“Somewhere between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, art dealers in New York reinvented themselves and changed the title of their occupation to ‘gallerist.’ Although an article in the New York Times* suggests that the advent of this new appellation happened in the mid-2000s, a blog reader who responded to a posting about the Times article said that he first heard the term used in Europe in the mid-1990s.**
“[Today’s] new title arrived with a set of rules regarding who can use the title and who cannot. In an attempt to explain the difference between an art dealer and a gallerist, a gallery owner interviewed in the Times described an art dealer as one who buys and sells art but does not represent artists. The Times article suggested that a gallerist nurtures artists.***
“Nina Pratt, who for many years served as a New York-based art marketing advisor to art dealers and art consultants very accurately observes that many dealer believe the myth that art and business do not mix. ‘Dealers are terrified of being viewed as used-car salesmen. They go to great lengths to dissociate themselves from the ‘business’ aspects of art’.****
“Consequently, in an effort to reinvent themselves and ward off their worst fear, American art dealers gave themselves a new title. Although the new title is pretentious and a less-than-subtle embellishment of the occupation of ‘sales person,’ it can also be interpreted that the ‘ist’ at the end of ‘galler-ist’ symbolically represents yet another encroachment into an ‘art-ist’s’ territory. It can be compared to the 50 percent sales commissions art dealers receive, an implication that they are major contributors to the creation of artwork!”
P.S.: I like to remind artists that art dealers, unlike curators and members of the Association of Professional Art Advisors, do not have to possess any qualifications to sell art. In other words, one can be in prison – with a low status in society – and upon release turn himself or herself into an art dealer. And magically there is a very upward surge in respectability!
*Grace Glueck, “Old Business, New Name: Behold the Gallerist,” New York Times, December 24, 2005. **Dennis Christie, “Dealer vs. Gallerist,” Rubberbandlazer. http://rubnberbandlazer.blogspot.com/2005/12/dealers-vs-gallerist.html (accessed April 3, 2008). ***Glueck, op.cit. **** Interview with Nina Pratt, New York, N.Y., 1990.