I just finished selection process for The Other Art Fair, the first I’ve heard of an innovative fair since the Armory opened in the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York in the 90’s. It’s artists representing themselves, and the first iteration I saw last year was more than credible. In this universe, that amounts to fairly radical. It’s enough of dealers ruling the roost, though from time to time I’ve been one manning the booth.
You hear chest beating about reform, like Frieze only just recently giving space to more emerging, unproven artists behaving as though they were Mother Teresa; please, there was simply no one to fill the void during the height of the recession.
The format for the Other selection committee was three judges viewing artists on a web site and lodging votes. There were 4 images for each applicant, a bio and a statement. At the bottom of the page were two icons to registe
r your vote: a thumb up or down, and the selections by the 2 other decision makers were also visible. On first blush, it was always tempting to immediately scroll down to see how the others voted. You get a strange feeling that you know somebody from a thumb direction.
I must say it was a little daunting to attend a fair with the makers lording over you, hungry for feedback. I told my kids when we visited not to make eye contact or show too much interest unless a must. I have done countless fairs, both art and design, and the only thing worse I can imagine than selling other people’s work is to have to move some of your own. I am certain it would be a humbling experience, and a healthy dose of reality testing. I’d just make sure not to look anyone too closely in the eye.
I have been on PS1 International Studio Program and Cologne Art Fair selection committees and to say its not political or overtly subjective at times is disingenuous. I won’t say its not entertaining—it is. I once heard of a reclused selection member at Basel Miami, who had to step out of the room during the vote on their gallery only to come back to jury duty having been duly rejected from the fair. The gallery owner sat outside dejected, in tears. Excuse me, we are not curing cancer here; is such behavior necessary? Inherent in the selection process in every fair is a healthy does of capriciousness.
The resumes and statements were the least of interest to me. When I couldn’t make up my mind, I’d cheat and look at the other votes. On occasion it was tempting to say the opposite for the sake of going contrarian, but I’d never. Other times, I’d reserve judgment—it’s hard not to take it personally, appreciating the gravity of what was at stake for the artists.
After a while, it became a little tedious, like reading a never-ending book (for me anyway); and I’m always curious to know how many pages are left in the enterprise. It was a relief to find artists that were unequivocally one thing or the other, when ambiguous was when it became work.
Often it occurred: should I recant a decision, was I too rash, too negative, too lenient? But there was no going back once a vote was cast. I admit to some satisfaction going against two thumbs in any one direction. When my kids joined in, it became a family sport and a more palatable experience; sort of Simon Cowell meets Strictly Come Dancing meets the Antique Road Show.
In the end I had no idea how many I liked and didn’t, I was told to shoot for 60 artists out of hundreds (and hundreds) but there was no mechanism to count and my attention span is far too short. As an experiment, I think I might apply next year as a participant under another name, roll the dice and see which way the thumbs turn.