A London-based Spanish artist and curator is piloting a controversial new business model at a gallery in west London whereby visitors are “encouraged” to donate £20 to enter. Valencia-born Lorenzo Belenguer says that the proposed fee covers a private guided tour for parties of no more than five at the Incognito gallery in Notting Hill, which is showing a selection of his “fake” reproductions of works by artists such as John Constable and Bartolomé Estebán Murillo (until 21 June).
A glass of champagne is also included in the fee; in addition, clients can recoup the £20 donation by purchasing any of the works, which range in price from £200 to £1,800. “Small galleries can no longer afford the crazy rents in central locations and a new way forward is needed. When people want to be entertained or informed and attend a conference, cinema or theatre, they pay for the ticket and drinks. I think galleries should be no different,” Belenguer says.
Galleries are only profitable when the price point is over £10,000 ($12,300), Belenguer argues. Asked how other dealers have reacted, Belenguer says: “They are quite shocked. They feel the entrance fee may stop possible buyers. From my experience, top collectors only tend to buy works by brand artists. The mid-market, which I aspire to, requires a personal introduction to relatively unknown artists.”
The New York-based art adviser Nilani Trent says that selling works by less expensive, emerging artists can make it impossible to stay afloat. But she is critical of Belenguer’s model, saying: “My advice to any artist trying to get gallery attention is to focus on the quality of their art—and not gimmicky exhibitions.”