As businesses in New York and around the world remain closed and struggle to grapple with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, many small and midsize galleries are seeking to migrate to online marketplaces and virtual showrooms. Such transitions, however, can prove difficult for dealerships that lack the resources or the staff to digitize their inventories. In recognition of the hardships facing smaller galleries, David Zwirner is offering to share its online display rooms with twelve other New York dealers.
According to the New York Times, Zwirner conceived of the initiative, titled “Platform: New York,” in collaboration with his children and the younger staffers employed by the gallery. Among the smaller galleries that were invited to share the behemoth’s digital presence are 47 Canal, Bridget Donahue, David Lewis, Essex Street, and Queer Thoughts. The participants will be invited to feature two works by a single artist on the project’s site, which will debut on April 3.
“It’s been a tough situation for everyone, but all things considered, our gallery has been fortunate—we’ve been able to quickly move our exhibitions and presentations online, since we already have a digital space built out,” David Zwirner director Thor Shannon told Artnet News. “Recognizing that not every gallery is in this exact same position. . .we realized that something we could concretely offer was the digital infrastructure that we already have in place.”
International art fairs have also begun to move online, as large-scale art events are canceled and postponed in waves as the global health crisis continues to escalate. Fairs are a vital means through which many galleries make sales, meet new clients, and promote their programs. Art Basel and UBS’s 2020 Art Market Report states that art fairs generated $16.6 billion in sales in 2019 and that dealers also netted 45 percent of their annual sales by participating in the fair cycle. One of the first to embrace the need to give galleries an alternative fair platform was Art Basel.
The art-world giant launched its digital initiative, the Online Viewing Rooms, after the company decided to cancel the 2020 edition of its Hong Kong fair because of COVID-19. The project’s site featured more than 2,000 works from 235 galleries—more than 90 percent of the exhibitors that intended to participate in the Hong Kong event. While mega-galleries including Zwirner, Gagosian, and Hauser & Wirth, which already have strong digital profiles, reported sales in the six-to-seven-figure range during the initiative’s weeklong run, measuring how the platform benefited smaller galleries may be more difficult.
Maho Kubota, proprietor of the young Tokyo-based Maho Kubota Gallery, said that they were thrilled when the gallery received inquiries from the United States and Europe about the works they listed by artist Teppei Takeda, who remains relatively unknown in the international art scene, and were able to sell work on the new platform. While Alex Logsdail, the executive director of Lisson Gallery, said that the Viewing Rooms was “not a substitute for the pace and interaction of an art fair,” he said that taking part in the new initiative was still a “worthwhile experience.”
Frieze, which called off the 2020 edition of its New York fair earlier this month, will also set up an online viewing room. The nearly two-hundred exhibitors that had signed up for the fair, which would have taken place at Randall’s Island Park from May 7–May 10, will be able to upload works onto Frieze’s platform and app for free. In an email reviewed by Artnews, fair organizers informed participants about the initiative: “The Frieze Viewing Room gives new and established collectors, museum professionals, and the public the ability to digitally explore and acquire art from you and other world leading galleries. We hope that the refund and the Frieze Viewing Room will provide support for your business during this difficult and unprecedented time.”