Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Shopping in Art Fairs

 Art Fair

(cc flickr ihatereiny)

”I’d always avoided art fairs like the plague,” (…) “It’s like every single reason for art to exist does not exist in those places.”

The first part of this article really caught my attention because I feel exactly the same way about “big” art fairs. Before I would never reject an opportunity to go because it was always a good excuse to see interesting things but the overall atmosphere (usually very “up-tight”) goes so much against the essence of artists and arts in general that nowadays I am not really interested anymore. 

Eric Fish´s new exhibition comes as a critic and irony to the fact that art fairs became a place” to see and be seen”. His exhibit will happen at the same time as Frieze Art Fair in London and “He hopes that people can go to Frieze and then come to his show and see what they looked like at Frieze.”

The fact is that Art Fairs are growing in number and size around the globe:

There are now 50 or more international shows, from Dubai to Shanghai to São Paulo, one for every week of the year, following the money, flogging product.”

The strong commercial side of these initiatives dictate the game and throw art into little booths like in an organic farmers market.

I attended Hong Kong Art Basel for the last couple of years and I concluded that most of the crowd was more interested in 1) to have their picture taken for a magazine or FB page or 2) to capture the most awkward works for Instagram. And I assume I did the same myself as I was not interested to buy anything and got really bored.

But if this fairs are attracting more than just art collectors, my question is: why don´t they engage the audiences in other ways? It would be interesting to know some of the artists and their works through talks, seminars and site specific happenings. Other related events take place in other locations but the fairs themselves are rather dull.

Unfortunately I know little about the economic impact and profit that these initiatives have but my main point here was to criticize the way they are being produced and consumed.


5 comments on “Shopping in Art Fairs

  1. shrulala
    October 16, 2014

    I always prefer attending opening nights. Its a great way to meet the artist, talk to the curator, the presenter and maybe even potential buyers. Arts Fairs I agree are impersonal. But the scene you described in Hong Kong brought image of tourists in the US using the latest model of cameras, focusing on taking pictures at every spot rather than enjoying the place.

  2. gaochang619
    October 17, 2014

    That is the truth exactly. I have to attend bunch of art fairs to expand my horizons in arts world, partly because there are few opening nights like Shruthi mentioned. It is vital to get involve in these pieces and touch something deeper rather than taking pictures of them. However I have question on the motivation of art fairs: if they intended to attract arts collectors and sell arts initially, and then everything happened here seems quite reasonable. Perhaps we need both art fairs and opening nights with artists to play different roles.

  3. gormleykimberly
    October 20, 2014

    I’ve never attended a large art fair, but I’d be interested to see how the fair benefits the artist versus the galleries. It seems to be a lot of great publicity and elbow rubbing for the galleries, but I only hear about a few standout artists every year at Basel. I also wonder how the burden of travel is distributed between the artist and gallery. Is it even economically ” worth it” for artists to attend?

  4. zeniasimpson
    October 21, 2014

    Personally speaking, artists are not the biggest of fair fans and its hard on galleries that aren’t extremely large to take on the financial burdens that fairs produce. Typically, galleries pay in the tens of thousands range for the larger fairs and many galleries have realized the only way to become established and sell a lot of art nowadays is to go to these fairs (this blog shows average prices for various art fairs Collectors simply aren’t going door to door in Chelsea anymore. They want a one-stop-shop situation where they can compare works and buy what they want while in one city, at one place, and leave to go back to their hectic lives. For artists, galleries ask them to produce works at a rapid pace and often if they are invited to many fairs throughout the year. While artists are always happy to be working, for some, they can’t produce the quality of works, or a pure artistic vision when they have to provide so many pieces at once. Really, medium-sized galleries suffer the most – I’ve seen some gallery budgets where 60-70% of their budget going to fairs whereas the larger brands like Hauser & Wirth continue to flourish. Fairs in my opinion are not about the artists. The gallery is front and center, establishing its reputation, and meeting the bottom line through the use of their artists work. Fairs are solely for galleries and collectors and art tourists who want photos or blogs who want features. As for Art Basel Miami – the parties. As for Sara’s question of talks and seminars, many fairs feature amazing talks and seminars mostly about the for-profit side of the art world, but also trends in contemporary art, museums, and with galleries. You can look at Frieze talks and Basel talks on Youtube. They’re extremely informative and insightful and usually feature the who’s who in the art world. This is about the only educational take away from these events (unless you’re interested in sociology, psychology, or a social cheat-sheet).

    • sarasps85
      October 21, 2014

      Thank you. I guess you are right. It’s not about the artists.

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