Paris, 31 July 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA).
Art today has become an economic issue in a world marked by extreme economic disturbance and depression. Due to cash flow problems, many art galleries no longer have the means to survive. Their financial struggle is thus a harsh reality that not only affects the art market, but also a country’s financial stability on the international level.
Nowadays, galleries face a number of challenges that either leave them stagnant, or cause them to close permanently. Firstly, a gallery’s primary role demands a greater deal of work for a smaller management team over the long-term, compared to that of auction houses. In many ways, galleries are micro-enterprises, and their capital base is a decisive factor in the management and promotion of artists. Sales make up roughly 10% of a gallery owner’s work load, which also includes maintaining an artist’s exhibition records, promotion and travel expenses, as well as day-to-day advising. Therefore, gallery participation in large-scale international contemporary art events tends to be weaker.
Secondly, the smallest galleries remain somewhat fragmented in a domain that resists unification. These smaller galleries not only lack information on their sector, but also the financial stability required to support and promote the work of their artists. Moreover, galleries are likely to be left out of public commissions negotiations because the State generally prefers to deal directly with artists.
In addition, the staggering increase in the price of works sold at auction and the emergence of celebrity collectors have changed the public’s tastes in art – and in such a way that the public is gradually moving away from galleries altogether.
In France, the economic activities of the gallery world remain highly unknown. Although, 41% of galleries dealing exclusively in contemporary French artists, specifically those who have limited international visibility, are said to have relatively little turnover. As a result, France’s participation in the development of the global market and in large contemporary art events abroad remains low. It should also be noted that globalisation has affected France’s position in the art market. France is ranked fourth, behind the United States, China, and the United Kingdom.
In the face of this crucial situation, a number of strategies and solutions have been proposed or have already been put into effect. Still, their effectiveness has been relatively unsatisfactory, mostly due to the array of challenges facing these galleries, and to the fact that many of the strategies are said to be unfeasible.
Among the proposals most supported by the galleries themselves, one suggests forming an association to improve communication, bolster economic weight, and address galleries’ needs and contributions to the development of the contemporary art market. The solution could potentially increase revenues and create new paths for experimentation between galleries. A spirit of both competitiveness and collaboration among galleries would also address issues of fragmentation and financing.
Furthermore, some outside financial assistance – not a subsidy, but rather temporary support – would provide an opportunity to find the sufficient funding needed to plan international and large-scale projects, and would be a precautionary and potentially beneficial measure. One particular proposal made in 2011 by the French Ministry of Culture could even make daily life easier for gallery owners. The plan would involve setting up production funds that work in accordance with repayable advances. For the most part, gallery owners have responded negatively to the proposal. According to them, the plan would require the State to be the primary facilitator if such a project were ever executed. Galleries could also be supported through sponsoring and long-term investment.
Moreover, cost reduction is a crucial step to be taken. For example, galleries could cut down on framing costs and encourage artists to frame their own works. It is true, however, that the market for Old Masters and for well-known contemporary artists is stabler and thus more profitable. Establishing a foundation of galleries that do not deal in either Master or contemporary works, but in a mix of artists and centuries, could also provide financial assistance.
Creating an online art gallery could be another lucrative solution, albeit one that a large number of gallery owners oppose. More precisely, they believe that the Internet is a commercial space, something that does not pertain to galleries which aim to attract the physical attendance of clientele. For that matter, although the art market would like to view it as such, a work of art is not a tangible product – the emotion is what is in demand.
Diversification, innovation and creativity are necessary for durability in the art market. For example, printing exhibition catalogues on demand and making a PDF version available online is cheaper, and organising longer exhibitions, between five to six weeks, could considerably reduce expenses. Furthermore, if individual galleries were to develop public relations and avoid inconsistencies in price for works, the gallery world would attract a wider public. The strategies used by the Kings Framing and Art Gallery in Ontario are a prime example, because in addition to showing and selling works of art, the gallery also offers art classes, creates public works of art, and runs an art supply store.
Reorganisational measures such as the reevaluation of a gallery’s mission, business plan and priorities have proven beneficial for some. Above all, it is of chief importance that the gallery be the indisputable intermediary between the State and artists. The objective is to put the gallery in a position of power in a national and international context.
There exists a notion that contemporary art was created as a marketing formula, one to which galleries must adapt in order to survive. Far from being purely economic in nature, instituting some of the above-mentioned proposals would encourage us all to reflect more deeply on the evolution of society, on our collective and consumerist culture, and on the meaning of art and of life.