How did artists land their first exhibition
Art trade / "The Internet is a blessing for the art business"
Matthias Arndt knows his way around the art trade. He regularly took part in trade fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze. Today he still produces monographs and represents artists - but no longer as a gallery owner: his Arndt Art Agency does not have its own program, it only pursues the interests of the artists, museums and collections for whom Arndt exercises mandates. Arndt relied on digital strategies - from newsletters to online-only exhibitions - even before the Corona crisis.
Mr. Arndt, how have you been over the past few months?
When the lockdown started, I was on my way to Australia from Singapore, actually with our Tate Asia Acquisition Committee, to visit the Biennale. Once I landed, I had to complete my two-week program in four days and then just made it back to Berlin. The borders literally closed in front of and behind me - I had to buy several tickets to decide at the last moment which route to take. One of the most adventurous of the hundreds of trips in recent years. A week of crisis management followed: Aligning operations and the planned exhibitions and projects with the new situation. We have been working in "creative mode" again for a few weeks now.
You have been running the Arndt Art Agency (A3) since the end of 2015, before you worked in the “classic” art trade for many years. What is the difference between A3?
Right from the start, I thought beyond Berlin and internationally, and for over two decades I consistently worked internationally with the galleries in Berlin, Zurich, New York and Singapore. Nevertheless - or perhaps because of it - I came across the many territorial boundaries and self-imposed restrictions of the traditional gallery model early on. As an agency, the Art Agency does not pursue a program: It only represents the interests of the artists represented and the collections and museums for which we exercise mandates. Because it does not act as a dealer, A3 does not compete with the galleries, but works for them by supporting the artists in their production and bringing private and institutional customers to the galleries. Accordingly, we can work with artists and galleries but also museums from all over the world and draw from a gigantic pool of works and projects. When I was still at the gallery I thought I would travel a lot, now I spend an average of two weeks or more on our worldwide projects a month.
The term agency is attached to the proximity to the advertising world. A world from which art, as a “special case of goods”, tries to distance itself. How do you see this supposed contrast?
I think the problem with the art business is that it doesn't think and operate professionally enough. What actors in the art world, who prefer to complain about the changes in the market rather than proactively redeveloping the market for their artists and customers, understand by “demarcation” seems to me to be more of a convenience or a lack of professionalism. Although the idea of the "Art Agency" is completely new, we have not oriented ourselves towards the advertising world, but rather towards the model of "Talent Agencies" and "Sports Agents". I understand the agent as a person who represents the interests of his talents - the athlete, actor or even artist - who works at the interfaces, negotiates contracts, supports the artists, works for the galleries and the customers - private collections, Companies and museums - advises independently without conflicts of interest. The special case of art is that - before a market can be served - context must first be created, content conveyed and an audience must be informed and educated. It's hard work and serious commitment.
Why is the agency model a future model that other art market players should also follow?
Because the Art Agency's format meets the requirements of the fundamentally changed art business, which is increasingly digitized and completely globalized, and it also meets the growing demands of artists and customers. Art itself is constantly reinventing itself, overcoming all obstacles and facing the questions and challenges of constantly changing living conditions every day. I have always understood the task of artists and customers to mean adapting my business model to this “drive for innovation” inherent in art. And I have done that - repeatedly and successfully - over the past 30 years. There is just as much work and commitment behind the agency format as there is behind the work of the gallery owner. It's just more self-determined.
If you look back over the last four years: What have been the greatest challenges that the realignment has created?
The preliminary work - defining the content of the business model, defining the business areas and then putting the whole thing into a flexible, but globally operational structure - we had already done in the run-up to the foundation. To continue the galleries with full commitment over the years and to develop a completely new concept at the same time was certainly the greatest effort.
And what was the greatest relief?
The greatest relief was "flipping the switch" and starting the Art Agency. We knew from the past that the “traditional company” felt compelled to list all the reasons why the agency concept couldn't work… When I published a “gallery newsletter” in 1995, I was labeled a “banker”. Today there is no longer a gallery that does not send “news” or “newsletters”. By the way, “we” are my wife, Tiffany Wood, who worked in the auction business for many years, and me. Together we run the A3 as equal partners.
Today, our communication is naturally linked to the Internet. Which digital strategies did you use before the Corona crisis?
