As the worlds of high art and mass entertainment grow ever more enmeshed, United Talent Agency announced plans last week to launch a new division dedicated to repping contemporary artists. Headed by art attorney Joshua Roth, UTA Fine Arts will be looking to take on some of the roles traditionally played by galleries – and presumably cut in on their market share. (Among other accomplishments, Roth represented the buyer of the most expensive photograph ever sold.) UTA chairman Jim Berkus told the Wall Street Journal that they won’t be selling or showing art, but will be involved with project financing, commissions and helping artists branch out into entertainment arenas like cinema. According to Variety, they will also work on “building licensing and endorsement relationships with luxury and other types of brands.” Get ready for that Ed Ruscha / Louis Vuitton collab.
Although this new model would seem to pose a challenge to the established gallery system, the implications may not be very wide-reaching. Steve Turner, who recently relocated his eponymous gallery to Hollywood, thinks the kinds of services a talent agency offers would only appeal to a small, select group of artists. “Maybe for a successful, big-earning artist who has ambition to do things in other realms, that’s where I would see that it might have some application, but that’s very few artists,” he told us. “Besides, those artists already have lawyers and business managers and investment advisors. You could count the artists this might apply to on two hands.”
Still, the artistic 1% makes a lot of money, so it’s not surprising that Hollywood wants to cash in on this ascendant multibillion-dollar art market. Whether or not they can break into the notoriously secretive insider’s circle of top art dealers remains to be seen.
“It sounds like an interesting idea, but it’s going to be super hard to pull off,” Arne Glimcher of mega-gallery Pace told the WSJ. “If you’re going to be an artist’s agent, you need to know more about their work, their prices and their collectors than their own dealer does—and no dealer will be induced to share that kind of information.”
Turner sees this new development as “a symptom of a hot market,” one that may not last. “It’s just because they read the big numbers, and some artists are making professional athlete or entertainer money. That doesn’t mean it will always be this way,” he said. “Good luck to them.”