“If you can buy it off of our website for cheaper, then why would you buy it from a gallery?” said Citarella. “We wanted to open up the question of price-shopping for an artwork like you would any other good.”
It’s worth noting that Holden, Hendry, Citarella, and Troemel have all worked with dealers, and two out of the four still have gallery representation, a fact that reflects dealers’ continued importance in the art ecosystem. But even dealers have been questioning their own relevance in an age when smaller galleries struggle to survive.
London-based art dealer Marine Tanguy broke from the gallery model in 2015, when she started an eponymous agency to support artists and their projects outside of brick-and-mortar gallery spaces; she takes a 30 percent cut, less than the typical dealer’s 50 percent. After managing London’s Outsiders Gallery for over a year and then helping to open Los Angeles’s De Re Gallery
, Tanguy decided escalating rents and the merry-go-round of art fairs were making the contemporary gallery business model unsustainable, especially for those working with new artists.
“Growing talent takes time and doesn’t generate a lot of revenue in the beginning,” she said, noting that when an artist does finally achieve recognition, she or he is often scooped up by a bigger gallery. That led her to start looking at art like a used-car salesman, a sure sign she needed to try a new approach.
“While I was working in galleries, I was looking at works of art like retail products that I needed to get off the shelves to make way for new inventory,” Tanguy said.
She said that many of the artists she works with nonetheless go on to sign with a gallery, despite the fact that her agency finds alternative public funding and commissioned projects for them while offsetting their studio costs, much like a dealer would, while still allowing them to show with other galleries.
“I think a lot of artists want to tick that box of having gallery representation,” she said, adding that it offers a certain amount of intangible professional and social validation. “But I think more artists need to diversify their revenue stream nowadays if we want a more responsive model that reflects market realities.”