neighborhood “DUGE”, (district under the Gowanus Expressway). Big bucks were spent to turn it into a classy photo gallery, nice floors, store window, spiral steel stair to the basement gallery. They had only two shows then folded. Likewise some longtime galleries in Williamsburg are closing their doors, some are merging.

Young artists should realize the art world is the last bastion of entrepreneurial capitalism. This is all held together with a risk and a prayer. If you want guarantees, you should work for the government.

I wish I was young enough to have not seen anything like this in my lifetime, but I’ve seen this all happen at least twice before, stop whining, get used to it, and get back to work.

11/17/2008 01:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've actually had 2 shows cancelled because of gallery closings. One in '95 and one in '98. Neither time did I think for a second that the gallerist was at fault. My assumption was that their small businesses, like so many small businesses, just didn't make it. I felt sympathy for them, not disdain.

Ed, I know you admire the young women who felt as though her dealer should have planned better for this. But to even allow yourself to think that, never mind run off and TELL SOMEONE she thinks that, marks her as very selfish. Which probably means she will be showing at Gagosian in 6 months.

11/17/2008 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

I agree with Joanne--it's not overt selfishness, just cluelessness. I encountered that when I worked with artists right out of college; they hadn't encountered any realities of the market, so they treated me with a blithe sense of entitlement and a total lack of realism or gratitude.

This is one of the reasons I think dealers should be glad to work with more mature artists, who understand what they are dealing with, and do their best to make the dealer's job as easy as possible. It certainly wasn't any fun for me to work with artists who expected their work to fetch prices five times as high as what the market would offer, and didn't show up to hang half of their show because they 'forgot, and were too tired.'

Also, art schools should be teaching artists more about business. It's the very rare artist who gets scooped up by a competent, thriving gallery and doesn't have to worry about marketing their own work ever again. If young artists understood just how difficult running a business can be, they'd be much less likely to arrogantly dismiss other people's efforts on their behalf as inadequate.

11/17/2008 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gallerists should provide full resumes and histories, the same way artists are expected to provide resumes, bios, statements, and perform an audition.

11/17/2008 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

on topic, though tangential, a post i recently put up for young/emerging artists regarding the crisis:

11/17/2008 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

gallerists should provide full resumes and histories, the same way artists are expected to provide resumes, bios, statements, and perform an audition.

I agree in principle if not in tone (...tone becomes an issue here because there are so many more artists looking for galleries than galleries looking for unpleasant truth perhaps, but do keep that in mind if you're looking).

I recommend an artist ask many, many questions before agreeing to representation with a dealer about their plans, goals, experience, and connections. It's a very humbling thing to have an artist ask you this and then scowl at your answers, I can tell you, but it doesn't matter. Do it anyway before you agree to work together. If a dealer can't handle such a conversation, then that's your first warning sign.

11/17/2008 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Hmm, I really thought about this and it just grew, sorry about the length.

Everybody saw it coming, nobody saw it coming. Really, in truth, it is unlikely that most artists and gallerists would have been able to foresee conditions becoming as bad as they are today. High ranking officials within the government were blind-sided by economic events because they chose to ignore the warnings which preceded them.

Many younger artists and gallerists have only experienced buoyant art markets like we have had for the past decade. For them to assume "that's how it is" is reasonable even though it is incorrect. So I can sympathize with their surprise and dismay as they experience the current unravelling in the art markets.

We only saw the seven fat cows in Pharaoh's dream.

But for those of us who are older, perhaps a bit wiser, there had been signs, voiced concerns over frothy prices reaching into the stratosphere. Never the less, the cheerleaders for the major auction houses, wined and dined the affluent, assuring them the trend would continue. "There is value there"

Prices continued to rise, and rise, and rise. All the while, the insiders of Sotheby's were unloading their stock, month after month, share after share, there was value there? In the face of their manipulative hubris, the house of cards has collapsed, Sotheby's, and the others as well, I suppose, are under financial pressure.

We now see the seven ugly cows in Pharaoh's dream.

Where do we go from here? What's next?

Forget about, the talk coming out of the bankrupt auctioneer's mouth. Yes we will continue to see "record prices" for great works of art but the truth lies in the second tier sales, the afternoons, where prices and dollar volumes have collapsed. There is no solace there, when the leaders in the art-commodity market, Hirst and Warhol fail to make the bid. Shame?

Forget about, the dwindling ranks of the billionaires, the Russians or the Chinese. Forget about, the rash speculators driving up prices of the young innocents, profiting on the flawless skin of youths ambition.

Forget about the money game, the social jukes between billionaires pitching pennies. Prices are falling and it is not, as Eli said, a "half off sale" it's a market with no bottom in sight. Prices will continue to fall.

In the face of fleeting moments of fame, fashion or fortune we may forget the source of this wealth, the fount of Solomon's song, the creators of that which we love and desire.

