back to

e-flux conversations

The rise of the gallery-gaming blue chip artist

For all the news of blue chip “mega-galleries,” there is an equal force challenging these new juggernauts: the gallery-gaming artist. Anny Shaw of The Art Newspaper reports that big name artists such as Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and Danh Vo are increasingly refusing exclusive gallery representation in favor of playing the field. While he isn’t mentioned in the Art Newspaper article, Damien Hirst has also gamed the system by skipping galleries altogether and bringing his work directly to auction–to the point of flooding his own market. Read Shaw in partial below, in full via the Art Newspaper.

“Mega-dealers” have wielded increasing cultural clout since the term was coined in 2010, but now the balance of power is tipping in favour of artists who are playing the field by exhibiting with galleries that do not represent them, or calling the shots in their long-term relationships.

This month, the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo has his first show with White Cube in Hong Kong (until 12 November). The London-based gallery does not currently represent Vo. Mathieu Paris, the director at White Cube who is organising the exhibition, believes dealers are having to rethink their relationships with artists. “Artists have to be free,” he says.

Following this trend is Anish Kapoor, who opens his first solo exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong today (12 September-5 November). Meanwhile, Richard Prince, who split from Gagosian in June after 11 years, has had two shows with Blum & Poe in the past year, although he is not a permanent fixture on the gallery’s books.

The Brussels-based dealer Almine Rech, who is opening spaces in New York and London’s Grosvenor Hill in October, says artists are “by essence” free. “They can be on very good terms with different dealers and work with them on specific projects,” she says.

Rech is inaugurating her London gallery (which supplements her smaller Mayfair space) with an exhibition of new works by Jeff Koons, who she has represented since 2011. It is not the first time Koons has chosen to exhibit with someone other than his long-term dealer, Larry Gagosian, who will be close neighbours with Rech on Grosvenor Hill. In 2012, Koons joined David Zwirner’s stable; the following year he had simultaneous solo shows in New York at Zwirner and Gagosian. Rech says Koons is in charge when it comes to deciding where he shows new works. “There is always a very interesting dialogue with Jeff, but he makes the decisions,” she says.

The recent explosion in the number of galleries around the world means artists have much more power in negotiating the terms that best suit their goals, says the New York dealer Ed Winkleman. “As long as an artist is selling well, they can undoubtedly act more as a free agent than we’ve seen over the past several decades,” he says.

The internet has been a major factor in eroding dealers’ authority. “Access to information online has weakened dealers’ exclusive control over what and where work is available, and what others have paid for it,” Winkleman says. “If collectors are not as eager to be on the best terms with dealers, it gives artists more flexibility in how they set the terms of their relationship with dealers.” Artists’ agents, high-profile consultants and private dealers are also giving artists greater freedom of choice.

*Image of Jeff Koons via Time