Monday, March 12, 2007

Who Gets to Exhibit at an Art Fair

In The New York Times today, Carol Vogel reports from the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, that Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses have muscled their way into an event that had until now been restricted to international dealers:

But neither is using its name. Sotheby’s presence comes under the guise of Noortman Master Paintings, a Maastricht art gallery it bought in June for $82.5 million. Christie’s is represented by King Street Fine Art, a subsidiary it formed especially for the fair.

The presence of these archrival companies, with booths directly facing each other, has caused a stir among dealers who have long considered the auction houses their biggest competitors.

“It is wrong,” said Leslie Waddington, a London dealer who has been exhibiting at the fair for 15 years. “It is a terrible way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a great fair.”
I've heard this same issue crop up at the fairs for emerging art that we're invited to, only, rather than auction houses, the scorned newcomers are usually consultants or curators or private dealers who don't maintain a physical gallery. To me, the illogical nature of the complaint (they don't have the expenses we gallerists do so they shouldn't get access to the same potential customers) reveals just how much pressure gallerists are under to sell at fairs. Of course, I get that context is important, but the correct answer to the question of who should get to exhibit at an art fair seems to me to be whoever the fair's organizers invite.

That doesn't mean galleries are powerless in creating a context they like. Galleries can (and have) started their own fairs specifically to ensure a context that suits their needs. Oddly enough, though, most of the artist-founded art fairs I can think of have grown to include non-traditional-gallery-type booths, suggesting a balance is crucial to having an attractive fair.

But back to the special case of auction houses at art fairs. Also reporting from Maastricht is Tyler Green, who (if you haven't read it already) posted this
hilarious exchange he witnessed:

While I was admiring the pink luminescence of the [Christie's gallery] KSFA Judd, a woman came tottering in on an impossible set of heels. "Hey, hey!" she chirped, seeking the attention of gallery staff. It was soon apparent that she had just bought something from KSFA. The gallerinas weren't as attuned to her 'hey, heys' as she would have liked, and she looked around impatiently. As one saleswoman moved slowly toward her, the customer called out to her: "You're owned by Christie's, aren't you?"

She might have told the booth that she had just found a lost Caravaggio. Three KSFAers raced over, shushing all the while. The tottering customer noticed that she was being hushed, but not answered, so above the white noise of the 'quiet down!' brigade, she tried again, as if to a child: "You're. Christie's. Aren't you?" One of the staff finally answered: "Yes, yes, we are, but they ask us not to, you know, broadcast that. Or even mention it."

The customer looked triumphant. "Well I'm a Christie's customer!" she said, loudly. "I want a discount!" And with that the woman was skillfully led away, into some private area. I lingered for some time, but I never saw her again.
I see this as simply more of the blurring of lines occurring across the art world in general. I don't disagree with James Roundell, the London dealer in charge of TEFA's paintings section, who

[D]efended his fellow organizers. “The whole art market is changing,” he said, “and we need to be open to that change.”

Recognizing that both companies have been beefing up their departments that sell art privately rather than at public auction, he added, “If Sotheby’s and Christie’s bring more people to the party, then it’s a good thing.”
As much as it pains me, for obvious reasons, I can't help but recognize that as the art world changes, gallerists have to evolve with everyone else. There's no point in instilling protectionism at certain fairs if that will only serve to make said fair less attractive to potential customers. Staying competitive, as in any field, requires new thinking, not a circling of the wagons. Bellyaching is wasted energy. Oh, and before you ask, if I knew what response would work best to the gallerists' advantage in the dawn of this new age, well, I certainly wouldn't share it on a blog. ;-)

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5 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

I think your right, as always, damn. Remember also that the Armory was going to prohibit print dealers from exhibiting this year. Most likely to make more room for more expensive works. Luckily that didn't happen and one of the most memorable works at the fairs was a Kiki Smith print. http://www.flickr.com/photos/markart/399057859/in/set-72157594550720565/jdlzb

3/12/2007 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

...the woman was skillfully led away, into some private area. I lingered for some time, but I never saw her again.

Shouldn't Tyler have report this missing woman to the police or the Democrats or something? She could end up at one of those secret CIA things in who-knows-where.

3/12/2007 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Jacques de Beaufort said...

Serenity Now...Serenity Now

3/12/2007 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger CONTEMPORARY INDIAN ART GALLERY said...

I like these lines..."As much as it pains me, for obvious reasons, I can't help but recognize that as the art world changes, gallerists have to evolve with everyone else. There's no point in instilling protectionism at certain fairs if that will only serve to make said fair less attractive to potential customers. Staying competitive, as in any field, requires new thinking, not a circling of the wagons. Bellyaching is wasted energy. Oh, and before you ask, if I knew what response would work best to the gallerists' advantage in the dawn of this new age, well, I certainly wouldn't share it on a blog

3/12/2007 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

It's encouraging to hear how fluid you perceive things, Edward - this sense you convey that gallerists much change, too.

The irony of Tyler's story was that it made art collectors sound like Wal-Mart customers. With more and more people collecting art, I wonder if this is the case and would be interested in what you and others thought.

Was a time when most airline passengers were business people, the cost was usually high and a man wouldn't consider boarding an airplane without dressing up somewhat, often wearing a tie just for the flight.

Deregulation made flying accessible to pretty much everyone, making it no more special than taking a bus trip. Now people dress down to fly.

It's interesting to think that maybe art collecting is undergoing a kind of figurative deregulation.

3/12/2007 05:05:00 PM  

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