Most galleries rarely plan beyond their next show, but any good business knows the key to success is forward thinking with at least a 5-year window.
So what will the art gallery landscape look like, not in 2017, but say in the year 2032? I’ve experienced enormous change in the last 20 years as an art dealer and I expect the same for the future. Changes I have witnessed include, the development of the internet, digital photography, social media, mobile phones, apps, online stores, online auctions, museum art shows, Art Fairs, the proliferation of auction houses, video art, computer art, oh yes, not to mention two recessions.
How does one plan for the new art paradigm? If the art model I have experienced so far can be a guide, then expect to see a ferocity of developments in technology drive the market. The Internet, mobile, social media, globalization, self-promotion and condensation of galleries will be the rule of order. This pattern seems clear, which means as a gallery (or artist) you need to prepare to be a part of the ever-growing world of transparency; this can be a good thing for those who embrace and move forward.
Currently the art world is an imperfect model with a few major dominant players leading our profession. This means that art prices are not transparent or clear on how pricing is derived. You have a few big auction houses and dominant galleries. The lack of central leaders will ultimately change, with a more dominant role being carried out by the Internet. The change will result in online mega-galleries and artist owned galleries. This is already happening with www.artufind.com www.askart.com, www.artinfo.com and www.artnet.com to mention just a few.
Consolidation online will result in a loss of many of the brick and mortar gallery locations. Large cities and places like Santa Fe will continue to support art galleries as important local industries but there will be a thinning of the ranks. This is not say that the gallery as we know it will disappear, just as movie theaters a few will still be around. The experience they foster will be as much about social gatherings and events as selling art off the walls. Transactions, viewing, and communications will be happening predominantly online.
The advancement of technology is perfect for a product like art (I hate the word “product” when referring to art). Video will become a mainstay as will three-dimensional viewing. Walking into a gallery will be both a real and virtual experience. Documentation of art production from start to finish in video format will be commonplace with interactions of social comments becoming part of a piece’s history.
Problems for galleries will include the continued erosion of the client-gallery mode. Customers will directly interact with the artist vs. a middleman (art dealer). This will become the preferred route. It is already happening with museum shows where the less obtrusive, commercial art museum is now an important venue for many artists. Cutting out art galleries will ultimately eat away at gallery dominance. So what’s an art dealer to do, close up now and start looking for a new profession?
I believe, it can be an exciting time, if you plan ahead. Realize your profits may be less, which means you need to think outside the box when it comes to revenue. The more diversified galleries with a strong vision of representing artists as partnerships, not product producers, should continue to flourish. As a gallery you not are only supposed to sell artwork, but also help build an artists credentials. Focusing on this will bring you support from your artists and help solidify your place as a gallery that counts and one worth keeping. Developing relationships with your artists helps both parties.
Art dealers will continue to have an important role in letting artists create while they manage, which will be as important as selling. The current way dealers are paid will metamorphose into something different, of which I can’t foresee, but significant changes will occur. Just as taking credit cards through the Square attached to your iPhone is happening now.
So if you don’t have a Wall or a Channel, never tweet, can’t use a digital camera or recorder, don’t recognize the letters html or haven’t heard of Ruby, you’d better hire someone who does, because what these terms represent isn’t 20 years from now, it’s today’s world. I can only imagine what tomorrow will bring.