Does a gallery have to operate on an international level to be successful? I would say yes and no. As global as one would like to think the art market has become, it clearly consists of numerous national and regional markets. And these are surprisingly disconnected. To some extent it is logical that these markets are provincial: every context knows how to appreciate its own. When you travel to those third-tier art fairs around Europe you realize this. Each of them have their own set of superstar artists and superstar collectors. Being based in Oslo, I could list ten artists who are all represented by Oslo galleries, supported by Norwegian collectors and are essential to recent Norwegian history, but if you were to fill up a Ford Transit van with their works and drive to Sweden, the van itself becomes more valuable than its cargo the moment that it crosses the border. Their market and relevance is solely national, but needless to say a gallery can be financially successful promoting artists like this. But yes, a gallery (at least how I have experienced it) has to be operating on an international level to maintain a programmatic vision rather than to cater to a national notion of commercial success. Most galleries that are like ours are as much psychographic constructions as they demonstrate geographic restraint. And there are still more people located outside of Norway than inside it.
The financial support from a local market was and remains moderate, but the moral support is crucial. After 15 years of operating, one of the most meaningful aspects of the gallery is the way that it has been part of building local collections, shaping the conversation as to what is contemporary art and being a major source of reference for art students who have long since turned artists, and has made sure to provide a venue for people to meet up for those August openings to tell stories of their summer vacations, to sport their tans and possibly get laid.
I am not an expert when it comes to the composition of the German scene, but needless to say ours is smaller. Not just the overall number, but each gallery space is a bit smaller, and it does not provide the same amount of learning for staff coming through and moving on to establish new gallery spaces of their own. Instead, the Norwegian system end up relying on each gallery gathering their knowledge of how things are done on their own and each relying more on a public funding system as a result.
Eivind Furnesvik is the owner of STANDARD (OSLO), founded in Oslo, Norway, in 2005.