Art Basel

Smaller galleries get a price break at Art Basel fairs

Beginning in 2019, smaller galleries like Miami-based David Castillo Gallery, shown here in 2017, will be charged less than larger galleries for their spaces at Art Basel fairs in Switzerland, Miami Beach and Hong Kong.
Beginning in 2019, smaller galleries like Miami-based David Castillo Gallery, shown here in 2017, will be charged less than larger galleries for their spaces at Art Basel fairs in Switzerland, Miami Beach and Hong Kong.

Despite what seem to be ever-rising prices for art, many galleries are facing tough times. That’s especially true for smaller and less-established galleries that focus on emerging and mid-career artists.

Artists are often discovered and nurtured by such galleries, which absorb the risks of unproven talent and a cash-intensive business. Once artists become well-known, they often leave their original galleries in favor of better-known names.

To support younger galleries, the organizers of Art Basel have announced a sliding fee schedule for booths at its 2019 Basel, Switzerland, fair. Similar pricing will be offered at its Miami Beach fair in 2019 and its Hong Kong fair for 2020, said Marc Spiegler, global director, in an interview.

“We want to reduce financial risk for younger galleries. We want to be sure they can stay in business and thrive,” Spiegler said. “When you think about the sustainability of the art market system, it’s essential that these players are there.”

The new arrangement represents an 8 percent price decrease for the fair’s smallest galleries and a 9 percent increase for its largest galleries, according to a release.

In recent years, Basel fair organizers have increased rates by 5 percent per square-meter to cover increased costs of production and promotion. Because they will not do so in 2019, the cumulative impact will be a 13 percent cost decrease for smaller galleries and a 4 percent increase for larger galleries.

Those larger galleries that will bear the cost differential have supported the concept, said Spiegler. “We all recognize the problem,” he said.

Currently, all galleries accepted into Art Basel fairs pay the same rate per square meter. At Art Basel’s 2018 Swiss fair, that price ran about $855 per square meter. In 2019, the cost will be about $785 per square meter for a booth of 25 square meters, and about $935 per square meter for a booth of 124 square meters.

Even in the current flat pricing model, about 99 percent of galleries reapply for each year’s Art Basel fairs, said Spiegler.

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