Postmasters Gallery in Tribeca. Photo courtesy of Magda Sawon.
We Poles are optimistic fatalists.
My gallery, Postmasters, opened in New York on a murky Saturday night on December 13, 1984—the anniversary of the post-Solidarity imposition of martial law in Poland, no less. In the gallery’s 35 years, my partner Tamás Banovich and I have weathered many storms and upheavals.
We moved four times as gentrification pushed us back and forth across the city (from the East Village to Soho to Chelsea and, in 2013, to Tribeca). We survived the savings and loans crisis of the late ‘80s; 9/11; the Great Recession; Hurricane Sandy; and various smaller setbacks along the way. The global pandemic and subsequent economic collapse are, by far, the toughest challenges we’ve faced.
But I have hope for galleries like ours. In fact, I see a path forward from our current, painfully deficient online existence to one in which IRL galleries—and, specifically, small-to-midsize galleries—become vital again.
There will be a revolution. Art fairs will be dead for a long, long time, maybe forever.
Gallery culture will be redefined. Survival will be based on innovation, adaptation, flexibility… and smallness. At the moment, oversized, shiny vessels control the spotlight. They have the resources and the PR apparatus. But in the end, it is little sailing boats that can best navigate choppy waters.
Let me explain.
The art ecosystem as we know it has not been a healthy, diverse place for a long time. Even before COVID-19, we had a bloated, predatorial, and over-industrialized art complex, rife with speculative collecting, surreal pricing, and risk-averse dealers with ears bigger than their eyes and brains trained to prize profit above all.
As the collector Alain Servais has tracked with his Twitter hashtag #GroworGo since 2012, there has been a systematic erosion of the lower levels of the art ecosystem, with many of the most vital, progressive galleries unable to stay in the race. This dynamic of destructive consolidation has been seen in other fields, too, but perhaps no more than in the contemporary art market.
The current virus may well be the equivalent of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. Because sometimes, the system has to be destroyed in order to be liberated—and to make room for evolution.