CAREERS + ED ISSUE: Gallery evictions signal a major shift in the art world, with the technology boom serving as the problem and its potential solution
"We're hearing from our colleagues, art dealers and artists in New York and Los Angeles, they're starting to talk about what's happening in San Francisco," Marx says. "It's on the topic of conversation all across the country really, within the art world. I think finally with Rena [Bransten] closing — she was one of the biggest galleries in San Francisco history and a real anchor — for her to move out and reinvent to find a space, that sort of woke everybody up."
But the National Art Index found that arts engagement remains prosperous. Art museum attendance has been steady, but the way the public consumes art is expanding and shifting. The study found that the market is moving towards personally curated engagement, which can be seen in San Francisco.
The former George Krevsky Gallery is reinventing itself to become George Krevsky Fine Arts Services. The new business model will operate by appointment only and "will be providing art advisory services in collection management and interior design, conservation, archival framing, shipping and handling, and appraisals," according to the website.
Adler&Co, one of the remaining galleries at 77 Geary, offers consulting services as well. The National Arts Index shows an ever-present demand for art that is undergoing a transformation in how the public chooses to participate in the arts.
When the technology industry brings in the big bucks, other industries are forced to keep up with innovation. Almost every coffee shop, retail store, and restaurant has a Yelp listing, Facebook page, and Twitter handle. Many art galleries are present on Yelp, but the art world as a whole is lacking an online presence.
"Technological advances are driving seismic shift in audience involvement and participation across all art forms," Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, explained in the 2013 National Arts Index report. "Arts organizations that fully understand how to properly use these tools have a much better chance of sustaining their current audience while simultaneously attracting new patrons."
To the dismay of many art galleries, the delivery model for the arts is going digital. Digital downloads have replaced music CD sales. Kindles and Nooks have replaced books. While the art industry is several years behind, savvy entrepreneurs are just now seeking to tap into the art market through technology.
Catherine Cu is the founder of EnzoArt, a new startup e-commerce website that brings together artists and consumers. Similar to the traditional model of art galleries, the company will provide an online representation for artists.
"I think a lot of young people may be interested in having more choices than what galleries have to offer," Cu tells us. She draws the parallel to online shopping. "Online, we have a wealth of options — nearly infinite product options and the ability to arm ourselves with information before we make a purchase. The gallery model is a little different. There aren't as many choices and there's not as much transparency. Younger folks aren't drawn to that."
Cu intends to recreate the personal experience of art online. She envisions a model with an online marketplace similar to Airbnb, connecting artists with art buyers. The human aspect is essential to art purchasing, but instead of it being through a gallery, it will be directly between the artist and the consumer.
"It's not just about having a piece of art to hang on the wall, which can feel impersonal and commoditized" Cu says. "It's about connecting the buyer and the artist so that the buyer has a more meaningful experience with the piece."