Art journalist Georgina Adam on proactive approaches to gallery practice.

The Talking Galleries symposium, held in November 2013, closed with a talk by Georgina Adam, during which the art market expert offered a vision of proactive gallery practice in the future. 

Georgina Adam at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

Georgina Adam at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

What is Talking Galleries?

The Talking Galleries 2013 symposium took place on 11 and 12 November 2013. The programme was organised in Barcelona and produced by Screen Projects, a cultural agency dedicated to contemporary art. The international galleries meeting aimed to explore the issues that affect and concern gallery practice – how galleries conduct business and operate within the art world – in a reality marked by the economic crisis, changing technology environment and fluctuating values market.

The meeting offered a platform for exchange of ideas for the global community of gallery professionals. Among the participants were prominent, international arts professionals, such as Noah Horowitz, Executive Director of The Armory Show (New York), Ann Demeester, Director of de Appel Arts Centre and Head of de Appel Curatorial Programme (Amsterdam), Sylvain Levy, collector and specialist of contemporary Chinese art, DSL collection, (Paris), among others.

Art Radar gives a summary of the closing talk by Georgina Adam, Art-Market-Editor at Large of The Art Newspaper, Art Market correspondent for the Financial Times, and columnist for the BBC in London.

Watch Georgina Adam at Talking Galleries 2013 on

Looking to the future of gallery practice

Adam spoke on the closing day of the symposium, in a talk titled “Looking to the future: a prospective and proactive summary.” She summarised the main ideas discussed during the programme, offering prospective and proactive ways to use approaches and perspectives for the future of gallery practice.

Noah Horowitz at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

Noah Horowitz at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

The shifting values of today’s art system

Key shifts in the art market

Noah Horowitz highlighted the key shifts in the art market today:

  • Explosion of the market for modern and contemporary art, doubled since 1998;
  • Globalisation, with the rise of China as a new key player and the ‘decline’ of the EU and US;
  • Growth of an event-driven market, with the proliferation of art fairs;
  • Colossal evolution in auction houses who are moving into private sales and having their own selling spaces;
  • Blurring of boundaries, as dealers mount non-selling shows.

“Don’t be nostalgic, the past won’t come back”

Horowitz’s key predictions for the future were:

  • Escalation of costs, producing the need for more strategic decisions, ie which fairs to participate in;
  • Blurring of boundaries will continue;
  • Internet will be important and on the growing side, although slow;
  • Decentralisation of the market, from big centres such as NY to new ones;
  • The linear model for running galleries is moving from a simple structure to a much more multi-layered structure.
From left to right:   Ann Demeester, de Appel Arts Centre;  Lisa Panting, Holly bush Gardens gallery;  Jeanine Hofland, Janine Hofland Contemporary Art; Victor Gisler, Mai36 Gallery. "ARE GALLERIES STILL RELEVANT? –  Constant reinvention is necessary", Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

From left to right: Ann Demeester, de Appel Arts Centre; Lisa Panting, Holly Bush Gardens gallery; Jeanine Hofland, Janine Hofland Contemporary Art; Victor Gisler, Mai 36 Gallery. In the Panel Discussion “ARE GALLERIES STILL RELEVANT? – Constant reinvention is necessary”, Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

Gallerists’ experience

Changes in gallery practice

Various gallerists shared their personal experiences in funding and running galleries, the lessons they learned and the challenges they encountered along the way, and how to adapt to the contemporary art market. Among them were Albert Baronian (Founder of Albert Baronian gallery, Brussels), Janine Hofland (Founder and Director of Janine Hofland Contemporary Art, Amsterdam), Victor Gisler (Founder and Director of Mai 36 Gallery, Zurich), Lisa Panting (co-director of Hollybush Gardens gallery, London), Jocelyn Wolff (Jocelyn Wolff Gallery, Paris) and the collector Alain Servais (Brussels).

Emphasis was put on aspects of gallery practice that are paramount today:

  • Long-term planning/goals and commitment;
  • Believe in what you do, stay focused, don’t give up;
  • Be strategic, make choices, at a time when more money is needed to operate;
  • Use your knowledge to create a brand;
  • Communication with curators, institutions, clients and artists;
  • Professionalise;
  • Cooperate with other galleries and institutions;
  • Emphasise space and relationship to artists;
  • Competition asks for new ways to cope and adapt: smaller galleries can exist alongside the giant players.
  • Need for more transparency.

Developing relationships within the art system

Ainhoa Grandes, Director of the MACBA Foundation, Barcelona, said:

Know who you’re working with.

