Opportunity Favors the Prepared : Open Thread
The beauty of this model is that global competition requires certain costly expenses, but that some of them can be centralized to save each sub-company (through bulk purchases or group discounts, perhaps, or retaining certain expensive experts at a better rate). How this could work for galleries, I'm not so sure actually. There are a few fundamental differences between how a commercial art gallery and how a fashion design company run that make this example an imperfect template, obviously, not to mention that, as one influential young art dealer I talked to about this idea in Miami noted, "Many art dealers can't stand each other."
That may be the case, but in reading the article in today's New York Times about how the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum will be sharing the Brooklyn Museum's world class costume collection, it became apparent that such concerns are not always the determining factor:
Still, it will formally retain a separate identity of sorts: it will be known as the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.Two parts of that interview with Mr. Lehman stuck with me after I read it. First is that he acknowledges that the decision was difficult, but that financial realities led this to be a better choice for the collection (the Met has the funding to conserve it). Second, by both museums viewing the deal as a partnership and maintaining the original name of the collection, the identity of the collection is preserved for the most part. In the end, as difficult as this must have been, it seems the responsible decision: it protects the collection, it pays proper homage to how it came to be, and most importantly it ensures the public will have access to the collection moving forward.
“Clearly this was a hard decision to make, since it is a highly important part of our history,” said Arnold L. Lehman, the Brooklyn Museum’s director.
But he said the cost of maintaining the costume collection, much less showing it, had been a major concern for him since he was hired as director in 1997.
“Costumes are the most fragile, the most difficult and the most labor-intensive objects that an institution can own,” Mr. Lehman said. “Although we have sustained and grown the collection over the years, we do not have the existing resources to make the kind of use that we will be able to make now.
“This is not just a transfer but a partnership. We can draw upon it in a way we were never able to before.”Mr. Lehman said that under the deal the Brooklyn Museum would be able to include the collection in shows, and that both museums planned to present exhibitions in 2010 focusing on different portions of the combined collections.
So, back to our Mom & Pop shop question. The larger galleries (those with multiple locations and multiple directors) more or less emulate the LVMH model to some degree already. There may be less autonomy for their directors than Donna Karen enjoys, but they've managed to maximize their resources efficiently through specialization and strategically placed distribution outlets. Many of their directors will break out and start their own eponymous galleries one day, but while they work for someone else, they have the freedom to focus on their part of the overall program and build their artists' markets without too much distraction from the overarching concerns that weigh down the owner/directors of smaller spaces.
I could go on, but my point is simply that spending time on the more mundane tasks or concerns is not the favorite part of the job of any dealer I know. Most dealers wouldn't miss worrying about some parts of the business and might welcome ideas that spread such distractions around. In New York, in particular, the single biggest overhead expense and most pressing concern in the current economic situation for most young, small galleries is their rent. In the past, all kinds of models have been tried to share this expense (trading off shows in the same space, art mall locations, etc.), but it's difficult to promote a unique vision from a cubicle (or so the argument often goes, but in truth some of my very favorite gallery programs exist in odd little rabbit warren-like spaces) or to maintain consistency if you're too nomadic.
New York would seem to have a confluence of interesting opportunities at the moment, though. On one hand you have a city in which new spaces built to be condos are seeing enough units go unsold that developers are temporarily renting them out instead. On the other hand, you have young dealers who could used a break in their rent until the market picks back up again. What's needed is for some developer who understands that the rich international collectors who would visit a destination gallery location (some space with 10-15 strong young galleries) are precisely the clients they'll want to be marketing their available condos to, and what better way than by having them continuously visit the location? Yes, that would mean the galleries would be moving out again in a few years when the economy picks back up, but that seems a less drastic and more autonomy-preserving step than some of the other models.
It's obviously too early yet for most galleries to go through all this trouble, and, of course, no developer has yet stepped up to offer such a deal, but the economic outlook suggests we'll have plenty of time to brainstorm on such matters over the coming months. Opportunity favors the prepared. Other ideas on this?
Labels: art market