Booming Art Market Can't Help Hip Chelsea Gallery Avoid Closing
  Resource:Bloomberg   2007-12-20 14:46:24  
  Five years after Oliver Kamm started selling art from his one-bedroom Chelsea apartment, the dealer said he will close the doors of his gallery on West 27th Street at the end of March. "We are riding the crest of the greatest art market and we are barely breaking even," said Kamm, 35, in a telephone interview. "It's frustrating." Located on the westernmost, cobblestone block of New York's contemporary-art district, Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery is part of a cluster of hip, young galleries that moved there two years ago. His neighbors include Derek Eller, ATM gallery and John Connelly Presents. The news of his closing comes amid concern that art prices are headed for a fall because of a roiling U.S. housing-market crisis and choppy stock markets. In November, the success of big contemporary sales in New York infused the art market with confidence. Earlier this month, dealers said sales were brisk at Art Basel Miami Beach, the country's largest contemporary-art fair. While many dealers are reporting strong sales, however, galleries such as Haswellediger & Co., Baumgartner, Andre Schlechtriem Temporary and Jessica Murray Projects closed in Chelsea in the past year. (Some plan to reopen elsewhere in the city or in Europe.) "Chelsea is just super expensive," said Sam Tsao, a former co-owner of Haswellediger and now a director at Friedrich Petzel Gallery. "Just to open the door each month we needed $10,000. We showed emerging artists and our price points were much lower. Our sales couldn't compete." Daily Pressure For Kamm, a former staffer of Lehmann Maupin and Marianne Boesky galleries, the daily pressure of producing sales while managing the careers of 14 artists became too daunting. "I don't have the energy at this point to put 110 percent into being a sales guy," he said. "If success means doing six art fairs a year, I don't want it."His gallery, which sold works ranging in price from $1,500 to $20,000, had a hard time breaking even every month. "Emerging galleries are small businesses and have to be extremely focused on selling to meet their overhead," said Becky Smith, owner of Chelsea's Bellwether gallery. "It takes daily work. In the end, it's not particularly fun." The artists he represents took the news well, Kamm said. Others Thrive "I don't owe anyone any money," he added. "I am trying to find everyone the right home and the right situation." After closing his gallery, Kamm will concentrate on the resale market, private advising and occasional exhibitions. He will swap his 2,000-square-foot ground-floor gallery for a smaller one, currently occupied by ATM (ATM will move into Kamm's space). Kamm's peers said they viewed the news as an individual decision rather than a trend. "I am having my best year ever," Eller said. "I don't think galleries are hurting." Art adviser Sheri Pasquarella was the director of Gorney Bravin & Lee when the gallery closed in 2005. "Some people speculated that the closing could be the 'beginning of the end,' like a bellwether for the turning of the tide," she said in an e-mail. "Obviously, they were wrong; it was just an individual situation."
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