Heidi Mitchell reports (NYT):
“The gallery is a format that is struggling,” said the Argentine curator Ximena Caminos, formerly of the Malba museum in Buenos Aires and now chief creative officer of the Honey Lab cultural space in Miami’s Blue Heron hotel and residential project, which is now under development. “It’s transactional; the artist doesn’t have that much creative freedom, and there is a lot of pressure to make money in a short period of time.” Artists, she said, are seeking new places to showcase their work, especially if the pieces are large in scale.
If the number and relevance of galleries were to decline (continue to decline?), how might this affect artistic content? Here are a few hypotheses:
1. More artists will commission pieces for corporate lobbies and condominiums, as the article reports. That will tend to favor mainstream abstract art and disfavor political statements and obscenities.
Erica Samuels notes:
“There is a great responsibility on the real estate developers that maybe they don’t even realize, while at the same time, the stigma of an artist working with a rich developer is fading.”
2. Corporate-owned works are usually less liquid and may not be sold at all, short of bankruptcy or liquidity crunches, when they are sold under panic conditions. Artists therefore will be less likely to have dominant dealers who prop up their prices and cultivate markets for them. That will likely encourage greater artistic output, though also lower quality output, as might be defined by elites. The resulting art will have to appeal to buyers at first glance, as the artist cannot count upon “sophisticated” galleries to persuade or educate potential buyers.
3. Some artists will take their craft directly to the street, as is done in Belfast or Newark, New Jersey. They will paint for local community status, and for the joy of it, and for political self-expression, rather than for pay. They will use cheaper materials, brighter colors, and indulge in themes and images with strong local meaning. Political art and paid art will separate further.
4. Galleries pursue their own coherent reputations, which encourages carried artists to fit into slots which match gallery reputations. So there are “conceptual art galleries,” “Pop Art galleries,” and so on, and artists in turn target those styles, so as to achieve entry to galleries. When galleries are weaker, the slottable categories are created by some other set of intermediaries — might it someday be Instagram hashtags? eBay search terms? Something else? In any case, those new slots or styles might have to be less “you know it when you see it” and more “you can type those words into a search function.”
5. The decline of browsing has hit published books as well, especially fiction, which saw a big decline in sales over 2013-2017: “The most commonly shared view is that it has become extremely difficult to generate exposure for novels. Fiction, more than nonfiction, depends on readers discovering new books by browsing. Now, with the number of physical stores down from five years ago (despite a rise in ABA membership), publishers cannot rely on bricks-and-mortar stores providing customers with access to new books.” It is easier to type the topic of a non-fiction book into a search function. In this world it is harder to develop new authors [artists], and the link directly above, while about books, is a good way to start thinking about the galleries issue.
6. Most galleries, either intentionally or not, create a distinction between what is shown on the floor and what is held in the back room. Non-gallery art is less likely to be bifurcated in the same way, even if some pieces are more prominent on the home page than others. That may make internet-displayed art less “bubbly,” less subject to elite manipulations and prejudices and enlightenments, and also both fuzzier and lower in price.
7. If there are fewer galleries, perhaps more will be bought and sold at auction. The winning bidder will be less likely to be ripped off by say 3x on the price, so it will be easier to experiment with buying unfamiliar styles: “I liked the Persian carpet I saw at Sotheby’s, and figured the winning bid wouldn’t have too much winner’s curse in it.” You can’t say the same when you go to a gallery relatively uninformed.
8. Galleries offer high implicit returns to regular buyers, who end up getting a crack at the best works in advance, even before the show opens. That encourages buyer specialization, whereas internet and auction-based methods of selling do not.
9. What else?