LA Beats NYC
In Los Angeles, though, this exact model has already been put in place. Artinfo.com explains:
The Pacific Design Center, a design emporium featuring 130 showrooms, will launch its Design Loves Art initiative tomorrow, allowing art galleries to take over vacant commercial spaces in its sprawling building — sometimes referred to as the "Blue Whale" — for the next six months rent-free.A 10-percent cut of sales is a good deal in exchange for no rent (especially in the current sales climate). Of course what happens when the six months end (and that's about how long it takes to achieve awareness of one's new location, so) is a good question. Can the galleries remain there and start paying rent? Will they be chucked out?
Some of the galleries participating in the project have permanent locations elsewhere in Los Angeles, while others are using the space as an opportunity to reopen their doors after being forced to close. The only cost to gallery owners is a 10 percent cut of any sale to the Pacific Design Center.
As tough as it is for commercial galleries at the moment (ahem), even a temporary break in rent can make a huge difference in what they're able to do for their artists.
I had a conversation with a young dealer in Berlin, where there are upwards of 600 galleries, despite there being next to no collector base in the city. She told me that the "crisis" (as they ubiquitously refer to what we here in the US call the "downturn" or the "recession") has had very little Darwinist effect on the scene there. They've seen nothing like the number of closings New York has, for example. It costs a gallery next to nothing to stay open there. The main reason, of course, is the vast number of huge (and not so huge) available spaces, meaning supply outstrips demand and rents reflect that.
With a 13-year high vacancy rate in New York, one would expect landlords to reflect that reality here too, but anecdotal evidence from gallery friends suggests most Chelsea landlords are sticking to their current rates. And rents in the Lower East Side aren't any better from what I hear.
They predict the economy in the US is going to pick up at a much slower rate than it will elsewhere in the world, especially Asia. This probably means it's going to be a long time before New York galleries see a normalization in the art market here. I can't tell you how much respect I have for the kind of guts and determination it takes young dealers to sweat things out at the moment. The personal sacrifices some of them are making are huge, and inspiring. I do wish, though, that some developer would look to the West and realize the opportunity they're missing.
Image above: Joy Garnett, "Closings (Chelsea) 79," 2009. Used with permission. See the whole series here.