Every year (and occasionally more frequently), a constellation of leading lights from across the art industry convenes for Talking Galleries, a symposium meant to address the unique challenges and possibilities facing the gallery sector. Occasionally, they also let in riffraff like yours truly. And after two days of presentations, panel discussions, and networking in Barcelona—a city where I learned you can eat the best sandwich in the world directly across the street from a Subway franchise—here’s my recap of the five major themes that emerged from this year’s colloquium.
1. The Scale and Pace of the Gallery Sector Have Become Cancerous for Many.
By “cancerous,” I don’t just mean generically dangerous, or even life-threatening. I specifically mean that the diagnosis applies because the number of transactions, the prices involved, and the speed at which they take place have all accelerated to an unsustainable level, the way unchecked abnormal cell reproduction produces malignant tumors.
The alarm bell on this subject rang immediately, as opening keynote speaker Daniel Templon walked us back through his more than 50 years at the helm of present-day powerhouse Galerie Templon. (Note: Since I am a dumb monolingual American, I could only record the simultaneous English translation of Templon’s French, so don’t hold the man himself to any exact wording that follows in quotation marks.)
When asked about his first consistent collectors, Templon admitted that he could not name them because they were all “nobodys”—doctors, lawyers, and dentists who were otherwise run-of-the-mill, even within their own respective fields. Their equivalents today would be hopelessly outgunned by millionaires and billionaires.
And while Templon noted that the 1990 economic crash reduced him to selling only about 14 works per year until the market recovered, his average sales in the rosy period before the crash only comprised about 40 pieces annually. That’s about one good month for a mega-gallery sales associate in 2018.
In fact, Templon went on to argue that buyers now have so much money that the art market—a term that he and his colleagues “did not talk about” when the gallery was founded in 1966 —“absorbs everything,” including works by mediocre artists. Read more