Chelsea’s Biggest Galleries Are Pushing an Impossible Standard for Dealers

Yayoi Kusama’s With All My Love For The Tulips, I Pray Forever at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this month, reports emerged that indicated the mega-huge Gagosian Gallery “franchise” would be expanding its reach in the Chelsea neighborhood by leasing a 7,900 square foot space on West 24th Street; space that was formerly occupied by the currently-incarcerated downtown icon Mary Boone. Gagosian isn’t the only brand-named global gallery network looking to impress in the neighborhood, however. Pace, David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth are also jostling to reintroduce themselves to a crowded and competitive art market on a grand scale. Evidently, if you’re a gallery director looking to attract high-rolling clients to your wares, forget simply selling art. Your imperative has become the provision of services that will make the lives of the collectors you’re serving as easy and seamless as possible. This, the New York Times posits, has led to brand-name galleries “shifting their emphasis from selling and showing art to a more full-service visitor experience that offers food, performance spaces, research libraries and open storage.”

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When one pictures a large and architecturally elaborate building boasting these kinds of offerings, what instantly comes to mind is a museum like the Whitney, which not-coincidentally is located right around the corner from these expanding galleries. However, the phrase “full-service visitor experience” also brings to mind a luxurious hotel that caters to the paying customer’s every need. This isn’t an accidental shift: extremely wealthy art buyers expect five-star treatment everywhere they go, including from their thoroughbred art galleries of choice.

Marc Glimcher, the president of Pace Gallery, told the Times that the future of art galleries lies in making them into places of ecstatic congregation, “like church.” Pace’s new, Bonetti/Kozerski-designed location in Chelsea opens in September. And over on West 21st Street, David Zwirner is planning the 2021 launch of a $50 million, 5-story ultra-gallery designed by Renzo Piano, the same architect who dreamed up the still-in-development Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.

Maybe someday soon, well-moneyed art patrons can choose to snooze among their purchases before putting them in storage, if they wish: a full pivot to hotel-museum-gallery synergy that mirrors From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Chelsea’s Biggest Galleries Are Pushing an Impossible Standard for Dealers