Yesterday I posted on a dismal Old Master sale at Christie's New York. In addition, the Art Newspaper posted an article on how many Old Master dealers are adapting to a changing market. They are using new technologies/social media, new displays and even working with contemporary artist to curate exhibitions, and some are now offering contemporary art alongside old master paintings.
As the article notes, "reinvent or die"
The Art Newspaper reports
Source: The Art NewspaperReinvent or die seems be the maxim of the leading Old Master galleries. After more than a decade of difficulties, the trade is rallying. “There’s been a sea change,” says the London-based dealer Johnny Van Haeften. “We’ve got rid of the velvet curtains and we’re welcoming people in.”
The Old Master auctions take place in New York this week as the trade seeks to redefine itself. The industry has been struggling with shrinking supply, rising gallery rents and a market share dwarfed by the Modern and contemporary sector. Now, the Old Masters are modernising. Dealers are experimenting with modes of display, expanding into art from different periods and embracing new technology.
“If we’re thoughtful and clever, we can get people excited about Old Masters,” says Anthony Crichton-Stuart. He is the director of the recently revived Agnew’s Gallery. Founded in 1817, the company closed in 2013, but was bought last year by a group of investors led by Cliff Schorer, a US entrepreneur and Old Master collector.
The new management hopes to “contemporify” Old Masters, Crichton-Stuart says. “Often when you hear contemporary artists such as Bill Viola talk about their work, they refer to what’s been produced before them,” he says. “Old Master dealers can show these influences.” This could mean inviting a contemporary artist to curate a show or working with an expert in the Modern field on exhibitions or events, all with the aim of making Old Masters more accessible.
Redress the balance
These kinds of overtures to contemporary collectors are an attempt to redress the balance between the two markets. More money was spent on Modern and contemporary art in 2014 than ever before, while the Old Master sector lagged behind. The record-breaking sale of Turner’s Rome, From Mount Aventine, 1835, for £30.3m in December highlights the discrepancy. “People would pay twice that amount for an Andy Warhol,” says Guy Stair Sainty of Stair Sainty gallery. “Warhol is a good artist but it’s a totally disproportionate relationship. We look on in puzzled fury, jealousy and amazement that people want to spend anything at all on artists like Jeff Koons, but not on our work.”
Some dealers, such as Robilant+ Voena and Baroni, now sell Modern and contemporary art as well as Old Masters. Others are wary of dipping their toes into this competitive market. “There are too many people who know what they’re doing at a very high level,” says William Mitchell, a director at John Mitchell Fine Paintings in London.
Instead, most Old Master dealers are becoming generalists in their own field. “We can no longer say we specialise in any one period. All of us are having to do other things,” Stair Sainty says. “We recently sold a major work by Jacob Jordaens—not an artist we usually have—to the Abu Dhabi Louvre.”
As dealers broaden their stock, the definition of “Old Masters” is being expanded, particularly to include 19th-century works. Never an art historical movement, the phrase “Old Master” was invented by the Grand Tourists of the 18th century, and has always been a “label that expands as time moves forwards,” Crichton-Stuart says. “If one were to be cynical, one would say that the auctions and dealers are combining Old Master and 19th century as supply runs out, but there is in fact a logical reason why the Old Master world no longer ends abruptly at 1800.”
Another shift is in communication, as dealers wake up to the potential of technology such as Twitter and Instagram. “By its nature, the Old Master trade is not a fast-moving business but a newer generation of dealers are using social media to their advantage,” says Toby Campbell, a director at Rafael Valls, which is also adding QR tags to painting labels so visitors can link to the company’s website.
New blood brings new ideas, too. Sophie Hawkins, Van Haeften’s daughter, joined the gallery last year and has introduced a different aesthetic, based on her background in fashion and interior design. Gone are the dark-green walls, thick carpets and dark furniture, as Hawkins has introduced simpler, more modern frames for many of the works. “The pictures look so much better. Honestly, it’s refreshing,” Van Haeften says.
Meanwhile, the daughters of Konrad Bernheimer, whose Bernheimer gallery celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, have also brought their own style to the business. Blanca Bernheimer is running Bernheimer Fine Art Photography as a separate department in Munich, while Isabel Bernheimer has launched an agency for contemporary artists, Bernheimer Contemporary Art Solutions and Projects, with her father as a client.
“I probably resisted change to start with, but it’s so important to keep up with the times,” Van Haeften says. “Now, I feel very relaxed about it, and very confident about the future.”