At Least There's One CovidProof Business Model in Art
Bloomberg Businessweek|March 01, 2021
Galleries are doing great. Museums? Not so much.
By James Tarmy

Even though 2020 was not the year James Fuentes had bargained for when he tallied up his New York gallery’s profits and losses he was stunned to discover that his business was doing great.

“I need to stress that we were all hustling so hard,” says Fuentes, whose small space on the Lower East Side has five employees and represents 10 artists. “It felt like a fight for survival, and then, come January, we looked back at the last year and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was surprising.”

After almost a year of Covid-19, galleries large and small have discovered that their industry is apparently coronavirus-proof. “It turns out that even with galleries closed and travel nonexistent, collectors all over the world wanted to buy art,” says David Zwirner, whose Chelsea outpost in New York is showing an exhibition of Josef Albers and Giorgio Morandi. “I’m not an anomaly. I heard other folks really did business.”

That’s an understatement. “The market is raging,” says Los Angeles gallerist François Ghebaly, who adds that 2020 was his best year ever in sales and profits. “It’s almost too much. The last few shows have been sold out.”

This was by no means a guarantee when it all began. At the onset of any crisis, “there’s always a moment of flat-out existential panic that lasts, frankly, for a relatively short period of time,” says Sean Kelly, who runs his namesake 22,000-square foot space in New York’s Hudson Yards neighborhood. “We were back in business, as it were, within 10 days.”

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