Art trade in crisis: Solidarity comes with the virus

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KCompetition was yesterday. Now a virus is welding our world together. This is not only experienced by empirical science. The art market is also cooperative. Gallerists, who are actually considered competitors, suddenly pull together and hold together unusually closely. Even the hierarchical boundaries between small and large galleries continue to blur.

The pandemic not only brings the recession, it also changes the mindset. Numerous new collaborations and initiatives are currently emerging, from galleries and museums, from artists. Since Corona, the whole art world has been characterized by solidarity.

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Sotheby’s demonstrated that good sales are also possible online. George Condo’s painting “Antipodal Reunion” (2005) was auctioned off for just over a million pounds last week. This broke the auction house’s online sales record and provided proof that seven-digit surcharges are possible even in times of crisis.

But without their heated hall events, at which the bidders rock each other up, the auction houses will also have to report a sharp drop in sales this year.

For how much longer?

Thoughtful voices can also be heard from the galleries. It is said that interest in the low price segment has increased recently. How long the desire to invest in the apparently safe luxury art remains, conjured up by the tremendous boom in trade fairs since the financial crisis more than ten years ago, one can only dare to ask behind the scenes.

George Condos “Antipodal Reunion”

It may be an advantage that galleries have always been exposed to economic fluctuations. You are used to developing creative adaptation strategies. And maybe that’s exactly what helps them during the lockdown. and then.

On the other hand, if you trust Marc Glimcher, CEO of the Pace mega-gallery (New York / London / Hong Kong / Seoul / Palo Alto / Geneva), then an art according to Corona should be freed from its status as a physical investment product.

After the shock

We should remember their importance for cultural coexistence again, wrote Glimcher in a very personal essay, which he published on Covid-19 after his illness. He seems cured of the virus and the frenzy of numbers of the past years.

His competitor David Zwirner (New York / London / Paris / Hong Kong) shows solidarity. In early April he launched a digital “platform” and invited selected young galleries from the Lower East Side to present works by their artists in his online viewing room. There were galleries like JTT, Essex Street, Bridget Donahue or James Fuentes.

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Loss of the flick collection

As Fuentes reported to the art magazine “Artnews”, he had “extremely positive” experiences. The invitation came at just the right time. He hadn’t even overcome the shock of the first wave of infections and was already able to convey works by Keegan Monaghan ($ 40,000) or Reginald Sylvester II ($ 20,000) via the platform.

Open experiments

Zwirner sees his commitment as a gesture. No commission. No fee. He provides the young scene with his resources and secretly also his extended network free of charge. At the same time, he can try out new sales channels with them. How does a transparent pricing policy affect sales? How can art be conveyed via digital media? What advanced communication is required?

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If you remember the Armory Show in spring 2019, Zwirner’s new self-image as a sponsor of the New York art scene was already hinted at. After the Volta satellite trade fair was canceled, he invited the traders booked there to set up their stands in his gallery in the Chelsea district.

Zwirner experiments openly. He uses digital formats, focuses on discourse and actively connects himself to young people in times of crisis. It now pays off that he has been investing in the construction of viewing rooms ”on his website since 2017. He is now also using the lead to help other gallery owners.

“Those Who Can Should”

The artist, photographer and political activist Wolfgang Tillmans also shows solidarity. This week he launched an initiative to support art spaces, clubs, publishers and social projects. “2020 Solidarity” is the name of the poster campaign that wants to support those places whose existence is most at risk from the crisis.

Isa Genzken: Untitled, 2015

Isa Genzken: Untitled, 2015

Forty artists, including Nicole Eisenman, Marlene Dumas, Isa Genzken and Andreas Gursky, have already designed posters or reissued motifs from older works. More are to follow. You can order one of the posters for 50 euros, for example from the queer Berlin city magazine “Siegessäule” or the club “Renate”.

There is also a still life from Tillmans. In the melancholic poetry that is so typical of his pictures, two bulbous vases stand on a shelf next to a half-burned candle. An old Tillmans photo is stuck between them. A picture in a picture. The sunshine captures it from behind and is brightly lit.

Buying a Tillmans while doing something good? “Many cannot spend money now. But those who can should definitely do that, ”said Tillmans in an interview with the“ Victory Column ”about his project. The entire proceeds will go to the projects.

Advantage of digitization

The financing, that is, the printing and distribution of the posters, is handled by Tillmans’ Berlin project space “Between Bridges”. With poster campaigns for Brexit and the 2019 European elections, the artist had already gained valuable experience that now enables him to react to the new requirements of this crisis.

For a long time, the communication of art in the digital world was seen as an enemy of the company, in public institutions and in retail. Art had to be seen, felt, experienced. You still had to smell the fresh color of the white exhibition walls. The eyes had to be irritated by the aggressive neon light. At the openings one wanted to push oneself through crowds of people and philosophize with others about art and the world.

Now the last critics are challenged to try new things. There is no question that those who have been investing in digitization for years and who are trying to design intellectual digital formats will have a clear advantage. However, it has also been shown that real perception of art cannot be replaced by seeing art in virtual spaces.

Anyway, the art market is now loosening up. A purchase of art is no longer necessarily linked to a direct view of the original work. Rather, the initiatives of the retail trade show that good art – art that can be remembered after a first or second look – can also be sold and purchased online.

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