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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

On the Goodness of Art Fairs

Tyler Green says:

"One other thing on fairs: They're mostly good for artists, who get to sell work and who have a team of organizers working to attract curators and critics to their work."

but Jerry Saltz says:

"In reality, they're adrenaline-addled spectacles for a kind of buying and selling where intimacy, conviction, patience, and focused looking, not to mention looking again, are essentially nonexistent. They are places where commerce has replaced epistemology, and the unspoken contract that existed between artists, dealers, and collectors has been scraped. As one private dealer gleefully told The New York Times recently, "It's one-stop shopping. The mall experience . . . fashion, parties, and fun all wrapped up in one."

Zach Feuer admits:

"I can't stand them, but I made as much money at the first NADA fair in Miami as I did that entire year in my gallery."

Jerry Saltz continues:

"Collectors go to galleries and cultivate relationships with dealers and artists. They look, deliberate, and buy in private, often acquiring works from various periods of an artist's career. Typically, collectors are affluent and involved, if sometimes annoying about their obsessions. Buyers are the opposite: They're affluent but detached and are almost always annoying. They tend to buy only in public, acquire impulsively, and usually buy only one work by an artist. They rarely cultivate relationships with dealers or artists".

Martin Bromirski says:

Art fairs may be fun, but as is they suck for art and artists. Saltz is right - the unspoken contract that has existed between artists and dealers has been scrapped, or scraped, or something. It's busted in the dealers favor.

The old contract between an artist and a dealer was one of reciprocal risk and reward - a gallery selected an artist, gave that artist a month-long solo show, made announcements he shared with the artist, maybe took out an ad in a magazine.

Sometimes nothing sells. The artist is terrifically grateful to the dealer for believing in his work and taking a chance on him. Loyalty and respect accrue. Sometimes sales are made - a show may even sell out! Eight works sell at $3,000 each and the artist hands over half of that to the dealer. Friends and family say "how come they take so much?!?" and the artist explains how sometimes nothing sells at all. Usually one or two pieces sell, nobody really makes anything but at least the bills get paid.

With art fairs, an artist gives a dealer a piece he may have spent two months working on to hang in a crowded booth full of other often completely unrelated work for three days. It might sell, and the dealer will take 50%. I get how the dealer might be happy with this arrangement – same money for less time and work – but who actually thinks the artists are happy with this? Why are the artists supposed to continue to allow the dealer to take 50% when they get so much less in return?

Art fairs are good for voracious consuming, seeing as much new stuff as quickly as possible. The best thing about art fairs is that it probably won't take long for artists to pick up on the fact (see Zach's quote above) that most of a gallery's annual sales are made at the fairs. Who needs a gallery to organize an art fair?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You said, "Who needs a gallery to organize an art fair?" One thing you have to understand about the state of contemporary art collectors today: they just as frequently "buy the gallery" as buy the artist. The same quality artist, the same quality work, at, say, Mixed Greens (no hard feelings, just an example), may not sell at all, but put it in David Zwirner, and it'll sell out, have a waiting list, and be hailed as the next big thing. If artists just put their works up at a fair without gallery representation, hardly a soul would buy them.

Martin said...

If the Lehmann lawsuit is any indication, contemporary art collectors may be just as fed up with the galleries as the artists are.

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