The internet and especially Instagram are a blessing for the art business. The internet was already one of the most important tools in the business when we were in the gallery. Our work in Asia, especially Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, would be inconceivable without social media. We continue to work with exhibitions in galleries, produce shows in museums and numerous publications, but nothing works in communication without “WhatsApp”, “Wechat”, “Viber” and “Instagram Messages”. Platforms like Artsy are also gaining in importance for sales and brokerage. And then the e-mail channel is always full. We have just hired an “Instagram and Social Media” expert for the agency who only produces and posts content for Instgram and Twitter. The feedback is excellent.
In January you started a series of online exhibitions on Artsy. The first show, "My Name is Nobody", came to an end when the majority of the art world began to try their hand at the field due to Corona. What attracted you to it?
Initially, the idea of the "Online Only" exhibitions was an experiment: I wanted to use the power of the huge Artsy platform and its search engine to create a time-limited event that is an exhibition - I wanted the opportunities for dialogue and the thematic presentation Strengthen and remain sustainable, avoid unnecessary travel, the packaging and transport costs of the plants. This became “Online Only” on Artsy and the first show “My Name is Nobody”. It was not foreseeable that this fell into the Corona crisis and the unfortunate circumstances of the global lockdown. Our advantage was and is that we had already worked proactively on the topic earlier and therefore had a small head start. And my instinct to see great potential in the online format was confirmed. In June we are going into the second round with the new “Online Only” exhibition “Reset” - you can see works by Jannis Kounellis, Isa Genzken, Alicja Kwade and 15 other artists from Europe, Asia and Australia.
Today, works of art are sold on Instagram without collectors ever having seen them in the real world. Right now, galleries with online showrooms are seeing significant sales. To what extent has the new media changed the way art is seen and bought?
Most of the first contact with an artist or his work now takes place digitally. This is initially an advantage for the galleries and artists who sell their works directly. I don't think that the possibilities of the new media will increase the total amount of works of art produced. The production was driven by the countless art fairs beforehand. The success of these new distribution channels is a blessing for the galleries and the customers, who can sell their works and buy art with less expenditure of money and time. After the end of the Corona crisis, it will be a problem for many trade fairs to reposition themselves in a changed market environment. In the end, however, the works will be enjoyed in their original form in collections, companies and museums. The work of art, which convinces through quality and content, comes into its own.
How do you rate the change?
While the big fashion and lifestyle brands initially made their mark with strategies from art - by means of scarcity or coupling to celebrities - many artists have now become “brands” themselves. And with branding comes reproducibility and access to the “unlimited” new markets in Asia and the USA. The speed at which styles and products are created and promoted has also increased tremendously, with a tendency towards fast pace. We have just got used to the fact that some art has become an “asset class” and an investment object, and the next level follows. But change takes place steadily and continuously. Fashions and trends have existed in art throughout the centuries. To recognize and use the real potential of the new media, I'm almost too old for that. But Instagram in particular also offers huge opportunities to distribute artists, works and content worldwide. I would never have dreamed that contemporary art would one day become as popular as it is today when I opened my gallery in 1994.
Does access to art become more democratic overall if more takes place in virtual space?
I haven't thought about it in detail, but it is certainly the case. Not everyone can and wants to “collect”. The next generations will have their own ideas of “participation” in the art world and completely new possibilities through Instagram and social media.
A question that remains topical even after the Corona crisis with regard to climate change and rising rents: How do museums, galleries and the art world have to change when physical spaces are no longer accessible and travel becomes difficult?
I think this insight is so new to all of us that we still have to let it work. For the first time in many years I am in Berlin for a whole month and will probably not be boarding a plane for a total of six to eight weeks ... What was clear before the crisis was that all actors in the art world - museums, galleries, artists and many others - have to strive for their audience in a different and new way. Even as a young gallery owner, it was clear to me that I couldn't and shouldn't wait for visitors, that I had to bring them to the art that I represent through offers and mediation, and to offer the guests content and provide context. The museums, especially in Berlin and Germany, have a lot of catching up to do here. They rest on their treasures, most of which are not even documented, let alone digitized. They speak of an “educational mission”, but have long since lost their audience. Whether and with which media this order is carried out and the connection is won is almost less important. Online rooms and platforms and the (social) media will certainly play an even greater role than before in the future communication and experience of art.
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