Market Monday: Two Hands for Safety
This week, a bundle of stories that call for a little balanced handling...
Let's start In the museum sector. Global oil giant BP announced that it would end its controversial 26-year sponsorship of the Tate effective next year. The move is widely seen as a tacit surrender to an extended and increasingly viral series of protests led by advocacy network Liberate Tate since 2010. On the one hand, many people have scored this outcome as a major win for ethics in fine art, since it breaks the bond between a leading institution and a corporation frequently portrayed as a reckless and dangerous polluter. On the other hand, the Tate's tangible reward for this ethical triumph is an estimated 224,000 GBP per year loss in philanthropic support. I would hope that the injection of positive PR will help the museum find a replacement patron soon. But its sudden need to do so perfectly sets up the conflict animating the week's next big business-in-art story... [The Guardian]
Robin Pogrebin detailed the museum sector's growing dependence on commercial galleries for exhibition funding, with some requested contributions rising as high as $200,000 per show. It's true that industry-watchers knew something about this trend already, largely thanks to an April 2015 Art Newspaper feature in which Julia Halperin revealed that American museums had awarded nearly 33 percent of their solo exhibitions between 2007 and 2013 to artists repped by only five cost-compliant galleries. But I think Pogrebin's piece more fully captures the issue's complexities. On the one hand, recent years have increased the budgetary pressures on museums thanks to a decline in corporate giving amid a rise in exhibition costs, compelling institutions to hold out their hats to galleries in unprecedented ways. On the other hand, the galleries arguably face just as much pressure to pay up when museums come calling, lest they lose institutional shows––one of the few reliable ways to boost individual artists' markets and individual gallery's reputations––to more generous competitors in an increasingly predatory, winner-takes-all industry. It's a devil's bargain for both sides, and neither one will be able to back away from the negotiating table any time soon. [The New York Times]
Case in point: This week also gave us three more reminders that the safest place in the gallery sector is the high end. On one hand, founder Jose Freire revealed that Team Gallery is being forced out of its Wooster Street space by a new tenant willing to pay double Freire's current monthly rent. On the other hand (and the other coast), we learned that Gagosian will open its 16th gallery in San Francisco later this spring, within eyeshot of the new SFMOMA––and that hometown hero John Berggruen will trade his longtime headquarters on Grant Avenue for a 10,000 square-foot upgrade literally next door to Larry's latest spot. Together, this trifecta of moves once again shows how the "More" Machine and the larger global economy are forcing even the strong to keep frantically building muscle mass––or else. And that message sounds out even clearer when we factor in this postscript: Team is already looking to replace the Wooster Street void with a new space––its second in NYC and third overall. [ARTnews once | ARTnews again]
Braden Phillips reported on the ins and outs of the Artist Pension Trust, a now 10 year-old, by-application-only investment vehicle exclusively for fine artists. The basic concept is that, over a decade-long period, each admitted artist can give up to 20 of her works to the trust's managers for strategic (see: not immediate) sale, with her total payouts from the fund being a combined percentage of her own sales and those of the other artists in the trust. Personally, I'm torn about this concept. On the one hand, I'm in favor of anything that will get artists to invest and, as a result, gain some of the same financial security that workers in other sectors of the labor market enjoy. On the other hand, my gut tells me that most, if not all, artists would be better off if they just opened an IRA, used the proceeds from 20 sales to buy a low-cost S&P 500 index fund, and re-invested the dividends until retirement. Will report back to you all in a generation to see if my instincts were right. [The New York Times]
And finally: After experiencing a studio visit that more closely resembled a Silicon Valley pitch meeting than a conceptual bull session, Jewish Museum curator Daniel S. Palmer wrote a thorough lament of what he calls the "hyper-professionalization of the emerging artist." On the one hand, Palmer makes some valid points about how going all-in for short-term gains can hamper an artist's long-term creative development––a danger I've written about before. On the other hand, I think he also makes the issue into far too stark an "either/or" choice between profit and substance. Short of the few lucky enough to be born into wealth or to attract the sustained interest of someone who was––see Peggy Guggenheim and Virginia Dwan––it's neither realistic nor fair to suggest to young artists that they go all the way back to an antiquated, money-agnostic practice for the greater creative good. The better recommendation would be to tell them to search out a sweet spot between the two extremes Palmer lays out in his piece. And we all do a disservice to emerging talent when we oversimplify their options into a false, moralized binary instead. [ARTnews]
That's all for this edition. Til next time, good luck to all of us trying to keep both hands on the wheel.