Don’t be afraid of management consultants

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Berlin based entrepreneur Magnus Resch recommends in his new book "Management of Art Galleries" that galleries could take even more money from their artists. "The Art Newspaper" asked me to comment this. Here is what I think:

The main premise of Resch’s book is that too many contemporary art galleries lose money and those that make it don’t make enough. Sounds like the daily dinner conversation with my wife. Resch sent a survey to 8,000 galleries in addition to operating three of his own in furtherance of his research (though there are no details of his own experiences included). The statistics he cites to illustrate his primary thesis that galleries are lousy at business include the revelation that fully 30% of the respondents actually lose money yearly. This confirms my long held belief that gallerists are among the kindest, most altruistic lot on the face of the earth: dealers do it for free! Would make a good giveaway bumper sticker (read on).

Don’t be afraid of red, yellow and blue (as Barnett Newman would say) or of management consultants. The suggestion that art dealers should embrace standard techniques of the business world is slightly misguided as the art world is its own universe with its own language and particular way of doing deals. I agree with the premise that art dealers generally display a weakness when it comes to number crunching and could benefit from more acumen with figures other than nudes—but hey, we don’t do much math other than applying discounts (albeit with hesitation). Anyway, art is not reducible to a series of MBA formulae like CARG (compound annual growth rate), speaking of which, how was yours Magnus during your run of gallery proprietorships?

A surprising finding is that galleries put their own artists above auction houses as perceived threats to their business models. After 25 years of working with artists of all stripes I’m glad I’m not alone in complaining about having the oxygen sucked out of my mouth by some recent art graduate who believes he or she has the power to cure humanity of a social ill. Resch recommends representing fewer artists, taking bigger gallery commissions and cutting loose the "dogs". In his view, then, a sure-fire route to success is to rid the gallery of the artists that constitute the foundation of the business  (or pay them less). But when viewed as a competitive threat, it makes perfect sense. 

Resch says sales should be celebrated to buttress the business: can’t argue with that, I heard Gagosian books the Folies Bergère every time a big client rolls into town. He also proposes giveaways such as free doodads, tokens and souvenirs designed by artists, without doubt a way to staunch hemorrhaging losses. He also suggests letting your clients get involved in the actual making of the art…obviously allowing collectors to make your art for you is a telltale sign of a fine, fine artist. Happy hour discounts, now there’s a plan: piña colada with your Picasso?

The strength of the book is its case studies of dealers, including Jeanne Greenberg, Per Skarstedt, Vanessa Carlos, and others, though the stories do little to confirm or disprove Resch’s theories about a dire lack of structural management practices. The successes vividly depict that there is not a single quick fix or rote plan to make it in the trade instead, tenacity is the common thread. Ticking all the business school boxes in the world won’t make up for determination and hard work. That and a few good eyes should do it.

If you take Management of Art Galleries with humour and a 100 grains of salt you may find yourself enjoying a chuckle while taking in a handful of fun facts and studies that do no more than scratch the surface of the art market’s realities. But what more could you want from this little day-glo book? I need a management consultant pronto; can someone make me a graph please?

Im Monopol-Interview erklärt der Drucker Boris Brumnjak, warum er zehntausend Exemplare von Reschs Ratgeber "Management von Kunstgalerien" mit Statements bekritzelt hat.

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