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Artworld Salon » Art Fairs
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Opinion Analysis Debate

Too much of a good thing?

Sunday March 4, 2012 | 23:58 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

300px-supply_and_demand_curvessvgWith the Whitney Biennial, Armory Show, ADAA Art Show, Independent, Moving Image, Nada, Scope, and Volta fairs, their sundry offshoots and side events, innumerable gallery openings, and the auction season about to rain down on us here in New York, this may be a good time to talk about artistic overproduction. And right on cue, along comes Adrian Ellis’ cogent essay on the supply-demand problem in Grantmakers in the Arts Reader, an obscure but important journal for cultural-policy wonks.

Some Reflections on the Relationship Between Supply and Demand in the Formalized Arts Sector” is more titillating reading than its title suggests. It’s framed in response to NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman’s refreshingly impolitic claim, not long after his appointment, in 2009, that the arts sector may be overbuilt. The Chairman was met by predictable howls of indignation at the time. The reigning orthodoxy is that no amount of art can be too much—economics be damned. But let’s admit he had a point.

Ellis credits Landesman (brother of Artforum publisher Knight) for sparking a conversation about the imbalance between the amount of art emanating from the cultural-industrial complex of 501c3 organizations and the amount of art that regular folks actually have an appetite for consuming. In fact, this debate has been quietly raging for years, especially inside foundations. In any event, the article is a must-read for anyone who wishes to speak knowledgeably about our besieged arts infrastructure, and what should be done about it. Read More »

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The season of our disconnect

Tuesday June 21, 2011 | 14:21 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

bigstockphoto_ear_2677195I got back from Art Basel this weekend on a plane full of artworld types, with fresh impressions for my interesting disconnects file.

First, between the ebullience of the art fair and the dark financial clouds roiling over Europe, where states teeter on the edge of insolvency and people are taking to the streets. There is a yawning chasm right now between the revived luxury spending boom and the malaise that grips the bottom ninety-eight percent. The subject kept coming up, quietly but persistently, at parties around town.

Second, during an Art Basel Conversation I moderated on the future of museum collecting, a London-based curator from Bangladesh pressed the assembled directors, and in particular Chris Dercon of the Tate Modern, when and how they will genuinely engage his community and others like it—not just through occasionally showcasing artists, but in a deep way. All agreed that, good intentions and planned initiatives notwithstanding, we’re a long way from making art institutions truly inclusive.

The third contrast arrived by way of the 430-page summer issue of Artforum. The tome was not in my mailbox, which proved too small, but on my doorstep. It was shrink-wrapped with the current issue of Bookforum, which includes a review of a new book on the “internship economy,” by Ross Perlin. Titled Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, the study documents the stunning and roundly depressing rise of unpaid labor in our creative industries. One can see why Bookforum reviewed it. The art world, it seems, can fill a glossy with almost as many ad pages as the September issue of Vogue. Yet how many of those ads were placed by young folks working for a pittance, or pro bono, just to get a shot at a job? Read More »

The season that was

Monday May 23, 2011 | 10:45 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

large_big-fish-detailLooking back over the season that just passed, consolidation is the word that best describes the dynamics of the art world now. Large entities are getting larger; smaller ones are still squeezed or struggling. The art system is mirroring larger trends in society, where recovery has come sooner to the more fortunate and the gap between the haves and have-nots has, if anything, widened.

Large institutions and corporate entities have locked in gains and begun to expand franchises. It’s a good time to make a deal, whether inexpensive real estate, cheap credit, or distressed partners prompt the opportunity.

Here in New York, large museums are showing anew an appetite for expansion. The Whitney had reason to celebrate at its gala last week, having just leased its Madison Avenue Marcel Breuer building to the Met, clearing the way for downtown construction of its new Renzo Piano headquarters. For the Met, this will be the first foray off Fifth Avenue since the opening of the Cloisters. Meanwhile, MoMA has paid $31 million to buy the beleaguered Museum of Folk Art. And the Guggenheim is eyeing a branch in Helsinki.

On the commercial side, the three main auction houses booked respectable quarters, and Phillips has moved into its flashiest digs yet, on Park Avenue. The houses are aggressively building markets overseas and pushing the boundaries of their operations into new aesthetic, digital, and financial territory. Hiring is back. Furloughs have yielded to pay increases.

