May 21, 2019

The End of Middle-Class Art

The art market is increasingly controlled by the major auction houses and a handful of high-powered dealers. Indeed, the two sectors have grown quite similar, with personnel moving fluidly from one to the other, and auction houses hosting exhibitions and orchestrating private sales. The art business long resisted corporate expansion, because too much was tied up in the expertise of the singular dealer (whose name was usually on the door) and his or her personal relationships with artists and clients. Rather than achieving economies of scale, expansion diluted a dealer’s efficacy while raising costs. However, the business model followed by today’s most successful galleries relies on vast teams of registrars, preparators, social media mavens, researchers, writers, and sales associates to achieve market saturation on a global scale. Large staffs are also used to lure artists, estates, and collectors with a range of services that cannot be matched by smaller organizations. Gagosian, with 17 locations, employs 250 people; Hauser & Wirth (seven locations), 200; David Zwirner (five locations), 165; Pace (nine locations), 150. According to Jose Freire, director of Team Gallery, these are the only four galleries that count. “And everyone else is not them.”

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