Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Starting a Commercial Art Gallery in This Economy

Despite the speculation in some quarters that the current downturn in the global economy and the art market in particular places the forthcoming publication of my book* under the department of "bad timing" (ahem), just this past weekend a young curator I know stopped into the gallery and noted that he's nearly ready to take the plunge and open his own space. I didn't fail to recommend some reading material he might consider.

Believe it or not, should the art market truly spring back to life in 2-3 years (yes, we're all praying for it to be sooner), now could actually be the perfect time to launch a new gallery, assuming you have the working capital to last that long. The reason now might be right is that in the emerging art market in particular (i.e., in galleries representing artists with no established market) it can take 3-5 years for a new gallery to turn truly profitable, even during a boom.

The reason for that time frame is related to the impact of the all-important second or third solo exhibitions. Even if an artist's first exhibition is relatively successful (some sales, some positive press), it can still take years for two important things to happen: 1) for those collectors who were not quite convinced at that first show to see subsequent work that confirms for them that the artist wasn't a one-hit wonder (and thus to begin to acquire it themselves) and 2) news of the artist to spread to a large enough number of collectors to build a healthy market. This will not generally happen as the result of only one exhibition unless that first show was a raging success, which few galleries see more than a handful of in their initial years. The second or third solo shows (spaced usually in the 3rd to 5th year of the gallery for any given artist) will generally accomplish the first of those items, which, again, is why it can take that long for a new gallery to have strong enough markets for enough of their artists to turn truly profitable.

Doubt it? Think of the best-selling emerging artist you can [go on, we'll all think of the same two or three anyway], now go back and research when they had their first solo exhibition and when they became an art world household name. It's invariably 3-5 years after their first solo show, making it anything but overnight success for any of them.

So what new dealers do until those second or third solo shows come around is spend those early years getting the second item accomplished: that is, spreading news of the brilliance of their artists. Because this is somewhat independent of sales (although sales do help greatly, especially when collectors talk about the work they've acquired), though, it's as easily done, if not more so, during a downturn. I say "if not more so" because during a downturn there are fewer galleries around, and so less competition for the press that helps accomplish item two.

Ergo...starting a gallery now could mean that by the time the art world catches up to how brilliant all your artists are, the market will be springing back to life and you'll be perfectly situated to take full advantage of that. If you wait until the market springs back to life to open, you'll need to find some shortcut through the usual 3-5 year wilderness to turn truly profitable sooner. There are ways to do that, but it's not very easy with a fully emerging program, and besides, by then, you'll have a whole new field of competition snapping up the press you'll need.

*I just got advance copies of my book in the mail!!! It's got a spine, and an index, and a cover, and it's full of all these words! It's available as of July 14, 2009.

Oh, and because a while back I promised truly shameless hawking of the book, I'll share the lovely back-cover quotes. I know of a few others that had been generously offered (guess they ran out of space), but I'm not that greedy...I'm beyond delighted to see these:
Praise for How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery

"Ed runs one of the most straightforward sites dedicated to demystifying and discussing various aspects of the art world. Now, in How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, he's packed–in understandable terms–information I wish I had known before starting my gallery."–Zach Feuer, owner, Zach Feuer Gallery and cofounder of New Art Dealers Alliance

“Ed Winkleman has two qualities that are rare: he is quite knowledgeable about the business of operating a contemporary art gallery, and he is willing to share that knowledge with the rest of the world, through his blog and now in this book. He has one more unique quality: his writing is a pleasure to read.”–Daniel Grant, author of The Business of Being an Artist

Ed Winkleman's book is a comprehensive reference for any gallery owner.
Whether you are new to the business or seasoned gallerist, it is always wise
to remember the essentials.–Leigh Conner, Conner Contemporary Art



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does your optimism about opening a gallery exist for cities outside of NYC, LA?

6/17/2009 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well, I'd be careful in calling it "optimism." My thinking here is really about timing.

Whether the art market springs back to life in 2-3 years or 4-5 years, I'd say anyone wanting to launch an emerging art gallery should consider getting started about three years ahead of the resurgence so that their artists are coming into that "name recognition" phase at the same time collectors begin to become confident about buying again. Waiting until after then means you're just then playing catch up.

I suspect the same factors that will determine whether a city outside of NYC or LA can build and sustain an emerging art market will determine whether one can lunge ahead and become a viable center in the next upturn as they did in the last. In other words, it's not easy (and for that reason, not too likely). But hey, who would have thought a lot of the raging success stories of the art world were "likely?"

