The eclipsing of Galleries Importance

The eclipsing of Galleries Importance

I am very thankful for the invitation to speak in the frame of the Transcultural Exchange Conference.

I was asked to speak about the eclipsing of Galleries Importance with a question mark and about the different possibilities for artists to be integrated in the art scene process. The question raised is, if we do not assist to a change of transmission ways shifting from galleries to Biennales as a way of mediation.

Before going into this topic, it might be interesting for you to know from which experience I draw my conclusions and which perspective it implies.

Actually, I am the director of a residency program for international visual artists who completed their MA and have an artistic evidence for at least three years. They are chosen by an eight members professional jury. If awarded, they live and work for 6 months in Balmoral. At the end of their stay we make a common exhibition for the seven fellows in the residence. One year later there is an exhibition at the new Kunsthalle in Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate. We also offer each artist a 16 pages catalogue that is presented in form of a yearbook.

My experience with the topic is complex. As director of the residence since more than ten years, I am following the career of young artists which were residents. That is to say that I am in constant correspondence with more or less successful artists.

On other hand, I was assistant director of the Galerie Krinzinger in Vienna, one of the famous galleries in Europe. At that time the gallery promoted established Austrian artists and unknown young ones, which meanwhile became very famous, as for instance Peter Kogler and Erwin Wurm.

Coming back to the question what an emerging artist should strive for, it might be interesting to look back to the development of art, of its presentation and of its commercialization.

In the second half of the 20th century art has expanded its means of expression. Ephemeral works– as many fluxus works and performances –, land art, technological art, big installations and the raise of new technologies brought a radical change in the requirements of presentation. Some installations require a presentation in the white cube of museums, others in public spaces and videos in dark rooms. That means that the clientele has switched from the private collector who surrounds himself with art works to Museums and big collectors who own huge spaces to keep the works such as for instance in Germany Falkenberg.

As consequence of these new needs of presentation, we assist to a burst out of Biennales all over the world since the seventies. Until then there were only four Biennales – Venice 1895, the Whitney 1932, Sao Paulo 1951 and Paris 1958 – all of them had a rather national character at that time. In 1955 Arnold Bode set a new international standard with the first documenta . By now there are much more than 25 Biennales established all over the world. The big ones respond to the need of knowing each other in a globalized world, some smaller ones have more specific goals adapted to precise needs in a precise context. Manifesta was founded 1996 as a European Biennial of Contemporary Art, thus responding to the need of Europe to affirm its new identity. In that context I would place Skulpturenprojekte in Münster that is dedicated to sculpture in the public space and takes place every ten years.

Not only the Biennales took a big uphold, the art fair as a parallel phenomenon on a commercial level did the same. Art Cologne was founded in 1967 by Zwirner and Stünke and Art Basle on year later by the gallery owners Trudl Bruckner, Balz Hilt and Ernst und Hilda Beyeler, who are very well-known because they built the famous Fondation Beyeler in 1982 (this parenthese is to show how intricate the links are between commercial and non commercial are. ) The aim of art fairs was to combine an art exhibition, a market place and an art forum. The model made school: the FIAC in Paris, Arco in Madrid, Art Forum in Berlin, Vienna Art Fair and now even Moscow and Basle extended to Miami in 2007, Volta in New York and many others.

Interesting is, that the idea of joining an exhibition to the commercial purpose of art market have adapted to the new forms of art. In Basle for instance the stands of famous galleries find an extension in Art Unlimited. This section is reserved for the presentation of huge art works. It is a show in the show. It is sponsored by the UBS Bank who delegates a curator to select works from exhibiting galleries for this special presentation.

But also the galleries themselves have taken a big upswing. See Chelsea with its huge galleries like Gagosian, Zwirner , Pace, Luhring Augustine etc.

If you ask me, if it is important to strive to have a good gallery, my answer is yes, absolutely.

I would like to explain why by quoting an example.

I just spoke to a young upcoming Swiss artist, Katja Loeber. She is supported by the Merian Foundation in Basle and is by now represented by five galleries. In November she will have a big Museum show at the MuBE , that is the Museo Brasilireiro do Escultura in Sao Paolo.

The project costs 250.000 US $. The Museums who invited her is paying 50% of the total sum. The rest is split between her main gallery and herself. Such a project – and you can parallel many Biennale projects – are only possible as a public-private partnership. If an artist has no gallery, it will be very difficult for him or her to raise the money. That means, he or she will have to make compromises and it might influence the quality of the work.

