July 28 2014 05:51 PM

Art dealer says the public-gallery model is changing

Scott White
Scott White unpacks his new Little Italy location.
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Longtime art dealer and gallerist Scott White has shuttered his La Jolla gallery and will move his operation to the former Jett Gallery location in Little Italy (989 W. Kalmia St.) and make the majority of his business private.

"I've been considering this for the last 15 years as our business model has changed significantly," White says. "After 35 years of being an art dealer, we are so involved with representing significant private collections that buy and sell blue-chip work primarily that the gallery portion of having exhibit after exhibit every six to eight weeks really hinders our ability to cater to and maintain our clients' collections."

White will transform the Little Italy building into a private office, storage and gallery space mainly open by appointment only. A few times a year, White says, he and his team will put together public exhibitions, but the new space should definitely not be considered a public gallery.

"Frankly, here in San Diego, 90 percent of our business is outside of the city," White adds. "It's a very, very small market here."

When we last talked to White in 2011, he was in the process of moving his gallery from Little Italy to La Jolla. He told CityBeat he wanted to be right in the middle of a bigger concentration of collectors and top-notch galleries like Quint Contemporary Art and R.B. Stevenson Gallery. He also said the move would be his last.

"This is my final space, I swear," White said at the time. "This is my swan song. This is it, no more moves. After this, I retire."

Yet, even though White experienced record-breaking sales at shows in his La Jolla space (the lauded David Adey residency and solo exhibition was one of a handful of shows that either sold out or came close), he says the lack of walk-in traffic and the small percentage of purchases by local collectors made it impossible for him to justify keeping the public gallery open.

"I think the gallery model is changing," White says. "If you think about it, art galleries are really more of a service to the city and the public."

The majority of art sales are done behind closed doors, White explains, and most of those purchases are made by international collectors who are already clients. White says that part of the changing gallery model is participating in more national and international art fairs, which he'll be doing. He's also reduced the number of artists he represents and is focusing on mostly higher-end works.

"Collectors go to New York, London or auctions to buy art," White says. "I'm willing to bet we'll see a closure of at least 20 galleries in the country due to Christie's Auctions and the Internet."

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