The art world is constantly in a state of upheaval and flux, but one of the main indicators that things are truly headed in a new direction is the slow culling of long-established galleries, a phenomenon that’s been making itself evident through a number of closings over the past couple of years. In 2018, dealer Simon Preston elected not to renew the lease on his gallery on the Lower East Side and eventually took a job as senior director of Pace Gallery. On Monday, Artnews reported that the scholar and art dealer Francis Naumann would also be shuttering his eponymous gallery Francis Naumann Fine Art, which has been in open in New York City since 2001, in March 2020. He will continue his work as a dealer out of his Upper East Side apartment.
Naumann is a long-established art world veteran who’s built his career on his knowledge of Marcel Duchamp, Dadaism and Surrealism; he’s published several books on these topics and is also a trained painter himself. “My reason for closing is primarily financial,” he told Artnews. “Over the years, I’ve learned there are fewer and fewer collectors of 20th century art, most preferring to buy cutting-edge contemporary art (and at far higher prices). Moreover, people are attracted by big-name artists (Picasso, Warhol, Basquiat, etc.), or they buy the work of minor artists from big-name galleries (Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, etc.). Besides, I’m now getting too old to put in the effort required to organize exhibitions and participate in art fairs. It’s time.”
Naumann’s insight that buyers are probably only looking to buy the work of little-known artists if they’re endorsed by big galleries is a particularly sharp one. Even if the art world hopefully becomes more democratized between more institutions, and as paths to success improve for marginalized creators, the fact still remains that wealthy collectors in search of fine art will continue to seek out the counsel of “trusted names” in the business.
Put another way: even though new and emerging galleries are happily popping up like daisies in Tribeca, the juggernaut Pace and Gagosian types aren’t going anywhere, and they’ll continue to put smaller competitors out of business.