Who are the weakest links in the art ecosystem chain?
Gripped by nostalgia for the days when art appeared more accessible and the industry less institutionalised, corporatised, some secretly hoped that social distancing, economic strife brought on by Covid-19 would cause the art-world to implode slightly, levelling the playing field, slowing down the art fair circuit pace, and allowing art to be a little more like art – having more to do with expression, aesthetics, upturning politics and the status quo rather than luxury products for the super-rich.
Those ideas – perhaps outdated – collapsed faster than the top echelons of the art world. Certainly, when it was revealed that Gagosian, David Zwirner, Pace and Hauser & Wirth were among the largest recipients of aid in the range of $1 million to $5 million in the US (according to a report in Bloomberg) it appeared that where the stakes were higher so too was financial aid. And if anything, those that have dominated the market were more likely to survive.
So where does the place the African art market – which is in the nascence of its growth, claims a slither of sales and exists at the periphery of this big art high stakes game? Does this macro-view offer insight into our micro art ecosystem(s)? Within our art market the larger branded African galleries based on and off the continent are those that have made inroads into the global art market – such as Goodman Gallery. Are these larger branded African galleries, which have been concretised via the western art market, more likely to survive compared to smaller- medium sized ones?
You do wonder how top-heavy galleries – such as Stevenson which is owned and run by its 13 directors – are able to reduce overheads and slimline their business during this period. This gallery have not exactly exploited the digital sphere, despite doing online openings and launches. Goodman gallery, have been far more active in generating digital content – with artist studio visits, previews of artworks pared with recordings and a very active Insta-live programme. Less high-profile galleries such as Melrose Gallery, outstripped them all with their multi-media presentation of Pitika Ntuli's exhibition with extensive audio and visual contributions from renowned African poets, academics and musicians. Bkhz reported to have created their own app.
What will determine which galleries survive now – the ones who embrace digital acceleration taking hold of the industry or those that have a solid collector base?
Baylon Sandri, director of Smac gallery in Cape Town, says the survival of a gallery comes down to one thing; “the quality of the artists you represent.”
So far, th