Monday, August 01, 2011

Galleries 3.0 || Open Thread

I would take credit for noticing this myself, but the truth is someone else beat me to it.

Yesterday in his always entertaining and often insightfully aggregated email newsletter of recent art press (no link, I'm afraid), Belgian super-collector and all-around great guy Alain Servais assembled the flurry of recent articles about what ails the current gallery model and what's being done by dealers (very systematically and professionally, perhaps for the first time in history) to address shifts in collectors' buying patterns and a more global market.
First came the sobering report written by Dr. Clare McAndrew and funded by the Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art (Cinoa), a non-profit dealers’ federation. Charlotte Burns of The Art Newsletter wrote about McAndrew's report recently:
The traditional gallery model is in decline, according to a new report by the non-profit dealers’ federation Cinoa (Con­féd­ération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art), which found that fair-led and online business is taking over as the main source of revenue.

Gallery visits are declining as the art market expands to new international centres served better by art fairs or electronic media.

“We do much more business at the fairs than at the gallery—no question,” said Dominique Lévy, the co-director of L&M gallery.

András Szántó, consultant and contributing editor to The Art Newspaper, said: “The fairs have done very well in exploiting a structural weakness of the gallery system—it is inchoate and based on local markets.” With the withdrawal of those markets during the downturn “the overall weight has shifted to clients who don’t live where you work—so you service them through art fairs,” said dealer David Zwirner.
OK, so I have a minor quibble with the headline of this article, which makes it look as if Cinoa, rather than my pal András Szántó concluded the gallery system is "structurally weak" (that phrase never appears in the actual report). The point seems supported by the report itself, but it is discussed therein in less apocalyptic terms :
News headlines and front page articles do not reflect the reality that art and antique dealers today account for fifty percent of global art world sales. This important group of dealers consists largely of discreet, low profile individuals and small businesses preferring to focus on finding great art to match with the right client rather than publishing high flying sales prices. Clare McAndrew’s study, the first of its kind, explores the essential role of art and antiques dealers within the art market and as a consequence society as a whole. It offers insight into how and why the art dealing profession is changing, and what this means for the trade as well as collectors, as for the culture as a whole.

This economic study offers a brief historical review of the art dealing profession, and then continues with an emphasis on the current art market and proposes what might be in store for the future. It examines how dealers’ businesses have been affected and changed due to the current economic condition and the rise of new technologies. The study highlights the challenges dealers face from competitors and a range of key competitive advantages such as expertise, services and recourse. In order to conduct her analysis, Dr. McAndrew’s research included examining spending trends, motivations, and the interaction with dealers from the perspective of both sellers and buyers.
Clearly, there are challenges ahead for galleries. Especially smaller and newer ones. Artinfo's Shane Ferro looked at the report and noted how the economics of the gallery system parallel the economics of the US, if not the entire world:
Just because the old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood art dealer continues to play an important role does not mean small-name gallerists will not be affected by the shift in the market towards a more global perspective. The report postulates that art dealers accounted for just over half of the art sales for 2010 (meaning the other half took place through auction houses). This group includes a total of 375,000 dealers, but McAndrews's study "affirms that 2 to 5% of them represent half the turnover of the gallery sector." Just 7,500-20,000 dealers are bringing in a combined total of $10 billion per year — an average of just under $1 million each. That leaves an average of under $30,000 each for the vast majority of galleries.
This disparity is nothing new to those of us at the emerging end of the primary art market, but what exactly is to be done about it (if anything) remains a topic of constant debate among my gallerist friends. Dr. McAndrew, writing in The Art Newspaper herself, discussed both, the differences between buying art in a gallery versus buying from auction houses or at a fair:
While the auction houses have gained relative market power over the past 20 years, the survey highlighted key areas where dealers still maintain a competitive edge.

Unlike the more diversified auction houses, dealers often specialise in a few tightly defined fields where they have a high level of expertise. Due to this specialisation, their business models are highly dependent on the successful sale of a small number of works and hence are subject to considerable risk. However, specialisation also brings a number of competitive advantages: dealers often have access to works from more sources and can therefore offer better quality stock and more choice than the auction houses. Many dealers also claim to offer better protection and fuller and more legally binding guarantees. They can also be better value than auction houses as they often take smaller commissions.

The discretion of dealers was also singled out as a key advantage: buyers can avoid revealing how much they spent, which is sometimes unavoidable at auction. For sellers at auction, although the reserve price can protect their bottom line, if a painting is “burned” the negative effect on its future value can be long-lasting. Dealers, on the other hand, can protect buyers from unwanted publicity and only show works privately.

