There has been a lot of talk about the new collaborative spirit, born out of adversity during the pandemic, among commercial galleries—to some extent it is true, to the rest of that extent it is a good PR line.
But now, some action: a group of influential galleries have come together to form a new International Galleries Alliance (IGA). It is intended to be an "empowering" community, a union of sorts, sharing information and acting as a forum for discussion in an industry of sole-operators.
According to a statement, the non-profit IGA is "envisioned to be a professional collaborative alliance between art galleries, building on the shared values, non-hierarchical partnerships, and non-centric programming that aims to represent the complexity of the contemporary art trade."
It will launch with an online summit (planned to become a bi-annual event) and chat forum, and under development are a weekly newsletter and a new online sales platform that will be "independent of corporate ownership"—the IGA will not take any profits or commissions, and galleries' data will be protected. Galleries must pay an annual subscription of €750/$900/£650 to join.
The plan is to launch IGA with around 300 member galleries (there are currently 163) and the founding organising committee of around 20 includes Tim Blum of Blum & Poe, Joost Bosland of Stevenson, Vanessa Carlos of Carlos/Ishikawa, Sadie Coles of Sadie Coles HQ, Jan Mot, Franco Noero of Galleria Franco Noero, Lisa Panting of Hollybush Gardens, Prateek Raja of Experimenter, Stuart Shave of Modern Art and Toby Webster of The Modern Institute. Half of these members, who will oversee the administration and organising of activities on a voluntary basis, will rotate out after a two year period. All members are invited by a voting committee of 40 galleries—among them Greg Hilty of Lisson Gallery, Bridget Donahue and Xavier Hufkens—and these will also rotate.
Joost Bosland, the director of the Cape Town, Johannesburg and Amsterdam-based Stevenson gallery, joined the organising committee at the end of August—he had formed "lockdown friendships" with Sadie Coles and Jan Mot over the past 18 months, partly through Galleries Curate. "There was a sense that galleries' interests were looked after by the fairs, and that was a comfortable fiction for a while as we were all too busy to do it ourselves. But over the past two years, there's been a sense that the interests of fairs were not automatically aligned with those of their exhibitors," Bosland says, quickly adding that the IGA is "not set up in conflict with fairs". He feels one of the most exciting plans for the IGA is the bi-annual conference, "a forum for the exchange of best practices, globally", and the online selling platform which, crucially, "is free from corporate ownership. Bosland adds, "even the word platform has been claimed by one particular corporate entity to present art from different galleries, but very much through their own portal", referring to David Zwirner's Platform, a click-to-buy marketplace for original works from around a dozen galleries. "We've realised that we're handing over a significant chunk of our data to these third parties that don't necessarily share our interests...our data is hugely valuable, and IGA's platform will keep it confidential."
What makes the IGA different from other gallery associations, in Bosland's view, is the global nature of it, with galleries from Mumbai to Guatemala "a genuinely international representative group of colleagues—many of us from outside Europe and the US have looked for many years at the selection committees of major fairs and other prominent industry bodies and thought they were very Berlin, London and New York-centric." He also makes a special mention of IGA's company secretary, Naomi Pearce, "the proverbial herder of cats who is truly exceptional."
He adds: "This is not just another Zoom project: the founding galleries have put real money and resources into it. I have felt—and this is my personal view, not on behalf of the IGA— some frustration at how easily the lofty ideals of a year ago have fallen by the wayside as things get busier again."
Cornelia Grassi, the owner director of the London-based greengrassi gallery, become involved in IGA through the London gallery Whatsapp group formed in the first lockdown last year, which, she says, was invaluable for sharing “nuts and bolts information about Brexit, PPE, AML, shipping—all sorts of things we need to know.” That information sharing is a central tenet of the IGA too. “Community intel sharing is a wonderful thing and it didn’t happen properly for a very long time,” Grassi says. “That was heightened over the past 18 months by the fact that the normal banter at fairs couldn’t happen. Dialogue is powerful and the IGA is a forum for dialogue.” She adds that there is “no pecking order, which is wonderful” and that the organisation is not making too many promises to galleries: “As soon as you’re making lots of promises, you’re selling something.”
The lone operator nature of the art world has become “much more accentuated in the past 20 years”, Grassi says: “If you think of the history of the great galleries like Konrad Fischer and Gian Enzo Sperone, they were collaborating. And if you think about the history of conceptual art, it came from America but could not have happened without those galleries sharing shows. Collaboration was, after World War II, what made contemporary art possible. And this lone operator thing is a blip and actually it has been born out of this emphasis in the market on performance and competition, making too many promises to your artists.” She adds: “I’m very excited about the future, it’s a chance to rethink and discuss what a gallery should be. We are laying tracks, but we don’t know where the destination is yet.”