How to Grow with your Artists? Different Gallery Models

Talking Galleries is an international art platform which specialises in the field of the art market and art galleries. Through a series of discussions and debates the initiative brings together internationally recognised experts who share their invaluable experience in order to create strategies which can be adopted in the future. For those of you who might not have time to watch or attend all of the excellent Talking Galleries panel discussions or watch their YouTube videos, we’re pleased to announce that we’ll be summarising some of the key points in upcoming articles.


This particular panel discussion was the second in a series held at the abc art berlin contemporary in September 2015 and brings together a group of gallerists and intellectuals from different backgrounds and geographical locations to discuss how a gallery should support their artists and help them to grow to achieve international success. Although the topic may seem obvious there are many complex issues that are considered throughout the debate. The panel is moderated by Chus Martínez, the Director Institute of Art at the FHNW Academy of Art and Desig, Basel. With the discussion lead by figures from internationally recognised contemporary art galleries, including Victor Gisler, the founder of Mai 36 Galerie in Zurich, Lukasz Gorczyca, art historian and co-founder Raster Gallery in Warsaw and Jochen Meyer, co-founder of Meyer Riegger in Berlin. Central to the discussion is to what extent should galleries be supporting artists and their ideas, this question is put into a broader context of funding, production, and collaboration with other institutions.

The panel first addresses the new developments happening between the gallery and artist. The gallery is having to deal with new questions and a new sense of visibility heightened by social and written media which has increased since the mid 90’s. Due to this global change the size of a gallery must expand in order to fulfil new demands, paving the way for roles like the artist liaison and art advisor. Both roles that have always been active within a gallery environment but have now become professions in their own right. This is something which is much easier for larger, more affluent galleries, but smaller organisations will still have those who perform multiple roles within their job titles.

Chus Martinez
Panel discussion moderated by Chus Martinez, director Institute of Art at the FHNW Academyof Art and Design, Basel (c) Talking Galleries

Production is the next topic to be touched on, more specifically should the gallery be accountable for all production costs. In order to afford production costs often the gallerists will have to approach other fellow galleries in order to come up with the finances or will have to crowd fund for a particular project. Gorczyca makes the point that galleries always need to remain flexible and spend time negotiating production rates and approaching other galleries. When a gallery commissions an artist for an exhibition this would usually involve them covering the production costs as this in turn is good for both the gallery and artist if the exhibition is successful. An artist who has had an exhibition commissioned will garner a certain amount of appeal and demand will increase amongst collectors. Production costs can however be an issue when an artist is invited to exhibit in a Biennale for example. Here, production costs are very high and it is the gallerists job to decide with the artist how they will finance that production. Lots of work displayed at these kind of events (Venice Biennale, Art Basel) are not commercial so cannot always be expected to sell, but the gallery is still expected to provide funding. In the case of film artists production can be anything from 40,000 – 50,000 euros, in order to come up with the money for projects such as these the gallerists may go to potential field collectors who have a specific interest in the work being produced. The panel agrees that galleries can be stronger through collaboration with other galleries and specialists who are willing to provide funding. Funding artistic production still remains an issue for many gallerists due to lack of public funding, hence a collaborative effort is needed. Some artists are represented by two or more galleries and in this circumstance have to agree who is making the sale whilst keeping the artists intention as priority.  In this sense the gallerist has become a manager, advisor and professional developer, helping with the creative process and dealing with propositions from museums, institutions, art fairs and other galleries.

Next, it is deliberated between the panellists as to how far galleries are responsible for modifying what an artist wants to create when it is unsuitable for the current market. Jochen remarks that galleries main concern is the good representation of the artist and to do this they have to follow their lead at all times, no matter whether the art will sell or not. He also says that if the art is a good piece it will usually sell eventually regardless of the current market. The panellists agree that the gallery cannot dictate the artists production, it is their responsibility to help the artists ideas come to life. Although the gallery is an economic enterprise, their role is to support the artists wishes even if the ideal is not necessarily sellable. On the other hand of the argument Martínez remarks that there are still galleries which produce and exhibit works that are made with the sole intention to accommodate the collectors eye, not arranging things in terms of ideas, chronology, conceptual concerns as there is still a pressure to sell at the end of it all. In summary there is a double standard that is often expected which is to support the artist at the same time as responding to the collector’s desire, which is very hard to balance.

There is also the issue of equality within galleries in terms of artists which are being represented. Martínez makes the point that it is still the case that female artists are widely underrepresented by galleries, even though seminal exhibitions like Nancy Spiro at the MACBA have taken place and been hugely successful. Male artists’ works are also typically sold by galleries for higher prices and Martínez proposes this is something that galleries need to work on, and a bigger issue that needs to be addressed within the art world.

The panel concludes the discussion with opening questions to the audience.

  • Due to new developments in social and written media the relationship between galleries and artists is constantly changing
  • Galleries are expanding to accommodate newer roles such as art advisors and artist liaisons
  • The panel discuss to what extent galleries should be responsible for artist’s production
  • For events like Biennales the gallery would usually have to put up the production costs and works may not necessarily be sold as they are not always commercial
  • Collaboration between galleries and art patrons are essential for the success of the artist and the gallery, often with artists being represented by multiple galleries
  • Funding artistic practice is problematic because of the lack of public funding
  • The panel debate how far galleries are responsible for monitoring what works artists are producing and argue that on the whole they should always be supportive of the artists creativity helping their ideas come to life
  • At the same time lots of galleries operate in a way that is set up specifically for the collector’s eye
  • Issue within galleries of inequality between male and female artists who are represented, an issue that some panellists argue is being addressed and improving
  • The diversity of artists that are being represented by galleries is an issue that needs to be addressed within the art world