ARTisSpectrum | Volume 29 | artisspectrum.com
also require that artists who join put in hours at the gal-
lery, which ensures a more local selection of participants.
Co-op galleries are generally non-profits, and rely on
grants and fundraising.
Secondary market galleries, lastly, deal exclusively in works
that have already been bought at least once, and whose
current owner wants to sell,
possibly to turn a profit on
an investment. Secondary
market galleries very rarely
deal with works by living
artists — instead they
specialize in various
periods and move-
ments from art
history — and
when they do
it’s only with
artists in the
of the art mar-
ket like Jeff Koons,
Damien Hirst, or
Gerhard Richter.
The ultimate measure
of any great artist
remains the number
of her or his works
that can be found
hanging on the walls
of the world’s ma-
jor museums. While
institutions like the Tate,
Museum of Modern Art
(MoMA), Centre Pompidou
or Metropolitan Museum of Art
may have millions of objects in
their collections, joining those hal-
lowed ranks is no easy feat. Sev-
eral sets of gatekeepers bring
new artworks into institutions’
collections: the museum’s
curators; its trustees, who
are most likely collectors
and members of multiple
museums to which they
will probably donate (or
promise to donate upon their deaths)
portions of their collections; and its acquisitions
committees, which can be divided by region and medium,
and are typically made up of curators, administrators, and
other art professionals.
Some museums will also accept artworks gifted directly
by artists, although this practice typically concerns well-
known artists in whom the institution has already shown
interest. Rather famously, MoMA turned down a donation
from Andy Warhol in 1956, letting the pre-fame Pop artist
down gently by telling him that the decision was motivat-
ed chiefly by a lack of storage and gallery space. MoMA
now has 168 works by Warhol in its permanent collection.
In other words, even the world’s most respected museums
are not infallible, and may eventually show interest in art-
ists they originally turned down.
Museum curators rarely select living artists without gal-
lery representation for group and solo exhibitions.
Though factors like favoritism, museums’
relationships with collectors
who buy certain art-
ists from
ies, and
so on, can
the process,
curators tend
towards repre-
sented artists be-
cause, in a sense,
they have already
earned the approval
of their dealers and
collectors, and they
are producing a steady
output of work that will
be capable of sustaining a major
exhibition. There are of course
counter-examples of artists who
work entirely outside the com-
mercial system with tremen-
dous support from institu-
tions and non-profits,
but they are exceptions
to the rule.
The entire art market,
reduced to its most basic ele-
ments, consists of a set of middle
men and middle women, seek-
ing to connect artists and their
creations with collectors. Galleries,
fairs, auction houses, and art advi-
sors all serve this function. Once a
collector shows interest in an artist,
though, the ensuing relationship can
sustain the aesthetic interests of both,
while providing the latter’s livelihood,
for years or even decades. In addition to this type of
career-long patronage, having pieces acquired by impor-
tant collectors is one of the most common ways in which
artists’ work enters museum collections.
Most major collectors are trustees or board members of
For an artist
developing their career,
a stint with a promotional gallery
can provide the crucial boost
needed to reach the next
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