Collector Alain Servais on How Mega-Galleries Are Ruining Art

Alain Servais Photo by Selina Ting via initiart magazine

Belgian art collector Alain Servais is known for bringing his background in finance together with his passion for art, and for being an early supporter of Cindy Sherman and Gilbert & George (see artnet News Top 200 Art Collectors Worldwide for 2015, Part Two). This past weekend, in the second part of an in-depth interview with Artspace‘s editor-in-chief, Andrew M. Goldstein, the Brussels-based collector gives a few pearls of wisdom about collecting and offers insight into the art world including an interesting segment on the phenomenon of galleries transforming into mega brands.

Servais draws a parallel between the luxury goods industry and art industry. For example, LVMH and Chanel have turned their luxury fashion houses into companies that can sell anything, like an $8,000 plastic handbag that looks like a lego (see Take a Look Inside Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli’s New Fondazione Prada). Similarly, Gagosian can peddle whichever artist he desires and their work will inevitably be bought up, quickly and furiously.

From the interview:

So when you see Gagosian putting on a Koons booth at Frieze in London two years ago with just three sculptures at $25 million each—and nothing else in the booth—it’s not for selling, it’s a brand building exercise. Same with Gavin Brown, when he did the Urs Fischer booth with the single cigarette pack dangling from a string at Art Basel Miami Beach [in 2006]. He didn’t care about selling anything at that fair—he was building his brand.

Right now, we are going through a massive period of brand-building, and it’s perfect for those new buyers, because they might not know much about art, but they do know about one thing: brands. “I want to buy from Zwirner.” “I want to buy from White Cube.” “I want to buy whatever Gagosian will bring me.” What this does is that it allows the galleries to sell anything. A speciality of Hauser & Wirth, for instance, is to dig up an artist from the past who has been a little bit forgotten, write a nice catalogue on them, and move the prices from $10,000 to $100,000. Done! You have an unlimited supply for that stuff, and you don’t even have to pay for production because it’s already produced.

The problem of branding, expanding, and money coming in “from all over,” according to Servais, is that it leads artists to produce work that sells, since “that’s the only thing they can show in galleries.”

He told Artspace, “I’m really worried, like many people are. There could be a lost generation.” With the Picasso shattering auction records this month, and art prices continuously soaring, perhaps the art market should be a little more worried (see Record-Shattering Picasso Sale Heralds Beginning of End of Current Art Market Boom).




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