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What’s Next? 18 Trends That Will Move the Art World Forward

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Waste Not, Want Not: Artworks in ROKBOX’s sustainable shipping crates at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Photo: Gordon Burniston.

Art Shipping Will Go Green…

Shipping art around the globe can leave a deep carbon footprint. A “fantastic amount of waste” is how Andrew Stramentov characterized what he saw while working in various capacities for businesses like Gagosian gallery and Sotheby’s. That’s why he set out (with Verity Brown, a former registrar for Gagosian and Pace Gallery, among others) to create a sustainable shipping product that was smart in terms of climate and tough in terms of protection.

Launched last year, ROKBOX crates are built with lightweight recycled or recyclable materials, and a single container can be used hundreds of times. “We are trying to make the art world more sophisticated, less burdensome, cheaper, and easier—it’s ripe for adding a bit of sensible stuff,” Stramentov said.

ROKBOX isn’t alone in thinking this way. Recently, the Independent art fair and the storage and logistics company Crozier debuted a collective shipping arrangement, grouping artworks to ship en masse between Los Angeles and New York, instead of having galleries do so separately. Independent cofounder and CEO Elizabeth Dee said the initiative was developed after conversations about recognizing the rising need for an “ecosystem of sustainability” in the arts.

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Going Green: Kara Walker, Fons Americanus, 2019. Photo: Ben Fisher.

…So Will Artists’ Choice of Materials…

“This is the moment of the most immaterial art we will have,” said Lucia Pietroiusti, curator of a long-running General Ecology research project at the Serpentine Galleries in London. “There is a sense that materials should be let go.” Translation: the art world is ready to consider the ecological ramifications of how it operates, particularly when it comes to the very things artists are using to make their work.

Kara Walker garnered a lot of attention for her Tate Turbine Hall commission Fons Americanus, a memorial to the transatlantic slave trade that took the form of a tiered fountain standing 44 feet tall and constructed from biodegradable cork, soft wood, and jesmonite (a mix of acrylic and cement) that was, in the end, taken apart, its materials recycled. And earlier this year, in the service of “a new way of thinking and acting” at London’s Serpentine Galleries, artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist asserted, “ecology will be at the heart of everything that we do.” To that end, the South African design studio Counterspace won a Serpentine architecture commission for a pavilion made of cork and recycled bricks, and a new multiyear initiative called “Back to Earth”—conceived in part to honor the Serpentine’s 50th anniversary—has invited artists, scientists, musicians, poets, and interdisciplinary thinkers to propose projects in mind of climate change.

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Clean Eating: A 2015 gallery dinner at Alexander Gray Associates catered by plant-based chef Jay Astafa. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates.

…And Their Gallery Dinners

Anyone who has been in the New York art scene since Chelsea became ascendant in the mid 1990s will be familiar with the old menu choices at Bottino, where numerous galleries had their post-opening dinners: calamari and charcuterie plate followed by a choice of salmon, steak, or pasta. These days, more and more galleries are choosing to go vegan; you are more likely to encounter cauliflower steaks and tofu tacos. “Compassion is the goal, and veganism is the tool to get there,” said Alexander Gray, who co-owns his namesake gallery in New York with his partner, David Cabrera (himself involved in an Upstate animal sanctuary). Alexander Gray Associates went totally vegan in 2011 and others, including Garth Greenan Gallery in New York, have adopted similar measures for reasons owing to moral choices as well as environmental sustainability.

The green trend is catching on with even some of the more ostentatious mega-galleries, with Hauser & Wirth canceling dinners it had planned around the Art Basel fair in Switzerland and pledging instead to donate funds it would have spent to Art for Acres, an initiative run by Global Wildlife Conservation to help preserve forests.

Artists Will Be Nonexclusive

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Sharing Is Caring: Adam Pendleton, Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy), 2016. Courtesy Pace Gallery.

As the conventional thinking goes, when a mega-gallery sweeps in to take on an artist, that artist’s former dealers—often the ones who built their careers—get left by the wayside. But that may be changing. More and more, artists are moving up, down, and sideways while retaining relationships with galleries working at different scales. When he moved to the powerhouse Hauser & Wirth earlier this year, Henry Taylor kept his longtime connection to Blum & Poe. Nicole Eisenman did the same when she joined Hauser & Wirth while retaining ties to Anton Kern and Vielmetter Los Angeles. In another example, Adam Pendleton, still represented by Pace, expanded his reach even further this past spring when he inked a deal with David Kordansky.

