"Woman who Finally Figured Out a Way to be Outside the Influence of Men"
Charcoal and conte on paper, c.2008
40 x 30 inches by F. Lennox Campello
Click on it for a larger image.
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End of the art dealer? Naaah!
What does it mean for the art market that a living artist bypasses dealers altogether and sells his wares directly at auction? There is some speculation that this might be a pivotal moment, like the end of the studio system in movies or the continuing decline of the record labels in the music business. Could the gallerist's traditional role as mediator between the contemporary artist and his market be passé?Read this excellent article by Melik Kaylan in the WSJ here.
Most insiders say that only at the topmost end of the market, where sales at auction are guaranteed by the artist's fame, could the middleman become an anachronism -- and that just a handful of artists, such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, have the kind of fame it takes. Dealers still have a crucial role to play, the argument goes, in building the reputation of artists; in finding the right -- influential -- homes for artists' works; in persuading museums of artists' worth; in taking reviewers out to lunch. Furthermore, it is noted, the art biz differs from show biz in a fundamental way: Movies and music sell to a mass audience, while art sells singly to individuals.
That is where, for now, the debate seems to have stalled, at the consensus that nothing much will change. A comforting thought, perhaps, but one that falls apart at the slightest prodding. It's certainly comforting that the most imperiled are the top-end headhunters, like Mr. Gagosian, who encouraged the cult of celebrity to supplant content and aesthetics as the foremost value in art. But beyond that, one wonders how it will affect the role of galleries when ultimate success automatically carries a built-in penalty: If they create a big enough star, the star will have no need of them. At the very least, dealers and gallerists in contemporary art will face a solid ceiling beyond which they cannot maximize profit on the investment they made nurturing artists. They simply cannot compete with the global footprint of international auction houses, which offer artists instant access to world-wide markets.
In reality, the art biz is more like the movie or music biz than one might think. Mass markets, like mass media, affect the thinking of visual artists all too palpably these days, however uniquely each of their pieces may be made and sold.