Sebastian Jung

Rules of the Game

Think Tank

Six texts and a foreword


Vanessa Joan Müller

During the lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a moment when museums and art institutions were closed, but commercial galleries (officially considered businesses) were open. In those weeks, galleries were perceived as exhibition venues where one could view art with no intention to buy. In fact, it is part of the identity of most galleries that they do not act solely in a market-oriented way. Only the presentation of art beyond the sales aspect builds the symbolic capital that prevents the perception of art as a mere commodity. The value of an artwork is not only measured by the artistic work it is based on, but also its reception. An artwork becomes symbolically valuable only through the collective attention directed at it, which is then in turn reflected by a real price. To a large extent, therefore, the art market is dependent on an interested public that has quite different interests in art, apart from buying and collecting, also to cover to economic aspect of the gallery system, its competitive structure, and the claim to power of its players.

The media perception focuses on large international galleries that adapt the strategies of business groups, expand globally, evaluate sales figures, merge into mega-players, and seem to define the rules of the game. However, there have been and still are attempts to establish alternative models that strive for a profit not only economically defined. Beyond the pursuit of power and exclusivity, there are indeed ideals that make a gallery an accomplice to artists. They do not take the complex systems of collectors, exhibition houses, curatorial and commercial interests as a given, but rather consider them within their dependencies, looking for alternatives or at least shifts of focus. They define profit as social profit—favoring inclusivity over exclusivity and place aesthetic debates above economic ambitions. Gallery operation unites seemingly contradictory aspects, such as retail and cultural institutions, forming a hinge between collectors, the independent art scene, the exhibition system, artists, and curators. This pivotal function of a gallery can be understood as a gatekeeping or moderating activity.

In his drawings, Sebastian Jung shows impressions of the art market in the form of snapshots of an art fair, where the artwork is most clearly exposed as a commodity and where the gallery acts as an entrepreneur. The positions gathered in the think tank Jung initiated are part of his artistic attempt to challenge this image. Artists produce works that are not only to be viewed but also to be mediated and sold. Galleries provide the infrastructure and the network for this. But they also create contexts and communication and raise public awareness of themselves and the art they present. Ideally, they reflect their positions as those of constructive (and sometimes conflict-laden) ambivalence. At the same time, however, they also remain part of a bigger system.