Expensive, infrequent purchases such as art can be stressful for buyers, and dealers can offer a much less pressured environment compared with an auction room where emotional and competitive tensions are high. With a dealer, collectors have more time to consider a purchase and make thoughtful decisions. Many dealers also offer the possibility of trialling, returning items or reselling them in future. Finally, dealers are generally more concerned with building long-term relationships with their clients.

The research found that the main complaints when buying or selling via a dealer were about pricing and perceived value; pushiness, and a lack of transparency.
McAndrew goes on to discuss how galleries do/can deal with the shifting landscape, including closing up their public shop and dealing privately or turning to online channels. Driving a big part of this is unquestionably the rise of the art fair:

Another key factor driving dealers away from traditional retail premises is the increasingly “event-driven” nature of the art market. Fairs have become a vital part of many dealers’ livelihoods, giving them access to international buyers. They are seen as a crucial way for dealers to collaborate in the face of increasing competition from auction houses, creating some of the same “one-room” excitement and competitive energy as an auction.

Many dealers felt that the cost of running a gallery (in addition to frequent travelling and attending fairs) was not justified by sales made through this channel, with some reporting revenue from this source as low as 5% of total sales. Some also felt that buyers’ loyalties were shifting from dealers to fairs, and that these events have become the focus for sales.

OK, but if you're a gallerist or thinking about becoming one and you still believe that the context of a brick-and-mortar space is important for the artists you wish to work with, where can you turn for mo' better ideas on how to run your business?http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Impressively, more established galleries are trying to help.

First comes news of a new program at Amsterdam's de Appel specifically for aspiring art dealers. [Full disclosure: I've learned through Julia Halperin's article on the program over at Artinfo that my book is required reading for this program...as Murat would say...wahoo!]. The program is the brainchild of four international galleries: gb agency, Paris; Hollybush Gardens, London; Jan Mot, Brussels; and Raster, Warsaw. These four formed a collaboration (hint, hint) called The Fair Gallery. Perhaps the most inspired part of "The Gallerist Programme" (at least in terms of making aspiring dealers want to take it) is that it "culminates in a final assignment in the form of a booth presentation at Liste in Basel 2013."

Of course, the notion that top prize seems to be participation in a fair (i.e., part of the perceived problem) is ironic...but as I was quoted as saying in the article, I wish such a systemic approach of knowledge transfer had been available to me before I dived in (and made all the mistakes I've made).

Speaking of knowledge transfer, though, another impressive effort on the part of dealers to share their experience is coming up three-day event in Barcelona this September.

TALKING GALLERIES, the first international meeting for gallery directors, will be held in Barcelona on September the 19th, 20th and 21st 2011. It aims to offer a meeting place for industry professionals that goes above and beyond the commercial side of the art market to focus on exploring and debating central issues of common interest.

Conceived as an annual event, TALKING GALLERIES will function as an open platform to foster thought and debate around the world of galleries. In its first edition, TALKING GALLERIES brings together twenty-five speakers from eleven different countries, including the major art capitals in the world.

Located in the Auditorium of the Barcelona Contemporary Art Museum (MACBA), this three-day event will gather leading international gallerists to discuss current issues, share experiences and draw up strategies for the future. Curators, collectors, art critics, directors of museums and other art institutions will give their point of view as invited speakers in the scheduled debates and conferences.

The program looks fantastic, and the line-up of speakers is world-class. The event is focused specifically on defining "the new role of the gallerist in the art world."

Consider this an open thread on what gallerists can/should do to address the changing landscape. And it pains me to have to note this, but I do so from experience: Please note comments taking cheap shots at dealers or the gallery system will not be posted. Real ideas that address the real challenges are all welcome.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Caio Fern said...

For the last years , at least since 2007/2006 , I think it was very predictable and got only strong with the time.
I never thought and still don't think its way to deal with sales will be substituted. I only thought it would get weaker. And will.
But your article now made me wonder about one aspect, maybe I am totally wrong, but... maybe... the idea of an art space for dealing art on its traditional aspects can start to attract a more interesting kind of dealer, more passionate by art and the artists' proposal the gallery represents putting away the aggressive image of the "thirsty for money doesn't matter what" the art dealers still have in general.
Maybe... maybe.... on a not so far future people will start to see galerists as incurable romantics. hahahah!
I am happy it has space for more artists and different kinds to deal with it. It is all good news....
It can start to look like the independent labels of jazz or rock'n'roll.
Well, all this must to sound like a big crap to you... but it is comfortable to me.
Not confortable in a bad way... but it brings hope to see a more human art scene.
Too naive and idealistic ?

