Gagosian, the world’s most mega of galleries, has handed the reins of its vast space in London’s Britannia Street to Damien Hirst for a year. Normally, a gallery would rotate its artists every six weeks. “We need to do things differently at an altered time. It’s a definite takeover,” says Gagosian director Millicent Wilner.
Hirst may not be the most cutting-edge name in today’s art world, but is a safe bet, particularly in the UK. He is also used to breaking market conventions. In 2008 the artist bypassed the gallery system and offered 200-plus works at auction, while in 2012 Gagosian showed all of his spot paintings at its (then) 11 galleries worldwide for a month.
This time, the artist plans in-depth shows of different types of work, starting with his lesser-known, hyper-realistic “Fact” series of paintings and sculptures. “The idea of variations of truth seems relevant just now,” Wilner says. The works span from 2005 to 2019 and many are on loan, rather than for sale. These include a 2008 painting from the collection of the painter and Young British Artist tutor Michael Craig-Martin that shows him holding Hirst’s infamous diamond-encrusted skull. Other works on show will be a 2009 large-scale painting of a butterfly on purple grapes, recreated shelves of Persil washing products from 2015 and a more recent painting that shows the 2019 fire at Notre-Dame de Paris.
The exhibition is being installed this week, but its exact opening date will depend on when the UK government eases lockdown restrictions. Commercial galleries have been closed (again) since the end of last year, but industry observers hope that they will be allowed to open their doors before April.
Gallerists are debating Art Basel Hong Kong’s offer to host what are being dubbed “ghost booths” at this year’s postponed edition in May. Fair organisers have suggested that overseas dealers prevented from travel by the pandemic send works of art for a stand to be manned by fair assistants. Two booth sizes are available — at flat rates of $9,500 or $11,500 each, including staff. In previous, physical editions of Art Basel Hong Kong, the price range was between $11,500 for a small booth in the Discoveries section up to as much as $144,000 for the extra-large booths in the main galleries sector.
While dealers would like to support the fair and extend the efforts that they have already made in the region, the arms-length idea raises concerns. These include how effective a fair can really be for business without direct engagement, as well as the practical issues of getting an installation right remotely and the increasingly high costs of shipping art during the pandemic.
Alma Luxembourg of the London and New York gallery Luxembourg + Co, says it is not something they are considering. “Knowledge and passion are not easy to transmit without a personal connection,” she observes. “It feels like sending someone else instead of yourself to have dinner with a friend of yours.”
Galleries have until March to apply.
Steve Martin, the American comedian, actor and avid collector of Australian indigenous art, is helping to fund a new endowment vehicle for the artists and communities that support Aboriginal art. The fund, called the National Endowment for Indigenous Visual Arts (Neiva), has been organised by the specialist Melbourne gallerist D’Lan Davidson. Martin says that he became involved partly to “help raise awareness of these talented artists”. Also on board is the Swiss private equity fund manager and collector Bruno Raschle.
Davidson says: “The existing primary and secondary indigenous art market does not generate sufficient revenue to support either the artists or their broader communities.” The new fund, he adds, “is not a charity, it will encourage production”.
After an initial investment, which Davidson describes as “modest”, the idea is that Neiva will self-generate income through art sales. His gallery, D’Lan Contemporary, will essentially cut its commission to contribute between 2.5 and 10 per cent of proceeds to the fund, depending on whether it is a primary, secondary or estate sale. Money has already been committed towards an arts training and mentoring association called Desart, which has a programme to raise a total of A$275,000 (about $210,000).
Neiva will be independently managed by a licensed company and advised by Aboriginal visual art leaders. “This is derived from their money and needs to be indigenously led,” Davidson says.
The latest ArtTactic report on art market confidence finds more than a third of the expert participants surveyed expect a fall in the contemporary art market in the next six months. This is the highest level since the Outlook survey began in 2011 and a widening of the 24 per cent who were downbeat in November 2020. The greatest concern this time is for the market for young contemporary art, with 23 per cent of the 108 participants expecting a fall in performance for the year to January 2022. The greatest pessimism is in the $50,000-$100,000 price range.
The number of those expecting overall improvement has increased, though — from 15 per cent to 21 per cent for the next six months. In May 2020, when there was hope of a swifter end to the pandemic, 48 per cent of respondents expected improvement. But the report also finds that the 12-month view is less gloomy, mapping economic forecasts.
Anders Petterson, founder of ArtTactic, notes a growing participation of next-generation buyers drawn in by the “online legacy” of Covid-19 and its alternative ecosystem. This should be good news for younger artists, he observes, noting too the increase of digitally produced art. “The art market is on the cusp of a generational shift,” he says.
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