Galleries Shift Shape to Survive

Art galleries, like museums, are in a state of flux, determined to find ways to survive and remain relevant in an increasingly hostile environment shaped by rising rents; development; absurd auction prices and a dearth of old-school collectors — ones who think for themselves.

The few that can are shape-shifting and scaling up, becoming more like museums, mounting shows with outside curators and even opening their own bookstores. Many galleries stage not only art performances — by now routine — but also panel discussions and conversations with the artists whose work they sell. As might be expected, these can blur the line between public service and promotion.

The word hybrid, referring to a museum-inclined commercial art gallery, was heard more than once in Los Angeles at the opening of the imposing arts complex that is Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. Its four buildings surround a large, street-accessible courtyard (with a 150-seat restaurant planned for September) that most museums would envy. (Amenities is another word you’ll hear.) Perhaps most telling, the gallery has a full-time staff member in charge of educational programs.

In the opposite direction, smaller galleries, especially in New York, are dispersing beyond established art neighborhoods like Chelsea, Bushwick and the Upper and Lower East Side, to far-flung locations, exploiting New York’s extensive subway system.