William Cash is writing about BRAFA in Spear’s but he touches upon what is becoming a recurring theme in the art market. Can dealers survive and support both a high value retail location and the endless round of international fairs? More to the point, are some dealers, as Cash suggests, captive to precious few “whale” clients?
one prominent old master Mayfair dealer said to me recently that he wasn’t sure why he bothered to rent a gallery space in London when the art market had become so fluid and art fair-centric.
‘You can’t pay rent for a highly visible London gallery and be at every major art fair. It’s just too expensive. You can spend £100,000 on a stand at an art fair like Masterpiece – while your gallery in Mayfair is empty. You need to sell two pictures to even break even. My clients enjoy travelling to Maastricht or Frieze Masters.’
Art dealers are increasingly like casino owners these days, relying on a few big collector clients – usually the same international clients – to see them through the year. ‘The rest of the time we are sitting in our expensive galleries trying to justify the exorbitant rent. If our clients want to see our pictures, they can come and find us on the road. In fact I think they prefer it. Your reputation and credibility is increasingly defined by which fairs you show at, not your St James’s address.’