Read how Lewis Long, Chela Mitchell, and Mikhaile Solomon use ArtTech to stay connected with collectors
Representation matters. Yet art created by Black artists still isn’t represented in major auctions, galleries, and museums, with the exception of a handful of token artists who repeatedly represent an entire population. The erasure of Black artists from art history and the dearth of Black collectors, dealers, and advisors is real.
Last year, ARTERNAL wrote a blog post about why diversity matters in the art industry. In it, we talked about the massive underrepresentation of Black artists and women. We discussed how white men own the majority of private museums and galleries, how minority-owned galleries have less access to capital, and how artists of color and women are less likely to break the glass ceiling by moving from the primary to the secondary market.
At the end of the post, we called for more inclusion of artists of color and women in the art world. But has the art world become more inclusionary?
Black Lives Matter has made art by Black artists become more visible. And many galleries have started to represent Black artists. But some of this feels more like a trend than a move toward true representation. It’s similar to when certain elite galleries started to exhibit more Outsider Art because people in the art world started to think it was edgy and cool. But “Outsider Art” was about much more than a trend. And “Black Art,” and commodified “Blackness,” shouldn’t be about artists who stand at the fringe of the art world, but rather by artists who stand firmly within it.
Fighting for representation can be exhausting for Black artists, collectors, and dealers. Yet despite the erasure of Black art and the commodification of Blackness, Black artists and professionals in the art industry are becoming more visible. This is in large part due to their ongoing fight for representation, but also because of the growth of ArtTech, which refers to the technologies that help art dealers digitally communicate with greater speed and efficiency. ARTERNAL has contributed to this ArtTech ecosystem with our innovative customer relationship management (CRM) platform, which creates shared opportunities between collectors and dealers, eliminates barriers to entry into the art world, and creates greater sustainability within the art marketplace through digital evolution.
Below are a few examples of Black art dealers and advisors who are using ArtTech and the ARTERNAL platform in innovative ways to stay connected with collectors across the artworld ecosystem.
Lewis Long: Using Technology to Increase Inclusion
In 2014, Lewis Long founded the Long Gallery in Harlem, New York. His mission? To show art by emerging and established artists of the African diaspora, while also providing a forum for underrepresented artists. Among the over 70 artists presented in exhibitions are Bisa Butler, Nona Hendryx, Kennedy Yanko, Arcmanoro Niles, and Derek Fordjour.
Many Black and Brown people don’t feel comfortable or welcome in galleries or museums. The Long Gallery provides 3D virtual walkthroughs of its exhibitions, meaning it brings its art right to people in their living rooms. This may provide more comfortable approximations of in-person experiences. And it’s easy to see how the technology creates more fluidity between dealers and collectors and fundamentally helps Black artists get more of their work sold to wider groups of collectors.
Chela Mitchell: Bridging the Gap Between the Old Guard and Industry Newcomers
ArtTech solutions help create a bridge between the traditional “old guard” of the art world and newcomers to the industry. And Chela Mitchell, the founder and art advisor extraordinaire behind Chela Mitchell Art, is a master of using technology to help private, public, and new collectors navigate the contemporary art market.
Research and knowledge of the contemporary art market are at the heart of Mitchell’s operations. Using ARTERNAL’s CRM platform, Chela Mitchell Art is able to customize communications and art advising for every single one of the collectors they advise. This tool, for example, helps Chela Mitchell Art send bespoke emails and keep collectors informed about artists they like. And the CRM democratizes the process — unlike many galleries and advisories, which cater primarily to high-net-worth collectors (AKA wealthy white dudes), Chela Mitchell Art is able to reach a broader clientele.
Mikhaile Solomon: Using ARTERNAL’s to Help Connect Artists and Galleries to the Broader Art Market
Prizm Art Fair began in 2013 with the intention of exhibiting African diaspora artists and contemporary artists based in Miami.
Prior to founding the fair, founder-director, Mikhaile Solomon, had visited many other fairs and realized that there weren’t enough artists from the diaspora in main fairs. “Art Basel descended on Miami every year but many of the local artists who participated weren’t included in that larger international fair.”
Galleries owned by African or diaspora proprietors were also overlooked. Many of them had worked for decades, but they weren’t formally recognized by the larger art market.
ARTERNAL has helped connect these artists and gallerists with the market. Before adopting our innovative CRM technology, the fair organized most of their operations manually by using a conventional cloud system to manage information about artists in files. These files were then used to set up the website and organize the art fair. It was a tedious and time-consuming process. The CRM adopted by Prizm de-silos all of the information about artists and the fair. Rather than multiple files, the data is all in one place. Artists can add their own information to the system, saving Solomon many precious hours to focus on business development.
ARTERNAL has helped Prizm vet all of our artists. Eighty-five percent of them are included in larger museum exhibitions. Some of them are represented by galleries. Prizm also makes sales online, which has given people from around the world a chance to interact with the fair, artists, and galleries without needing to travel. This has increased revenue and Prizm’s collector-base.
Lessons for All Dealers
Right now, many people working in the art industry say they’re committed to increasing diversity in galleries and museums. But a lot of this feels like lip service. And even more of it feels uncomfortably close to commodifying Blackness.
Black dealers, advisors, and other art industry professionals have used ArtTech to not only increase sales but also to make art by Black and Brown artists more visible to a wider group of collectors. White art industry professionals should take note. Rather than simply banking on Blackness by selling work by a handful of Black artists, it’s essential to support an environment where Black artists, collectors, and dealers are welcome and included in all art-related conversations. And it’s crucial that all collectors — not just high-net-worth white collectors — have access to bespoke information about art they might like to collect. ArtTech, with digital tools capable of spanning the entire art world ecosystem, can help make these things happen by crossing borders and time zones to serve a wider audience.