Yesterday, in observance of April Fools’ Day, we made light of the influence that commercial galleries have over museums. Today, the Art Newspaper published the results of research that found that artists from five of the world’s biggest galleries accounted for nearly a third of solo museum shows in the US between 2007 and 2013.
Contemporary artists represented by David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, Marian Goodman Gallery, Pace, and Gagosian Gallery received 30% of the solo shows submitted by 68 US museums for TAN’s annual museum attendance survey. The trend, unsurprising given that four of the five galleries in question are based there, is disproportionately New York-centric: Institutions in the Big Apple were 75% more likely to give an artist from one of the galleries a solo show than a museum in Los Angeles. The chief champion of the Big Five’s artists is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which devoted 11 of its 12 major solo shows between 2007 and 2013 to artists represented by one of those galleries. In the same period the Museum of Modern Art gave 45% of its large solo exhibitions to artists represented by the five mega-galleries. (The data is based solely on exhibitions submitted by museums for TAN’s attendance survey, and therefore does not take into account smaller exhibitions and special projects.)
For some, the numbers corroborate a fear that galleries are supplanting museums as the drivers of contemporary art discourse. “Curators are abdicating and delegating their responsibilities … to more adventurous gallerists who, aside from the profit motive and in some respects because of it, seem in many cases to be bolder and more curious than their institutional counterparts,” Yale University School of Art dean Robert Storr tells TAN. The five dealers in question consistently outrank the directors of major US museums on Art Review‘s annual Power 100 list.
Some observers see the dominance of major galleries’ artists at museums as inevitable. “These galleries take on artists in their mid- to late careers; in other words, at the very stage where their longevity and critical recognition reaches a peak [that means] they are likely to be the subjects of solo exhibitions,” museum consultant András Szántó told TAN.
Others cite the support — archival, infrastructural, financial, and otherwise — that major galleries can offer museums plotting shows devoted to their artists as factors that contribute to the skewed numbers. “We’re not trying to buy the museums,” Marian Goodman told TAN. “We are interested in making it easy for them to do their research by giving them access to our archive or any information that we have.”
Whatever the factors contributing to this disproportionate representation of artists from five of the world’s most powerful commercial galleries, it suggests an unhealthy collusion of market and institutional forces. Or, as dealer Franklin Parrasch tells TAN: “The concern is that art not related to a commercial mechanism of that scale will not get sufficient representation.”