Monday, November 7, 2011


How small galleries can make a hit on the global stage
Young art dealers reveal their strategies for big art fairs

By Georgina Adam. From From Frieze daily edition
Published online: 13 October 2011

We live in a world of increasing globalisation, and the art market is no exception. Once, the market was centred on the US and Europe: now it extends to Asia, the Middle East and South America. Galleries have to respond: they are expected to have a presence far from home, make contact with far-flung collectors, have a roster of international names and promote their homegrown artists on the global stage.

But for smaller galleries, such as those exhibiting this year in Frieze’s Frame section, which features solo projects, internationalisation is not so easy. It makes huge demands on their time and resources, even if ultimately the rewards are great.

“Existing on an international level is almost a prerequisite for a young gallery now, which is an unusual requirement for a business with such a small ¬structure,” says Paola Weiss of Bischoff/Weiss (R25), who jokes that her small, London-based gallery consists of “five people in a shoe box”, including her partner, Raphaëlle Bischoff.

This has not stopped the gallery exhibiting in Paris, Hong Kong, Dubai and Miami Beach. Weiss, who is featuring the French photographer Raphaël Zarka in Frame, says: “The competition for small galleries to get accepted by large art fairs is fierce. Getting into Art Basel Miami Beach [Art Positions] was a huge step for us and was one of our first major art fairs. We made a real statement, installing a large-scale sculpture by the British artist Nathaniel Rackowe. It was a big risk financially, but in a difficult market not many galleries had proposed such an ambitious project. Not only did we achieve a lot of visibility for the gallery and the artist, we also sold the work to one of the major local collections.”

Obviously, finding new clients is crucial for galleries. Victor Gisler of the leading Zürich space Mai 36 Galerie (D10) is clear: “You have to go to fairs, as clients don’t live around the block any more—they’re global.”

Foreign exchange

Fairs also enable galleries to discover new artists. “Our artists want an international presence, and here at Frieze we hope to arrange exchanges with other galleries and broaden our scope beyond the fair,” says Netta Eshel of Tel Aviv’s Inga Gallery of Contemporary Art (R9). A newcomer at Frieze Frame, the gallery is also making its debut at an international fair.

Another newcomer is Revolver Galeria (R20), from Lima, Peru, showing a project by Ximena Garrido-Lecca. Renzo Gianella of the gallery says: “Frieze makes it possible for us to show our artists abroad and to bring international artists to Peru.”

An appearance in Frame can lead to a presence in the main fair, as in the case of Project 88 (F19) from Mumbai, which started in Frame in 2009. Sree Goswami, the gallery’s director, says: “For a handful of galleries like mine in India, internationalisation has become crucial: a large chunk of the domestic market does not buy the kind of contemporary art we are showing. India today still lacks museums and non-profit spaces, except for a handful of private foundations. To create a value that goes beyond the marketplace, museums and public collections become very important, and galleries like ours are placing works in institutions abroad and are constantly in touch with curators of major biennales and museums.” She is bringing four artists to this year’s fair: Raqs Media Collective, Sandeep Mukherjee, Tejal Shah and Rohini Devasher. “All of these artists have been in very good international shows,” she says.

Getting into international fairs is a tough call for many smaller galleries, however: some are disappointed, others don’t even try. “When art fairs look at accepting galleries from the ‘periphery’,” says Jelena Zekic of Art Gallery Lada in Belgrade, “they also want us to bring in new collectors for their VIP programmes, but we don’t have those rich collectors, so that makes it even more difficult.” Matthew Slotover, the co-director of Frieze, partly agrees: “Of course, we want new collectors.” But, he adds, “that is not the reason we would not accept a gallery; it’s the quality of the art that counts.” He does admit, though, that the fact that the larger galleries bring in major collectors “is certainly a plus for them”.

One gallery that works hard at internationalising is Stevenson in South Africa. The gallery represents the highly sought-after artist Nicholas Hlobo, and is this year exhibiting at Arco (Madrid), the Armory Show, Art Brussels, Art Basel, ABC (Berlin), Paris Photo and Art Basel Miami Beach. “It would be dishonest to pretend that we do not want to exhibit at Frieze as well,” says Joost Bosland, a partner at the gallery.

For him, the physical distance of South Africa is a hurdle, and to encourage international exchange, the gallery invites established artists as part of a series dubbed “Forex” (“foreign exchange”). “We have been privileged to work with people such as Glenn Ligon and Thomas Hirschhorn, among others,” Bosland says. The gallery also uses catalogues to extend its reach: “They have been particularly important in giving our artists and exhibitions a life beyond Johannesburg and Cape Town,” he says. “Most of our supporters do not get to see the majority of our shows in person. We put out little publications with many of our shows, and send them into the world. That we help to fill a gap in the landscape of art publishing in South Africa is a nice bonus.”

Weiss says that for a smaller gallery, working with financial constraints can have its benefits. She sent Nathaniel Rackowe to the US, where materials were cheaper, to build his sculpture, so avoiding shipping costs. And, she says, fairs have enabled her to create “a fantastic network among UK and international galleries to exchange knowledge on shipping, contracts, logistics and client problems, which saves time as well as the professional fees that a gallery like ours cannot afford”.

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