“Know who you’re talking to,” said Maria Corral, Art Critic and Independent Curator, Madrid. They both stressed the need for galleries to personalise their communication with institutions, tailoring their emails to the individuals they are targeting. Galleries should know about the institution before they approach it. Galleries also need to follow up with information about the artists collected by clients and institutions, as they are interested in what a collected artist does.

Kamel Mennour (Kamel Mennour Gallery, Paris) talked about the relationship to artists and said galleries need to be flexible. A lost relationship will be soon forgotten, as new ones will be forged. Flexibility is key.

Claire McAndrews at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

Claire McAndrew at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

The future of the art world

Tomorrow’s art market

Claire McAndrew, Founder of Arts Economics, cultural economist, investment analyst and published author from Dublin, highlighted the main changes in the art market, following today’s data:

  • Globalisation: Recent market trends show globalisation has flattened out market corrections. There are more and more collectors from around areas like Brazil, Latin America, Africa as well as the Middle East.
  • After the 2011 boom, China is returning to stability.
  • Global wealth will bring more art buyers.
  • 70 percent of transactions in the art world are under EUR50,000 (of course, not at the mega-gallery level).

Galleries are relevant as they offer specialised expertise and services, and they build upon personal relationships rather than impersonal ones, as the auction houses do. In this context, other changes are still taking place:

  • Dealer model has changed, as more services are required, like the production of more content;
  • Rise in competition;
  • Retail galleries are in decline, as this is the era of a fair and event driven market
  • Internet business is at USD3 billion although at the lower and mid range.

Claes Nordenhake, a gallerist from Berlin, talked about alternative models to art fairs, such the Berlin Gallery Weekend, and how that model of promotion can bring more people into the galleries. He said it is actually successful and perhaps other cities should have the same kind of event.

Sylvain Levy at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

Sylvain Levy at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

China’s art market

Silvain Levy of DSL collection talked about the immense growth of the Chinese art market, taking as an example China’s participation in the Venice Biennale, from its first small pavilion in 2005 to the 350 artists in last year’s edition.

Discussing the Chinese art market, he highlighted major aspects such as:

  • Importance of networking and contacts;
  • The huge potential of China’s art market;
  • China uses culture and art as soft power;
  • Western influence is important, but it’s a love/hate relationship;
  • Political expediency, not censorship (mentioning Ai Weiwei);
  • The arrival of foreign auction houses, treated as ‘crocodiles’ (the international giant businesses that want to ‘eat’ the local ones, stealing their business) 

But, Levy points out, the question is:

Will ultimately the fish (the Chinese auction houses and dealers) eat the crocodile?

Daniel McLean. Lawyer specialising in Art Law, Intellectual Property and Media Law, London. Moderator of the panel discussion "CODE OF PRACTICE: How to standardize and make gallery practice more transparent", at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

Daniel McLean. Lawyer specialising in Art Law, Intellectual Property and Media Law, London. Moderator of the panel discussion “CODE OF PRACTICE: How to standardize and make gallery practice more transparent”, at Talking Galleries 2013. Screenshot by Art Radar.

Gallery practice for the future

A federation for European Galleries

Adriaan Raemdonck, President of The Federation of European Art Galleries Association (F.E.A.G.A.) in Antwerp, works on supporting the galleries in the following ways:

  • Lobbying the European Union on Artists Resale Rights (ARR);
  • Working for harmonisation of VAT, currently different from one country to the other;
  • Encouraging galleries to join their national associations, to work together and push for reforms.

Using technology

Billy Maker, Senior Account Director at exhibit-E (New York), talked about the importance of using technology in galleries’ practice and how that can help the business and the branding. But, he said, consistency in using the various technological tools is paramount.

  • Define your personalised needs;
  • Take your time, pace it, test before committing to usage;
  • Test blogs and free tools, such as youtube, in house;
  • Be consistent. Consistency in using tools and also social networks helps your gallery build its brand.

Codes of practice

There was much discussion revolving around issues of standardisation of practice and transparency in the art market. There is growing concern for galleries’ need to standardise their procedures, such as artist contracts. Increasingly, younger artists are willing to sign contracts as opposed to older artists.

In a world with more complex relationships, contracts give more security and clarity. Other creative industries where contracts are the rule were mentioned, such as music. The conclusion was that in the future, galleries will have to eventually standardise their practice.

Looking to the future, Georgina Adam said:

Perhaps one day the art world needs to raise its game a notch. To become more professionalised.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia 


Related topics: market watch, art world trends, lectures and talks, events in Spain

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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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