For the second post in the Art Radar art trends series we take a look at changes to contemporary art galleries. The past decade has seen galleries expand, both in their reach and roles. Just how are they responding to the challenges of a globalised world?

Chart of the demographics of ArtReview's Power 100, 2008 vs 2009.


Other posts in this four-part series

Part 1: read part one here.

Part 2: read part two here.

Part 3: read part three here.

Part 4: read part four here.


Gallerists become agents

Undeniably, globalisation has dramatically broadened the range and diversity of operations in contemporary art dealership, and a new generation of gallerists is casting off the constraints of the permanent gallery in favor of a more dynamic approach: organising temporary exhibitions in loaned and non-traditional venues.

Aspiring London dealers organise shows in alternative art spaces – some have transformed their own homes into ersatz salons – to bring operating costs down, and there are even some art professionals that are shunning the title of ‘gallerist’, acting instead as art advisor and intermediary between the collector and the dealer or artist.

With the economics of the storefront gallery growing prohibitive for small dealers, younger curators, seeking venues for projects, are taking advantage of these innovative models when putting together commercial and non-commercial exhibitions. Gallerists and curators are increasingly prevalent on Art Review’s list of powerful figures in the arts and this emergent group of highly-connected, independent professionals are using their new-found mobility to promote works of art with unprecedented flexibility.

Co-founder of Korean Eye, David Ciclitira.

Many rogue gallerists have used their acuity to promote specific causes in the contemporary art market. Sports promoter and art collector David Ciclitira is the founder of Korean Eye, an initiative that is generating new audiences for the comparatively neglected world of contemporary Korean art. Other organisations, such as The Ministry of Art in China, connect upcoming artists with Western museums, galleries and collectors.

Galleries move east

The 2000s saw several Asian cities become new art epicenters, and major international galleries have opened branches to gain a foothold in these budding markets. Sundaram Tagore was among the first to establish a gallery in Hong Kong in 2007, and was quickly followed by Ben Brown Fine Arts in 2009 and Gagosian Gallery in 2011. White Cube recently announced that they will be opening their new location in Hong Kong on 2 March 2012.

Hong Kong's historic Pedder Building, home to Ben Brown Fine Art and Gagosian Gallery. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hong Kong is not the only city to see a rapid influx of gallery giants. Beijing’s sprawling industrial art districts are home to an increasing number of Western galleries, such as first-comers Chambers Fine Art and The Pace Gallery, as well as newer arrivals like Eli Klein Fine Art. Though some thought these galleries entered the Chinese art market surprisingly late, they are wasting no time in expanding their Asian operations. The Pace Gallery is now considering a move into Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Chambers Fine Art Beijing, situated in the Ai Weiwei-designed Caochangdi art district.

Many new Asian galleries are broadening their reach through collaboration with more established and better connected foreign galleries. The first exhibition space in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, the non-commercial Beijing Tokyo Art Projects, was the product of a collaboration between contemporary artist Huang Rui and Japanese gallerist Tabata Yukihito.

Exhibition partnerships are also common; Redbox Studio’s 2011 exhibition of sculpture by Wang Shugang was organised in conjunction with Alexander Ochs Galleries Berlin. In India, joint venture-style relationships are on the rise, such as Grosvenor Vadehra, which is the result of a partnership between London’s Grosvenor Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi, and South Delhi gallery Nature Morte’s collaboration with the Bose Pacia Gallery which gave rise to Bose Pacia Kolkata.

Gallery hopping artists settle

Damien Hirst’s 2008 decision to bypass dealers entirely and sell his work directly through a Sotheby’s auction shook the international art world. Hirst’s (ultimately successful) gambit exposed an anxiety that was subtly but surely present in the minds of numerous art professionals, the event got observers contemplating the usefulness of the traditional networks of dealers and collectors.

Perhaps none have bucked this system more than the contemporary artists coming out of China. Roberta Smith of The New York Times pointed out in 2008 that overheated art markets tend to spur mobility between artists and dealers. In Beijing’s cutthroat art market, artists balked at restraints on their commercial ascent, and they would often enter into “exclusive” contracts with multiple galleries or sell works directly from their studio. The questionable practices do not run one way: Beijing galleries are known to renege on settled deals should they sense the potential for a higher price elsewhere.

Zhang Xiaogang's 'Forever Lasting Love (Triptych)', was auctioned in April 2011 as part of the sale of Guy Ullen's collection of contemporary Chinese art.

Though the dynamic between artist, dealer and collector is undeniably changing, some in the industry see potential for artists to establish relationships with smaller dealerships who offer individual attention and dedicated promotion instead of simply brand association. Younger Chinese contemporary artists are already more willing to sign into long-term partnerships with dealers, and a possible slowdown for the Chinese art market could mean a return to a more stable, gradual development for Chinese artists and galleries, ushering in a more mature market.


Other posts in this four-part series

Part 1: read part one here.

Part 2: read part two here.

Part 3: read part three here.

Part 4: read part four here.


How do you think these trends will play out in the coming decade? Is the traditional gallery as we know it on its way out? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.


Related Topics: galleries, globalisation, Asia expands

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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