Chelsea evacuates to Miami, due to cash tsunami

vice_city.jpgInteresting press release I received yesterday, in which Chelseaartgalleries.com …

reported today that no less than 116 Chelsea galleries are going to ten different art fairs in Miami the second week of December, making 2006 the largest such migration ever, up 25% from just a year ago. “Chelsea’s presence in Miami will be significant”, says Alessandra Almgren, editor at chelseaartgalleries.com. “More than one sixth of all galleries participating in any of the art fairs, and 43 out of the 247 galleries at the main fair, Art Basel Miami Beach, have a Chelsea address.”

Four questions:
– Clearly, Chelsea is an art fair every day, and yet dealers still feel compelled to drag their asses and their art down to Miami. Why? And no, “mojitos by the pool” does not explain it.
– Does anyone think that all these galleries can possibly break even, given the competition?
– Will any art at all be sold in Chelsea come January?
– 10 fairs, 686 galleries. Does that sound doable to anyone except a compulsive collector with a sunlight allergy and no artworld friends to distract him?

Interesting point, not noted: While Chelsea’s representing 25 percent more in Miami this year, the total number of galleries is up 50 percent. Does that mean the artworld’s less Chelsea-centric, or just that every Chelsea dealer that applied got in somewhere? I’m imagining application strategies akin to the ones concocted by Ivy League admissions consultants – with “safety fairs” and domino-effect wait-listing.

2 thoughts on “Chelsea evacuates to Miami, due to cash tsunami”

  1. This sounds like a continuation of an early conversation we all had: galleries going where the buyers are. These shows allow buyers to see much more in one place. New buyers are young and busy. And they like to travel to party. They generally don’t know the gallerists. They don’t want to spend weeks traipsing around streets all over the western world (or even just around Chelsea) trying to identify which galleries are worth walking into and when. The shows offer some preselection of exhibitors. The galleries themselves then preselect good works (the competition and the press at the shows demands this) and therefore buyers see more, good work, in a shorter space of time, within shorter walking distances (no matter how big the halls are) than they could any other way.

    A Corollary: perhaps, then, serious footfall at the galleries own addresses is falling? Why bother going to a gallery to see leftover work? Does this change the economics of gallery spaces, as Marc suggests? The gallery becomes a reference point for reputation, but not a place where any serious business takes place? If more money is spent on travel and shows, then less is left over for rent and gallery staff. Does this mean they move to cheaper spaces? Although there are only so many Hoxtons and East Berlins to where they can move. Or is this just another squeak of an expanding bubble before it all goes pop?

  2. Team, this is a systemic change. I have long believed that the last real analogy to our time was the shift from the Academy system to the gallery system. It’s been a great 150 years. Nobody can complain. But you can’t run a multibillion industry with a chain of mom-and-pop stores.Another way to look at it is to ask: what is the product people are buying? If they are buying individual art works, fine, go to a gallery. But if they are buying collections, all of a sudden, buying something that consists of 50-100 parts in 50-100 shops doesn’t make sense. So you have middlemen and runners and advisors and brokers on one side, connecting the dots; and you begin to have massive consolidation on the other side, the big boxes of the auctions and fairs.

    You could say that if you pitched a roof over it, Chelsea is also a fair, as Marc has said. But it’s an inefficient one.

    It is very interesting for me to watch my novice students at the Sotheby’s Institute. A great many want to be art advisors. And being so young, they seem to have very few preexisting biases for or against galleries. It’s a completely different mindset. They are prepared to see the value in all kinds of distribution channels and do not culturally privilege the gallery above the rest as a kind of sacrosanct institution.

    Here’s what nobody is prepared to think about. If small galleries want to win big — all other things being equal, and continued market expansion still being the case — then maybe they need to form associations or networks that consolidate information and inventory offerings to compete year round with the other big consolidated entities that are clearly starting to dominate.

    The other possibility would have been to erect walls around the marketplace through a guild that could control who is allowed to make a practice of selling art and under what circumstances (if you think about it, large parts of medicine operate that way — a lot of people go to therapy, for example, but they all go to these tiny little offices that serve small groups of patients). Then collectors would have no choice. But it’s too late.

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