My real guess is that New York will lose its epicenter status somewhat and that the next rising "center of the art world" may not even be in the US.

6/17/2009 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks I appreciate your candor. I've read your blog for quite a while and I appreciate hearing your perspective on the art world and such. I'll definitely pick up your book. I've already taken 'the plunge' and am always interested in getting good info. Thanks, again


6/17/2009 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zach F - cool.

The real question is which regular commenters you mention in your acknowledgments! Enquiring minds want to know!

6/17/2009 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Mike @ MAO said...

Hey Ed!!
Congratulations!! The book looks amazing..... well.. atleast it has a nice looking cover. (ahem) I guess the MAO advance copy got delayed in the mail...

So when is the first book signing Party?

6/17/2009 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The real question is which regular commenters you mention in your acknowledgments! Enquiring minds want to know!

I didn't single anyone out (too many pseudonyms to sort through) but wrote the following in the acknowledgments:

Much of what you’ll read in this book was first explored through the open forum of my blog (edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com), where generous art world professionals, passionate art lovers from around the globe, and artists in particular have contributed to and helped me refine what I consider the best practices for dealing in art. I am very grateful to my readers for their comments, questions, and constant reality checks.

6/17/2009 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The MAO advance copy is being gilded even as we speak. ;-)

Launch party details coming soon!

6/17/2009 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Congrats Ed,

I’ll be looking for you on the Charlie Rose, and Lenard Lopate shows.

6/17/2009 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Hans said...

This looks great, also the cover ! My congrats I'll buy it. Best regards, Hans

6/17/2009 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...


Congratulations and I hope the book is a huge seller!

Wishing you continued success @ Winkleman Enterprises, LLC (gallery, blog, publishing).

* Art market will turn around within two years.

6/17/2009 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Craig Photography said...

Ed, Congratulations, I hope yo do a book tour though Pittsburgh.

I will review your book on my blog…looking forward to reading it.

Peace ~ John

6/17/2009 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bellwether is closing! I heard it straight from the source.

6/17/2009 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Becky is among the dealers I thank in the acknowledgments of the book for having taught me things through our conversations that I would have otherwise learned the (very) hard way. She'll reinvent her vision in an impressive way, of that I'm sure.

6/17/2009 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

Yay! I am not a gallerist but you bet I'm picking this baby up.

I've maintained a 'cut-and-paste' folder of choice postings related to the beings and doings of building an art career. Volume II?

Get some copies out to Spoonbill & Sugartown.

6/17/2009 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

Congratulations Ed. Your ongoing generosity is much appreciated.

6/17/2009 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous A.K. said...

Generosity is exactly the right descriptor. I am far distant from the Chelsea gallery scene, and therefor, much of what Ed discusses is not directly applicable. But indirectly, the spirit of love of what you do, reciprocity, generosity, and a good eye, apply anywhere. Plus, a very, very thick skin is always a beneficial asset to any gallerist. Will definitely ask my local independent bookstore to order some copies of your book, and I'll buy it locally. Thanks a bunch!

6/17/2009 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Mom? Is that You?

Seriously, though, many thanks for the kind response.


6/17/2009 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

This is the mother of your fear. She says there are a lot of books about the art world, so what makes yours so special?

Before we get into a critique (the best part of waking up is writing criticism of a book you haven't read)
lets get into some of the most memorable books on the subject (I mean the ones I remember, not that I like them).

art and fear

This book is great - it is full of the sort of airy nothings David Hickey is fond of. Play guitar bro! The invisible dragins of indistry need awakin' and bakin'!
A great book, as on customer says, to read instead of making art.

"How to survive and prosper as an artist"

Now in it's fifth edition, I think my mom gave me the third.

Haven't read it.

Now Mr. Winkleman may think he's an expert, but did he write the book on art being a gallerist? I mean he wrote A BOOK on being a gallerist, but he's no Duveen. DOes the Winkleman Gallery go to Basil SWITZERLAND? No. I'd never show at a gallery unless they had the juice to go to the major art fairs, do the dance, rock the boat, make motorcycle death spirals in technicolor on the floor of the coloseum, emboss everything, goldleafed, polished to a high sheen, irridescent.

WHat wisdom? What virus? THis book is no "One Flew over the Cookoos nest" no "Johnny Got His Gun"

Its a service manual. A Boyscout manual, I guarantee you, this book will end up in your file cabinet.

