Mike Berg at Stremmel Gallery.
The notion that collectors sit atop the hierarchy of today’s art world is axiomatic. They build private museums and control the boards of traditional ones. Through their acquisitions, they determine the fates of artists, and often overshadow curators, historians, and critics—all those ink-stained intellectuals who used to play a larger role in determining art’s value.
And yet, one must not discount the supplier. On the primary market—the placement of new work straight from artists’ studios—art dealers often shape collectors’ tastes. On both the primary and secondary, or resale, markets, they shepherd artworks onto collectors’ walls (or, as the case may be, into their freeport storage spaces in Geneva or Singapore). In a recent profile of David Zwirner in the New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten wrote that “one prominent collector referred to Zwirner as his top ‘go-get guy.’ To go and get, you have to know who owns what, how he or his heirs feel about it, how desperately they may need money.” Certain dealers are now celebrities. “Call Larry Gagosian, you belong in museums,” rapped Jay-Z, an art collector himself, and one of Gagosian’s high-profile clients.
But even as the world’s most powerful art dealers become household names, there is a pervasive sense that some of them have lost their aesthetic compass, if they ever had one, that they’ve abandoned the idea of taking an aesthetic position in favor of global domination. Today’s so-called mega-galleries have outposts in all the world’s major cities (16 shops and, quite possibly, counting, in Gagosian’s case); by necessity, they have taken on dozens of artists, being perhaps more concerned about having available product than a coherent program. “Now, they’re department stores,” as critic Dave Hickey put it ten years ago, when the mega-gallery phenomenon was ramping up. “Stables of artists once embodied the taste of the gallerist. Now everybody has one of each: your Iranian minimalist photographer, your elegant object maker, your Berlin pornographer.” Read More