It is the artists who are the sources, the artist who is a source. The artists who sacrifice everything to give us a unique insight into the very reality of our existence, into a moment of quiet pleasure, or just make us smile for no reason at all (Miro).

In the frantic quest for career, for fame and fortune, for social status, we forget. We forget that art stands as one of the highest, if not the highest achievement, of humankind. That while we may consign it momentarily as flotsam in the world of commerce, it ultimately comes to rest, giving expression to the soul of our fleeting historical era.

What's next? That is always the question. The moneyed collectors, grayed at their temples, are making their play. Casting their chips at the high stakes table they reaffirm what we, as artists, already know, what was.

What's next? It's what is being done now, in the studios or on the streets, whatever or wherever, time and life allows. This is the new art, the art the moneyed collectors of the future will lust after, but for now lies sprouting in the furrows below their horizon line.

What's next? While the millionaires fret over their lost billionaire status, artists continue working despite circumstance. They work, as always, with their generations hope for the future. The artist is the source, the fount of creativity.

In this new era, with markets now tempered by past follies, the collector will gain new status through insight not fashion. The critical community must again rise to the occasion by providing insightful guidance. They must stake their reputations, and give a personal opinion of what they believe in, despite the pressures of the marketplace.

A flood has washed over the land. What lies sprouting forth in the fields, are the hundred million dollar artworks of the future. They are not being sold by Sotheby's or Christie’s, but by gallerists and artists across the land. I'm not impressed by the rich collector's "eight million dollar bargains". It is an expression of aging impotency, and the fear of death which distances them from "wasting" the money on 200 works by "less established" artists. The money is squandered on a monument to their death, the venture capitalist has finally become the vulture capitalist.

I am aware that in past downturns, the high end of the art market has held up best and the less validated parts of the markets have fared the worst. While there is little reason to expect that this distinction will change, it might. In this economic cycle, prices at the high end of the market went hyperbolic and will fall much farther than anyone is now willing to admit.

It may well be that, until the high end auction markets stabilize, the best investments might be among artists who are less established. Discerning collectors may find that the best "values" are also more affordable and have less downside risk.

It is a rare moment for new collectors, for collectors who are inquisitive and daring enough to acquire and enjoy artworks which haven't been diluted and branded into mediocrity.

11/17/2008 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

EDWARD - your best post EVER.

Artists, did your $100,000 student loan package for that impressive MFA even include a basic economics course? Of course not, suckers.

Naive narcissists deserve what they get.

-Mat Gleason

11/17/2008 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Mat calls MFA candidates suckers. Nice, Mat, kick 'em while they're down. As if they don't have enough to deal with now.

As a visiting lecturer at a Massachusetts art college, I teach an undergrad course to seniors that helps them understand how to build and sustain a career in art. It's the course I never had--that most of us never had--that we needed. I talk about money a lot: how much it costs to rent a studio, buy art supplies, pay for health insurance, how to price your work, that we are sole proprietors as well as artists, how much it costs galleries to stay in business, where the Dow and what that means to them, and much more. One of my students said, "This is the only class that talks about money." I took that as a compliment.

Informed artists are better business partners for dealers. If the artist and dealer also like and respect one another's esthetic, it's a good match. And if there's a client base for the work, it's a match made in heaven.

Thanks, Ed, for bringing up this topic.

11/17/2008 06:01:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

When I try to look at the frequent NY Times articles on auction houses I start to hear the soft hum of a slide projector. Just puts me to sleep. So does that sector of the market (or game, or business, or retail...).

When I hear that my partner's parents just lost most of their retirement money... well, that shakes me up.

Artists - Don't quit your day job.
Gallerists - Try not to quit your day job. (please!)
Recent MFA grads - Things are going to be a lot different than the last 5 years.

Food on the table? Roof over your head?
There's art to make - get to it.

11/17/2008 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not everybody lost in WS. For more than 2 years a few institutional investors and private fund managers have been talking publicly about the meltdown scenario. Those are doing fine and making money as we speak. We talked here also about what was going to happen to art galleries and mostly mid-career and emerging artists. You forgot?


Remember me?

11/17/2008 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

What is "WS"? Who are "Those"?
There is a difference between mid-career and emerging artists - which is "mls" interested in?

11/17/2008 09:03:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Ed wrote... So my heart goes out to this artist, as I've noted...but my surprise is more the sense that she had expectations that the gallerist could have / should have had more control over the situation.

I would have been surprised as an artist that a gallery could close so suddenly before the market collapsed but not now... It means they dont have savings, or financial stabiltiy to survive economic downturns- separate topic but how do galleries survive- is it off sales or just deep pockets? is it similar to artists cancelling shows on galleries because they are not ready to show- or why do artists leave art and go on to do other things- its not out of the realm entirely but it shakes up what you thought you knew about a person and opens you up to learning what didnt know about the world...

11/17/2008 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Without knowing any of the details, I suspect any gallery that has closed in the last 2 or 3 months, has had financial problems for far longer than that.