Consolidation continued in the gallery business, too. Gagosian’s far-flung satellites are filling mailboxes with thick cardboard invitations almost daily. A small cluster of galleries with a truly global reach is leaving everyone else further behind. Corporate muscle is the most obvious in the seemingly never-ending expansion of art fairs. In a long awaited move, Art Basel has planted its flag in Hong Kong. Frieze announced a bold incursion into the Armory Show’s back yard, on New York’s Randall’s Island, and is also launching an old master’s fair back in London. Read More »

Maastricht: a different model for collecting?

Monday March 21, 2011 | 15:10 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

Louise Lawler: Pollock and Tureen, Arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Connecticut (2000.434) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of ArtBY JONATHAN T.D. NEIL AND ANDRAS SZANTO, JUST RETURNED FROM THE NETHERLANDS

Why don’t we see more cross-period and cross-category collecting? We found ourselves asking this question repeatedly while wandering the halls of The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) this past weekend. And it appeared to be the question dealers were asking, too. One London-based gallerist we spoke with lamented the decline of the collector dedicated to his or her individual wants. Such connoisseurship simply comes down to wanting the “best” of what one likes, regardless of whether that is a Richter abstraction from 1984 or a Brueghel wedding dance scene from 1614.

The Maastricht fair is tailored to this kind of collector. It is really five fairs in one, with large sections dedicated to old masters, modern and contemporary works, antiques, works on paper, and design. Within these larger sections one can discover highly specialized booths offering jewelry from antiquity, illuminated manuscripts, Chinese relics, guns and armor, nineteenth-century Japanese prints, or 1930s photographs. Even the length of the fair (ten days) and the habits of its collectors (most transactions happen toward its end or after the close) speaks to an entirely different sensibility than what reigns at Art Basel Miami or Armory or Frieze. It is not uncommon to see collectors lost in conversation in front of works—and not about prices.

In short, at Maastricht, discernment reigns. But why is discernment in decline elsewhere?

For two reasons. The first is education: Maastricht demands a high base-line level of knowledge on the part of collectors. Only a solid grasp of world history, the classics, and religion will unlock the meaning and relevance of the work on offer. Barring that, one must have total faith and trust in the dealers dedicated to this work. Time and again, we witnessed impromptu master classes being conducted in the booths, with dealers delivering learned excurses on the form, content, material, and history of a given piece. Questions of provenance are left to the wall labels. Some press releases stretch on for five pages, replete with footnotes.

Second, market and institutional pressure: Collectors are increasingly encouraged to pick one medium or category – say photography or west-coast video – and stick to it. Others feel compelled to reproduce institutional habits in miniature, which is where the language of “filling gaps” comes into play. These approaches explain why so many strictly contemporary art collectors have the exact same stuff hanging on their walls. Only through one or the other of these strategies, it is commonly thought, can a serious collector hope to have museums, or maybe taste-maker magazines, come knocking.

Yet Maastricht seems to counter this particularist/generalist dichotomy. Its historical and material scope alone stands as a lesson in the necessity of discernment as a skill for today’s collector.

Filed Under: Art Fairs

Zuckerberg to VIP Art Fair: “Users are fickle…”

Wednesday January 26, 2011 | 15:00 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

the-social-network-movie-poster-david-fincher1There is a scene in The Social Network when Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is laying into his then CFO, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), for freezing the company account of the then-neo-natal Facebook. It’s the best 30 seconds on the fragility of a company’s online profile that one can possibly find, and it goes something like this:

Do you realize that you jeopardized the entire company?…If the servers are down for even a day our reputation is damaged irreversibly.  Users are fickle…Even a small exodus, even a few people leaving would reverberate through the whole user base. The users are interconnected, that’s the whole fucking point!

The VIP Art Fair is not Facebook.  It’s not a social media platform and was never billed as one. Rather, it is the first successful attempt at bringing something like an Art Basel or Armory Show to your browser. But here’s the thing: “Users are fickle.” And VIP learned that lesson the hard way.

