The Gray Market Weekly
This week, a trio of departures with nearly 100 combined years of art history behind them...
Seven days in the evolving business of fine art. This week, from regional hunts to failing wings, stories about the changing nature of expansion within the industry... Every Monday Tim Schneider, Director of Research at Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery and the brains behind The Gray Market Blog, dissects the most important stories of the week from the art market.
In a development that ripped through the art world like a bone saw, revered high-end gallerist Andrea Rosen announced in an impassioned email on Tuesday that she would: A) begin sharing her longtime management of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres estate with David Zwirner, B) "no longer have a typical permanent public space," and C) "therefore no longer represent living artists." As Jerry Saltz recounted in an elegiac column two days later, Rosen kick-started her career as a gallerist by introducing New York to a trio of artists who would become "foundational" to the 1990s and "the last few decades" in Gonzalez-Torres, John Currin, and Wolfgang Tillmans, all during her first four years of programming. She then managed to consistently mastermind enough eye-opening shows, build enough positive relationships, and pull down enough revenue to bathe in light for the next 23 years. Now that chapter has sunset.
Although I've never met Rosen, I've read enough about her to believe she's sincere when she writes that this decision is a central part of an intentional "shift" and larger "simplification of [her] life," not just a strict business move. At the same time, her letter implies that there are external art-industry forces at play, too. Aside from making an oblique reference to wanting to "live without ethical compromises," she states that she was the one to approach Zwirner about collaborating on representing the Gonzalez-Torres foundation––a task she portrays throughout the letter as something bordering on a sacred duty. Given the trends over the past 15-20 years, these read as clues that Rosen understood Gonzalez-Torres's legacy would ultimately be held back without the influence and resources of a market-making mega-gallery behind it. Which in turn opened up the possibility, however faint, that the estate could someday be poached from her. Hypothetically, the surest way for Rosen to prevent that outcome would have been to proactively seek out a merger guaranteeing maximum visibility and value for Gonzalez-Torres, as well as her continued involvement in securing both.
If that was indeed Rosen's calculus, she landed on the most logical answer for a business partner. Since 2008, Zwirner has absorbed the heavyweight estates of Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Ad Reinhardt, Alice Neel, Josef and Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, and (in Europe and the UK, via recent personnel acquisition Gérard Faggionato) Francis Bacon, among others. At this rate of absorption and sprawl, it's beginning to feel like Zwirner's historical surge is less the result of a careful strategy than a rampant, uncontrollable mutation straight out of the climax of "AKIRA." That's an ominous sign for any sub-mega-gallerist hoping to continue championing the career of a deceased postwar icon.
The forecast only becomes more troubling vis-à-vis the link Rosen identifies between operating a permanent gallery space and representing living artists. As I wrote when Cecily Brown opted back into the gallery system after a stint with artist-agent Andrea Crane––and again after unspaced gallerist Jay Gorney left independence behind to join Paula Cooper just a few weeks ago––physical exhibitions and in-person presentations are still the cornerstones of building awareness and demand for an artist's work. Without a dedicated space, it's extremely difficult to consistently draw clients to you, let alone signal that who you're showing is worth the ever-multiplying money stacks being spent on other talent by other gallerists in an era where too much is never enough. Bob Dylan famously sang that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. But when a gallerist of Rosen's caliber implies through words and actions that she no longer can––or at least, no longer wants to––clash with the titans on behalf of living and dead artists alike, she makes a fine (if foreboding) meteorologist. [ARTnews]
Exterior view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Photo: Joshua Targownik / targophoto.com
After nearly four years as Director, Partner, and Vice-President of Hauser & Wirth's Los Angeles complex––only open to the public as of last March––Paul Schimmel has officially exited his inaugural post in the for-profit sector. The mega-gallery broke the news in a terse yet bloodless press release on Friday afternoon, the PR industry's ancestral burial ground for unwanted developments. As of my writing on Sunday morning, no one from either Schimmel's camp or Hauser & Wirth has come forward to provide more details about which party pressed the "eject" button on the partnership. All we know for sure is that Schimmel is gone and the gallery has decided to stay in house for his replacement: namely, fellow partner and VP Marc Payot (who I suspect will not be getting his name branded onto the building like his predecessor).
In our search for answers inside this sucking void of information, it's natural to construct a narrative that grounds Schimmel's departure in his lack of art-sales experience. As many readers know well, he spent the 20 years prior to joining Hauser & Wirth as the critically acclaimed chief curator of MOCA Los Angeles, a museum that has bent toward the market's tastes considerably in the time since Schimmel's firing (or resignation, depending on who you believe). No quantum leap in imagination is required to think his curatorial career may not have prepared him to hack it in the for-profit jungle.
True as that story may be, though, it's also an unfairly one-sided version. Schimmel didn't storm Hauser & Wirth with a guerrilla squad of art historians to install himself at the executive level of a global mega-gallery. Hauser & Wirth opened the doors and welcomed him inside. So if Schimmel failed to meet organizational expectations, then part of the responsibility lies with the organization for misjudging the candidate. Remember, despite so many high-end galleries' using sweaty envelopes of cash and swollen budgets for historical shows to summon renowned museum curators like lost spirits at a seance, no other seller at Hauser's level has installed a nonprofit lifer in such a prominent, powerful, and permanent position as namesake partner. The reason is that, deep down, every mega-gallery knows it fails the duck test: It might look like a museum, press-release like a museum, and even program like a museum at times. But it's not a museum, nor will it ever be. And whether or not this identity conflict was what ultimately broke the third name off of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, it suggests headhunting institutional alumni for long-term answers is a tactic likely to backfire on any major gallery. [artnet News]
BEAT THE CLOCK
Finally this week, Bice Curiger, the only editor-in-chief that one-of-a-kind art journal Parkett has every known, announced that the publication will release its final issue this summer. The forthcoming paper tombstone (not literally, to be clear) will mark the end of a run that started all the way back in 1983 and saw the release of 100 print editions featuring over 200 artists. For the uninitiated, what made Parkett special was that it handed each of those artists editorial control over texts, images, and design for their respective issue, making every publication a new and distinctly practitioner-driven experience. Even more unorthodox, the journal was also funded in large part by sales of the separate editioned piece that each participating artist created in conjunction with their issue––editioned pieces that Parkett allowed to "take any form, from prints, objects and installations to unique works of art."
I've seen nearly as much heartbreak over Parkett's imminent demise as the closure of Andrea Rosen's gallery. So why is it going gently into that good night? According to Curiger, largely because of the "radical change in reading behavior brought about by our digital age." While he chose not to elaborate on the meaning of that statement, I'm going to take a stab at unpacking it here: How can an ever-changing, deeply considered, hard-copy collector's journal survive when most of us just want to dine and dash on free bite-sized digital content delivered in a standardized package, whether that package is a familiar vertical or an infinitely more-shareable format like, say, "10 Disruptors Who Are Completely Changing the Art World" (or for that matter, a weekly art-industry recap newsletter/blog post)?
In this sense, Parkett's epitaph addresses one of the subtler ways that technology is changing our relationship to the arts. As I've written before, whether the ask is to appreciate the nuances of a maverick print publication a few times a year or an artwork unwilling to deliver an aesthetic sugar rush in one art-fair-length glance, connoisseurship takes time. And in the 21st-century attention economy, time is the scarcest resource of all. That doesn't just impact visual culture from a content standpoint. Eventually, it impacts the bottom line, too. [ARTnews]
That’s all for this edition. Til next time, remember: If you don't like change, you'd better get ready to pucker up and smooch relevance goodbye, too.