‘Mega-Galleries’ Spell the End for Smaller Area Showrooms
Small galleries on the Lower East Side are closing left and right.
For the last decade, headlines ad nauseum described an influx of smalltime galleries defecting from Chelsea and landing in the neighborhood. Critical mass has apparently been reached, where only the big box can now survive. Galleries with deep pockets apparently make it impossible for the more independent players to survive.
The New York Times reported on the trend, and noted that On Stellar Rays, which expanded onto the Bowery proper last year, is poised to shutter. Twenty-five-year-old CRG Gallery, most recently on Chrystie Street, also closed a couple months ago.
Midsize galleries have long struggled to compete in a field increasingly dominated by mega-galleries with multiple locations, like Gagosian, David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth. But lately the trend toward an intensely commercial and competitive art market has resulted in a critical mass of galleries folding, moving or merging.
What is widening the divide? High-priced real estate in gallery neighborhoods like Chelsea, and the proliferation of expensive art fairs, where collectors now do most of their browsing and buying. Participating in an art fair these days can cost a gallery hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And rather than visiting individual galleries — and perhaps discovering new talent — collectors are focusing on market-tested trophy works carried by major dealers; are sometimes buying from Instagram or other online images without seeing the work in person; and are less willing to gamble on the emerging artists represented by small and midsize galleries.
Blame also rests with Instagram and photo sharing:
[Co-founder of CRG] Mr. McMillan said part of the problem is traffic; whereas Saturdays used to be the day when visitors poured into galleries, now crowds on that and other days have noticeably thinned, a decline he attributes to art buying through social media as well as the fatigue of “an art fair every month.”
“People are not coming to galleries,” he said. “It’s been a simultaneous perfect storm of the convenience and plethora of the art fairs and the Instagram mentality of seeing something and immediately having a yes or no response to something — it’s not the world we signed up for.”