The scrutiny and criticism have been relentless: my colleagues at ArtReview questioned VIP’s default email sharing/privacy settings (another Facebook lesson), about which collectors were pissed; bloggers, as they do, have offered comment and cattiness, on everything from the experience to the idea; everyone I’ve spoken to trashes the interface, or has said the art looks “flat” (you are looking at it on a screen, I remind them); and rumors abound that exhibitors have been asking for refunds.

Barring those rumors, all of this confirms that VIP is indeed a success, a qualified one, but a success nevertheless.  People logged on, looked, commented, contacted (too many it seems). This is what happens at an art fair. Read More »

Filed Under: Art Fairs, General

Museums 2.0

Friday December 24, 2010 | 11:35 by The Transom | permalink

pcb

Adam Levine writes:

Amidst the glamour of Art Basel, earlier this month, one panel in the “Conversations” series—moderated by AWS’s Andras Szanto, as it happens—stood out in its attempt to tackle a more intellectual topic: How museums will operate in the digital world?

The discussion revolved around the use of digital media in three areas: (1) platform development, (2) marketing strategies, and (3) business models and fundraising. I’d like to offer additional models that complement what was discussed in Miami.

One of the panelists, Max Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, has arguably done more for the development of open-source museum platforms than anyone. That the IMA is incurring most of the costs for such efforts seems unreasonable and inequitable. Crowd-sourced models of fundraising were discussed, but no mention was made of crowd-sourcing development. One model that has been profitably used elsewhere is for a pool of money—raised from multiple institutions all interested in open-source museum software—to be awarded as a prize for superior development work. The template for this strategy, the so-called “Netflix Challenge,” was quite successful.

In the portion of the Miami conversation on marketing strategies, little was made of the ability to develop targeted campaigns on the basis of what people are viewing online or in the galleries. Such data, which is already available given current technologies, holds the potential for a more intimate museum experience. Using technology of the sort the company Art.sy has developed, museums can market exhibitions to visitors on the basis of their preferences. They can even suggest new works to visitors on the basis of things that they have liked in the past. Similar technologies, deployed much like “smart shopping carts” in supermarkets, could conceivably be used in certain museum settings as well. Read More »

Miami debrief

Monday December 6, 2010 | 15:31 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

img00057-20101203-1332The results are in, and it was a good year in Miami. Smiles were seen on dealers’ faces at every category of fair. Here’s a distillation of the general consensus.

Art Basel: Large work. High prices. Improved layout. Art Nova and Art Positions came into their own. Swarms of high-end buyers and, notably, museum types.

Design Miami: Smart move to South Beach. Needs critical mass.

Art Miami: Comeback story. Medal for Most Improved Fair of the Year. Nice video section.

Pulse: From strength to strength. Photography! Ice Palace still the nicest place to hang out.

Nada: Great vibe. More serious. This year, they sold work.

Seven: Admired newcomer. Innovative team salon approach seems to be working. Likely to be imitated.

Scope/Art Asia: Art Asia growing fast. Scope super international. How soon will Art Asia devour Scope?

Fountain: Cool. Political. Performance! Charged one and all for entry. Really?

Red Dot: Weak. Read More »

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The Appeal of SEVEN

Wednesday November 24, 2010 | 17:17 by Edward Winkleman | permalink

sevenBack in 2006, in an article titled “A storm of art as Baselmania engulfs Miami,” New York Times art critic Roberta Smith predicted that

Art fairs will continue to flourish until the bottom falls out of the art market, or until dealers, who invented them, decide that there is a better way to do things.

The global recession never quite saw the bottom fall out of the art market, but it has arguably spawned a number of dealer-invented alternatives to the more traditional art fair model, such as Independent in New York, Sunday in London, and ABC in Berlin. But back in 2006, Smith highlighted one pioneering effort as an indication of what she thought the future held:

Two dealers already on this quest are Ronald Feldman, a longtime SoHo gallerist, and Joe Amrhein of Pierogi, a Williamsburg fixture. They have rented a raw one-story building in the Wynwood district here and filled its 12,000 square feet with works by artists they represent.

