The Gray Market: Why Art Dealers Need to Focus on New Audiences or Risk Irrelevance (and Other Insig
The entrance desk on the 3th floor of the new Pace Gallery in New York.
Every Monday morning, Artnet News brings you The Gray Market. The column decodes important stories from the previous week—and offers unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the art industry in the process.
This week, reacting to conversations instead of the news cycle…
CALL AND RESPONSE
Last Monday and Tuesday, the eighth annual Talking Galleries Barcelona symposium rolled out at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). And while the two-day think tank left me wrestling with plenty of issues about the sector, questions about its audience struck me as the most urgent of all.
It’s not a reality-warping revelation to say that, thanks to the broader capitalist economy it operates within, there is no art business if there is no paying public to support it. But Talking Galleries highlighted this less-discussed truth: nearly every aspect of what the art business is (or can be) depends on the size,
demographics, preferences, and worldviews of its audience. Although the system is troubled by many factors, I’m convinced that one of the most fundamental threats proceeds from the fact that too many galleries are too focused on too narrow a segment of the public—and the art market, if not art itself, is suffering for it.
Let’s face facts: based on their actions, most Western galleries want to engage genuinely new audiences to roughly the same extent that diagnosable workaholics want to keep personal relationships strong—enough to talk about it publicly, but not enough to listen to what the other party actually wants, let alone meaningfully change what they’re doing in response.
What do I mean by “genuinely new” audiences? Young people who weren’t born mega-wealthy. People who aren’t so desperate to buy art from legacy dealers that they’ll grovel for basic information or languish forever on (usually rigged) waiting lists. People living outside the allegedly “global” art world that, if most of us fess up, still pretty much just means the US, UK, Hong Kong, and the handful of western European capitals that regularly backdrop profile pics in a dating app.