The future of the art gallery – gallery models of the future

One by one, the digital turn is changing the game in today’s creative industries: First, Amazon revolutionized bookselling, then iTunes made a splash in music industry, and recently Netflix and the like are entrenching further changes into our media usage behaviour. In light of the fundamental social, economic, cultural and technological changes introduced by the digital age, the lingering belief that they will spare the art market seems utterly unrealistic.

Same, same. While in the art market the business model of the art gallery had remained unquestioned for over 50 years, the above-mentioned industries have been translating today’s new technologies into new business models already for a long time. And in fact, there is a new generation of e-commerce-savvy art collectors, who won’t necessarily need galleries any more in order to purchase art. So, it’s about time to start considering new approaches as to how the digital turn may transform the traditional model and practice of the art gallery, taking into account customers’ needs and market relevance.

The four following examples put this formula of success into practice by adjusting the traditional gallery model to our 21st century realities — each of them in their very own ways.


The power of Insta’s Buy-Button: AXS ART

AXS ART is a young art start up targeting a new generation of millennial collectors, who, until now, have remained widely overlooked by the art market. AXS ART’s online platform connects collectors and upcoming young artists, many of whom are not yet represented by galleries. By strategically focusing on e-commerce and social media, AXS ART makes art buying accessible to a modern, un-elitist clientele. Artists and their works are also featured on Instagram — providing price transparency and the easy purchase procedures of an online shop. Meanwhile, a test run of an ‘Insta auction’ is in planning.


After all, the mountain does come to Muhammad: Gallery.Delivery

How does today’s digitization affect our society? This is a question addressed by Roehrs & Boetsch, a Zurich based art gallery challenging the boundaries of the traditional exhibition format. In 2018, Roehrs & Boetsch presented Gallery.Delivery, initiated by the artist Sebastian Schmieg: Clients could order an entire group show online, which then would be delivered by a bike courier (in a white, cube-shaped backpack — a tongue-in cheek reference to the stereotypical gallery space) and temporarily installed in any requested location.

Photo Credit: Courtesy the artist and Roehrs & Boetsch. Photo by André Wunstorf.

Whether you consider Gallery.Delivery’s service as an art performance in its own right, or as a valid business model: Its key innovation lies in reversing the traditional choreography of the client’s encounter with art. Gallery.Delivery doesn’t require their clients any more to physically make their way to the gallery space. Rather, both the gallery’s services and the exhibition format are made available on demand.


Online Community, Offline Sales: The Unit London

The Unit is a gallery based in London, which has set out to democratise the art market. Here, novel technologies are employed in order to reorientate the gallery’s work towards its clients (for “u”). Catering to a young clientele, The Unit keeps their audience up to date with daily Instagram posts, initiating dialogues — cultivating, at the end of the day, a new generation of art collectors. With a good grasp of algorithms, a highly professional approach to editorial work, and passion about their artists The Unit has built up a fast-growing community of 375.000 followers, who are regularly engaged in surveys and conversations.

The Unit


This awareness of clients’ needs also informs the more traditional aspects of The Unit’s day to day gallery work: Whether by providing audio guide apps and QR codes with details on the exhibits (context information and prices), or simply by giving their exhibitions an ‘Instagrammable’ look. Lately, the gallery has even introduced an AI, which analyses how visitors navigate the gallery space. The Unit’s success story testifies to gallery’s sense for dormant possibilities the digital age holds in store for the gallery business. Meanwhile the gallery recently moved to London’s posh neighbourhood Mayfair, exhibitions often sell out before the opening date, and The Unit is now preparing to set up a new space in Asia.


Believing in the physical experience without an own physical space: Office Impart

The two founders of Office Impart are gallerists by passion. However, they consciously decided against opening a gallery space. Office Impart, too, have tailored their portfolio to new modes of address that feel natural to a young clientele of digital natives. Handpicked art works are regularly introduced via personal newsletters and on Instagram, making buying art accessible and transparent. However, as we all know, the ‘easy access’ mentality of digitization can also create a sense of isolation. Therefore, holding on to the immediacy of physical art experiences is a matter of special importance to the two founders, who constantly seek to develop and explore a variety of innovative yet physical formats: Curated projects, experimental exhibition concepts, art fair presentations, guided tours and field trips (some of them targeting start-ups only), and an overall openness to cooperation. Office Impart stands for a contemporary, holistic approach to art experiences and knowledge production — online and offline.


In short

It is, in short, high time that the art market starts to acknowledge the fundamental changes introduced by the digital age. However, in today’s feverish search for ‘the gallery of the future’, determining one ‘winning’ business model won’t solve the problem. As the examples presented above show, there is no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits all’ solution. Rather, the answer lies in rephrasing the question: What does ‘my’ model of the future look like? As it turns out, equally important as technological innovations are one’s own brand identity and vision. Only gallery business models, which answer to both aspects, will prove to be successful in the long run.




Kerstin Gold, Strategy Consultant to the Art Market,