When the global financial crisis hit, the market for art was pulled in two very different directions. At the top end, global sales broke records in 2011, topping $5.7 billion based on the latest figures from Christie’s, an increase of 14 per cent over 2010. At the other end of the scale, auction websites such as GraysOnline have created a ready market in sub-$1000 pieces.
However, the small independent gallery owners, where business depends on demand for works that fall between those two extremes, are struggling.
“We’re in the luxury item business,” says Rebecca Ayre-Smith, who for the past three years has been an independent gallerist and artists agent using the title of Aeon Arts. “It’s harder for people to commit to buying art when they are worried about money.”
Although demand for established artists has held strong, gallerist Sandy Edwards says people are less willing than ever to take a chance on younger talent, making it harder even for established gallerists to maintain a regular stream of shows.
“Many galleries have been running exhibitions at a loss, which they can’t sustain, and have closed as a result,” Edwards says.
Facing this situation, Ayre-Smith and Edwards have come together with printmaker and exhibitor Michelle Perry and curator Mary Meyer to launch Syndicate, a commercial gallery in Sydney’s Dank Street art complex in Waterloo.
While most galleries are independently run and feature works from a single stock room, Syndicate will host exhibitions from all four participants and provide buyers with greater diversity of stock, as well as a regular calendar of exhibitions, including contemporary art, photography, prints and paintings.
Although they would have struggled individually to maintain regular calendars of exhibitors, by working together, the four are each able to provide their businesses with a stronger foundation, expanding the sorts of services they can provide both buyers and artists.
“Over the years, I’ve built up a stable of artists but I haven’t wanted to represent them because I haven’t had a solid space behind me where I could show their work,” Edwards explains. “This way, I only need to fill the space for part of the year and don’t face the risks associated with operating it fully, or constantly looking for new spaces to hire for one-off events.”
Syndicate had its first joint project on February 21 in a free exhibition that was open to the public and kicked off a steady stream of shows throughout 2012.
“This industry has never really had this concept of joining forces, so it’s only been the really big gallerists who could sustain a diverse range of shows,” Ayre-Smith says.
“By working together, we get the best of both worlds.”