Although they sell their wares for often eye-popping prices, art galleries have become known for admission-free accessibility. Collectors may pay a premium to cart off a painting, but the general public can walk in and take a look without laying out a penny. But immersive digital art “experiences” have recently called that model into question, and Pace Gallery, which has ten locations in seven cities around the world, has recently experimented with charging admission for certain shows in Palo Alto, California, and Beijing. In a wide-ranging conversation with Artnet News editor Andrew Goldstein at the recent Frieze Los Angeles art fair—and now available online by way of Frieze—Pace CEO Marc Glimcher said the gallery was “pondering” further experimentation with charging admission to shows of “experiential” art.
Pace represents several artists and groups inclined toward immersive art, often involving the use of complex technology. Among them are Studio Swine, Studio Drift, teamLab, and Leo Villareal, who will present a light tunnel at the Armory Show next week. In 2016, Pace charged $20 per ticket for visitors to its exhibition of Tokyo-based collective teamLab at its Palo Alto gallery. That exhibition drew 200,000 visitors. According to reporting in the Financial Times in 2017, Pace received 80 percent of the revenue from ticket sales. “This is well ahead of the 50 percent generally made from selling works directly and seems a viable income stream,” Melanie Gerlis wrote in the FT. Pace also experimented with ticket charges at a TeamLab exhibition at its Beijing branch in 2017.
Asked by Goldstein whether Pace’s new 75,000-square-foot building on 25th Street, slated to open this fall, will have a ticket booth, Glimcher said it will not. But asked whether there might ultimately be some ticketing option, as the gallery tried in Beijing and Palo Alto, Glimcher replied, “We are pondering it. We are trying to come up with an idea. It isn’t necessarily this building. But . . . if we think about it . . .” He mentioned a need to listen to artists before suggesting that “the model is going to grow wings.”
TeamLab, which recently opened the world’s first museum dedicated to digital art under the name “the MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless” in Tokyo, is currently building its own space in Brooklyn’s Industry City, with participation from Pace. The 55,000-square-foot space is set to open next August, just before Pace’s new home base. Calling teamLab’s Brooklyn space an “experience-atorium,” Goldstein asked whether “that is the kind of thing you are thinking about.” Glimcher said, “We are thinking about it. It’s important to think about those 799,000 people on your Instagram.”
Much of the conversation at Frieze explored the question of whether experiential art can serve a different sort of business model than is conventional in the commercial art world. Glimcher pointed out that “millions around the world buy tickets to see teamLab,” which now encompasses 600 people, and that such artists and groups are “not burdened by old-fashioned ideas about what artists do and don’t do.” Glimcher remarked that the gallery has almost 800,000 Instagram followers in contrast to some “1,000 clients” who class as collectors (a figure he characterized as “an exaggeration,” even).
Of the traditional art economy, Glimcher said, “We have a little problem in that we have an arbitrage-based art economy. It’s gotten to the point where we think the value of the artwork comes from the last auction sale, which is not where the value comes from. It may be evidence of the value that’s been assigned to it, but the value comes from some fundamental qualities of the art, and if you get too into your arbitrage-based system and lose sight of that, and create all your models around these rarefied events of very expensive art being sold at auction, or art fairs, or whatever, you are losing sight of the thing that is giving the art value. So if you are going to build a new kind of gallery, [or] any new kinds of systems in the art world, they have to be pegged to the thing that is the true value, which is what the artists create.”