After the noughtie boom and the ’08-’09 bust, and even now with the art market engine appearing to turn over and offer the promise of a restart, might it not be time to leave behind the idea of assessing the art fairs as “shows” that are akin to exhibitions at kunsthalls, projects spaces, museums and galleries? Perhaps it is my own sensibility at the moment, but why do we, or should we, really care?
I think we’ve seen that some number of art fairs are now fixtures of the art world’s event-cycle; they offer a service that I think is reasonable: to bring together in one spot a wide variety of dealers from around the world to showcase the work of the artists they represent (and, in some cases, those that they don’t.) Are they ideal venues in which to view and to think about works of art? No. But do they offer, as Sarah Thornton wrote about the Armory, a “terrible viewing experience” because of their “indiscriminate lighting, bad acoustics, awkward floor plan, and dearth of food and drink”? I don’t think so. (If Thornton had added “droves of tourists snapping iPhone pictures and obliviously jostling everyone and everything while plugged into an audio tour,” I’d have thought she was describing what it’s like to visit MoMA.)
I just don’t find this kind of commentary interesting or necessary. Let’s treat the fairs like what we know they are: trade shows. What do I think of the trade shows? Were they strong? How did they look…”overall”? Are they forums for engaging with and thinking about and assessing the aesthetics and politics of works of art? Really? Are these the questions we want the answers to where art fairs are concerned? Did dealers make sales, and by making those sales, put money in their artists’ accounts so that those artists can keep doing what they do (or do something different, if they so choose)? That’s the bottom line question (no pun intended) in my mind. If the background din and lack of snacks made it harder for collectors to buy work, then yes, let’s talk about that. But if not, then let’s not.
And so sorry, but for as much as everyone squealed with delight about Independent (a.k.a. the ‘Black and White and Monochrome’ show), it was not that great. It was not some revelation. Was there good work? Of course. Was it self-congratulatory? Unquestionably, yes. But there I go, commenting on an art fair as it if deserved the attention. It is what it is…and that should be enough.