Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Biennials vs. Art Fairs

Well, it's official:
Art Fairs are the New Biennials.

Art fairs are the new biennials. They are gigantic conventions where everyone sees one another, hangs out, and does deals. Fairs generate a genuine sense of community in an art world so sprawling that this experience is otherwise rare. They are more egalitarian than curator-driven exhibitions in which one person tells everyone else what to look at. Curator Massimiliano Gioni ruefully calls them "the ultimate form of the avant-garde: the corporate avant-garde."
It's common now to say that the commercial art fairs, like those in Basel or Miami, are the new biennales, vast malls of eclectic taste, dealer-run, not dictated by curators or hidebound by tradition, not hampered by lofty expectations or stuck with a slow schedule. Some museum survey shows now seem anxious to emulate the fairs, pandering to collectors, skipping big ideas, seeking to get ahead of the curve (see "Greater New York 2005" at P.S. 1).
In fact, one famous critic suggested the other day I don't need to travel to Venice this year because "You guys, gallerists, are doing a much better job at the art fairs than these curators" (meaning the curators of the biennials).

In contrast to what many other dealers have been quoted as saying, I actually love art fairs. I get off on the intensity of it all, including the set-up and tear down, the parties, the insane schedules, and especially the wheeling and dealing.

Having said that, I'm none too pleased to see the biennials take a back seat to the fairs. Despite increasing efforts to make art fairs about education, there's an inescapable overriding objective. An article in the UK's
Telegraph newspapers summed it up nicely:
Basel [the biggest fair in the world], on the other hand, is unquestionably about money, but aspires more and more to be about culture and education, to be like a biennale. Its curated exhibitions, critical forums, artists' talks, performances and public art projects all lend a tactical veneer of disinterest in money, while underwriting the notion that the art for sale is of museum quality.

For the legion of hungry collectors, however, any sense of decorum can quickly evaporate. Particularly noticeable this year was the feeling of urgency about capturing works by promising young artists while prices are low. As the doors opened, there was an unseemly stampede as collectors made a dash for their targeted prey. Countless sales were made within the space of a few hours.
Again, I don't mind the feeding frenzy art fairs have become. It's exhilarating, and let's face it, I'm in the business of selling art. But as an art lover, I want there to be a balance. I want biennials to counter the commerce-centric aspects of the fairs, to enrage the critics, bring out the protesters, spark debate among artists, etc., etc. Perhaps the major biennials need to reexamine their approach, and by that I most definitely don't mean become more like the art fairs.

The major observation (theory?) about why the biennials are failing is increasing globalization. The biennials used to be opportunities to see work one had only heard of, to gauge trends, to be surprised. With the Internet, easier travel, and most galleries representing artists from around the world, there are few surprises in any of the biennials. In fact, once wind gets out which artists are going to be in a biennial, it's increasingly rare to find any of them who haven't been snatched up by galleries and given exhibitions to coincide.

All of this will change, of course, when the art market cools down. But biennials still need to find some way to compensate for globalization and the reach of the galleries. Perhaps set a quota for unrepresented artists (certain studio programs won't allow an artist to be represented until after they leave the program, perhaps biennials could operate in a similar fashion). If they don't, they'll find their attendance numbers dwindling. I'm taking that critic's advice and not going to Venice at all this year.

UPDATE: Seems there's something in the air on this. Tyler Green* weighs in.

*And be sure and stop in to see the exhibition Tyler's curated, opening at DCKT this Friday.


Anonymous crionna said...

bring out the protesters,

I gotta have pictures of them! Perhaps you could interview some for a post?

But biennials still need to find some way to compensate

Or they could hold them somewhere like say, Italy... Oh, yeah, well, nevermiiiiind ;)

6/22/2005 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

bring out the protesters,

I gotta have pictures of them!

There were some very famous ones in Venice this year, crionna: the Guerilla Girls. Of course, as a sign of our times, they had been invited, so, I'm not sure what that means except to suggest the biennials are indeed on their last leg.

6/22/2005 11:36:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home