Fast forward to 2010, and the model Pierogi and Feldman built has evolved into a venture that now includes seven contemporary art galleries, including London’s Hales Gallery, who began participating in 2007, and New York’s BravinLee programs, Postmasters, P•P•O•W, and (my own gallery) Winkleman, who all join for the first time this year. The focus of this expanded effort, called simply SEVEN, is in creating an exhibition experience within the context of Miami’s art fair week defined by the needs of each artist’s work. The press release on the event’s website explains this idea in more depth. What the press release doesn’t explain is how each decision about SEVEN (whether on marketing, installation placements, shipping costs, etc.) is agreed to by us, the participating dealers, and that the costs are so significantly less than participating in one of the larger fairs that the 24,000 square foot space we’ll be sharing this year offers an opportunity to present work in Miami that would be cost-prohibitive, if possible at all, at the big box fairs. Because each of the participating galleries’ programs include presenting large-scale installations, for the first time we new participants have the chance to bring such work to Miami and better reflect what we’re about to that audience. Read More »

It’s Friezing over here

Thursday October 7, 2010 | 17:16 by Ossian Ward | permalink

My barometer keeps jumping. One minute it’s backs-to-the-walls time, art2095friezejeppe_heinthe next it’s all lavish parties and third venue vernissages. It has seemed like a growing, healthy trend for performative, lively and cheap art would be neatly distilled in the line-up for this year’s Frieze Art Fair Projects, curated for the first time by Sarah McCrory, formerly of south London’s small curatorial hotbed, Studio Voltaire. McCrory has commissioned Spartacus Chetwynd (née Lali Chetwynd) and her travelling troupe of players to create daily spectacles in the fair on the obscure subject of tax havens (of course, much inter-fair art revolves around the necessarily thorny question of the perceived evils of the surrounding arena of commerce). A wandering group of ‘Ten Embarrassed Men’, by Swedish-born artist Annika Ström, will prowl the fair looking shamefaced – the emasculation of artists or bankers, maybe? There will also be judiciously placed charity boxes (designed by artists, of course) to tempt collector’s monies elsewhere, as well as lots of free-to-air fun in the surrounding park.

Who are they all kidding? Hauser & Wirth are opening their third or fourth space in London (I have genuinely lost count, but it’s definitely the biggest) with a retrospective of fabric works by Louise Bourgeois. Sadie Coles upscales next-door, the Blain-Southern dealership duo split from their Christie’s holding pen, Haunch of Venison, to open a new gallery as well. Then there are Russian squillionaires galore putting on one-week one-offs including pricey Picassos, New York galleries dipping their toes here… I could go on, ad infinitum. My magazine lists some 200 shows on, or opening, in the now designated ‘Frieze week’ frenzy, most of them seemingly launching on Tuesday with a brunch, lunch, press view, rooftop after-party or oyster-laden dinner. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Is art in some kind of reactionary, recessionary funk? The more it gets hit, the harder it fights back? Or are the commercials slowly moving back into easy street, while the public sector prepares for a governmental pounding at the hands of David Cameron’s October 20 spending review/slash-fest? It could be a fall bounce or just the preamble to another, bigger fall.

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Revenge of the apps

Tuesday August 3, 2010 | 18:40 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

explorer_iphoneI’d like to enter a contrarian view about navigation apps, which are poised to infiltrate our endearingly technophobic art institutions. Forgive me for sounding like a cave man. But then, this post was inspired, in part, by the American Museum of Natural History, which just launched an ad campaign flouting a nifty new GPS-enabled navigation tool.

There is no denying that such apps are a convenience. Loaded onto iPhones and other devices, they can lead the cultural explorer on journeys more precise and information-larded than anything enabled by a brochure or wall map. They help shift the costs of way-finding and education from the organization to the visitor. They are easy to update. And they’re cool. At the labyrinthine Art Basel fair last June, an astonishingly clever iPhone app helped collectors locate their favorite galleries or a decent sandwich.

So what’s not to love? Quite a bit, I think. For museums especially, such apps come loaded with subtle butterfly effects that techno-evangelists ignore at their peril.

