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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

Covid-19 creates a tsunami in Galleries and Fairs worldwide.

Art galleries fear an escalation of bankruptcies, and fairs will face the consequences of the coronavirus crisis violently, while the profession tries to organize itself to deal with it.

"We have all tried to tighten the bolts but it is the impression of a tsunami: the sea is receding and we do not know how the wave will arrive" , summarizes AFP Emmanuel Perrotin , whose gallery of international stature is not threatened. But he is worried about the disappearance of small structures and fears an increased concentration of the market after the crisis. "Gallerist, it is a caricatured profession for its exploits, its worldly games. But it is extremely hard and risky. We help our artists to produce their dreams. It is essential not to take care only of those who already a lot of success. But also to seed and support the most fragile, " pleads the merchant art established in Asia and on the American continent.

Marion Papillon, president of the Professional Committee of Art Galleries (CPGA), has published an alarming study conducted among its 279 members: if they do not benefit from an assistance plan, the closure of a third of French galleries is at the project "within the next twelve months". Their losses cannot be compensated for by a rapid resumption of activity, "works of art being the last things we start to buy" after a crisis.

85% of art galleries are VSEs employing less than five employees. Thousands of jobs are closely linked to them: framers, restorers, curators, artisans, stage managers, publishers, lawyers, etc.

Loans, debts with artists, operating costs, rents "some gallery owners have personal fortunes to be able to hold out," says Emmanuel Perrotin. And sometimes trouble comes and goes: "The galleries of the Marais rented their spaces at Fashion Week. Canceled!"

As for the fairs, they generate on average 30% of the turnover of the galleries: "if the fairs are postponed from 2 to 7 months, it is a return on investment postponed by as much" . As the high season begins in March, 74% of galleries have engaged in 2 or 3 fairs on average during the first half. In the absence of sales, there are, therefore, the losses linked to the interruption of certain fairs.

Fewer fairs?

Thierry Ehrmann, president of Artprice, the world leader in information on the art market, assures that because of the crisis, "two big shows will not resume next year", without saying which ones.

"We can say that there are too many fairs", even if "it is important that many galleries can access this," judge Emmanuel Perrotin. But "it would take four events a year where the world of international art meets. And others more local," he said.

For galleries, the alternative may be switching to online sales platforms. Their supporters praise the quality of the catalogs,

"if certain large galleries which have customers abroad, practice it for a few years, it is more complicated for the young galleries. It is necessary expertise; the works must be thought for this type of support". "Offering experience in front of the work remains very important", insists Emmanuel Perrotin

According to the president of Artprice, "the IT delay is colossal: 10 to 15 years late for certain galleries", especially in Europe. He hails a "real revolution" in favor of the crisis in the galleries of the United States, where "we want to understand everything" of online sales. "The non-digital ayatollahs have all found the light!", he has fun. He noted that auction houses began to migrate on the Internet, starting with Sotheby's, where, in the first quarter of 2020, online sales of fine arts reached 6.4% of sales revenue.


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