When the art dealer Thomas Dane realised the size of the carbon footprint of his galleries in London and Naples, he was shocked. Between 2018 and 2019, his business was responsible for more than 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions — 87.9 per cent of which had come from flying artworks and staff around the world.
Acknowledging the urgent need for change, Dane — along with representatives from Kate MacGarry, Lisson Gallery, Sadie Coles HQ, The Art Newspaper and Frieze Art Fair — founded Gallery Climate Coalition (GCC), a charity that develops strategies to make positive environmental changes in the commercial art world.
The initiative launched in October 2020, and among its tools is a free carbon calculator, developed with the help of environmental advisors, which gauges the CO2 produced by travel, shipping, energy, packaging and printing.
‘Civilisation is moving in the right direction, but it’s not doing it fast enough’ — ClientEarth CEO James Thornton
By making these figures public, businesses and organisations can be held accountable for improving their eco-credentials. As a result, GCC members have already committed to cutting their carbon footprint by at least 50 per cent by 2030, in line with the Paris Climate Accord.
The organisation offers practical advice on how the industry can improve, whether by switching from air to sea freight, participating in more local fairs, or using environmentally-friendly IT companies — helping the art market, as Dane puts it, to go green ‘from its roots up’.
In the space of a year, GCC has grown from 14 members to an international network of more than 550 galleries, artists, non-profit organisations, institutions and business leaders.
Earlier this year, Christie’s became a patron of GCC and pledged to be carbon net zero by 2030.
The auction house already avoids air freight where possible and has predominantly switched to digital catalogues and recyclable or reusable crates for transporting artworks. The London office has been powered by renewable energy since 2019 and aims to reduce its landfill waste by 90 per cent over the next decade.
In July, Christie’s and GCC announced a new partnership with ClientEarth, a groundbreaking charity set up to fight climate change, protecting people and the planet. Its work focuses on changing the system to make our world a better, fairer place, using the most effective tool in the arsenal for change: the law.
In the short film above, ClientEarth CEO James Thornton and Matthew Slotover, co-founder of Frieze, discuss the importance of the new venture.
‘The whole art world seems to be in agreement about the fact that we need to change our ways’ — Cecily Brown
‘Civilisation is moving in the right direction, but it’s not doing it fast enough, and this really powerful leverage that the law gives us allows us to speed it up,’ says Thornton. ‘For example, we can make governments move faster, and we can stop the building of coal-fired power stations.’
Artists for ClientEarth will oversee seven sales of works donated by artists and their galleries across the next 12 months, including major pieces by Antony Gormley, Rashid Johnson, Beatriz Milhazes and Xie Nanxing. The aim is to raise funds, awareness and support for ClientEarth’s essential work.
Each artwork will be sold locally in one of Christie’s salerooms across the globe in order to reduce shipping.
The series of auctions begins in London during Frieze week with Cecily Brown’s There’ll be bluebirds, offered as part of Christie’s 20th/21st Century evening sale on 15 October.
The work, donated by Brown and Thomas Dane Gallery, carries an estimate of £500,000-£700,000.
The whirlwind composition of a falling bird — a flurry of brushstrokes in flesh tones, blue and green that seems to subvert the pastoral idyll — debuted in Brown’s acclaimed solo show at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire in September 2020.
According to Brown, there is no lack of will to improve things. ‘The whole art world seems to be in agreement about the fact that we need to change our ways,’ she says.
‘Artists can make a small difference in a few ways I can think of. One is to ship work to shows instead of flying it. Unfortunately, that means no more working till the last possible minute.’
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Ahead of the auction of Brown’s work, GCC will present a booth at Frieze London where the public can learn more about what the charity does, as well as attending daily discussions on how the cultural sector can be made more sustainable.
‘The art world has an enormous role to play in changing people’s consciousness about climate change,’ says Thornton in our short film. ‘The arts have this power to move people, and artists like Cecily, by donating her work, can make an enormous difference.’