There’s a new art leviathan in New York City.
The new Pace Gallery building, an eight-floor 75,000 square footer built from the ground up at 540 West 25th Street, which opened for art business this week—and which has already acquired the monicker, Super Pace—is very much the brainchild of Marc Glimcher, who took over as CEO of Pace from his father, Arne, in 2011.
It speaks to the ambitions of the enterprise that the fact that The Who performed at an opening party seemed in keeping rather than hoopla.
Arne Glimcher opened Pace in Boston in 1960, and moved it to New York in 1963. The gallery prospered. In 1980 he sold a Jasper Johns canvas, “Three Flags,” to the Whitney Museum for a million dollars, a first for a living artist. Pace was a mega-gallery before the term came into use, and in the birthing of this new space they are giving the finger to some received art world wisdom.
In June 2014 I was moderator at an Artnet roundtable discussion of the art world’s ongoing state of melt. One factor discussed was the increasing wealth gap between a handful of mega-galleries and the small and mid-size galleries, who have always been an essential part of the system, being the ones who take on young artists, and develop their careers, until, pfffft!, hit artists, the earners, are snapped up by the megas.
What Doug Walla of Kent Fine Art called “The Instagram Crisis” was also discussed. “People are not physically experiencing work any longer,” he said. “Traffic is way down in galleries.”
Stefan Stux identified another problem, described as “The Trojan horse of the Chelsea art world, which is the High Line.”
The latter’s success has caused Chelsea rents to rocket, which, together with the costs of another phenomenon, art fairs, have hit small and mid-size galleries, causing many to close, even while things seem to be getting rosier and rosier for such megas as Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian and David Zwirner, who will be opening his own new Chelsea operation, 50,000 square foot of exhibition space, designed by Renzo Piano, on West 21st Street, in 2021.
This indeed was the first issue I touched on with Marc Glimcher.
“We do not believe that the big galleries have the capacity to edge out all these small and medium-size galleries,” Glimcher said. “They may have the economic power to do it. But they don’t have the capacity to replace what those galleries are doing. So we know that something can happen. The market is very imperfect.
“So our answer is that we’re very collaborative, we are very dedicated to working with medium and small galleries. And when their artists require whatever special abilities we have, that doesn’t mean that they need to leave their smaller galleries. We didn’t invent these problems but they are definitely putting pressure on the system.”
He added, “The demise of the mid and small galleries is way over-exaggerated, by the way. A lot of those galleries are doing great.”
As to the size of their operation, Glimcher relates it to the size of the world of which it is a part.
“My father said there were 25 collectors when he started,” he told me. “How many people now consider contemporary art an essential part of their life? I argue that it’s tens of millions, if not hundreds. Listen, we are the medium of the future even though we are the most old-fashioned medium. Art is tailor-made for this exploding new world. We invented the Experience Economy.”
That art experience will continue to power Chelsea, he feels.
“Every place the art business went, it got replaced by retail,” he said. “We had whatever impact we had on the neighborhood, it suddenly became a very cool place to be, so retail came in and priced us out. And we would have to move on.
“Chelsea is the first place where that is not going to happen. That is because retail is in such distress and because experience is in such demand. And we have here a great experiential neighborhood. And it has fostered a great residential boom, which no-one expected would ever happen. And retail is helpless, their rents are falling and ours are climbing.”
So to the depleted foot traffic in galleries, what Doug Walla called the Instagram Crisis—and it may just be that Pace finds at least a partial solution in their most recent spin-off, PaceX.
This represents artists who don’t make objects, but experiences, events which might perhaps be described as the grandchildren of the Happenings of the ‘60s, but usually with tech wizardry thrown in. One such group is Random International, a brilliant three-man collective I saw at Design Miami Basel in 2009, and another being teamLab, a Tokyo group.
Now, art experiences are great but how does one, erm, monetize them—the rent at 540 West 25th being, I have been told, north of $750,000 a month? Do the art events leave collectible residue? “Some,” Marc Glincher said. “Some do, some don’t. Some do, because they have had to learn to survive.”
As to survival, though, Glimcher added some details of his first meeting with teamLab, when Pace began representing them about five years ago. “They said, ‘We were going to do this big exhibition with multiple experiences in it, and you have to sell tickets,’” Glimcher recalled. “And we said, ‘Tickets? Are you insane? Artists don’t sell tickets. That’s a cardinal rule. Only museums sell tickets!’
“And these guys are like, ‘No, no, no! We sell tickets.’
“We said, ‘This is outrageous! We don’t even own a cash register.’
“The head of this art group said, ‘So, what you’re telling me is if it’s not commodified, it’s not art?’”
Glimcher said he wasn’t saying any such thing, but the teamLab artist said he was. “He said, ‘Essentially what you’re saying is that for art to be great it must be protected by the ultra-rich.’”
Glimcher took up the group’s challenge. Pace would sell tickets for $20 a time at their Palo Alto gallery. They sold 250,000 tickets. “And then we sent it to Beijing where we sold half a million tickets. Now they opened in Tokyo and they sold two and a half million tickets last year, something like that.” (teamLab did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)
Glimcher reached back to the one of the glories of 19th century American art for a precedent: the Hudson River School. “Frederick Church came up with the idea,” he said. “He charged a nickel to see his painting of Niagara Falls. So we were open to that evolution.”
Hence, Pace X. “The disruption in the art world is not going to come from the Internet, it’s not going to come from business-people,” Glimcher said. “It’s coming from the artists. The artists are going to change the model of how they engage with the public. Changes are coming.”
And then he repeated that last sentence again.