Prerna SM Jain
As a continuation from last week’s galleries series, here is an international update on that front, a rather grim one: Your favourite may not exist in the post-corona era. Lockdown, restrictive mechanisms and art fair cancellations have handicapped the emerging and established gallery community.
New York, which is one of the worst virus- hit cities, is also home to a massive art market with blue chip galleries, emerging ones and mushrooming street art vendors. In the face of this pandemic, however, the entire ecosystem has been uprooted.
In the context of the crisis that began in March, Daniel Aycock, Director of the Front Room Gallery in New York, says, “The time that art institutions do their best is in the spring and it looks like everyone’s going to be closed until summer starts, if not longer, but it doesn’t really matter, at least for the galleries. If it is closed till the summer, it might as well be closed up until September because most of the galleries are shut in July, August anyway. So that effectively wipes out half of our year. We still have to pay rent; we still have the same expenses but there’s no money coming in from it.”
Aycock says that the average rent for a gallery in New York could be anywhere between $ 5,000- $ 10,000 (Rs 3.75 lakh- Rs 7.5 lakh).Galleries depend on art fairs as a considerable source of income, and with the current cancellations, this avenue has been sealed as well.
Gallery Director Glenn Aber from Ai Bo Gallery works on appointment-based viewings. Since his gallery functions in a private space, this saves him the exorbitant New York rent cost. As for the financial scenario, he says that they have “collectors who are buying from us even now. But we are shifting our focus to more online spaces, thanks to our great marketing head who is helping us with it. We are offering discounts on several artists’ works.” He says that the sale is going well so far and that has helped the artists in his gallery too. The Front Room Gallery has currently transformed its presence into an online one as well, by having several shows and virtual walkthroughs on its website and Aycock has been in constant touch with his artists to ensure their wellbeing. The expectation of Government aid is low for most of the galleries in New York, which further positions them in an unsettling situation.
Yamini Telkar, who was the former Gallery Director of Delhi Art Gallery and current head of Arts programs at Bangalore International airport, says that in India, galleries “have always struggled to get people indoors. How do you attract people to come in regularly to see the shows? That’s been a challenge, whether its Delhi, Mumbai or Calcutta, and this is further amplified with the pandemic when the physical space or the venue itself is no longer available, so it puts it back one step further.” She says that the galleries are trying ways to connect, but the current mindset is not for people to acquire art. Keeping that in mind, conventional Indian art galleries will be facing the same problems as those of the New York ones as Local galleries have already been in a struggle pre-Covid.
Abhay Maskara, director of Gallery Maskara in Mumbai, says that they had closed their physical location a few years ago, in favour of working with collectors on an offline basis and having private shows that are invitation only. So, for them the situation is more manageable. It seems like this unconventional and progressive framework of abstaining from having a public walk-in space, is paying off for a lot of galleries especially in these times. Rishiraj Sethi, director of Aura art gallery rarely conducts shows at their venue and focuses on evaluations and off-site shows, such as their recent one in Ahmedabad. He says that smaller galleries and marginal players will have to relook on whether this is the best opportunity for them. “Although this optically looks like a very low entry barrier business, but it eventually needs a very significant depth of understanding and knowledge,” he says.
“Sales are going to go. Galleries function on the buying aspect. Sure, each gallery has their own dedicated client list, but how much are these clients going to invest in the artworks in the current times is something that is an exercise in psychology at the moment,” says Tejashwi Mehta, former Gallery Assistant of Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai. When it comes to smaller galleries being able to recuperate, she says that “it all depends on when this pandemic will end, until and unless a vaccination is not developed there isn’t going to be a complete annihilation of the virus.” But it seems like established galleries will be able to cushion the blow.
On a positive note, Mr. Sethi, who has also written a report on the Indian art market called ‘The Golden Bird Soars Again’, says that there is a good strength of millionaires in India who could invest in Indian art, which he believes is rapidly increasing in financial value. The silver lining of this situation would be, “that museums and galleries will use this time effectively to draw in more people from a diverse age group profile and region, so that when they open up, they have a larger audience,” as put forth by Telkar.
In other portions of the world, galleries in South Korea and Hong Kong have reopened, and with Germany’s newfound relaxation, galleries and museums have begun to function and are bringing hope to other countries. Their market response and experience will probably give us a deeper perspective on what to expect ahead. But it is still too early to foresee how the post- Covid gallery market is going to be.