Art Galleries Face Pressure to Fund Museum Shows ; Practice of Dealers Paying for Exhibitions Raises Conflict of Interest Issues

By Pogrebin, Robin | International New York Times, March 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Art Galleries Face Pressure to Fund Museum Shows ; Practice of Dealers Paying for Exhibitions Raises Conflict of Interest Issues


Pogrebin, Robin, International New York Times


Galleries have always provided scholarly support for museums exhibiting their artists' work. Now they're expected to provide money, too.

Galleries have always provided scholarly support for museums exhibiting their artists' work.

Now they're expected to provide money, too.

In today's exploding art market, amid diminishing corporate donations and mounting exhibition costs, nonprofit museums have been leaning more heavily on commercial galleries for larger amounts of money -- anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000 each time -- to help pay for shows featuring work by artists the galleries represent.

The increasingly common arrangement has stoked concerns about conflicts of interest and the dilution of a museum's mission to present art for art's sake. Such cozy situations raise the specter of a pay-to-play model and could give galleries undue influence over what the public sees.

"It's really gotten out of hand," said Lawrence R. Luhring of the Luhring Augustine gallery in New York. "It's the brazenness of it -- just the expectation of 'How are you going to contribute?"'

Others say the galleries, which generally earn from 20 percent to 50 percent commission on each sale, shouldn't complain, because the prestige of museum shows raises the value of an artist's work, bolstering gallery profits.

"Museums are giving these galleries the best platform in the art world for free, where they can sell work to their clients on the walls of the greatest museums," said Jeffrey Deitch, a longtime dealer and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. "If the galleries can contribute, why not?"

Maxwell Anderson, who has served as the director of institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Dallas Museum of Art, said: "Gallery-supported exhibitions commingle inventory that may be for sale with museum inventory. The self- interest of the gallery can compromise the independence and integrity of the curatorial voice."

Examples of gallery support abound. For the Whitney's recent popular Frank Stella retrospective, the installation of two outdoor sculptures was made possible in part by funds from the Marianne Boesky and Dominique Levy galleries, which jointly represent Mr. Stella.

In listing contributors to its current exhibition on the New- York-based German photographer Vera Lutter, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, names the Gagosian Gallery, which represents Ms. Lutter.

And when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art mounted a Pierre Huyghe show two years ago, sponsors included the Marian Goodman Gallery, which represents Mr. Huyghe.

"Ten years ago, museums rarely, if ever, asked galleries to support their artists' museum exhibitions," said Lucy Mitchell- Innes of Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, who said her gallery is asked to support museum shows once or twice a month for $5,000 to $50,000. "Galleries are now regularly asked to support their artists' museum exhibitions."

The gallery payments, which museums generally tailor to a dealer's financial capacity, are directed toward expenses like opening-night dinners, catalogs, shipping, even the costs associated with an artist's creating new work for a show. …

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