Ask Bruni at the new york times, most cooks end up dead, large fish small fish, the critic doesn't care. It is only truth!

6/17/2009 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Arundel said...

There really is a beauty to nature that I find close to perfect. There's no such thing as an ugly animal, even the basest warthog or mole is perfectly designed by nature and evolution for its purpose.

And when I say "designed", I do mean by nature and evolution, not "intelligent design". At the same time I wouldn't begrudge a religious person fron attributing nature's transcendent beauty and intricacy to God , either. It's a fascination that's always been magical for artists, from Lascaux on perhaps.

Nature doesn't make mistakes. And beyond that, I'd venture that we humans are meant to perceive beauty , hard-wired for it, in the natural world.

Daydreaming and seeing shapes and animals and forms in clouds is exactly analagous to how I start my canvases. Thin washes of oil, worked about, are my path to how the painting will emerge. It's amazing what the subconscious will produce, then it's up to me to render it fully. But it starts with nature, looking at clouds, imagining what you see, I think.

Which sounds rather hippy-dippy, but there it is. Animals are part of nature, they recur in our dreams, I do agree that artists especially can appreciate animals. Because in a world where we're ever more divorced from nature, possibly artists really can appreciate that connection. Not just admiring someone's pet? I don't know.

Animals (and humans, actually) are a marvel of bioloy and aesthetics. A tiger, a leopard in the wild is a highly evolved animal, the beauty is unmistakeable . It's not just artists who can appreciate that of course. It just might be that artists have the leeway to express such admiration without being thought rather odd. Just musing.

6/17/2009 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ahh, Zip...always to be counted on for the low blow amongst your (assumedly made while) high comments.

If you've read previous comments I've made about the book, then you'd know that indeed it is a manual. I've noted that I'm not sure how much of interest it will contain for artists (other than to provide insights into what dealer have to deal with and how they might think about certain issues). It's exactly what the title suggests, what the publisher wanted to put out on the market, and what I made my best effort to write: a "How to..." book.

As for "I'd never show at a gallery unless they had the juice to go to the major art fairs, do the dance, rock the boat, make motorcycle death spirals in technicolor on the floor of the coloseum, emboss everything, goldleafed, polished to a high sheen, irridescent."

...exactly which gallery is it you show at again?

6/18/2009 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger Chuck Gniech said...

I just happen to run across your blog this morning and was sucked into the post for your book... I am intrigued. I look forward to the read.

6/18/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous lee kaloidis said...

Good luck with the book, and thanks for the giving.

6/18/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I show at the gallery of FREE FOR THE TAKING right now. I'd be neo marxist if i knew what the means of production had to do with my ability to generate revenue. The long tail says you can sell more for less - lets get that going bro! I'm going to sell on the street. Tis far nobler than being a guilded cage monkey hothouse flower jockey trotting out tchotchkies to effete snobs and their debutant trophies!

A manual? No, a manifsto! I remember a professor, or maybe a visiting artist, wistfully saying that no one wrote manifestos anymore. Maybe it's the over professionalized air of office park doom that Chelsea represents. Maybe we dont need manifestos anymore. Maybe it is time for every artist to grab a pricing gun and head on down to aisle five for a group cheer.

I;d buy your book but I'm still waiting for a paycheck and then there's rent to pay. Dire man, dire.

Low blow? Ha, next time its the ankles.

6/18/2009 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous enda said...

All the best wishes and congratulations on the book Ed, I look forward to reading it.

6/18/2009 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Now that I've waded through the zipththwungian debris, let me add my voice to the many others congratulating you, Ed.

Writing a book is very hard work and to have done it, gotten through to the other side with a real, tangible, readable volume deserves praise and good wishes. I can't wait to read it. The only thing left to say: Book party!

6/19/2009 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read it, I'll be at the front of the line.

----- ondine nyc

6/20/2009 12:01:00 AM  
Anonymous curator's office said...

Leigh Conner - cool.
She is Madame Gagosian of DC--but in a good way.
Can't wait to read the book, Ed. Even as my gallery enters its fifth year, it's still a constant learning curve, especially ITE. Your generosity is to be commended. And just when did you find time to write a book?

6/20/2009 04:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I have a sentiment that this book is going to end up in some artist parody some day, but, congratulations!

Cedric C

6/21/2009 03:40:00 AM  

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