In the past decade or so, the way that art is exhibited, bought and sold has made a major shift. The number of art fairs is at a record high. For some galleries, these art fairs can be highly beneficial, as sellers are able to increase their visibility and widen their market. Participating in art fairs year-round can be an immense financial burden, and yet if galleries choose to opt out, they are considered irrelevant. This high-cost, high-risk atmosphere of most art fairs poses an immense threat to the existence of smaller brick and mortar gallery spaces and can be very costly and profit-eating even to the established galleries.
As New York-based artist consultant Elliott Levenglick, who runs his eponymous firm, explains, “it’s become increasingly difficult to run gallery space and put on shows 12 months a year while competing with art fairs, where it seems like there's a new one every week. Because the art market is shifting so much, and more and more galleries are leaving the brick and mortar model, the more traditional positions are shifting as well.” The question is: how are galleries leveraging shrinking budgets or continuing to exhibit work even if they don’t have a traditional flagship space? Enter, art exhibition consultants.
So what exactly is an art exhibition consultant? Whereas traditionally art consultants advise art collectors (on art acquisitions, collection management and more), an art exhibition consultant works on the other end of things, advising and assisting galleries as well as artists on the exhibition side of the business, including logistics and strategy-based work. They help galleries operate in the most cost efficient, timely manner. Says Jessica Arisohn, co-founder of art exhibition consulting firm Arisohn + Murphy, “exhibition consultants do everything from managing a master exhibition list; to budgeting, scheduling, space acquisition and lease negotiations; to oversight on all framing, transportation, and installation; to outreach strategies and press. It really depends on what the client needs.”
Arisohn and her partner Rysia Murphy were both formerly exhibition managers at Gagosian Gallery in New York, where one of their areas of expertise was to oversee pop-up exhibitions for the gallery. Like art fairs, pop-up exhibitions help galleries capture the attention of potential buyers in different geographic markets without a brick and mortar space, and with a short time window to achieve success. Noticing that the art market was in need of this type of pop-up assistance at a larger scale, Arisohn and Murphy founded their own consulting agency to help galleries see their projects through to fruition. Says Arisohn, “our main clients are galleries who are looking to execute exhibitions here in New York, but who may not have a permanent location in the city. We act as the gallery’s ambassadors, utilizing the relationships that we have built over the years in the New York art world in order to execute the exhibitions on their behalf. This format allows galleries to be more international and nimble without major overhead costs of a permanent space or staff.”
Art Fair Consultants
Similarly, Christine Carrier, founder of Christine Carrier Arts, took on the role of what she refers to as “art world concierge” in response to the needs she saw among gallerists and dealers while working as an international art fair director for a number of years. “I noticed that galleries and dealers simply didn’t know where the type of work they were showing belonged” says Carrier. “They would apply to fairs that weren’t the right fit and they wouldn’t get in. Utilizing her connections and understanding of the art fair market, Carrier is able to create specific business plans that cater to a galleries specific needs and budget. “I help galleries avoid wasting money applying to a number of fairs, where the application fee alone can be up to $350” explains Carrier.
In addition to assisting with smarter fair applications, Carrier also offers other advisory services to help galleries with their art fair events, including strategic positioning, scheduling, lighting, and coordinating a sales staff.
Carrier stresses the importance of being realistic when measuring success. “I can’t guarantee sales,” she says, “but what I can offer is placement in the best possible setting to sell their particular artwork.” While many want to be part of the more upscale fairs such as TEFAF, it’s not always the best fit for every gallery. “These days, there are enough art fairs for every kind of work. The trick is finding the one that works for you. If you’re applying to the right shows with the right work, you’re going to get in.” In addition, she says “I would much rather have a smaller booth that looks fabulous than a larger space that looks all wrong.”
A Worthy Investment
It might seem counterintuitive to hire an exhibition consultant when one already has a very tight budget for exhibitions in the first place. Art exhibition consultants have had to adapt their business models to accommodate smaller budgets. “I’ve seen a growing number of advisors working on a project base, or consulting on site-specific projects,” explains Levenglick.
However, in the long-run, an art exhibition consultant can actually save clients money, as they can prevent common costly mistakes that many - even established galleries - make when exhibiting at pop-ups or art fairs. Explains Carrier, “a lot of exhibitors have every cent they have tied up in their booth, so it’s my job to make sure they get the most out of their experience.”
The art market is shifting, and as with any market shift, adaptability is key. Art exhibition consultants can help galleries make the transition to a new model of buying and selling art via temporary exhibitions like art fairs and pop-ups a far smoother and more efficient one.
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