Galleries Test Fresh New Sales Tactics to Reach Collectors Online
We’ve known this all along, but the months-long lockdown has further proven it: Art professionals are innovative and scrappy. As successive countries mandated that all nonessential businesses shut down, innumerable online viewing rooms were launched on gallery websites around the globe, providing art lovers a pleasant virtual experience and those who sell art a necessary lifeline.
These online viewing rooms have gone in many different directions, redefining what we might have thought possible in an online-only art world. Many galleries are at the forefront of these efforts to reimagine how sales can be made under the current constraints. Below are some of the most inventive, imaginative, or unconventional dealer-led initiatives to come out of the coronavirus crisis thus far.
A global pandemic surely couldn’t slow down the man who makes the art world “go-go.” Since April 8th, mega-gallery Gagosian has been spotlighting one work per week, and making it available for purchase on the gallery’s website for a strict two-day period. This minimal approach to online sales cuts through the overload of digital offerings currently up for grabs, removing the burden of choice to collectors. Last week, the gallery debuted a painting by Stanley Whitney—whose solo show at Gagosian in Rome would have opened April 4th—priced at $350,000. This week, the gallery will be spotlighting Jennifer Guidi, followed by Roe Ethridge next week.
“When the market is volatile, it is precision that gets you through,” Larry Gagosian said of the program in a statement. He added, “We discussed presenting our scheduled exhibitions online, but that is not how they were conceived. We needed a solution that didn’t require our artists to make that compromise. So that is the challenge for us—you innovate and keep your resources and strategies flexible to support your artists when your doors have to temporarily close to a volatile world.”
Though Perrotin had been planning for shelter-in-place measures months before they were ordered, the gallery’s new shopping feature through an Instagram page, @perrotinstore, launched at a moment when it could provide an essential additional revenue stream. The page only offers items that cost less than $10,000, and features original work, monographs, prints, and other wares by gallery artists such as Sophie Calle, Daniel Arsham, and John Henderson.
“Our launch has been scheduled for mid-April since December, so the timing is coincidental,” said Peggy Leboeuf, partner and executive director at Perrotin. “However, everyone has been incredibly receptive and we’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support. It’s often easy to underestimate how much people miss the physical experience of encountering art.”
Von Ammon Co.
A lot of the world is having to find entertainment through online videos these days, and Washington, D.C.’s Von Ammon Co. has put together a group show, “Focus Group II,” of all moving-image works by artists such as Alex Bag, Darren Bader, Catharine Czudej, and Tabor Robak. Like Perrotin, the gallery’s founder Todd von Ammon had been planning the show before the pandemic hit, but the themes surrounding the exhibition have been informed by its unfolding. “It’s less about the crisis itself,” he said, “and more about culture’s reaction to it, and its coping mechanisms in the face of an incredible loss of its physical, tangible spaces.”
He added, “My personal response was to envision a show that is as similar to a finished exhibition as possible, and to treat it exactly the same way as I would a regular show in the gallery. The artworks included are all the ‘real thing’—of course a laptop or a phone is no substitute for a darkened screening room in a museum or a gallery, but perhaps a visitor to the show can watch the videos in a darkened room with headphones, or under the covers.” Whether virtual visitors are looking to acquire moving-image art, or just on the hunt for a few hours’ worth of unique video content, the show has plenty to offer.
Goodman Gallery, which has locations in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and London, is raising money for a nonprofit clinic through sales of a line of artist-designed textiles. The works, which were made in a limited edition, were produced by Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Reza Farkhondeh & Ghada Amer, Nolan Oswald Dennis, and Samson Kambalu, and are all priced at £500 ($623). All profits will go to Witkoppen Health & Welfare Centre, a nonprofit healthcare clinic based in Johannesburg.
“Having served as a vital non-discriminatory space for artists during the apartheid years, Goodman Gallery will seek to draw inspiration from this profound legacy in this time of crisis,” Liza Essers, director and owner of Goodman Gallery, told The Art Newspaper.
Lisson is letting art collectors imagine what pieces would look like inside their homes. Galleries have been seeking ways to let collectors “try out” works in their collections through virtual and augmented reality long before the pandemic hit, and Lisson is set to release its version of this idea on April 23rd, in partnership with the software company Augment. Through the Lisson app, users can “place” works of art in and around their homes to see how they would look. The app is aimed at selling art to collectors, but one can also imagine anyone having a lot of fun with placing artworks around the house. (Full disclosure: The Artsy app has had a similar AR feature since 2018.)
Jemima Kirke, Alex in Lingerie, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.
Shary Boyle, The Red Shoes, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.
Every week, the Lower East Side stronghold Sargent’s Daughters has been providing subscribers with “small joys.” Last week, the program’s fourth, Alex in Lingerie (2020)—Jemima Kirke’s new painting of her partner, the musician Alex Cameron—was offered with an asking price of $4,500. This week, Sarah Slappey’s fiery painting Flame Fingers and Bum (2020) was offered for $3,500. All of the “small joys” up for sale are priced under $5,000, which Allegra LaViola, the gallery’s owner, described as “a little bit of escape—a little glimmer of something. Just one thing to think about.” LaViola said she felt overwhelmed maintaining her gallery with only one other part-time employee, while also juggling becoming a full-time mother to her two-year-old.
“The artists were all very responsive immediately and it has been really fun to have this other dialogue going, something to plan for each week and something that can also help shine a spotlight on them,” she said. “Collectors have been very responsive as well and most of the works have sold right away.”
The program seems effective in bringing some levity to every person in the gallery’s network. LaViola added, “Many people have emailed me and said how much they are enjoying this just as intended: a small joy in their inbox every week to remind them that even now there is pleasure to be found around us.”
Though most dealers are shifting their activities online, some analog art viewing is still going on—albeit in secret. In his recent essay “The Last Days of the Art World … and Perhaps the First Days of a New One,” Jerry Saltz quoted Ramiken’s owner Mike Egan as one of the trailblazing gallerists who took matters into their own hands when faced with shutting their doors: “Watch what happens next,” Egan told Saltz. “Galleries will go under—unless they survive. How to survive? Passion. Obsession. Desire.”
Following the lockdown, nearly everything about Ramiken’s practice shifted: The gallery closed its Brooklyn space and reopened in what Saltz described as a “decrepit building across from a garbage dump”; it participated in David Zwirner’s shared online viewing room show “Platform: New York”; and it is reportedly opening a speakeasy-style “secret show” in the new location. Writing over email, Egan confirmed the show’s existence, but not much else: “There is a show, on the Upper East Side, and it is a secret, so that’s all I can tell you.”