The Gallery System Is Struggling. Here’s What It Can Learn About Sustainability From the World of Professional Sports

artnet News | Tim Schneider

With the average gallery now in worse shape than the shattered smile of a bare-knuckle boxer, the primary market has officially reached its “put up or shut up” moment. Every day seems to bring another announcement that a midlevel or modestly sized gallery has decided to call it quits. Often, these messages either allude to or openly rail against the increasingly winner-takes-all economics of the contemporary art trade. And yet we’ve seen few serious proposals for reform, and even less action.

High-end and mega-galleries now regularly lure away rising commercial stars from the galleries that helped develop these artists. Many buyers—particularly the vastly wealthy subset I refer to as COINs, or Collectors Only In Name—lack the time, the inclination, or both to immerse themselves in either art history or the gallery scene, especially those outside the Chelsea-Mayfair-H Queen’s axis. The realities of the attention economy therefore drive the business deeper into convention centers around the world for art fairs, where all sides of the industry converge for a few high-stakes days that can make or break exhibitors operating without an ample war chest. How undeniably bad have things gotten? So bad that David Zwirner, unsolicited, recently tossed out the concept of imposing an art fair “tax” on himself and his fellow mega-gallery peers to subsidize the participation of smaller galleries… before he, in the words of my colleague Kate Brown, “admitted that he did not know or care what an art fair booth costs these days.”

This may be one of the most unintentionally revealing moments of art-market class disparity since Jeff Koons declared, “I sometimes take a helicopter to travel to my farm, but I don’t live a luxurious lifestyle.” While respected mid-tier gallerists like Jose Freire are pulling out of fairs altogether because of the literal and figurative costs, those same costs don’t even qualify as consequential enough for Zwirner—whose gallery did 20 fairs in 2017 alone—to be able to estimate…read more

Image: Catherine Opie