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Art galleries face pressure to fund museum shows


For the New York Times, Robin Pogrebin writes about a peculiar new industry standard: galleries funding their artist’s exhibitions at museums. While it seems about right that galleries should pay it forward to the museums that raise the value of their artists’ work, the way this actually functions, writes Pogrebin, is a little too transactional, and may lead to museum not considering artists who don’t show with wealthy galleries that can fund their exhibitions. An excerpt below, the full piece here.

In today’s exploding art market, amid diminishing corporate donations and mounting exhibition costs, nonprofit museums have been leaning more heavily on commercial galleries for larger amounts of money — anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000 each time — to help pay for shows featuring work by artists the galleries represent.

The increasingly common arrangement has stoked concerns about conflicts of interest and the dilution of a museum’s mission to present art for art’s sake. Such cozy situations raise the specter of a pay-to-play model and could give galleries undue influence over what the public sees.

“It’s really gotten out of hand,” said Lawrence Luhring of the Luhring Augustine gallery. “It’s the brazenness of it — just the expectation of ‘How are you going to contribute?’ ”

Others say the galleries, which generally earn between 20 percent and 50 percent commission on each sale, shouldn’t complain, because the prestige of museum shows raises the value of an artist’s work, boosting gallery profits. “Museums are giving these galleries the best platform in the art world for free, where they can sell work to their clients on the walls of the greatest museums,” said Jeffrey Deitch, the longtime dealer and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. “If the galleries can contribute, why not?”

*Image of MoMA’s “Forever Now” via Art Critical