What art fairs are for?
Alexandra Peers offers this essay on the art fair in the Wall Street Journal. If you can’t get through the subscription wall, we’ll summarize here with these quotes. First we hear from Todd Levin, quickly becoming the go-to guy for art market observations. Levin says:
But while there are more art fairs, he cautions, there “is no more great art, and there is no less, than there used to be.” The growth in fairs is driven not by an aesthetic revolution but by a monetary one. A “ballooning in great amounts of wealth” has created collectors “looking for assets to stick it in,” he says.
Marc Glimcher follows with a succinct explanation of the appeal of an art fair to the collector:
Art fairs give collectors comfort, says PaceWildenstein Galleries director Marc Glimcher, “because they can say to themselves ‘I’ve seen 100 things and this is the best,’ instead of ‘I’ve seen 10 things and I wonder what else is out there.'” But he says that even at art fairs he’s shown at, “I walk through . . . and think: This is no way to look at art, hanging on the wall like pelts.”
Peers sums up with this assessment:
The bottom line for art fairs is finally a bottom line. They exist to sell art and to display a dealer’s curatorial vision. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as collectors realize they offer a highly edited, repetitive, even trendy, snapshot of the current art market — not of art history.
All of which is fine and good–except one does have to wonder if the art fair has changed the buying and selling of art any more than making the works visible to a larger number of buyers at the same time. Art history is, after all, history. Its judgment is unknowable to any buyer or seller whether the transaction takes place in a booth or a private gallery. Indeed, the excitement of the art market is testing one’s present discernment against the long-term valuation of both the market and art history.
What one can say about art fairs is that the increased number of dealers and the fact that fairs, like auction houses, no longer cater just to the trade but to individual collectors as well means those individual collectors have more freedom to test their taste and insight against the market. If Levin is right that there is no greater sum of art, the art fair only increases the intellectual challenge in divining which works will gain significance in terms of art history and value in terms of the market.
The art fair, like the general expansion of the art market as a whole, increases opportunity as it increases risk–a common theme in our culture
The Art Fair Explosion and Its Fallout (The Wall Street Journal)