#PhotoLondon, art market explained by 28 Vignon Street!
#LONDON PhotoLondon, which opens its doors for its fourth edition, is undoubtedly an opportunity to focus on the evolution of consumer trends in the art market and more particularly in the photography market. At a time when every week a new fair opens, creating a whirlwind and an almost uninterrupted flow of artworks, we meet in London, Gérôme Saint-Germain, expert photography and curator for the 28 Vignon Street platform. Every Thursday, it illuminates and makes you discover emblematic and rare works on smArty. He speaks without taboos of the notion of collection in an abundant and unequal offer, of the recent and therefore late digitalization of the art market and of a desirable future for photography!
smArty: How did the 28 Vignon Street project come about?
Gérôme Saint-Germain: 28 Vignon Street was launched in spring 2018 by Roger Szmulewicz, founder of Gallery FIFTY ONE (Belgium). Over the past 20 years, his gallery, initially specialized in photography, has been open to other media for several years and has witnessed the many developments in the art market. The most recent being the gentle migration of players to the online sector. The launch of the 28 Vignon Street platform is in a way a solution to the economic structure of the art market, which does not always seem to be adapted to the growing demand outside the beaten track. I joined this adventure after 10 years spent mainly in the auction sector, including 5 years at Sotheby’s as a photography specialist. During this period I was able to understand the functioning of this market and succeed today in projecting myself.
28 Vignon Street is entirely in line with my idea of the future of the art market. This sector is one of the last to project itself into the digital world and it is important that this transfer keeps the codes and good manners that make this market, a world apart and always as desirable. The main objective of this project is to select works from a plethora of works and to assemble them in exhibitions where they co-exist and feed on each other in a rich dialogue born of curation.
smArty: What is the appetite of collectors for this type of platform? How do they appropriate the artworks offered?
Gérôme Saint-Germain:Collectors adapt to any type of platform since the collection of works remains essential. The end justifies the means in a way. The essential point for a collector is to have confidence and our objective to date is to develop a safe atmosphere for our customers. Our model is highly competitive and the commercial argument is always a major argument, and it is more and more frequent to see transactions taking place without the work being seen by its buyer. This is the case with auctions, for example, where the share of online sales is only increasing every year. This is also the case in galleries when customers request selections of works by email. It is up to us to give as many elements as possible to our customers to dematerialize the meeting of the work. This requires an academic description of each work and a condition report of the work that is sufficiently precise to reflect its appearance.
Today, the first step in an acquisition is made online. Then the transactions are finalized in galleries, auctions or fairs. Here, on 28 Vignon Street, from the first to the last step, you stay on the line. The time saved is considerable, you can travel from your sofa through several exhibitions and fill your basket… This time saved, you can spend it to think deeply about your acquisition or something else.
smArty: What is a collector’s photo then? How can it be defined in view of the plethora of galleries and fairs that abound? How to find your way around this offer which is not always balanced and which disrupts the acquisition decision, the fair or the gallery being a guarantee of this supposed quality. How can you support the collector?
Gérôme Saint-Germain: The definition is quite broad. To make a long story short, it seems to me that this is a photograph that is sought by several players in the same market. It is a rare and precious object, produced by an artist recognized by his peers and international institutions. In an old register, it is a signed period print. In the contemporary sense, it is a photograph resulting from an edition of 30 copies maximum, all formats and media combined. From 31, VAT is no longer artistic but industrial. It is a purely fiscal definition of art! (Laughs).
On 28 Vignon Street, we try to select the best on the market in terms of rarity and signature. In a way we are art advisors and we try to put our subjectivity aside. We work in collaboration with renowned curators to offer as wide and selective a spectrum as possible.
Based in part on our consumer society where productivity and profit are essential, the art market is structured by a system of international fairs that punctuate the year in a completely exhausting way. Visitors leave the galleries and chase after the countless fairs. Stands cost a fortune for galleries and logistics becomes a real headache. This system seems to benefit the most powerful galleries on the market for which a sale allows the amortization of a stand or even several fairs. If there are no more photographers, so much the better! For the number of galleries dedicated to photography, I don’t know if this is a good thing. I have always seen photography as integrating art in general, as another medium among others. The diversification of the collections leads me to believe that galleries should also diversify their offer. 28 Vignon Street’s ambition is to open up to other specialities. Today we master photography and tomorrow we will be able to focus on other areas.
smArty: Who are your competitors and what more do you bring?
