With expensive art fairs clogging up the annual schedule, and mega-galleries like Gagosian, David Zwirner, and Pace each taking up almost a whole block in the neighborhood, is there any chance for smaller outfits to continue paying the rent in Chelsea?
Dealer-duo Lisa Schroeder and Sara Jo Romero are saying so long to 26th Street and taking their 11-year-old gallery on the road — closing their physical space on December 31 to “think outside the white box,” as they both told ARTINFO on Wednesday. Instead of having a brick-and-mortar gallery, they will collaborate with other dealers to promote their artists in other spaces, beginning with a Michael Waugh show at Winkleman Gallery in January, in addition to making a push for online sales.
“The press seems to focus on the big buildings and the trendy, and we are neither at this point,” said Romero of the Chelsea gallery space. “Our gallery sort of seems like a stop for High Line tourists and for grad students.” While neither of those things are that bad, they aren’t worth paying $25,000 per month in overhead, either. The gallery will be maintaining its presence on 1st Dibs and Art.sy, where Romero says they have done more art sales than in the gallery over the last few months. They are also working on an editions company that’s nearly off the ground, Schroeder Romero Editions, which will debut during the Waugh show and sell high-quality prints and multiples via an e-commerce platform.
“Every dealer I have talked to is really questioning the brick-and-mortar. The business model just does not make sense for a gallery showing emerging artists in Chelsea,” Schroeder told ARTINFO. The real issue here is not so much encroaching mega-galleries, but the tremendous expense of attending several art fairs every year. Ed Winkleman, the Chelsea dealer collaborating with Schroeder and Romero on the Michael Waugh show, estimates that an art fair, over the span of four days, costs about 50 percent more that putting on a solo show in his gallery, which lasts roughly five weeks.
Schroeder broke down the basic economics of her business for ARTINFO:
Our overhead is $25,000 a month which means we have to sell $50,000 a month to break even. That is hard to do when price points average $10,000. Add on top of that the art fairs one must do in order to have more of a global audience. Each one can cost a gallery $50,000 on up. We pay anywhere from $15,000-35,000 just for the booth alone. So we have to sell at a minimum $100,000 just to break even. Again, difficult to do with our price points and four days. The fairs are guaranteed to make money and we are not. This has a lot of dealers feeling resentment.
That said, not every dealer is ready to part with the white box. For one thing, many art fairs require that you present exhibitions at your gallery in order to be selected. Plenty of dealers still have a collector base that likes to pop in. It’s also becoming easier to do gallery business on the road, with more and more sales being made via JPEG.
And then, of course, there’s the purely visceral reaction to giving up the gallery: “A number of galleries are questioning whether or not the brick-and-mortar space is essential — I would like to see some experimentation on that,” said Winkleman. “But I am still in love with my brick-and-mortar space, so I'm not sure I'm ready to do that.”