Friday, April 13, 2012

The Difference between a Single Malt and an Art Fair

Too much of anything is bad,
but too much good whiskey is barely enough.

~ Mark Twain

Next week, whether you be in Germany, Brussels, or Mexico, you can visit a major contemporary art fair presenting an international selection of high-profile galleries. You can even visit a fair from the comfort of your own home, as VIP launches its works on paper edition.

If you can't wait until next week, don't worry, you can dash down to Dallas or over to Milan today, right now, and find impressive international galleries gathered under one roof (admittedly mixed in with a few you're likely to have never heard of, but...) leaving one to wonder when, if ever, a collector can expect to find a dealer occupying their own gallery.

Now of course, I'm one to talk about the proliferation of art fairs, having co-founded one myself, and even working with the co-organizers of another we participate in to present an exhibition during the explosion of fairs coming to New York in May, just to turn around and head out to San Francisco the following week to try out a new fair, ArtPadSF, that some dear friends of ours are involved in.

To be entirely honest about it, I'm somewhat unusual in that I actually enjoy art fairs (and would probably do more if I could do them AND be in my gallery at the same time AND if I didn't prefer sleeping in my own bed much more than staying in hotels). But one does begin to wonder what the limit of all this might be.

As Jane Cohan so aptly explained in an article about the coming blitzkreig of fairs in New York in May, "I think we are all aware that the contemporary art market is increasingly event driven." Or in other words, that's where the sales are happening. And even Larry Gagosian noted in response to Morley Safer's suggestion that he had to participate in Art Basel Miami Beach, "Yeah, for me it's a place to sell art; it's a place to make money." And knowing that, it makes sense that dealers will participate in as many events/fairs as they can.

But surely we're reaching a saturation point, no? Even if we accept that, like a good whiskey, too many fairs is barely enough, eventually too much of the brown nectar will make one pass out, if not throw up.

During the fairs in New York back in March, one of my personal heroes in the art world, Peter Schjeldahl, was quietly making the rounds, doing research on the phenomenon of art fairs for a major article he's working on (and which I eagerly open each new issue of The New Yorker that arrives at home, hoping to find). I'm not sure when it's coming out, actually, but I am sure, having talked with him about fairs for a while that week that he's likely to argue that he (at least) is well past the stage of throwing up.

And yet, we dealers hitch up our wellies and wade back in, month after month, experimenting with the model as best we can (e.g., the wonderful Independent and our own efforts SEVEN and Moving Image), but recognizing the inescapable logic of being where the money is.

Thank God for Oban.

Labels: Art Fairs


Anonymous Steven Kaplan said...

Dealer John Gibson, whose last gallery was at 568 Broadway in SoHo, once told me he made it through the 70s/early 80s without a gallery, by selling works on paper from his stable of artists in the various European art fairs, which at that time were in Cologne, Basel and just a few other places. So even in the good old days, an art dealer could avoid paying rent on a brick and mortar gallery and instead sell itinerantly, from fair to fair.

There are probably ten times as many fairs today. It makes one wonder about the overlap, the excess. Of course, the art world has itself mushroomed in all aspects: more galleries, more museums, more auctions, more MFAs glutting the market.

4/13/2012 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Everett said...

The gallery I work in did nine art fair in 13 months last year and broke even at one. As dealers we are facing hard choices. A gallery space alone is not paying for them selves, so we have to go out chasing collectors. With so many fairs the pool of potential art buyers gets diluted and if we are talking collectors they are even fewer and far between. It seems to me that art fairs at one time were the answer but now with so many fairs the chase of meeting that one great client are so slim. What do we do now?

PS Having been the Dallas Art Fair in 2010 and 2011 those there now have my condolences and will need all the whiskey bad or good they can get their hands on.

4/14/2012 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luuk Christiaens

[There are probably ten times as many fairs today. ...]

A quick check tells me there are 320 (and counting) 'international' contemporary art fairs worldwide. :-)

[... experimenting with the model as best we can ...]

I admire the few galleries that dare to question (more or less successfully for all parties involved) the model because the stakes are high having to choose between 'risky survival' and 'painful success'.
Yet, as long as the art fair model is based on the existing gallery model, nothing will change fundamentally and the some of the parts will never be greater than the whole.
With or without walls between booths.

[ ... the inescapable logic of being where the money is.]

I am afraid this is a too short-term vision.

4/14/2012 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Will commercial galleries eventually disappear? It's sad to think the market has outgrown them. I'll miss the peace and quiet, the space to contemplate. The crowds and cramping at fairs really put me off. I don't collect so I guess I don't count. But if I did collect I think the frantic car-trunk-sale vibe would still put me off.

4/16/2012 07:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My deep contact moles in the art world tell me Larry G will be running a 2013 Superbowl Commercial that will rival Volkswagen......

Procol Harum ::::: Whiskey Train

4/16/2012 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I aint Proud , I would park my Sculptures in any buisness that has the Balls and Vision to show them. Car Dealerships, Resturants, Cartagena Cat Houses, Motel six.I dont fucking care just sell the art, its all the same to me.

4/16/2012 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

.I dont fucking care just sell the art, its all the same to me.

Wow...that's depressing.

4/16/2012 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Ideas guy Edward. lol

a Tony Craig Sculpture works in McDonald's. Think about it, they could give little Tony Craig Sculptures in the Happy Meals. It would be a great way to expose kisd to art .How about a couple Andy Warhol Trading Card with a 10 pc Chicken McNugget order?????

Any Artist out there would jump at corprate sponsorship.

Bonus question For Edward Winkleman. If Rush Limbaugh walked in your gallery and wanted to purchase a work of art would you sell to him?

4/16/2012 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops Tony Cragg.edit

4/16/2012 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Andy Warhol Burger King Commercial

4/16/2012 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like that Bernard.

If your an artist and Take a commission from the United States Goverment or a Russian Mobster its all the same . all the art organizations who piss and moan about funding getting cut off ,,guess what,,, Uncle sugar titts is a murderer.
fly on a Boeing Jet ? boeing makes shit that kills people . were all guilty . Fascim in the art world!!!!!!!!!!!

The good ole days
Pat Travers Band:: Snortin whiskey

4/16/2012 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that art fairs are absolutely crap way to look at work. Also they are horribly inefficient. You have to move artwork, temporarily, across the country or across the ocean...and then whatever isn't sold, ship it back. then the plane tickets, hotels, meals.....I can't imagine it could possibly be profitable unless one is selling work in the mid five to six figure range.

it seems like participating in fairs is something of a "loss leader"....just something you have to do in order to maintain a profile.

Ed...can you weigh in on this?

4/18/2012 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

OMG I second the Tony Cragg happy meal.. if my kids could collect art mini's at MacDonalds I may even brave their "food" once a month... but in that world the food would probably be better.

4/19/2012 11:17:00 AM  

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