For the past two centuries or so, galleries have been the de facto marketplace for artists and collectors. They’ve allowed artists to get their work in front of far more eyes than would otherwise be possible. And they’ve provided buyers with the ability to browse multiple artists and dozens of pieces of artwork at a single location. In other words, galleries made a lot of sense.
But with the advent of the internet, online shopping, and social media, some people have begun wondering whether the gallery system is everything it’s cracked up to be. All this new technology has opened up possibilities that would have been unheard of just a few short years ago. And many people are taking a second look at the gallery system, noting that it’s got some major issues.
This isn’t to say that art galleries are going away any time soon. Even with the internet, there’s a high probability that art galleries still have a future. But if their future is going to be bright, they need to come to terms with — and address — these three issues.
So, what’s wrong with the gallery system?
The Prevalence of Predatory Art Galleries
There are myriad art galleries around the world that are only interested in one thing: emptying your wallet at any cost. Research into some of the worst offenders has revealed dozens of predatory practices, such as lying to customers about the value and rarity of work and using unethical, high-pressure sales tactics. Gallery salespeople have even been known to “qualify” buyers by asking intrusive questions and using the answers to Google them so they can discover just how much discretionary money they may be willing to spend.
Unlike good galleries, predatory ones aren’t interested in educating buyers about art or art collecting. They’re solely focused on making sales. And they’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that happens.
Finally, predatory art galleries only offer art that has wide appeal, often by recognizable artists. Because of this, they don’t provide any meaningful contribution to the larger art ecosystem. And their sales practices are bad for consumers, artists, and the industry as a whole.
The Elitist Attitudes of Many Art Galleries
Predatory art galleries aren’t the only problem in the art world though. Snobbish and elitist attitudes persist across the board. The minute someone walks through the door, gallery workers quickly size him up and decide whether he’s worth their time or not. Instead of recognizing the importance of artwork for all people — and offering options priced at a variety of levels — most art galleries act as though art is reserved exclusively for the 1%. This problem locks a huge percentage of people out from being able to purchase and enjoy quality artwork.
But walling the art industry off to only serve millionaires and billionaires isn’t good for anyone. A healthy market would recognize the value of large and small artists as well as buyers. And until the gallery system does this, its future will be uncertain.
The Total Lack of Transparency
Transparency is essential for any strong market. People need to know price histories, availability, and other key pieces of data. Without this information, market bubbles are inevitable. And both artists and collectors will be hurt.
But it’s not just the lack of pricing and availability information that reveals the art world’s lack of transparency. It’s also the industry’s failure to codify and demand any best practices at all. Instead, the art world looks a little too much like the wild west, with many unscrupulous galleries doing whatever they can get away with. This is evidenced by the fact that most traditional banks won’t even consider loan applications from art galleries since the state of their business can only be seen through a murky haze.
While the internet probably won’t doom every art gallery out there, there’s no doubt that it will force them to rethink the way they do things. Hopefully they’ll recognize these three problems and reflect on ways to do better. If they will, there’s a good chance that both online and traditional art venues will thrive. And that’s the best thing that could happen for artists, collectors, and the art galleries themselves.
Article written by the Regestra team