International Galleries Alliance: the benefits of joining forces for the art market

Stefano Pirovano

The new-born International Galleries Alliance could soon become a milestone in contemporary art’s evolution. Here’s why

The year 2022 might be remembered by contemporary art aficionados for things such as the Venice Biennale with most women artists yet or the bold, joint effort of the Pompidou and the Pinault Collection under the spell of Charles Ray – his double solo show opened a few days ago. However, 2022 might also be remembered as the birth year of IGA, the International Galleries Alliance. 

This association of contemporary art galleries took shape spontaneously in London during the latest edition of Frieze, stemming from a chat room where galleries initially shared utilitarian information. From one thing to the other, the initiative turned into an association of 253 galleries, which jointly spread the news of the birth of IGA on Instagram and other channels a few days ago by announcing a new website and upcoming newsletter. Alea iacta est.

International Gallery Alliance
Do Ho Suh, Net-Work, 2010. Gold and chrome plating with polyurethane coating on ABS plastic and nylon fishing net. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

The International Galleries Alliance gathers almost all of the best galleries in the world specializing in living artists, presenting a strong selection similar to what only a few art fairs have been able to present before. This is especially important for younger galleries, the real lifeblood of the system. Being part of this group offers them the professional qualification that until now could only be obtained from those fairs, which for their part could soon find themselves in front of an interlocutor with more bargaining power. The contemporary art gallery system could move away from the policy of divide et impera to enter a world of viribus unitis

At the same time, the International Galleries Alliance should be carefully avoiding conflicts of interest: a person holding multiple chairs might be incompatible with the promised code of ethics. In other words, if those who are on the board of IGA are also on the board of a fair, one might ask which interests they would serve better and how unbiased they would be. The question seems legit insofar as IGA’s statement on its website, signed by all its members, mentions that the organization will be “horizontal,” “non-hierarchical,” and “non-centric.”

The International Galleries Alliance website (here) also announces the upcoming birth of a new commercial platform, designed “by and for” the members of the alliance. Importantly, in addition to commission-free sales and free from additional costs, the fundamental resource represented by the data generated by the platform is said to remain within, and at the service of, the alliance itself rather than enriching data-purchasing third parties. That is to say that both the content produced by the galleries and the data generated by the users of the platform will remain exclusively available to the galleries themselves, or to that complex and expensive system of relationships, functions, and skills on which the contemporary art market is based.

It seems clear to us that the actions needed in order to improve the market should go well beyond the exchange of some service information. The artists, collectors, and public institutions are interlocutors with whom galleries must also be able to speak with a single voice. It is a matter of responding to the extraordinary challenges that the present is posing. As we know, in nature what does not evolve dies. An efficient and cohesive international association could in the future give birth to a single and uniform register of artworks, guaranteeing their authenticity and value, perhaps using innovative digital infrastructures such as blockchain. The IGA could go as far as drawing up an ethics charter, swaying the various players, especially collectors and auction houses, towards more virtuous and therefore more sustainable behaviors.

Today many still believe that the art market must feed on the lack of sufficiently sophisticated regulation. However, without rules and a shared code of ethics, without clear benchmarks, it is difficult to look at the future with the needed optimism. An Italian economist wrote that the art system is based on how much salary its operators are willing to give up, that is, a system based on sacrifice. If not the eradication of this logic, the IGA should at least make it still worth following.

February 21, 2022