During the past twenty years, the classic gallery model has been fundamentally changed by the tremendous economic re-evaluation of contemporary art. There are many models, from small businesses, companies with franchises, globally operating limited liability companies, and stock corporations to lifestyle agencies, which, from an economic point of view, no longer have much to do with the originally predominant model, namely the tradition-conscious, medium-sized, owner-managed company. Virtually all of these formats work online and are data-supported in many places. However, the online formats receiving a lot of public attention have almost nothing to do with this and have hardly played a role so far.
The pandemic has hit the galleries, and it is likely that many will give up or downsize—while the very large dealers will presumably continue to earn as well as their clientele. This could further increase the concentration on a few internationally operating galleries.
Media coverage is dominated by the reduction of art to discussions of value and price developments, increasingly replacing the aesthetic debates. In my opinion, however, this is less a consequence of the gallery business than of the auction market. In addition to marketing artworks, galleries ideally take on the production of exhibitions, mediation of content, as well as accompany, support, and document artists and their work. Galleries also finance exhibition and biennial participation, and other mediation formats such as symposia, talks, and studio visits. Without the gallery-driven market for contemporary art, there would be no fairs—but there would also be none of the resonating space of catalogs, advertising-financed magazines, and other publications.
Not everyone in the scene puts “the economic” at the center of their actions. There is a huge audience, a lot of attention, and an enormous leap of faith from the public in museums, artists, art (from which opportunists profit unfairly.) Where the economy of attention is too market-oriented, this leap of faith is squandered. One ray of hope: the younger generation is more awake and wiser when it comes to media manipulation.
Catrin Lorch is an art critic and editor of the feuilleton of the Süddeutsche Zeitung.