Some major-name spaces have closed. Marian Goodman in London, Gavin Brown in New York and Gagosian in San Francisco have permanently shuttered since March. But compared with the main street retail sector, where the coronavirus and a move to online shopping have caused a swath of bankruptcies and job losses, top-end contemporary art dealerships, with their higher price points and margins, have so far proved relatively resilient.
Though sales might be down, international galleries continue to expand their bricks-and-mortar footprints. The Italian dealerships Massimo De Carlo and Continua have opened branches in Paris, underscoring the growing importance of the French capital in Europe’s post-Brexit art market. Xavier Hufkens is extending one of his Brussels exhibition spaces to triple its size. And then there is Hauser & Wirth’s long-planned 16,000 square-foot art center in a decommissioned naval hospital on Isla del Rey, on the island of Minorca.
Opening in July with a show of works by the Los Angeles abstract painter Mark Bradford, this museum-style collaborative project maintains Hauser & Wirth’s reputation for counterintuitive “outlier” locations, like its branch in Somerset, in the English countryside.
For the mega-gallery’s founder Iwan Wirth, and many other dealers, a prestigious urban location is no longer the only key to success. They point out that international collectors have now become accustomed to bidding big-ticket prices at online auctions for artworks they have yet to view in person.
“‘Phygital’ is the future of commercial art galleries,” said Wirth, referring to a hybrid business model that blends digital and physical experiences. This new way of working had emerged during the pandemic, he added.
“It needs bricks and mortar. Artists respond to a physical context, but it’s digitally accessible to everyone everywhere,” said Wirth. As an example, Wirth pointed to the Los Angeles artist Henry Taylor, who has recently created a body of work at Hauser & Wirth’s locked-down gallery in Somerset. On Friday, this became viewable and available online, priced between $65,000 and $750,000.