Armory Live Theater


MARCH 8, 2018,  Armory Live Theater
Panel Discussion

by Tiziana Maggio

As part of The Armory’s programme of talks, this one hour panel focused on possible new strategies to support the future of mid-level galleries.

Panellists were all US-based, with two New York gallery owners, Marianne Boesky and Wendy Olsoff (both booth-holders at this year’s Show), collector Marguerite Hoffman and two art financiers, Evan C. Beard, from the U.S. Trust for Bank of America, and Andrea Danese, CEO of Athena Art Finance Corporation, lead sponsor of this year's Armory.

The panel started by agreeing on one fundamental point: the traditional gallery business model, firmly rooted in outdated 19th Century strategies, is inherently capital intensive and high risk in its approach. This model leaves many struggling in what is an almost Darwinian fight for survival.   
This is why it is financially unviable for many mid-tier galleries to even join international fairs, let alone the number needed to build and maintain a competitive advantage in the market. 
Instead, it is likely more beneficial to stick to a calendar of in-house exhibitions, where a wider and active local community is engaged in the promotion and acquisition of art.

Another way to boost a gallery’s future may be to create scale by establishing or joining gallery networks. This may lead to less profits per sale, but could allow a wider vision of shared resources, intelligence, cross-promotion agreements and regional partnerships.

Evan Beard, however, was of a different opinion, focussing more on strong capitalisation and effective real estate strategy. In general, he favours a more corporate and institutional gallery model, also emphasising the importance of good succession planning so that galleries may outlive their often charismatic founders well into the future.

That said, Wendy Olsoff expressed concern with this approach. If gallerists and artists lose control of how their art is presented and traded, the art itself could risk becoming a pure financial commodity or  consumer product. These two diametrically opposite opinions are clearly based on different interests and expertise: a ‘go big and corporate’ strategy where the gallery brand comes first (viz. Larry Gagosian), as opposed to a more collaboration and artist-driven model (viz. Marian Goodman).

The panel finished on the subject of cryptocurrencies, with all seeming to agree that these could well become an important form of tender. Beard noted the growth of securitisation as one factor, whilst Olsoff added that the new generation of artist’s interest in crypto might be another. Hoffman finished by confessing that she was herself a crypto investor saying “I don’t want to become a dinosaur”.

Article published on Look Lateral