Young galleries have been having a tough time of late, as rising rents in cities around the world, gentrification and a cooling market for contemporary art have piled on the pressure.
Frieze, however, is doing its bit to help newbies. The enlarged Focus section, dedicated to galleries founded in or after 2004, has had a revamp and includes a new area devoted to live performances, for which exhibitors pay only a small administration fee. The art fair has also reduced the price of stands by between 5% and 20%; galleries exhibiting in Focus can expect to pay nearly 35% less per sq. m than those in the main section.
One of the galleries participating in the new Live section within Focus is Emalin, which opened a permanent space in east London only last week. The gallery’s co-founder, Leopold Thun, says his rent is cheap thanks to a one-month break clause in the lease. “Brexit halted the redevelopment of our building, but it’s a temporary scenario,” he says.
Galleries in cities with sky-high rents are having to find ever more inventive ways to supplement their income, particularly when the cost of participating in an art fair can outweigh sales.
Jesse Darling, March of the Valedictorians (2016) at Arcadia Missa. Photo: David Owens
Rózsa Farkas, the founding director of Arcadia Missa in London’s trendy Peckham area, says she stays in profit by keeping it all in-house. “Last year, we brought our art to Frieze in an Uber,” she says. The gallery also rents out around two-thirds of its south London premises as artists’ studios. Another Peckham gallery, The Sunday Painter, rents out desk space. “It covers the rent for the whole building, which enables us to take risks at Frieze,” says Tom Cole, the gallery’s co-director.
Leo Xu, the founder of Shanghai’s Leo Xu Projects, says he rarely breaks even when taking part in art fairs abroad. “With shipping, travel and production on site, it’s hard to cover costs,” he says, adding that exhibiting at Frieze is more about prestige and exposure. Treating his gallery like an architecture firm is one way in which Xu boosts income. “We sell artists’ ideas to other sectors—shopping malls or urban planners. We can transform art into architecture or public works,” he says.
In Berlin, where rents are still relatively cheap, emerging galleries also struggle to make ends meet. “Times aren’t easy,” says Christian Siekmeier, the director of Exile, which is taking part in Focus for the first time. The gallery is showing two paintings and a large installation (priced between £11,000 and £53,000) by Nathalie Du Pasquier, a founding member of the Memphis group. “It would have been easier to stick up four paintings, but this is a premier fair and it’s about representing our artist’s practice,” Siekmeier says.
The curators Jacob Proctor and Fabian Schöneich, who are the advisers for Focus, agree. “The section tends to produce stronger presentations because artists are really thinking about the spaces as a whole,” Proctor says. But they acknowledge that this can make the works harder to sell. “Some galleries do well in terms of sales, but it’s also about exposure. The kind of visibility galleries get helps in the long term,” Schöneich says.
Katharine Stout, the head of programme at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, perhaps sums it up best: “Focus looks strong this year. It’s not about putting baby in the corner any more.”