The rise and rise of the mega-gallery—intent on creating a global brand—has never been more obvious than this week at Art Basel Miami Beach. The fair’s floorplan is something of a blueprint for the increasingly hierarchical market, with the best spots in the convention centre given over to dealers such as Barbara Gladstone (H13), David Zwirner (J19), Gagosian Gallery (J13), Pace (C10) and, at the oceanfront entrance, Hauser & Wirth (K17).

“The market now concentrates on the bigger and the bolder. It isn’t just about multiple cities but also multiple sites in the same cities,” says dealer Thaddaeus Ropac (C11), who this year opened a second, larger, space in Salzburg and is soon to do the same in Paris.

At the extreme end of this increasingly competitive environment is the Gagosian Gallery, due to open its 11th space in its eighth city (Hong Kong) early next year. The gallery’s rapid expansion seems to play to today’s cash-rich but time-poor collectors. (Gagosian is rumoured to have sold seven works within the opening hour of the fair on Wednesday.) Other galleries have to play the same game—assuming they can afford to—or are forced to rethink their business models.

So how did art galleries become such big business? For those who believe that art belongs in the luxury goods market, the shift towards big-brand commercialism has been inevitable for some time. Look at the events around South Beach this week: LVMH, Fendi, Absolut and Cartier are all firms who know how to generate success from global marketing. This trend suits buying habits in some of the newer geographic pockets of wealth, many of which are temples to international brands.


Melanie Gerlis
The Art Newspaper