Why Do Pace, Gagosian, and the Other Mega-Galleries Keep Taking on So Many Artists?

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in On Balance, ARTnews’s newsletter about the art market and beyond. Sign up here to receive it every Wednesday.

Does it feel to you as though every month brings another announcement that Pace, one of the biggest galleries in the world, has taken on a new artist? To some extent, you’d be right. 

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In roughly the past year, Pace has taken on more than a dozen artists, the latest of whom, Grada Kilomba, was made public Tuesday. The artists range vastly in stature—Huong Dodinh had never had a solo museum show before Pace took her on in 2022, while David Lynch is widely recognized for films—and some, like Korean modernist Yoo Youngkuk, aren’t even well-known globally. Compare this to the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, when the gallery took on just a handful of artists—roughly a quarter of the number they brought on in the last year.

Gagosian, a Pace competitor, isn’t far behind. That gallery took on nine artists in the past year, most recently Derrick Adams and Nan Goldin, the latter having left veteran gallerist Marian Goodman. By contrast, mega-galleries Hauser & Wirthand David Zwirner moved at a much slower pace, taking on 5 and 3 artists in the last 12 months, respectively. (Each gallery confirmed the stats presented here; none commented further when given the opportunity to do so.)

New York–based art adviser Lisa Schiff told ARTnews that a lot of this talent acquisition has come after the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the subsequent racial reckoning across the art world, among other industries. 

“Every level of gallery, not just the megas, ramped up their artist rosters significantly during the pandemic. And most of it (but not all) was done in a frenzy to accommodate a more inclusive art world whose history needs to be and is being rewritten,” Schiff said. “A lot of the additions were done in haste and yet haste was imperative considering how late to the game we are.”

During the first year of the pandemic, Gagosian added just one artist, Titus Kaphar, to its roster. But once the art world opened back up, a change could be seen taking place that Kaphar’s addition already seemed to indicate. In spring 2021, the gallery hired curator Antwaun Sargent, who was fresh off guest-editing Art in America’s New Talent issue. His first show was the acclaimed “Social Works,” which considered what Sargent labeled “Black social practice.” Since then, the gallery has rapidly taken on women and Black artists like Stanley Whitney, Rick Lowe, Deana Lawson, and Jadé Fadojutimi. (Anna Weyant, who is rumored to be dating dealer Larry Gagosian himself, also came aboard.) Some of these artists had relatively modest markets before joining Gagosian, signaling a turn away from the Koons-level stars with whom the gallery had been long associated. (Koons himself departed Gagosian and David Zwirner for Pace in 2021.) 

By contrast, Hauser & Wirth has slowed down a lot. When ARTnewssurveyed the state of the field a few years ago, that gallery was in the lead, having brought on 24 artists (inclusive of estates) between January 2016 and May 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, however, Hauser has added only 15 artists to its stable. Compare that to Pace: the firm added 14 artists between 2016 and 2019, and, since the start of the pandemic, has landed another 30 representation deals. 

Not all representations are equal—you can’t compare David Zwirner’s taking on Gerhard Richter, one of the world’s most expensive living artists, with Pace’s bringing on board emerging stars like Maysha Mohamedi, Marina Perez Simão, and Kylie Manning. Artist representations are only one barometer of success; physical expansion, staff size, and sales, which are rarely made public, matter too. And, one note of caution: as ARTnews reported on Pace-adjacent startup Superblue in December, art businesses are often black boxes with little visibility into any turmoil behind the scenes. But, for those keeping score, the addition of artists and estates is how the megas compete and display their stature publicly. 

For Clare McAndrew, an economist focused on the arts economy, the megas’ rush of new artist representations is really about diversifying financial risk.

“I think less reliance on top artists shows kind of an interest in their bottom line and realizing that it can be quite risky to put all your eggs in one basket, because artists do join other galleries and there is a kind of flux,” she told ARTnews.

‘Significant Pressure’ on Smaller Art Players

Clare McAndrew also happens to be the author of the annual UBS Art Basel report, which was released earlier this week. This year’s edition revealed that art sales had generated $67.8 billion globally last year. While that may seem like a lot, it’s a mere 3 percent increase over 2021. McAndrew, who has written the report for more than a decade, told ARTnews that she saw signs that smaller players in the art trade are struggling to keep up. Last year, the financial press may have created a false impression that the trade was “booming,” she said. But, as she looked behind the data, she spoke to lots of people “having a really hard time.” The cost of logistics and shipping rose dramatically, while buyers looked for “bigger discounts.” The result? Many dealers away from the high end, according to McAndrew, “are under really significant pressure.” — Angelica Villa , Reporter

The Big Number: $200 M.

That’s the collective value of a major gift from Jon Shirley, a former Microsoft president and major collector, to the Seattle Art Museum, announced Tuesday. The donation includes 48 works by Alexander Calder and goes on view in November.

Industry Moves

  • Paris-based galerie frank elbaz will represent Tomo Savić-Gecan: The artist was featured in Croatia’s showcase at the 2022 Venice Biennale. The dealer will showcase new work by Savić-Gecan at Art Basel Unlimited in June 2023.
  • Greene Naftali in Chelsea has named Jeffrey Rowledge and Martha Fleming-Ives as partners: Longtime staffers Rowledge and Fleming-Ives had served as executive director and senior director, respectively. Cory Nomura has been named senior director.
  • Brussels-based gallery Super Dakota is now representing Tabor Robak: The American artist is known for his digital art practice, multichannel video installations, and generative artworks.
  • Stephen Friedman Gallery now represents Pam Glick: The London-based dealer will feature works by the American abstract painter at the Independent and Frieze exhibitions in New York this spring.
  • Christie’s will sell the guarantee-backed $50 million collection of Alan Press: The late Chicago commodities trader and his wife, Dorothy, assembled works by Ed Ruscha and Phillip Guston, among others. It will be offered in May in New York. 

Read This

The New York Times is on it, folks! In this case, the Manhattan quasi-scene that has been think-pieced into oblivion: Dimes Square. Almost exactly a year since Dimes Square first entered the public lexicon, scrambling the voyeuristic brains of various media and arts figures (including yours truly), Times correspondent Alex Vadukul has a fascinating piece about the now-bygone West Village town house that served as the downtown set’s literary salon. The piece doubles as a profile of its host, the colorful, idiosyncratic 53-year-old writer Beckett Rosset. If you’ve ever wanted to peep into this strange world, in Rosset’s words, of “privileged, highly educated, bored kids,” click through. But if you’re curious about the rumored right-wing politics lurking there, you’ll have to descend into the rabbit hole. – Harrison Jacobs, Digital Director

Source: artnews.com

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