Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nothing's Sacred (But Then, Nothing Really Was)

The question has been raised as to whether artwork exhibited at the Venice Biennale should be for sale. Again, that is.

I was as surprised, as I'm sure many other folks would be, to learn that the Biennale had once facilitiated the sale of work, openly. From
The Art Newspaper:

People who say that biennials have become covert art fairs may be surprised to know that the Venice Biennale used to sell art openly—from 1942 to 1968. The Italian dealer Ettore Gian Ferrari had the official job of placing works for any willing artist, earning 15% for the Biennale and 2% for himself.

The practice was ostensibly stopped so that the Biennale was not tainted with commerce, but the real reason, says his daughter, Claudia Gian Ferrari, was that the artists’ regular dealers had begun to object.
As right they should, IMHO, but what's led to this interest in revising the taint of commerce?

A new art fair, Cornice, which takes place in Venice from 7 to 10 June to coincide with the opening of the biennale will include 60 dealers—80% of them international names, including Salander-O’Reilly. It has raised the whole question of sales again. When the president of the Biennale, Davide Croff, realised that Cornice had the support of all the public authorities—the Region, the Province and the Mayor—and of a number of prominent art world figures including former French minister of culture, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, now the director of the Pinault Collection in the Palazzo Grassi, he considered whether the Biennale should start selling again from 2009.

Mr Croff raised this question at a board meeting in January. No official statement has been made, however, and now, more than ever, there would almost certainly be strong opposition from galleries.
OK, so we've been all over the issue of whether there ever really was some golden era in which art was free from the nasty business of commerce, but I have to admit to having liked the idea that some high-profile venues were at least, ostensibly, about the art and open commerce was verboten. What's next? A cash-and-carry set up at the exit of Documenta?

To be clear here, I'm not attacking the fair in Venice. As with any such venture, knowing how much effort goes into producing them, I certainly don't wish anything but the very best for Cornice and its participants. I just sincerely hope the Biennale decides against reinsitituting open sales at the Gardini. As the article notes, galleries who often need to raise buckets of cash to realize an installation will object to someone else moving in, and ultimately it could impact the artists they promote/lobby for inclusion, making Venice less interesting/important.

Labels: art market


Blogger Henry said...

I winced at the negative phrase "taint of commerce" in the post above, but I understand it, and wholeheartedly agree with the underlying sentiment: Introducing commercial interests into an art fair will reduce every viewer's confidence that an artist or an artwork is on display for curatorial reasons rather than commercial ones. Assuming, of course, that anyone is still interested in curation anymore. It's analogous to scientific research and experimentation. Of course commerce catches up with everyone eventually -- everyone gets hungry -- but you need these kinds of laboratories to invigorate the artistic soul. (I've never been to the Venice Bienniale, but I've been to the Whitney's a few times, so I'm afraid I'm only capable of speaking in generalities).

I'm not sure what to think about the Cornice Art Fair, however. (And the website seems to be down right now, so I can't see what they have to say for themselves). On one hand I can see why it would be good to allow visitors to have a curatorial experience at the Venice Bienniale, then a commercial one at Cornice if they have a jones to buy something good while the spirit fills them, but my concern is, similar to the fear of having a "cash-and-carry set up at the exit of Documenta," will Cornice end up being the gift shop for the Bienniale? Will there be a wink-and-nod relationship between the Bienniale and Cornice? I think the curatorial reputation of the Bienniale is strong enough to resist any such movement, but the potential is there.

5/29/2007 02:53:00 PM  

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