Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Can the Single-Venue Gallery Survive?

We did our first art fair ten years ago, and have been doing them ever since. As I have vociferously noted many times, an art fair participation scheme must be part of any gallery business plan, if that gallery is to survive as a bricks and mortar place... or as a gallery/art dealer.

Every time that I write this down somewhere, I also offer to meet with any gallery owner, at no cost, and discuss with them my experiences, lessons learned, and suggestions for them to dip their toes into the art fair scene.

In 2016, ten years after we first ventured to New York for our first art fair, we're on track to do both the Spring (done) and the Fall versions of the Affordable Art Fair in New York, the SOFA Art Fair in Chicago, the Texas Contemporary Art Fair in Houston, the Context Art Miami fair in Miami, and possibly the Scope Art Fair, also in Miami.

Judd Tulley, writing for Art + Auction (and highlighted in Blouin Art Info) noted a while back:
Given the now-obsolete or about-to-be-Rust-Belted model of the tradition-bound gallery, what do younger galleries turn to in the current environment? “The increase in the importance of art fairs has really hollowed out the midsize and small gallery market,” said Brett Schultz, cofounder with Daniela Elbahara of Mexico City’s Yautepec Gallery
We are empirical evidence of the success that art fairs can give small, independent commercial art galleries - at least those with a vision, the work ethic and the gusto to plow forward into the financially-terrifying waters of an art fair expense marathon.

And artists who work as partners in the gallery enterprise, rather than just being "represented."

About 4-5 years ago, I was taking a break on the terrace of the Aqua Hotel in Miami Beach, where we were doing the very cool Aqua Art Fair, when I ran into the then owner and director of a small, DC gallery. This gallerist had also done her very first art fair in 2006, and by a coincidence of fate, our first explorations of the then novel model had been at the same NYC fair, where we were almost booth neighbors. The only difference was that at that fair we did really well, while her gallery (overly "curated" if you ask me) did not.

That first lucky strike wet our appetite for art fairs, and we plunged on.

"What are you doing here?", she asked somewhat surprised - I'm not sure why.

"We're doing Aqua," I answered.

"Oh!," she said wrinkling her nose. "I thought only real galleries could do art fairs."

By that she meant brick and mortar spaces, and her comment was based on the one time fact that most art fairs, at their early beginnings, required that a fair participant have a brick and mortar "store" in order to participate in an art fair.

That didn't last very long, as brick and mortar galleries began to close all over the world as art dealers focused their precious sheckels onto the more lucrative art fair scene. Want evidence? Look at the gallery list for the DMV a decade ago, and look at it now... and see how many dealers exclusively focus on art fairs and have closed their doors, or do "pop up" shows, or moved their gallery walls to their private homes.

"No," I responded, ignoring the barb. "That requirement stopped long ago." I continued then with my own barb, knowing that her answer would be "none" ahead of time, and asked: "What fair are you doing? - We're doing great at Aqua!"

Read the Tulley article here.