How was it possible for Katja Loebel to find galleries representing her seriously? First she had a couple of important fellowship that allowed her to produce works. This is very important, because an artist must be able to show works. No computer will be able to bring the materiality of tissues, glass etc. Most of the sustaining programs also aim at a presentation of the work they helped to create. In our case Katja was remarked by galleries. Five were interested. She chose one. This gallery organized an exhibition in its own rooms and all the works were sold. This success was of course very important for the continuation of the relation and also for collaborations with other galleries. A main gallery is keen to work with other good galleries in other countries and to help to the fame of the artist.

By now, her five galleries work together to find an appropriate gallery, which will represent her in New York. Her gallery owner work as a pool.

To the conditions: the selling gallery shares 50/50 with the artist after production costs. This is independent of eventual agreements between the main gallery and the satellite ones. Sometimes collectors approach Katja directly. She always takes contact with the gallery and they discuss commonly the strategy. If it is a collector of the gallery, they will part the gain. If not, sometimes the gallery let her sell directly. Thus she has money to produce new works.

This example shows how important it is to have a gallery. They do work for the artist they represent and take a lot of administrative work from the artists. So he or she can concentrate on producing works.

The question is what can you do to achieve such a situation?

The artists themselves have no influence to participate in a Biennale or at an art fair or even to be represented by a gallery. In the first case the selection is made by curators, in the second by galleries. Here we have to add, that the participation in art fairs, at least for the most acknowledged ones, is already a criteria for a certain quality of a gallery.

That is why it is very important to know which are the circuits for younger artists, what is going to give you an opportunity to get into the market.

Let’s shortly denominate the possibilities before entering more into detail.

The first thing is your own presentation,

Then come from the smallest collectives to the bigger ones:Open studiosArtists residency programs

Project rooms

Galleries and agencies



I start with your own presentation: At the beginning the most important thing is to have a solid presentation and a body of works. Make good portfolio. It is very important to say who you are, where you studied, with whom. If you have to fulfill a form, make it legible and clear. Give a short statement about your work: What is it about, what is your main concern, how you intent to show it. Add good pictures and brief videos for media art. (Excerpts if necessary).

Under the possibilities you have to draw attention on your work there are:

The open studio is the simplest thing you can do. Invite for one day or an evening people to see your work: your relatives, your friends, your neighbors and professors, critics, curators of the surroundings you would like to get to know. Try to make a collective but do not mind, if you don’t reach your goal at first. Go yourself to others. Present yourself.

Supportive programs which allow you to produce a work and to show it at a certain place are very important for you.

Even better Search for residency programs which might help you. Focus only on the ones that seem to match your intention. A residency is the place that will give you some money either to live and work or to produce works of art. In the rule you will find people who help you realizing your project and show it. It will be of advantage in your c.v. if you have received an award or a residency, because the fame of the program will attract the attention of a collectivity interested in that residency on your work.

The particular benefit of a residency program is also to get linked to an artist community, be it national or international. In the rule, artists who have similar interests or which share artistic goals and interests will build communities.

Many of them start ruling project rooms and galleries. For instance Diego Castro founded the Gitte Bohr space where he invites artists with political interest to show together with him.

This kind of communities is very important because it awakes the attention through the quality of the artist who rules it. Project rooms attract curators, mainly young ones and other artists. Also young gallery owners will visit them.

Not to forget the impact through e-mailing which draw the attention of many that will not visit the show.

Young galleries are also alternatives for a start as young artist. They are not helping financially because most of them have not the background to do so. And their circle is often restricted. But it is often the door to a better gallery who is going to attend you.

On your side, you cannot do much more.

As last point, I want to say that there are many artists which have a good quality and no gallery and many not so good ones which have a gallery. Some artists find different ways of integrating the art scene without being in galleries and biennales.

But sometimes you are astonished to hear that there are collectors for the immaterial work of Tino Seghal. He just has a paper stating that he is the owner of the performance and the one who is enabled to borrow the work for art shows.

That means all ways are possible. You have just to select the right one for you.

If we look at history famous galleries used to pay artists monthly so that they could produce their works. This was the case for instance for Henry Moore. Of course he never received as much money as Damian Hirst who sold his diamond scull by the way of a auction, despite of the arrangement he has with his gallery. But this enabled artists to produce their work without the risk of not selling their works. Of course the span of monthly cash was depending of the success of the artist. I can remember that at the gallery Krinzinger we had some similar agreement even for younger upcoming artists as for instance Peter Kogler who is very well-known by now.

The normal agreement is fifty/fifty. The gallery offers to promote the artist by making exhibition and propose its work at other galleries who give 10% of sales to the promoting gallery.

Some artist have two such galleries normally in different countries so that there is no struggle who is responsible for which relations. Galleries try to produce catalogues for the artists. It takes a lot of administrative work from the artist, except when the artist is invited directly to an exhibition. Then all administrative work that is not taken by the exhibition place has to be executed by the artist him/herself.

Boston on Sunday morning


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