Traditional bricks-and-mortar art galleries face stiff competition on a number of fronts. They are up against online art-selling platforms, such as Artsy and Paddle8, auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which are increasing their private sales, and the rapid proliferation of fine art fairs globally.
In this new world, size matters. According to a recent report from Skate’s Art Market Research: “The successful gallery must now possess recurring access to third-party financing [and] the ability to operate internationally by attending multiple fairs and having points of presence in a few geographies.”
So while mega-dealers like Larry Gagosian, who owns 12 galleries in seven countries, are increasing their market share, the rest are suffering. Tomorrow’s galleries must work hard to attract buyers, both physical and virtual, to survive.
There’s no shortage of innovation already. Sydney gallerists, such as Rex Irwin, are sharing premises with other businesses. London galleries, such as Whitechapel Gallery, are forming alliances with elite brands, including Louis Vuitton. All the while, galleries are establishing pop-up exhibitions in empty shops, creating one-of-a kind opening events, engaging clients on social media, developing virtual galleries and even starting their own mobile apps.
But they can’t stop there. Galleries must engage with third-party online platforms to have the best chance of tapping a rapidly expanding global community of online buyers. Galleries in Stockholm could attract buyers in Brazil. Galleries in Japan could find new interest in the United States.
After all, online and physical art sales can happily co-exist. The traditional model of buying art that allows collectors to experience art in person is popular for a reason. Buyers may come to know of a gallery and its work online, but many still want to see art work up close before they buy it. Platforms, such as Artsy, actually facilitate that by driving buyers to galleries, taking a small percentage commission for the referral.
Galleries must also learn to use art fairs to their advantage. Instead of the hamster wheel of exhibiting at ever more global fairs, they must choose those that also drive virtual and physical traffic to their permanent spaces. They have to remind buyers that art is not just found amid thronging crowds in a behemoth exhibition centre, but in intimate and carefully curated gallery exhibitions, perhaps just round the corner from their home.
And for the art fair buyers, galleries should bring a taste of their gallery to them. As Bonnie Clearwater, director of the Museum of Modern Art, North Miami, said at the Armory Show in New York earlier this year, when galleries exhibit at art fairs, they choose a few artists for that forum, but rarely show cohesive exhibitions. “If you don’t know a gallery, you lose what that gallery stands for.”
That’s beginning to change. Many exhibitors at the Art Dealers Association of America show in New York in March showcased the work of individual artists, rather than a menagerie of different art.
The future is exciting and it is already here.
Kathryn Tully is a New York-based journalist, columnist and editor who covers business, finance, the arts, travel and lifestyle.
She is a regular to the likes of Forbes Magazine, Financial Times, The Economist, Art + Auction Magazine, The Times, The Guardian, Metro Newspaper and The National, among others. She also writes the Priceless blog for Forbes about investing in art and other collectibles.