“With the development of supersized galleries with multiple locations worldwide, the trend has gone in the other direction,” said Maggie Kayne, a partner at Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery in L.A., which co-represents a number of artists including James Turrell, David Lynch, and Robert Irwin, who joined this spring after more than 50 years with Pace. She added, “In our opinion, the most effective way to work with an artist is to have strategic partners who all bring different skill sets, different connections, different networks, and different thoughts about strategy. I imagine there will be more movement in that direction.” All galleries have limits in terms of reach, Kayne said—even mega-galleries “have a very specific reach into one kind of orbit. But to be able to cross-pollinate in different orbits is the most effective way to expand an artist’s career.”

As for how artists themselves expand their careers, Tim Blum—of Blum & Poe, with locations in L.A., New York, and Tokyo—said, “the smart ones keep independent and don’t go all in with anybody.” Asked if he thinks artists have learned what kind of cards they’re holding when it comes to doing business on their own behalf, Blum said, “that’s super-clear.” And dealing with multiple dealers can put them in positions to beat the house. “Collaborations and co-operative situations are the best way to go, because a lot of people are realizing that the notion of the mega-gallery is flawed,” Blum added. “I think they’re going be more important going forward than ever.”

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Duolingo: The Phoenix Art Museum’s homepage in Spanish.

Museums Will Go Multilingual…

“Our museum brings the world to our city and our city to the world. Part of that is making sure that more people feel welcomed and accepted.” So says Nikki DeLeon Martin, chief external affairs officer at the Phoenix Art Museum, which has worked in recent years to become fully bilingual, ensuring that all its signage, wall text, catalogues, and online offerings are available in English and Spanish. Native Spanish speakers make up more than 30 percent of Phoenix’s population, and as awareness of and a desire for engagement with wider audiences continues to increase at institutions the world over, multilingual communications will only continue to grow.

The Whitney Museum has notably included Spanish wall text in its recent shows, including this year’s “Vida Americana,” an exhibition that revealed the influence of Mexican modernism on American artists. And similar practices have been prominent in the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative to bring more attention to cross-cultural art in California. As DeLeon Martin said, “Museums are meant to meet people where they are. I have a feeling that there will be a lot of other institutions that will join in efforts like these—it’s important work.”

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Grand Entrance: Kent Monkman, Welcoming the Newcomers, 2019, commissioned by the Met for the museum’s Great Hall. Photo: Anna-Marie Kellen.

…And Will Increasingly Commission Artists

Since artist Fred Wilson remixed the collection of the Maryland Historical Society for his landmark 1992 exhibition “Mining the Museum,” artists have played an increasingly prominent role in rethinking institutional collections and even creating works to aid those collections in pointed and probing ways. Painter Amy Sillman proved a star of the Museum of Modern Art’s recent reopening when she staged a standout show of MoMA holdings under the rubric of “Artist’s Choice,” and similar exhibitions have been mounted at the Guggenheim, which hosted a show that had sections curated with an artist’s eye by Carrie Mae Weems, Julie Mehretu, Jenny Holzer, and more.

And museums have recently begun to invite further collaboration with contemporary artists by commissioning new works. As part of a series of newly created commissions to keep the museum looking forward, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York tapped Kent Monkman to create enormous paintings to adorn its Great Hall with grand renderings of the artist’s gender-nonconforming alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle in historical and futuristic situations. The Met also tapped Wangechi Mutu and Carol Bove to make sculptures for the niches that are part of the building’s street-facing facade.

For a recent exhibition about migration, the Minneapolis Institute of Art commissioned a new installation by the interdisciplinary arts collective Postcommodity to replace a classical Greek sculpture in its rotunda. And in a combination of a commission and an artist-curated show, Jeffrey Gibson recently paired his own work with holdings by others in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

As part of an “Open House” series launched last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gala Porras-Kim mined the storage facilities for museum holdings that question how the institution thinks about working to keep art alive. Of enlisting help from outside for such collaborative efforts, MOCA curator Bryan Barcena said artists have a unique way of understanding the holdings of a museum as more than a mere collection of objects. “This is someone who thinks of a collection as a resource,” he said, “to find deeper bodies of knowledge and deeper, longer histories.”

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