Simone Leigh’s high-profile departure from Hauser & Wirth last month once again highlighted the increasingly fluid—and often fragile—relationships between artists and their dealers. In her break-up letter, Leigh emphasised her “love and respect” for the people she worked with at the gallery, but ultimately conceded it was not “the right fit” for her. She has since joined Matthew Marks, with whom she is showing at Art Basel in Miami Beach this month.
As with marriage, staying with one dealer for life is a rarity these days. But Leigh had only been with Hauser & Wirth since January 2020—an indication that things are becoming a lot less monogamous a lot more quickly in the ever-splintered (and increasingly competitive) art market.
Nonetheless, public fallings-out are nothing new. Think back to the end of 2019, when the cracks had begun to show at an ailing Blain Southern gallery, with artists including Sean Scully and Jake and Dinos Chapman vocally distancing themselves from the firm. Scully revealed to The Art Newspaper that he was “in dispute” with the gallery over the sale of works. The Chapmans, meanwhile, abruptly announced on social media they had “departed company with [the gallery]” and had “cease[d] to be represented by them with immediate effect”.
Divorce can be costly, but so can marriage, as was the case when Mark Bradford left White Cube to go exclusive with Hauser & Wirth in 2015, which coincided with growing donations from the latter gallery to the artist’s charity, Art + Practice (A+P). White Cube’s contribution in 2015 had been $1.4m; a year later, Hauser & Wirth trumped that with a $3.6m donation.
Few have had more break ups—and make ups—than Larry Gagosian. Cecily Brown left the mega-dealer in 2015 after 15 years, opting for a more “intimate relationship” with Thomas Dane, who gave Brown the first residency at his small but perfectly formed gallery in Naples. Size is most definitely not everything.
More recently, in March this year, Joe Bradley left Gagosian after five years for Xavier Hufkens in Belgium and Petzel Gallery in New York, citing the latter’s “exciting and lively” programme. Whether Bradley will stay put is another matter—the artist has gallery hopped several times. Perhaps he will circle back, as Damien Hirst did, stunning the art world when he left Gagosian after 17 years in 2012, only to return three years later.