8/01/2011 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Saskia said...

In my mind, making more galleries more economically viable (esp. the smaller and newer ones) would go a long way towards making being an artist more economically viable as well. So it do spend a lot of time thinking about this topic. Although the business model for an art gallery almost by definition does not focus on a broad cross-section of the population, it still seems like expanding the customer base of art buyers is an important part of expanding the art market pie and giving more people a slice of it. Of course it's pretty easy to see why going online and to art fairs is a really great way for a particular gallery (or artist) to expand their exposure and hopefully, as a consequence, its customer base and its piece of the pie.

That said, I wonder if this shift to online and fairs is actually creating very many new art buyers or art-buying dollars to go around? From an established buyer's perspective, going online or going to an art fair just means that I have that many more galleries and pieces of art on which I can spend my art-buying budget, instead of just that one gallery up the street who carries that one artist I like. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to spend more money on art-- so I wonder if art fairs and online galleries really expanding the art-market pie all that much or are they just re-distributing it a bit? The one thing galleries have going for them in my train of thought here is that yes, online and art fair exposure do get art out there in front of more people than brick and mortar galleries ever could, and once a potential collector makes that first purchase, and loves it, buying art can be addictive... That’s the hope with being out there in the bigger world, right? And at that point the relationship between dealer and collector can definitely become more and more critical as the collector and collections develop- and the dealer, and their artists, too. I’ve seen that relationship become quite personal indeed, a real chance for a dealer to stand out from the others in the eyes of the collector.

But no matter what physical/virtual form they take, or how they solicit their sales, galleries will need to follow the same advise given time and time again to artists; they will need to differentiate themselves from the others in some way in order to stand out from the crowd. Whether someone is an artist looking for representation or a collector looking for art to buy, sometimes it really is hard to tell what a gallery's program is, what they are focusing on or what direction they are going... and how that fits with you?
I am reminded of a recent post in which you asked readers, 'Why do people buy art?' That is a great question to consider in regards to this topic, but I'm also very interested in the converse, 'Why do people NOT buy art?' When I ask that question I am reminded of the recent news of the Met's record attendance. What struck me about that story was not so much the record attendance (although impressive!), but the ratio of their attendance figure to the number of museum members-- a number has also risen dramatically to 140,000 members (wahoo!). Still, that membership figure is only 2% of their 6 million attendance figure. It seems like an art gallery is a lot like that-- despite the great reviews, the packed openings and art fairs, what percentage of people are really buying? It’s hard for any business to get much financial stability from only a handful of buyers. So for all those people out there who enjoy art but don't buy it, why? I'm sure cost is only one part of the answer, but I don't pretend to have a crystal clear picture of what all the other reasons could be.... or how important they are to the end result of someone not buying art, or how best to overcome them.
… or maybe there’s an alternative to selling art that can feed money in to the art economy? Oh wait, we’ve been here already, right?

8/03/2011 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

from a none gallerist, to compete with the rise of art fairs, which appear to have in their favour variety, discovery, pan-regional choices (shop in one spot but discover the world market) and seasonal festival appeal what if ...

An art gallery was to create a relationship with a select group of art galleries from locales outside of their proper territory - so New York and New Orleans and Marthas Vinyards and Scottsdale and Cannes and Shanghai and Dubai. ( international /regional reach with "differing" markets ) Then during the summer months they have a Gallery Guest wall, where a gallery hosts another galleries selection on A wall in the gallery for 3 weeks. The idea being the host gallery gets to host the cachet of the the other markets exotic appeal, gets exposure of artists beyond their typcical stable. For 3 weeks that gallery's city gets to see whats happening elsewhere, the collectors get the comfort of their gallerists advice while exploring other visual avenues, - without the cost of travel and hotel ...

bring the value of the seasonal art fair -newness, variety, pan regional choices, a festival occasion, expanding the collectors exposure ... to a city gallery on one wall, for a limited time, with creditentials (the other galleries in the association/consortium), new curatorial possibilities, etc.

Same gallery, different approach to what gets shown inside. One wall so the loss of profits (sales would only be a portion of the normal galleries artists, but in return interest in the galleries shows gets a boost, if there is riskof the galleries collectors moving to a anothers galleries artists, that risk is mitigated in both direction for all the galleries in the association (IE the NY gallery may see a collector shift their interest to a the HK galleries artist, but the reverse is true too - some arrangement for this shift in sales would need to be worked out in advance between the galleries.

I guess it's really, how can the benefits of the art fair, be brought into the gallery space too.

8/08/2011 06:38:00 AM  

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