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Smart art makes money in Zurich

Patrik Schedler runs Zurich's Galerie Schedler. Galerie Schedler, Zürich

Zurich is home to dozens of private galleries, and they're fighting for a piece of the city's valuable art market.

In the past ten years a number of new galleries have opened in the up and coming Zuri-West district, with most of these specialising in the contemporary art market.

One of the major tasks these galleries face is finding new talent to display.

Finding artists

Among the newer galleries is Patrik Schedler’s Galerie Schedler, which opened in 1993. He told swissinfo how he finds new artists for his gallery.

“I’m going to most of the art fairs to see if there is something new,” said Schedler. “I think I have a pretty good overview of the scene so it’s more or less a decision on whether we can get together or not.”

Mark Mueller founded his gallery of the same name some ten years ago. He stressed to swissinfo that while the big established names bring in the money it’s also important to support new artists.

“On the one hand I show very well known artists while on the other hand I also show young artists,” Mueller said. “It’s very important for me to show young talent.”

Once these new artists are found it can take some time before the galleries to start making any money on them.

Long-term investment

People who run galleries are not looking to make a quick killing on the market. The time and money invested in exhibiting a new artist means that returns on that investment are always slow.

Mirjam Varadinis runs Galerie Bob Gysin, which moved just over a year ago to larger premises just behind Zurich’s main railway station.

She explained to swissinfo that in her opinion it takes less time now to make an artist a viable commodity than it did say 20 years ago. But she admits that fast returns in “gallery-speak” would leave most business people cold.

“It may take less time than it used to but one should still allow five years or so to bring an artist to a commercially viable position,” explained Varadinis.

Patrick Schedler added that some artists he’s worked with take even longer before he sees a return on his investment.

“I’ve invested around SFr70,000 in one artist who I’ve worked with over the last seven years,” noted Schedler. “I’ve probably made around SFr20,000 in sales, so he has to stay in my programme another few year.”

The gallery business is still seen as something of a passion by those involved. Certainly Mark Mueller believes that without a passion for quality you’d make no money at all.

“It’s very important so show quality and for me it’s important to believe in the works I’m showing,” added Mueller. Because if you show quality, after a while, there will be a value for the artist.”

What do they do?

Running a successful art gallery isn’t just about hanging pretty pictures. A lot of work also goes on behind the scenes to make exhibitions an artistic as well as a commercial success.

Both the Patrik Schedler and Mark Mueller galleries have around 2,000 clients on their contact lists. These are contacted by post and email ahead of each new exhibition.

“I’m paying for all the costs for transport, the invitations and the rent of the space,” said Mueller.

For these sorts of services galleries normally take a 50 per cent cut from the sales price, although more established artists can negotiate this down.

Patrik Schedler believes the art gallery can provide the platform for an artist but then he believes it’s really up to the art market to do the rest.

“I think a gallery can give the platform, the fundamentals, for a commercial start up but not more,” Schedler noted.

Mirjam Varadinis stressed that galleries also try to promote their clients to other galleries and museums.

“We try to establish contacts between the artists and other galleries and museums in and outside of Switzerland,” she explained. “We have to know when the shows are coming up and which of our artists will fit in.”

What ever a private gallery does there is one commercial reality it cannot escape – that is covering its costs.

Patrik Schedler told swissinfo that he balances the books by balancing exhibitions of commercially successful artists with those of younger talent.

“Very few galleries are permanently in profit so most of the galleries have to have one or two artists who are very strong,” explained Schedler. “It’s kind of like taking from the rich to subsidise the poor – really a gallery is a kind of machine that moves resources between established and newer artists.”

Contemporary design

Zurich is famed for its love affair with anything new in the world of style and design. Its citizens simply adore collecting everything from the latest catwalk fashion collections to designer furniture.

The Zurich art market is quite similar, buoyed by a keen local interest in the collecting contemporary art.

Most of the galleries swissinfo visited reported that young art lovers were coming up through the ranks and were keen to begin their collections.

“We try to find new collectors as new collectors are important to increase the value of an artist in the market,” explained Varadinis.

However the art market can be a fickle friend, according to Schedler.

“Sometimes an artist can come up for a while and then disappear totally,” he said. “But it can also be that someone has a slow way up in the art market and then keeps his value.”

Mueller also had a word of warning as he fears a downturn in the art market could be coming.

“I think it’s a bit like the early nineties as it will be a little more difficult for galleries to sell art,” said Mueller. “But we have to go on – that is the most important thing.”

Certainly, Zurich remains a major centre for the contemporary art scene in Switzerland and Europe, but even here the problems of balancing the books will remain.

by Tom O’Brien

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