First, they represent to an incursion of technology into a refreshingly gadget-free domain heretofore devoted to physical objects and direct collective experience. There is a case to be made, perhaps, for exempting some areas of life from the relentless digitization and intermediation of everything. Of course it’s easier to find the great blue whale by letting your PDA guide you. But what about the joy of aimless browsing and discovery? Here as elsewhere, technology has a way of taking the mystery and the surprise – not to mention the unpremeditated educational encounter – out of cultural experiences. What’s more, it subtly transforms a group dynamic into a bespoke, private pursuit. Analogies with newspapers abound. Read More »

Winners take all?

Wednesday June 30, 2010 | 17:23 by András Szántó in New York City | permalink

ny-ah912_moma_ns_20100628183228A researcher colleague wanted to call it the “Great Museum Cartel.” We were working on a RAND report on the visual arts, and it emerged that the vast majority of visitors, operating funds, endowments, and donations accrue to the top ten museums in the country.

Yesterday bought more confirmation of the winner-take-all pattern, when The Wall Street Journal reported that MoMA “attracted its highest-ever number of visitors, 3.09 million, during its 2010 fiscal year.” That’s up a quarter million from last year and a half-million from the year of reopening. Attendance is now double of what MoMA’s saw in its old building. Tourist numbers and memberships are also up.

Of course, there is fodder for doubters. While it’s heartening to see critical stalwarts Marina Abramovic and William Kentridge draw in the neighborhood of half a million visitors–more than the annual attendance of many respectable museums–the big numbers are partly linked to exhibitions with “strong public appeal,” with Tim Burton and Water Lilies clocking in well over 800,000 visits. Whatever the case, MoMA’s popular formula is working.

The larger question is whether such success is replicable, or even desirable in every respect. Another recent report about crowd-pleasing fare at a major New York museum, in Brooklyn, didn’t reach the same conclusion. What seems to be happening is that the biggest fish are capturing more attention, while medium and small organizations struggle to keep their numbers up. This pattern is holding true not just in museums, but also with galleries and art fairs, as recent lines outside Gagosian’s historical shows and the huge throngs at Art Basel pointedly demonstrated.

What can we read into these trends?

Money for nothing

Tuesday May 18, 2010 | 15:47 by Ossian Ward | permalink

For its tenth birthday weekend just gone, NSFS logoTate Modern staged No Soul For Sale, a non-profit ‘Festival of Independents’, bringing 70 artists’ collectives, publishers and non-commercial spaces from all over the world to fill its Turbine Hall. Well, perhaps ‘inviting’ would be a more accurate word to use, rather than ‘bringing’, as each participant had to pay their own way, with resourceful galleries doing last minute fundraising events and even garage sales to afford their flights to London from as far and wide as Beijing, Rio and Melbourne. A necessarily scrappy and messy affair ensued, with many No Soul For Salers showing only what they’d been able to squeeze through hand luggage or the symbolically empty packages they’d sent ahead of themselves.

This perceived lack of financial support drew fire from an anonymous British group of artists and arts professionals, calling themselves Making A Living. In an open letter to Tate, widely emailed and posted online, they took umbrage with No Soul For Sale’s ‘romantic connotations of the soulful artist, who makes art from inner necessity without thought of recompense’ as well as the concomitant expectation that ‘we should expect to work for free and that it is acceptable to forego the right to be paid for our labour.’

In an interview I conducted beforehand with the curators of No Soul For Sale – Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Cecilia Alemani, with Vicente Todolí on behalf of Tate – here, they defend the event (once previously staged as part of X-Initiative in New York) variously as ‘a tribute to the people, the artists and the art lovers who work beyond the traditional market system’ (Cattelan), or an act of ‘hospitality and generosity’ (Alemani). While Gioni adds that, ‘Nobody really ever pays respect to the people who work in situations in which there is very little money involved and yet a lot of energy and enthusiasm’, Todolí qualifies this by saying: ‘Obviously we are not the only ones being hospitable here. All the participants are … as generous as Tate, if not more. But that’s when things get interesting: when people are willing to share, going beyond any immediate quantifiable gain.

Read More »

Sometimes a fair is just a fair

Sunday March 14, 2010 | 13:13 by Jonathan T. D. Neil in New York City | permalink

noyoushutupAfter 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.

Filed Under: Art Fairs

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