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Top Five Tips from Art Industry Experts

Leading New York City gallerists Stefania Bortolami, James Fuentes, and Richard Taittinger discuss how to make it in the gallery world, an increasingly competitive and challenging space for small business owners. Watch the full video and here are five takeaways from our Speakers Series panel:

1. Set Up Shop
All three panelists emphasized the importance of occupying a physical space to display your artists’ works. Ms. Bortolami - a Sotheby’s Institute alumna - explained that an art gallery is not a space for retail; it is an arena for culture. An exhibition confined to pixels and trapped as a digital recreation on a website does injustice to a work of art. The lazy thumb of a customer scrolling through her Instagram does not compare to the face-to-face interaction between a viewer and a painting. You don’t have to accept the unconscionable rent prices of trendy spots like Chelsea. “Location does not have an impact on the success of a gallery. Even if you are outside the hot spots, you can still have a successful gallery,” Mr. Resch explained. Both Mr. Fuentes and Mr. Taittinger love their locations in the Lower East Side and Ms. Bortolami looks forward to moving to Tribeca.

 “Location does not have an impact on the success of a gallery. Even if you are outside the hot spots, you can still have a successful gallery.”

2. Don’t be Afraid to Lose
The first two years will be tough. Your gallery might run at a loss. Mr. Resch explained that 55% of all galleries make $200k in revenue, which isn’t much when you subtract the cut for the artist, your employees, and rent. “Galleries open and they close, it’s tough,” Mr. Resch admits. So how do industry veterans like Bortolami and Fuentes stay afloat? They ride the ebb and flow of a volatile market. They accept their losses and move on. When rising rent prices pushed Ms. Bortolami out of Chelsea, she simply packed up her things and moved downtown. She described several colleagues of hers moving to Harlem, the Flower District, and Midtown. The mission of a gallerist is not to maximize profits; it is to encourage creativity and preserve beauty. This kind of undertaking is beyond market forces.

3. Do it Differently
Galleries are a place for artists to experiment and play with their imagination. Gallery owners tend to have the same creative tendencies. In a market dominated by wild personalities and free spirits, it is important to make yourself stand out among the colorful crowd. Bortolami recently created a project called “Artist/City” as a way to get her artists to interact with the public outside of a monetary transaction. Taittinger recommends, “Why don’t you do something other than what most people do?” Taittinger opens his gallery every day and in the summer, a usually unpopular time for exhibitions, and Fuentes has long been a champion of up-and-coming and experimental artists. All three panelists agree that in order to improve your gallery and last in the business, you need to get a little weird.

4. Reconsider the Art Fair
While the Art Fair might be an important source of revenue, you don’t have to snag a ticket to every show. Fuentes recently decided to scale back on his attendance because of the risky market and uncertain outcome of the art fair game. Bortolami is also cutting back on her attendance. “For the life of the gallery, which shows to go to each year is a negotiation,” Fuentes explains. The gallerists all recommend the Art Dealers Association of America because it is not expensive and more buyers come through. They agree that the art fair can be a gamble, and it’s not always necessary to attend if you own a gallery in New York. The entire art world flocks to the city for the world’s hottest fairs, so even if your gallery doesn’t have a booth, it is likely that buyers will be in town and visit your space anyway.

5. Empower Your Passion
“Long story short, it has to be your passion,” Taittinger advises when asked about the best way to enter the art industry. This industry is designed for individuals to discover things about themselves and share those stories with the world. The art market is a platform for learning, innovation, and conversation. Passion is the best resource to navigate this kind of field. Passion inspires hard work, and people notice. Bortolami praises a young employee who never used her phone, and Taittinger remembers when he was the first to arrive and the last to leave at his first job. Fuentes couldn’t verbalize the reason for his dedication; “I still haven’t figured it out…[this field] encourages a constant curiosity in me that helps push me forward.”

For more insight about the art gallery industry today, watch the video from our speakers series featuring art world entrepreneur Magnus Resch uncovering data about the gallery business in his newly released, first-of-its-kind, The Global Art Gallery Report.

Written by Samantha MacAvoy

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