First it came for the hotel businesses, then the taxi drivers and food delivery services, the radio stations and telecommunication providers. It’s coming for all of us in the arts too. But there’s a good thing about the transition that is yet to come, that especially pertains to us artists.
The wonderful news is that it’s not coming for us — it’s the galleries that will feel it the most. In fact, a lot of us will actually be much better off. But we will have to adapt everything we do in order to really take advantage of the coming shift.
Small and midsized galleries are closing by the hundreds and the big one is still to come. The classic gallery model is breaking apart and in the next 10 or 20 years, a massive change will slowly unfold in the art world.
If before the trendsetters and gatekeepers of the art world were gallerists, curators and critics, now less and less attention is given to them. This of course doesn’t mean the upper echelons of the art world will change — they will more or less stay the same with a bit more emphasis on art fairs and less on actual gallery visits.
In the upper penthouse of the art world, champagne is still being served and there is no indication of it ever running out; if anything, the amount of consumption will become more polarised on certain days of the year and subside on others as targeted events of massive art consumption like art fairs and biennials are becoming the new bedrock of high art.
The big one is actually coming for the smaller galleries, especially those that solely cater to the “uneducated” or passively interested collectors. The kind of collectors that have been aching for a better way, a more sophisticated and less demeaning process of consumption than the established superfluous adaptation of the high-art model to be used on the masses.
Truth be told, the new “masses” do not agree anymore, and they don’t have to agree because of the profoundness of the new tools at their disposal: Instagram is the top consumption platform for visual art and to be honest, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us.
If before, as an average collector, you had to really trust any gallery you used as a source for your collecting needs to have your best interests in mind, now collectors are increasingly becoming the architects of the art game, not the pieces in play.
If before art was bought by hiding the sales prices of any piece and collectors had to play “guess the price of an artwork and don’t feel bad when they tell you it’s not for sale”, merely because liking a work did not make them “good enough” to be able to acquire it and the gallery was waiting for someone with a higher bankroll, now you can go online and know exactly if any work you really like is in your budget or not.
And there are numerous other advantages of this shift, but the main one for us artists is that the current gatekeepers are losing their power and might eventually even lose it completely.
The new galleries are online art platforms — but not any platforms, only those that really do have the best interests of the artists in mind. The platforms like Unit London and the like, where priority is given to creating content around the artists they represent.
If before critics ruled the world of quality assessment in art, now people are slowly regaining this power themselves; Jane and Mark who work normal jobs never cared about what any critic said or wrote anyway, but now they and all of their art-loving friends can decide for themselves what they like.
Were we talking about politics, this kind of democratic judgment, without a good leading segment of experts making decisions for-the-people leads to chaos — as we have all seen with Trump, Brexit and many other happenings yet to come — but aesthetic art does not need guidance from experts.
Aesthetic and emotional art only needs a strong market and a credible and easy-to-use system to function. That system is the internet, the market is the people and soon enough, the “low-end” of the art market, the part that caters to normal folks like you and me, will be under the people’s control. And those that will benefit the most from this shift will be the artists that just couldn’t cut the entrance exams for the Academy, just didn’t have enough exhibitions on their paper resume to get a show in their local gallery or just didn’t get a favourable review of their last show.
I welcome this shift with open arms. It’s just about time art stopped being pretentious and returned to its roots of being emotional, direct and relatable.
It’s just about time.