I recently overheard a conversation about a prominent gallery owner that I know saying that the end of galleries is near. I have also suspected that may be true, but that there needs to be some discussion about it as a process. So this may be a two parter... or three.
The overheard conversation was mourning the changing of the art market, and the traditional gallery no longer serving whatever the market was asking for, if it was asking for anything anymore. A finger was pointed at the Web as a major player in this when I don’t think it is fair to say that. The gallery and those who feed it have been incompatible for a long time, participants in an unhealthy dance that left many an unhappy partner. Rather than learn from each other, both gallery and artist have changed in ways that reinforce that tension. The Web has just highlighted it, making the changes hard to ignore now.
Obviously the WWW has had a tremendous impact, but it is not what is doing in the current gallery model… not alone anyway.
The American gallery model has not been particularly well suited to artists or art itself, being the primary gate-keeper, primary beneficiary, and often the only source of what revenue artists do see at the same time. And with most galleries, this is the goal. It is like Ebay. The primary thing that happens is the company is funded. Everything else is a distant second.
There is nothing wrong with this from a business standpoint. But from that standpoint artists are only suppliers, wholesalers, whose performance and ultimately value is based on sales. It is hard to rise above that when the system has no intention of letting it happen.
The music ‘industry’ is undergoing some similar re-tooling. It is a weak comparison, however, since that industry is a print industry… they sell prints of originals and that is a fat no-no in the fine art world. The FAW courted that idea back in the ‘70s but has since largely abandoned it, and the print in the FAW is still quite expensive compared to the .99c download. But they (music) are on the forefront of changing and adapting to new models.
So, I would agree that the current gallery model is starting to weaken, but we need to start talking about what replaces it.