I seriously doubt we have seen any of the accumulated affect of the recent economic problems and that they are still in the future.

It's very unlikely that we will se an expansion in the art market for another 3 or 4 years. This doesn't mean everything stops, just that business is slower.

11/17/2008 09:28:00 PM  
Blogger nina said...

Mr. Winkelmann I have a blog crush on you!

11/17/2008 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

"A young artist I adore" - you said it, Ed.

You possibly adored her because of an aspect of naivete that you found charming/adorable until she made this kinda dumb remark that affected you, more than you thought it would have. Because you possibly didn't think she was that naive. It is great that you think that way because if you were to agree with her you would be insulting yourself and the way you try to run your business. A lot of artists assume that, like they have heard about in the "old days", that dealers are all rich or married to money or have Trust Funds. That used to be much more true than it is now, of course, and possibly is more true outside of New York, which might just explain her reaction a little bit.
It must be very frustrating to see often over-rated and still young artists make a huge amount of money but it's still rare, and they should not be taken as role models by Anybody!

11/17/2008 09:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arms DEALERS: Liars and Thieves

Drug DEALERS: Liars and Thieves

Used Car DEALERS: Liars and Thieves

Art DEALERS: Family and Friends


11/17/2008 11:50:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

I think this really isn't a question of 'artist' or 'dealer', rather simply about human nature, and probably naivete, perhaps a little dose of selfishness, but this quality naturally comes with youth.

Let's all take a deep breath and hope and pray we will come out of this stronger and better, best wishes to all artists and art-loving galleriests, especially among them to you, dear Ed!

11/18/2008 12:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Robin Peckham said...

Writing from a young but internationally-oriented in gallery in Beijing, it's easy to see both sides of this. Young artists, especially graduating into a market as hot as that in China now, do have certain expectations towards their galleries that are empirically grounded but not necessarily well-informed in terms of historical trends and the "normal" state of a given art scene. On the other hand, there are certainly measures gallerists can take, providing they aren't already at the very end of the rope. Yes, we are locked into advertising and art fairs a year in advance. But many galleries now are making the decision to virtually shut down over the winter season. In Beijing, at least, the economic apparatus itself hasn't been hit to bad, but collectors are acting a bit conservative. A wait until March for opening an emerging artist's show might be just the right move.

That's just one example, but it seems that there are ways to avoid a total shutdown. The signs of the downturn were fairly obvious by September, and many young galleries were able to prepare some kind of emergency measures in time.

11/18/2008 03:56:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

A ripple in Beijing, a tsunami in the world. I don't think you've experienced the art business until a gallery closes right before your show :)).

It happened to me once, I was all framed up and ready to deliver. Instead of panic, I was prepared to take over the space for the month and do it myself. The gallery remained open instead for a bit longer.

This is a world shake down of historical proportions. It's going to last at least 2 years. Buckle up, be truly creative and hang on!

11/18/2008 06:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said fellow anon at 02:05:00 PM! I know this is going to sound harsh Ed but your friend needs to get a clue. Instead of being furious with her dealer because she's not going to get a show perhaps she could feel just a ounce of sympathy for someone that just lost their business/livelihood.

11/18/2008 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As we speak, a major gallery in Chelsea is letting many artists go. Asking them to pick up their work asap. Cutting the program and reducing artist's proyects funds. Think of 22 St.

4 more galleries are closing before Feb. 2009 in Chelsea.

11/18/2008 08:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 8:39, you're anonymous, why don't you say the name of the gallery?

11/18/2008 09:26:00 PM  
Anonymous anon 8:39 said...

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it

11/18/2008 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger William said...


A fool's game indeed. I'm done with predictions, but now I have to work on a little statement regarding that drawing you bought last year. It's been a year, and what a difference a year makes.

That said, I humbly submit something new for the discourse ARP!

11/18/2008 11:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you made one of William's enemies list Ed? As Emilio Estevez said in Young Guns II, "Yoohoo, I'll make you famous." William Powhida is the Emilio Estevez of the art world.

11/19/2008 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

got a sneak peek at that new work last night, Bill...brilliant!!! Can't wait to see it in real life.

11/19/2008 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

Anon 1:02:00

Ed is on my allies list, but Emilio Estevez?! Fuck me! I can't just shrug off this comparison. It's too good! It's too right! It's awesome.

Jen Dalton suggests I make t-shirts immediately. I concur. He was Billy the Kid after all in Young Guns, and the aforementioned possibly superior sequel Young Guns II (co-starring a young Balthazar Getty), which is a classic. Great! This actually makes me feel better about the bleak outlook. I think I'll start a thread on my blog encouraging more comparisons so I can make more t-shirts. That's about all I'll be selling anymore anyway.

11/19/2008 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

Wow... reading some of these comments one would think that an emerging artist must have an MFA in order to be successful. That is not exactly true. It can be a big help though.

11/24/2008 03:30:00 AM  

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