Art & Culture

David Zwirner proposes ‘tax’ on large galleries at art fairs

Farah Nayeri
David Zwirner
Vincent Tullo | The New York Times

BERLIN — David Zwirner, whose namesake art gallery is one of the world's largest, said he was prepared to pay more for space rental at art fairs if the extra money could help smaller galleries take part as well.

Speaking at the New York Times Art Leaders Network in Berlin, Mr. Zwirner got verbal support for his proposal from other conference participants, including Marc Glimcher, president of the Pace Gallery, and Elizabeth Dee, founder and chief executive of the Independent Art Fair in New York and Brussels.

"I do feel that something is wrong with the current system," Mr. Zwirner said on Wednesday, the first day of the conference. "It's not good that a few galleries are getting more and more market share and the younger galleries are having a harder time to compete."

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In the last few years, small and midsize art galleries have been finding themselves crushed at home by soaring rents and unable to pay astronomical fees demanded by art fairs to sell their work where collectors shop.

Mr. Zwirner said larger galleries should help smaller ones challenged by the costs and conditions of admission to the fairs. "I wouldn't have any problem if we would pay a little more, we the larger galleries, so that some younger galleries are supported and can show their work in the fair," Mr. Zwirner said, though he admitted that he'd "lost track" of what a stand cost nowadays. He added that the proposal "would have to be an initiative that the art fairs start."

It was, he explained, "a little bit like a tax: you make a little more money, and you get taxed a little bit." He asked Mr. Glimcher, who was in the audience, whether he agreed, and Mr. Glimcher shouted back: "Let's do it."

In a panel discussion on Thursday, the proposal was also embraced by Ms. Dee. She said that if 10 percent of the galleries in the Independent Art Fair — meaning five or six of them — were each asked to pay an extra $10,000 for their stand on top of a rental cost that typically runs in the tens of thousands, it would be "a drop in the bucket" for them. That money, distributed "from the smallest stand up," would translate into 12.5 to 14 percent discounts on about 40 percent of the stands, she added.

"We are very happy to do it," she said. "We have been talking about this for a long time with the galleries."

The global director of Art Basel, Marc Spiegler, who was on the same panel, said, "In principle, it's great," so long as the stands were paid for and the fair made a profit. "But the question is how many galleries at the top of the market are willing to subsidize the rest of the fair."

"We have no issue with the idea of trying to work more closely in terms of helping the younger galleries at the fair," he said, "but the way to do that, the algorithm for figuring out how to do this, is difficult to reach." It was, he added, a question of "how much and how many of the dealers at the top of the game" were willing to participate.