'SUNDAYS IN BROOKLYN' Mixed media, 12 by 12 inches, 2013, by Amy Ray.
The global art world has been changing dramatically in the recent past and is evolving still. Into what nobody really knows at this point, but plenty of promising experimentation is happening.
To begin, the membrane between for profit and non-profit has become increasingly permeable. Since Andy Warhol's embrace of art as business and business as art in the 1960s, both have become closely intertwined, not to everybody's liking. That an art dealer, Jeffrey Deitch, would become the director of a major museum (MOCA in Los Angeles) would have been unthinkable not that long ago, and his appointment and direction has remained controversial. Art museums used to be taste-makers, gatekeepers of critical recognition, and upholders of the artistic canon, positions that have become conflict-ridden over the past decades. One significant goal many museums nowadays aspire to is that of being more inclusive in programming, staff appointments, and visitorship. Much of that is aimed at increasing attendance because it translate into relevance when applying for grants and asking for corporate sponsorship, as well as an increase in direct revenue (never mind that admission fees have been steadily climbing, effectively countering claims of democratization).
With corporate sponsorship declining, many museums are no longer able to organize hugely expensive blockbuster shows with mass appeal. Instead, many art museums now pad their exhibition schedules with permanent-collection shows, which can be a very rewarding and educative experience if done right, with the critical distance becoming to a serious curatorial endeavor. Another overt ploy to cater to a large audience is to "crowd-curate" shows as the Brooklyn Museum has done occasionally, which appears questionable if the goal is to broaden our horizons and not merely reinforce what we already know.
A few commercial galleries and auction houses, on the other hand, have put on museum-quality shows that often include loans from public collections to build provenance for the work that is for sale. The commercial art market is still red-hot, even if the economy in general is slow to recover, with galleries opening and closing at a rapid pace, and auction houses continuing to make good profits. The insatiable appetite for the new in contemporary art is feeding a mushrooming number of art fairs throughout the world, fueled by many of the same handful of mega-galleries like Gagosian, which have opened branches in every major city of the world it seems. These galleries' power to advance select artists to stardom in marketing and financial terms seems positively frightening. At the same time, it has become more and more difficult for many artists to find representation in this cut-throat scene that makes it difficult for dealers to take risks or stick with an artist through a difficult period of transition.
In response, alternative models for showing and selling art have been cropping up. Damien Hirst certainly cannot complain about not getting enough attention and was probably motivated by financial considerations, but his move to cut out the middleman and go directly to the secondary market and have an auction house sell his newest work to the highest bidder falls within this category. In related fashion artists have opened up their studios for direct sales without representation. So-called pop-up shows appear in unusual spaces, pretty much unannounced, for just a few days. Virtual online galleries, exhibition spaces, and even auction houses like Paddle8 avoid the costs associated with brick-and-mortar establishments. Additionally, concept and curation is being re-infused into several art fairs, including New York's SPRING/BREAK Art Show.