Panel Discussion Topic: International Art Fairs: The White Cube and Globalization

Panelists: Todd Levin, Senior Curator of the Sender Collection, and Alexandra Peers, art journalist for New York Magazine, Portfolio, and the WSJ's art section
Moderator: Peter Duhon, Director of Art Comments

Written by Nikki Schiro in New York

It is hot a hazy summer and nearly 3 months have passed since the groundbreaking and refreshing panel discussion chaired by Peter Duhon of Art Comments titled, International Art Fairs: The White Cube and Globalization. With all the talk of art fairs, art markets, and prices among the art community and news media, the relevancy of the discussion is still ripe and fragrant in my mind.
I've been attending Art Fairs in New York for about 7 years. I attend feeling obligated as an Artist, only to walk through the dense desperate energy in search of the promising 5-10% of art in there that could potentially make me feel like less of a schmuck for paying an admission fee. So, the immediate sense of unanimity among the panelists, that the booming number of art fairs are bad in general for contemporary art, was initially pleasing. However, as Levin and Peers broke it down, I found myself feeling more disturbed than anything else, realizing full-on the damaging effects the increase in global art fairs is having on Art.
A rise in buyers looking to diversify their finances has stimulated the rise in art fairs across the globe. In the last six years, 158 new art fairs have emerged. In New York, this year, there were at least 5 going on simultaneously. On the surface, these art fairs look good for the artists, lessening the odds of "starving" and greatening the chance to make a decent living as a full-time artist. It is seems good for galleries too when you visit one at a fair and see that the booths have been sold out before they even opened the doors to the public. The reality is that this rising number of new fairs is a lot of bad news for just about everyone, with the exception of collectors.
Alexandra Peers spoke first, addressing ideas of exhaustion in terms of just trying to attend any good number of these fairs, but also touching on the exhaustive ramifications the booming fairs have on artists and dealers. Galleries have to pay a fee to take part in these fairs. Because of the exposure, reputation, and thereby sales that these fairs bring, many galleries put themselves in serious debt trying to keep up and participate in these fairs. No better for artists, the over abundance of art fairs generates emphasis on marketability, pumping out a product and making money. The the turn-around rates are so high with these fairs. A young artist's work can be exhausted in less than a year, as people become "sick" of seeing the same thing from the same artist, and from the other dozen artists who picked up on the trend from a fair, the internet or other fast-circulating media. Their work can suddenly stop selling, gets dropped on auction, there career collapses and the collectors and dealers are onto the next young thing.
Todd spoke about the rising number of international art fairs creating power shifts and affecting how we look at art. While the power has been shifting away from the dealer over the last few decades, first significantly by the impact of Art Critics in the 60's, with Curators in events such as Documenta and Manifesta, and most significantly in the 80's, when retailers like Sotherbies start selling directly to the Collector, "cutting out the middle man". The rising number of art fairs, he illustrates, has restored the the power of the dealer and the dealer-collector paradigm, which is clearly not the best thing for art. Emphasis under these circumstances, Mr. Levin points out, is on 'what's speculated to sell, tournaments of value, rank of artist's status and fame, art world "pedophilia". When consumers buy for the price alone, Art turns into money. Collectors are seduced by implied social status, the social spectacle, earning somewhat of a badge of cultivation. It is also disappointing in terms of art, as the fairs rise in numbers, the aesthetic value of art seems to collapse'.

Heavy stuff. But instead of sitting in the corner on a pile of anxiety, pouting, there are some positive moves artists can do to help and protect themselves. One thing, emphasized by Peers, is stay versatile. Just because your concentration is painting, for example, don't avoid making a performance piece. Avoid limiting yourself to producing a product dictated by the confines of a marketing pitch. Make different kinds of work about different ideas. Also, in terms of seeing the fairs, Peers recommends you pick a few and see them, vs. trying to see them all. For artists, it's important for us to see what's happening, making sure our work doesn't wind up looking like work thats being exhausted at these fairs. She recommended Dubai, because it's fresh and different, referring to the location and it's surroundings.

Levin's Art Fair Timeline:1673 Salon, 1737 Paris Biennial (public), 1748 Juried exhibition, 1850's Salon des Refuses, 1967 in Cologne, Basel 1969-70, Chicago 80-90, Gramercy Hotel 1994, Basel Miami 2002, between 2002-2008 158 art fairs have emerged.

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