David Zwirner: The art world must save smaller galleries

'It seems that the audience seems to gravitate towards the galleries that have a little glory attached to their name. That's too bad.'

In town to open a show of Donald Judd's Plexiglas and plywood sculptures, gallerist David Zwirner spoke exclusively to Spear's about the costs and benefits of art fairs – and why we have to stop small galleries falling away as wealthy, high-profile mega-galleries soar into the stratosphere.

Standing in front of some Judd plywood boxes, I asked him whether there was a problem with large galleries moving into the commercial stratosphere while medium- and small-sized galleries flounder in a world of expensive international fairs and limited collector time and attention. (In an interview with Spear's, Armory art fair director Noah Horowitz boldly compared this to the 1 Per Cent/99 Per Cent social divide.)

'I think it's a problem. I've been reading some articles where mid-size galleries are really complaining about how difficult it is to compete. The big galleries serve a very serious function but they can only serve so many artists.

'Those [mid-size] galleries have to be strong. That's a little bit on the local communities to support them. When I was a mid-size gallery and a small gallery, I really got my support from New York.

'It seems that the audience seems to gravitate towards the galleries that have a little glory attached to their name. That's too bad.'


Space and time

Zwirner has been expanding both his artist roster and his gallery space of late. In October 2012, he added 10,000 square feet with his London gallery on Grafton Street and then a further 30,000 square feet with his second New York space.

Pictured above: Work by Donald Judd in the current David Zwirner show

When I asked him if he was planning opening further galleries abroad – joining White Cube and Lehmann Maupin in Hong Kong, or Gagosian everywhere – he said he didn't need to as 'the two most important art markets in the world are London and New York: New York is a local market, with many important collectors and museums close by, and London is wonderful because it's a gateway to the rest of the world and especially to Asia.'

Read more on art in Asia

Too many new Zwirner outposts were unlikely as 'we don't want to dilute what we're doing' by too many of them. (His tone when saying this didn't at all suggest criticism of fellow gallerists.)

Art fairs helped the gallery get greater international reach, push their brand and meet new clients, but artists prefer the showcase of the gallery exhibition rather than the art fair, as do collectors, who get to see the work 'in context', he said, rather than one piece per artist in a fair-booth group show. The fairs could be useful for 'seasoned collectors that are looking to fill in gaps' in their holdings.


Dos and don'ts

But 'at no level can they substitute the work that galleries do to manage [artists'] careers and push artists to produce new work.' Indeed, Zwirner gave a strict (if well-tempered) exhortation to gallerists on how best to support artists and develop their careers: 'You shouldn't launch a new body of work at a fair: it's a limited audience who have to pay', suggesting the pressure of a fair, compared with the free, mass entry of a gallery show, was harmful to the proper appreciation of the art on show.

Read more on art fairs

Pictured above: One of Judd's noted Stack sculptures

He also said the gallery was in talks to show in London two artists – 'one young, one old, both well-known' – that he doesn't represent in New York, but he wouldn't give their names.

Donald Judd is on at David Zwirner until 19 September


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