A view of the post-pandemic art world with Laura Lester, Director of Richard Gray Gallery
In the current UBS Global Art Market Report, the effect of the pandemic on the art world has been thoroughly investigated by the brilliant art economist, Clare McAndrew:
Signs that the pandemic will have long-lasting consequences could be here, according to the report, which said that the rise of the digital market during the crisis may lead to the slowing of brick-and-mortar retail and a further investment in e-commerce.The survey used data from 795 galleries and analyzed the collecting habits of 360 high-net-worth individuals across the U.S, the U.K., Europe, and Asia. According to the report, galleries reported sales have fallen by 36 percent in the first half of 2020, compared to the equivalent period in 2019, though the report does not provide an estimated total. According to their annual report published in February, sales in dealer sector were estimated to have reached $36.8 billion in 2019.
The gallery sector has been hit hard by the contraction in sales volume, leading to staff furloughs and layoffs at enterprises of all sizes. Of the dealers surveyed, one third reported staff downsizing. Smaller galleries with annual turnover between $250,000 and $500,000 saw the largest share of staff cuts, with roughly 38 percent reporting that they had shrunk their workforces.
In general, the pandemic has forced new habits for dealers and collectors alike. New buyers continue to be a priority for dealers, accounting for 26 percent of those online sales overall and 35 percent for smaller galleries with an annual turnover of less than $250,000. Art fairs around the world have been canceled and postponed, meaning that dealers have also had fewer opportunities to sell their art there. Sales volume through this channel fell from 46 percent in the first half of 2019 to just 16 percent in 2020. Yet the report found that, without the cost of showing at fairs, galleries were able to mitigate the loss in sales money. Dealers add they were now most focused on online sales, reducing costs, and maintaining existing client relationships for the remaining of 2020.
September 9, 2020, Artnews.com
TODAY THE LRFA BLOG IS DELIGHTED TO WELCOME BACK LAURA LESTER, DIRECTOR OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS RICHARD GRAY GALLERY, CHICAGO/NEW YORK GALLERY. LAURA’S PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE IN THE ART WORLD SPANS BOTH FIRST-TIER AUCTION HOUSE AND GALLERY EXPERIENCE.
IN TODAY’S POST, SHE WILL SHARE HER OWN ASTUTE OBSERVATIONS ON THE EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC CRISIS ON THE ART MARKET.
LAURA, WELCOME BACK!
WHEN YOU WERE AT KASMIN GALLERY, WERE YOU INVOLVED IN LOOKING AT ARTISTS TO JOIN THE GALLERY ROSTER. WHAT IS THE SELECTION PROCESS AT THE GALLERY?
The artist selection process at Kasmin was very democratic. We met as a team often and would raise our various ideas and discuss if they could make sense in the gallery’s program. If an artist seemed like they could be a potential fit we’d go on studio visits, bring a few of their works to fairs, etc. to explore the match further. I focused almost exclusively on estates at Kasmin and was involved in bringing one very special estate to the gallery’s roster- the American modern legend Stuart Davis, who is still thriving there.
WHAT WAS THE CURATORIAL PROCESS? KASMIN CERTAINLY HAS AN EXTENSIVE ROSTER OF STRONG MASTER AND CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS AND ARTISTS’ ESTATES, AND ALSO ORGANIZES THEMATIC EXHIBITIONS OF NOTE.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS THAT MEANT THE MOST TO YOU?
With three spaces to program on 6 to 8-week rotations, each director is responsible for organizing a few shows a year—so, we are constantly pitching to each other, looking for projects with rigor and resonance that we also felt could be financially successful for the gallery. Paul—and Nick Olney, who manages the gallery now—encouraged risk taking and were forgiving of occasional failure. That positive and supportive culture gets the best creative “juice” out of all of us!
DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, THERE HAS BEEN A RATHER ABRUPT SHIFT FROM THE TRADITIONAL BRICKS AND MORTAR VIEWING OF EXHIBITIONS AT GALLERIES AND AT ART FAIRS TO THE VIRTUAL WORLD.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE POST-PANDEMIC ART MARKET?
I think the consensus amongst gallerists and art professionals generally is that technology has been under-utilized in the art world, and the pandemic is going to force many to get up to speed and develop what’s needed to make e-commerce as efficient and helpful as it can be for our business. That being said, we are all desperately craving the physical experience of being with art and the exchange of ideas that gallery spaces, fairs, and openings facilitate. Their invaluable and irreplaceable nature have really been cemented.
DO YOU THINK THE SHIFT TO VIRTUAL WILL BE SUSTAINED IN THE “NEW” NORMAL?
I hope that our business will become more comfortable with technology overall, and that certain platforms that have become important during the COVID crisis, such as online exhibitions & ecommerce at a certain price point, will become a lasting and successful component of business as usual.
LRFA BLOG: SO DO I!
HOW DEEPLY AND FOR HOW LONG DO YOU ANTICIPATE THE ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF COVID-19 WILL AFFECT THE ART MARKET? DO YOU SEE A SHIFT IN THE TYPE OF BUYING THAT IS TAKING PLACE AND IN WHAT WAY?
For the first several weeks after the quarantine began, nearly everyone’s priorities were elsewhere- including mine! Once we all began to navigate how to live in this incredibly new and cautious world, sources of pleasure and culture became desirable once again. The collectors who are continuing to buy art, of which there are many, are looking for only the very best examples and at very correct prices. I’ve seen a surge of interest in my area of expertise, Post-War and Modern, because of the established stability of that market.
THANK YOU, LAURA, FOR YOUR INSIGHTS INTO THE CURRENT ART MARKET, PERHAPS A SHIFT TOWARDS A MORE CONSERVATIVE COLLECTING ATTITUDE THAT HAD STARTED TO EMERGE EVEN PRIOR TO THE PANDEMIC CRISIS.
NEXT WEEK, THE LRFA BLOG LOOKS FORWARD TO LAURA LESTER, DIRECTOR OF RICHARD GRAY GALLERY, NEW YORK, JOINING US TO EXPLORE THE CURRENT AND FUTURE PLANS OF THE GALLERY. BE IT IN A VIRTUAL, PHYSICAL, VIEWING ROOMS, OR DIGITAL FORMAT, GRAY UPHOLDS ITS REPUTATION FOR QUALITY AND INTEGRITY.
PLEASE JOIN US AND THANK YOU FOR FOLLOWING THE LRFA BLOG!