Move over galleries: artists sign with agents
As Stuart Semple joins an agency that also represents models and musicians, is there a new way to sell art?
By Cristina Ruiz. Art Market, Issue 243, February 2013
Published online: 14 February 2013
The British artist Stuart Semple has signed a contract for worldwide representation with the fashion agency Next Management, a move that highlights again how the traditional artist-gallery relationship is changing. Several artists, including Damien Hirst and Keith Tyson, have agents or managers who provide financial advice and handle their business dealings with galleries, but Semple says his collaboration with Next Management will more closely resemble relationships in the music industry, where managers act as a buffer between their acts and the outside world, helping to promote their work and negotiate their projects.
Next Management, which represents hundreds of models as well as actresses such as Jessica Alba and musicians including Lana Del Rey and Jessie J, says it will help Semple to negotiate deals in the luxury goods industry, an area of increasing importance to artists.
Semple says that the task of selling his art and cultivating relationships with collectors will still be done by the galleries that exhibit his work—Anna Kustera in New York and the Fine Art Society Contemporary in London. However, Semple adds, there is room for another intermediary. “You won’t find a decent musician without a manager in this day and age. Yes, they have a record label that makes their work available, maybe advances them money to make it, but their manager stands between the artist and the label. Same with… artist, gallery and manager. There’s no real difference.”
The key question is whether or not managers can develop artists’ careers in the same way as dealers, who build reputations through years of curated shows and by successfully placing their artists’ work in museums and prestigious private collections.
“It’s a model that indicates that art belongs to a much bigger picture than it ever did,” says Andrew Renton, the director of Marlborough Contemporary in London. “I’m wary [of dismissing] new models because they come up all the time. However, the gallery is still the place for a more sophisticated expertise and a longer-term focus on the artist. Art thrives on context. The reason you work with a gallery is because you want to be involved in a particular context that allows your work to be part of a wider artistic dialogue. The question is, what conversation do you want to be in?” he asks.
Semple, who regularly releases artwork on iTunes, says that Next Management will help him to extend his reach far beyond the confines of the art world. The agency has a “vision of how art can be extended in a digital age and for a new generation like mine”, he says.
Early pioneers of this type of collaboration are the California music managers Pat Magnarella and Roger Klein, who have represented the US rock band Green Day for more than 12 years, helping them to sell 75 million albums. Around four years ago, the pair started to sign visual artists. They now work with half a dozen, including the street art couple Miss Bugs, the British painter Charming Baker, the graffiti artist D*Face, New York-based Logan Hicks, and Chris Levine, whose portrait of the Queen is on the £100 note issued in Jersey to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee.
“I’m not interested in getting the art world to know about my artists; I’m interested in getting the world to know about them,” Magnarella told The Art Newspaper in 2009, explaining how cross-promotional projects could help to raise awareness of the artists on his roster.
One such endeavour was the display of high-resolution reproductions of works commissioned by Hicks in the venues where Green Day performed on their 2009 US tour. The band’s fans were able to download the images to their mobile phones, thanks to a deal with Verizon.
Next month, Magnarella and Klein will host a show of paintings and sculptures by Charming Baker in a 15,000 sq. ft hangar at the Milk Studio in Los Angeles (21-24 March)—and will “promote the hell out of it”, in Klein’s words.
Four years ago, the duo were selling Baker’s work for around £1,500. After a sell-out show in 2010 in New York, where his paintings were bought in bulk by Damien Hirst, Alberto Mugrabi and Frank Cohen, the artist’s canvases now go for between £70,000 and £90,000.
Klein acknowledges that fashion collaborations, pop-up shows, iTunes releases and a successful commercial career won’t get you an exhibition at Tate Modern. He says Charming Baker will be ready to join a “major commercial gallery like Gagosian, Pace or Hauser & Wirth within two years”. If he does, “we’ll be negotiating his entry there from a position of power”, Klein says.
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