Gérôme Saint-Germain: We can be considered by Artsy or Artnet as competitors. This is very flattering, but I don’t have the feeling that 28 Vignon Street is heading towards a window where you have to pay to be visible. We moderate the works and it is therefore through our selection that we make the difference. We rely on our experience in the business, our knowledge of photography on the international market. Once we have made our selection, we are a market place that brings together collectors, whether they are sellers or buyers.
We can also be a competitor of auction houses since we serve as a reseller for the secondary market. In this sense we are also competitive because our salespeople know exactly what they will receive at the time of the sale. This is the advantage of working with fixed prices that reflect fair market values. We try to find the right prices to satisfy both our sellers and buyers.
smArty: You are professionals in the art market and particularly in the photo art market. How do you analyse the evolution of the art market and its consumption patterns?
Gérôme Saint-Germain: The behaviour of collectors has really changed. It is increasingly rare to come across a collection that has been forged over decades. I have noticed during my experience in international auctions that purchasing cycles tend to become more intense and collections tend to diversify. The increase in online sales really marks a turning point in the recent art market economy. The digital tool makes it possible to break down the barriers of a market that is often considered inaccessible. Art touches everyone and its dematerialization opens up new horizons.
The digital economy also allows actors who do not have a knowledge of the traditional art market to emerge and in this respect we are trying to show that an essentially digital platform can be a guarantee of quality.
smArty: What advice can you give for a first purchase?
Gérôme Saint-Germain:Discuss with a professional who can guide you. Buy what you like, within your budget and from someone you trust.
smArty: What about a more knowledgeable collector?
Gérôme Saint-Germain:If he is aware then he is surely used to the system, has had time to forge his taste and establish his own contacts. I can only advise him to subscribe to our newsletter. (Laughs).
smArty: You also offer online exhibitions of artists, and more and more galleries and auction houses are organizing virtual exhibitions or this type of event. Is this a major trend, in your opinion?
Gérôme Saint-Germain:Virtual exhibitions are not so frequent in my opinion, except on generalist platforms that reproduce exhibition installations, for example. Indeed, exhibition views can also be found on each gallery site. These exhibitions do not display as much detail as 28 Vignon Street. With us, you will at least know the price of the work in complete transparency. This is rarely the case in our sector.
smArty: How do you prepare the cure, the choice of artists?
Gérôme Saint-Germain:We can prepare the cure in different ways. Depending on the works already available, that the sellers bring by themselves or by launching a call for consignment to our customers according to a given theme.
The advantage in photography is that when we look for a part, we have several possibilities to find it.
We also have the possibility to exhibit without offering for sale as our Lucien Hervé exhibition curated by Béatrice Andrieux. Only a part of Lucien Hervé’s vintage prints are available.
smArty: What are the differences with the detection and promotion missions of a gallery owner?
Gérôme Saint-Germain: We are not strictly speaking a gallery because our primary role is not to defend an artist’s production or to promote his work. We can indeed help young artists if their work is related to our exhibitions by integrating works into group shows but for the moment we are trying to reassure collectors with rare and sought-after works whose values on the second market are already established and thus promote a climate of trust. Of course we would be delighted to collaborate directly with some artists. The role of 28Vignon Street is rather to seek quality and therefore to determine the best that can be done at a given moment.
smArty: What is the future of the photo art market?
Gérôme Saint-Germain: It is on 28 Vignon Street (Laughs), but more seriously, we also conceive 28 Vignon Street as a platform that is compatible and complementary to the galleries. A place where they can exist freely in an ecosystem where quality prevails. The photography market, as attractive as it is, still needs excellence. The future of the photography market has a bright future ahead of it if it succeeds in integrating itself into the landscape of contemporary art and design. This is already the case for conceptual artists whose photography is at the heart of their work, such as Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, Douglas Gordon, Andreas Gursky, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn, Thomas Struth.
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