Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Art Fairs and Taking Control

The art market is so incredibly hot right now, it's no wonder that the most concentrated venues for it, art fairs, have become the centerpiece and controlling aspect of it. The plethora of art fairs now is approaching the level of farce, but with so much money and, more importantly, networking at stake, few emerging galleries can afford not to get into as many fairs as they can.
Despite the growing number of art fairs, though, with the market so strong, there are more and more galleries all the time, and so competition for the most important fairs is fierce. The directors of the most important fairs are virtual superstars (truly, Art Basel director Samuel Keller was listed in Details magazine a year ago as one of the "50 Most Influential Men Under 37"), and the anxiety among dealers who apply for the best fairs is high. For the 2005 Armory Show (New York's most important art fair for new art), a record 522 galleries applied for the 162 available booths.

Not getting into an important fair can have devastating effects on younger galleries, who rely on them for a big chunk of their annual sales, though, and as necessity is the mother of invention, younger galleries are finding ways to take control when the bigger art fairs turn them down.

One way younger galleries have responded is to form their own art fairs as satellites (some would say parasites) to the bigger fairs. One of the oldest and certainly the most ambitious of these satellite efforts is the series of art fairs in hotels called -Scope. With fairs in New York, Miami, London, Paris, and now even the Hamptons (as well as efforts in Los Angeles and Venice), -Scope can rightly claim to represent a global effort. Despite a sense among many galleries that -Scope fairs are not as serious as the main fairs they're feeding off, I've noticed an amazing degree of respect among collectors for the work they find in them. Oh, some still view the hotel motif as "cute" or whatever, and the galleries there as minor league, but they buy work from them (-Scope's last New York fair sold $2.5 million reportedly).

Other satellite fairs include the Stray Show (and now NOVA) in Chicago, the astonishingly successful NADA art fair in Miami, the worldwide DiVA art fairs, the Zoo art fair in London, and on and on and on. One of most recent (it's on as I write this actually), is the Volta Show in Basel. Its website notes that it's "part of the emerging movement of non-profit project fairs that are made by galleries for galleries." There's already a satellite art fair in Basel that's now 10 years old (Liste), but Volta represents the fact that galleries who are not included in Art Basel (the godfather of them all) or Liste still see the opportunity to be seen in that context (i.e., with all those curators, museum directors, and most importantly collectors spending vigorously) as important enough to take control and carve out their own piece of the pie.

One of my favorite responses to not being included in the "big" fair was the Art Rock project by New York's Clementine Gallery this past year, which presented projects by 10 artists from 10 galleries at Rockefeller Center and one of the most enjoyable parties of the season. It was a triumph of spirit, IMO, and the Clementine dealers are new heroes of mine for making such a huge and optimistic statement.

Eventually, this market too will cool. Established dealers are already discussing the coming "corrections," and the first victims of such will likely be the smaller fairs. What inventive solutions the younger galleries can find to deal with that downturn remain to be seen, but surely that which is not killing us now, is making us stronger.


Anonymous crionna said...

I'll bet the satellite fairs are more fun for folks who are not "collectors".

6/16/2005 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

the energy is certainly higher, Crionna, even for "collectors."

The opening day of the last NADA fair, for example, was a feeding frenzy...I loved it.

6/16/2005 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Eduardo. said...

Everyone wants the best information, the collector usualy think that such "gold" is hid in the "alternative fairs". That´s the reason for excitment.....

7/26/2005 10:47:00 PM  

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