If a collector wanted to buy a Frank Stella at Art Basel Miami Beach last December, he could have walked up to the booth of New York’s Marianne Boesky Gallery, which represents Frank Stella. Or, he could have walked up to the booth of London and New York gallery Dominique Lévy, which also represents Frank Stella. Or, he could have walked up to the booth of London, Berlin, and soon Los Angeles outfit Sprüth Magers, which—you guessed it—also represents Frank Stella.
Welcome to the age of artist free agency and gallery partnerships. Gone are the days when a single dealer nurtured the career of an artist in return for the exclusive right to sell her work. While it has long been regular practice for artists to have different dealers in various markets (one for Los Angeles, one for New York), high-profile artists are getting ever more promiscuous and working with more than one gallery in the same town.
Stella is just one of the artists that has embraced joint representation, an agreement between two dealers that allows them to share in the spoils of a single body of work, and gives an artist two distinct gallery programs and two distinct collector bases. There are others: in New York alone, Carol Bove has been repped by David Zwirner and Michele Maccarone since 2011, and Jeff Koons, who used to split his output between Sonnabend Gallery and Gagosian Gallery, now works with both Gagosian and Zwirner. And just this month it was announced that Carolee Schneemann would be jointly handled by her longtime gallery P.P.O.W. and Galerie Lelong, which is located four blocks away in West Chelsea.
“I think what we are doing is a fairly new model—representing one artist in the same city is a new approach,” said Wendy Olsoff, who cofounded P.P.O.W. “Dealers have banded together and have been sharing booths at fairs, or opening galleries in other cities, but to me this seems rather new and innovative.”
The arrangement came together over the summer, when Olsoff began to seek out ways in which she could raise awareness for Schneemann’s work at this later point in her career.
“By combining with Lelong we not only gain their vast expertise but a large, enthusiastic staff to support our efforts,” Olsoff said. “Each gallery also gets the support of the other gallery—we each have different relationships with museums, galleries, and collectors worldwide.”
“I think that there are examples of artists like Damien Hirst who show at multiple galleries, Richard Serra,” said Mary Sabbatino, vice president at Galerie Lelong. “But this, I think, is new, as we’re mid-size galleries and we’ve approached the artists rather than the artists saying, ‘Oh, I need a better setup.’ We approached her, and we said this works to her benefit, and she said yes.”
Such arrangements are surprising because they not only go against prevailing custom, but because they also see dealers, who are typically at each other’s’ throats, peacefully collaborating.
One key precedent for this latest wave of partnerships occurred in the early 1980s, when the 30-year-old young gun Mary Boone partnered with lion in winter Leo Castelli to jointly represent David Salle and Julian Schnabel. (Anthony Haden-Guest’s classic 1982 New York magazine profile of Boone tells the story.) The artists later decamped for Gagosian and Pace, respectively.
That widespread practice of stealing golden geese from other galleries does not typically make for warm and fuzzy friendships, particularly when tens of millions of dollars are potentially at stake over the course of an artist’s career, and these recent arrangements have come from rare situations where dealers can work together for the sake of a shared interest in an artist—or when they both see an opportunity to make more money. That is, if all parties can remain cordial.
“I have to say, Marianne and Dominique have known each other for 25 years, and they implicitly trust each other, but obviously money is a huge factor in what we do,” said Ricky Manne, the partner at Boesky responsible for Stella. “I’m amazed people will make enemies over ten grand. Marianne and Dominique know each other, and it’s harder than expected to find that kind of friendship in the art world. I don’t think it’s possible for gallerists to find partners they trust so implicitly.”
The arrangement with Stella came together in early 2014, when Boesky approached the artist about being a part of her stable. Problem was, Stella’s half-century-plus of making art—he’s worked in wildly different styles and mediums—had produced quite the hefty oeuvre to take on singlehandedly. Enter Lévy, who, when she was partnered with Robert Mnuchin at L&M Arts in New York, had shown the artist’s works on a number of occasions. The two women struck a deal to handle different chunks of Stella’s career. Later this year, Sprüth Magers stepped in to handle the artist’s presence in Berlin and Los Angeles.
