Are shopping galleries the next big producers of content?


“Content is king,” proclaimed Microsoft founder Bill Gates in a 1996 Internet essay. It’s now become a cliché, but for commercial galleries, content in all its forms, in real life and online, is the new frontier. .

Lucas Zwirner, Content Manager at the David Zwirner Gallery and Moderator of the Gallery’s Podcasts, Dialogues, launched in 2018, is said to be “still hesitant” about the word “content”. “If I think about our operations, of course there is this scramble for content in the world, but we really want to be participants and producers of culture,” he emphasizes.

Dialogues is a podcast produced by David Zwirner
Courtesy of David Zwirner

Zwirner, who was the editorial director of Books by David Zwirner between 2014 and 2019, describes the gallery’s media initiatives as a “publishing trifecta”, made up of traditional print media, digital media, which are at “a nascent stage for everyone”, and what he calls “event editing”. The gallery has recently partnered with New York Book Review on a free lecture series examining the intersection of power and culture. Strengthening public participation is essential, says Zwirner.

Like David Zwirner, print publishing remains a key part of Hauser & Wirth’s operations. It even launched a stand-alone publishing headquarters and bookstore in Zurich in June 2019, essentially creating a “showroom for our publishing arm,” as Michaela Unterdörfer, the gallery’s director of publications, describes it.

Ursula number two
© 2020 Hauser & Wirth Photo: Ed Park.

But in December 2018, the gallery also launched the quarterly glossy magazine Ursula, which is overseen by editor Randy Kennedy, who was previously at New York Times for 23 years. Unterdörfer says editorial independence is crucial for those working in gallery publishing departments. But they also need to have flexibility in terms of what gets published. And a critical part of that flexibility, she argues, is how they adapt to a digital future. “The economy is tough – we’re working in a niche area,” she says, noting that galleries offer generous budgets compared to many publishers. “It’s sad to see the print market change so much, but it’s good to ask whether print, audio or video is the best medium,” she says.

Another gallery developing new audiences, online and offline, is Gagosian, who launched his magazine, Quarterly Gagosian, Four years ago. “Initially, one of our main goals was to present as much context as possible around our artists and our exhibitions,” says Alison McDonald, director of publications for the gallery. “Four years later, our most recent issues also focus on dance, philanthropy, fashion, cinema, creative collaborations, poetry, books.

Gagosian Quarterly issues
Courtesy of Gagosian. Masterpieces; from left to right: © Jonas Wood; © Ellen Gallgher; © Nathaniel Mary Quinn; © Christophe Laine

She notes that the magazine is “expensive to produce” but says her team “is very fortunate to have a loyal base of advertisers who appreciate the quality and value of what we do.” This allows Gagosian to offer “more content for a lower price” – $ 20 per issue or $ 60 for the year, while the website is completely free.

Potential sales are always a welcome side effect. “If we do our job correctly, then the magazine can offer collectors meaningful information about our artists and their work that could lead to an acquisition,” says McDonald. contrary to Ursula, which is not available online, most of the articles that appear in Quarterly Gagosian are uploaded to the website. In addition, the online version of the magazine features videos projects or specific exhibitions, as well as conversations between artists and other figures of the art world. Films are gaining ground: over the past 14 months, they have accounted for an average of 37% of online magazine traffic. McDonald says the extra reach came from Instagram TV posts of Gagosian’s videos– for example, a short film by Helen Frankenthaler has had 127,000 views so far. Instead of having a separate profile, the magazine’s content feeds into the gallery’s Instagram profile, which has 1.2 million subscribers.

“Not all cultural initiatives need to be cashed immediately.
Lucas Zwirner, moderator of the Dialogues podast at the David Zwirner Gallery

Perhaps unusually for an industry built on visual imagery, podcasts are increasingly popular among galleries—Sean kelly and Lisson Gallery are among those who have brought their expertise to the air. Lucas Zwirner says the gallery launched their podcast because “publishing had a much larger audience than expected and podcasts were a natural channel for artist voices.”

On Air is a podcast produced by Lisson Gallery
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

He notes that each episode gets between 30,000 and 50,000 plays; the conversation between artist Jordan Wolfson and actor and playwright Jeremy O. Harris remains among the most popular. Meanwhile, the podcast is currently at around half a million downloads for seasons one and two. Zwirner expands the horizons of season three. “We are looking to determine which conversations would be most interesting for a new generation of art lovers, even culture enthusiasts,” he says.

So how do these projects fit into online sales initiatives? Zwirner notes that Raoul De Keyser’s online viewing room at Frieze London in October, which included a video by young artist Harold Ancart, led to a real “flurry of activity” in terms of sales.

However, he stresses that “not all cultural initiatives need to be cash immediately”. Zwirner adds, “The narrative around galleries is often about size – it’s about the size of the top three galleries, how many artists they sign. But instead, I think it’s time to really take a look at what each participant is contributing in a thoughtful way.


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