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‘Poor door’ opens to let in new collectors as galleries reach out to a wider market with souvenirs and branding

From limited-edition works to T-shirts and tote bags, galleries are diversifying to suit the market

New York

As the art world aligns itself with the luxury goods industry, dealers are adopting its branding strategies. Several New York gallerists have recently opened or expanded retail spaces, aping fashion labels by selling lower-value diffusion products, as well as works of art at “haute couture” prices.

Steven Kasher, a dealer who specialises in photography, launched a boutique attached to his Chelsea gallery last month. Meanwhile, The Hole and Paul Kasmin galleries are overhauling their existing retail stores. Going one step further, the dealer Larry Gagosian, whose Madison Avenue shop opened in 2009, has announced plans to open a sushi restaurant, Kappo Masa, this autumn.

Artist-designed

Kasher Potamkin, a venture between Kasher and the salon owner Andi Potamkin, is steering clear of reproductions and editions, selling everything from jewellery to mannequins to animal skeletons. (“We are showing primary autonomous works, many of them unique,” Kasher says.) By contrast, Kasmin’s PK Shop is offering limited-edition objects. It first opened in 2011, but is relaunching this month in a space adjoining the gallery on Tenth Avenue. Visitors to the current exhibition of works by Nir Hod, for example, will be able to buy artist-designed candles for $25, while taking in his flaming flower paintings, costing up to $175,000. (“Once Everything Was Much Better Even the Future” runs until 25 October.)

The hope is that the shop will engage “young collectors and admirers of art and design that are new to the art world”, says the store manager, Polina Berlin. Or, to put it more bluntly, these stores offer “a ‘poor door’ to art collecting”, says Magdalena Sawon, the owner of Postmasters Gallery.

Kathy Grayson, founder of The Hole, says she is “still at the level where I can’t afford the $10,000 painting myself, but I know the feeling of desiring to be part of an artist’s vision, whether it is a T-shirt or a poster or a calendar or a video”. Grayson realised the money-making potential of mass-market offerings in 2010 with her first Postermat event, which generated $25,000 in sales of posters, each for $75 in an edition of 50. “This shit is mega,” she says.

Gagosian Gallery pioneered the promotional-product trend when it opened a shop in 2009, selling monographs, Jeff Koons puppy vases and art publications. Other major dealers to have launched their own book selling outlets in the past year include the Paris- and Vienna-based Thaddaeus Ropac and New York’s David Zwirner Gallery.

Art souvenirs

“These mega-galleries know how to sell to one particular client: the collector, the 1%,” says Paul Outlaw, an artist who has taken to satirising the trend by selling a line of art souvenirs made in collaboration with his partner, Jen Catron, from a double-decker bus in Chelsea. Popular items include a Koons-inspired “Made in Heaven” baby onesie and “I Klaus Art” tote bags, for $29.99 each. “We, on the other hand, are selling to the masses—the art tourist, and the art fans. What a gigantic untapped market,” Outlaw says.

The trend has deeper roots, dating back to the early 1990s, when galleries began introducing exhibition catalogues—which, like gift shops, were once strictly the domain of museums. “Catalogues, too, were a bit controversial when galleries started doing them, because they were seen as dealers taking over the discourse, hiring critics to do museum-quality support for their exhibitions,” says the art consultant András Szántó. Now that catalogues have become the standard, other brand extensions have followed. “There’s something just inherently attractive, especially when prices are sky-high, about making available items that are actually attainable.”

Three weird things you could buy

● Adult film-maker Bruce LaBruce’s perfume, “Obscenity”, $500, at The Hole Shop

● John Breed’s silver-plated Java monkey skeleton in a bird cage, $8,250, at Kasher Potamkin

● Damien Hirst shark figurine, $99.99, at Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw’s Chelsea Souvenir Bus

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as '‘Poor door’ opens to let in the new collectors'