“We went up to Frank’s studio and the short of it was that Frank really didn’t have representation, which is crazy,” Manne said. “As a gallery, we had the ability to take new works and transform people’s perception, but we knew we needed a partner to do this, and Dominique is brilliant.”
“This is not a one man project,” he added. “One person can’t handle it.”
Manne also emphasized that the involvement of multiple galleries opened an artist up to opportunities that a single shop simply couldn’t provide.
“What’s incredibly important—and I’m not trying to bash people—is that when people show with one gallery in ten different countries, it’s one context,” Manne said. “With Frank, there are so many other contexts. With us, he’s with Dean Levin and Julia Dault. With Dominique, it’s Yves Klein. With Sprüth Magers, it’s Cyprien Gaillard and Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha. It’s three totally different conversations. If he just showed with Larry [Gagosian] or David Zwirner, it would be the same.”
Sabbatino argued that the main danger of signing with a lone mega-gallery isn’t the single context that Manne referred to, but rather the crowded nature of its roster. In a sea of dozens of other artists, a gallery empire with hundreds of staffers can lose sight of individual artists.
“I think that the field is more and more both global and competitive,” Sabbatino said. “Teaming up allows artists to have access to the same kind of global reach that large galleries do, only you don’t only have the option of being in a larger gallery and be among, like, 50 artists.”
To double-check her claim, Sabbatino started counting the number of artists represented by a gallery we will not name here with outposts on multiple continents.
“Let’s say it’s maybe between 50 and 80,” she said, before counting the number of rows and columns and tabulating the total. “Oh, wow, that’s definitely the number.”
Then she went to another large gallery’s artist roster.
“I’m going to go to the belly of the beast, Mr. Larry,” she said. “Oh, wow. Artists? That’s 103.”
The joint-representation strategy also provides artists with a less obvious benefit: they can sell out while still sticking to their punk roots. Artists get to stay associated with their small-ish, fiercely devoted dealer (Maccarone for Bove, P.P.O.W for Schneemann) while moving on up to a bigger shop with global reach (Zwirner for Bove, Lelong for Schneemann). Another example: Joe Bradley. While being represented by the scrappy Canada gallery in New York, Bradley first signed onto a joint partnership with the higher-profile Gavin Brown before decamping late last year to show with Canada and Gagosian.
“Carol, I feel like she has the best of both worlds,” said Branwen Jones, the director at Zwirner who deals with Bove (alongside her counterpart at Maccarone). “She was able to keep that relationship, and also work within a bigger gallery.”
The arrangement with Bove was quite novel, and surprising, when it was announced in 2011. Maccarone was not really on the level of a gallery like Zwirner, and joint representation was pretty much unprecedented. A press release called it “an innovative model in which the two New York galleries will collaborate to help the artist realize future projects and exhibitions both in the United States and abroad.”
“David really loves Michele’s program—he’s been very interested in her gallery and has been following it for years—and Carol has a career he’s been very intrigued by,” Jones said. “Certainly she’s grown, but five years ago she was a smaller gallery with a small capacity. It was this unique situation where two galleries could co-represent an artist. When we have a show here, it’s our show. When Michele has a show, it’s her show. We’re respectful of those boundaries.”
This can seem like a win-win situation, and it can be—when circumstances conspire to make it possible. All of the dealers stressed the exceptional nature of these arrangements. It just doesn’t always work out.
“I would love to do it more, I’m sure other people would too, but at the end of the day the art world is a tricky place,” Manne said. “It’s been incredibly beneficial for Frank, but there aren’t many artists that this makes sense for.”
Still, as markets change and methods shift, joint representation may become the mode in which dealers forge ahead.
“Collaboration is a political gesture,” Sabbatino said. “Both Wendy and I have worked with political artists, these are things that are important with us. It’s not easier to collaborate with people, it’s easier to be a dictator. But collaboration is the way you succeed.”
CLARIFICATION: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story implied that Sprüth Magers represents Frank Stella in London. In fact, Dominique Lévy solely represents the artist in the city. The article has been edited to reflect this.