According to Stefano Baia Curioni there ware 3 art fairs in 1970. This expanded to 36 in 2000 and 189 in 2001. Earlier this year, we counted no less than 288 art fairs listed in The Art Newspaper for 2013, and this list was not all inclusive. Georgina Adam has stated that the proliferation of art fairs is the greatest change in the art market in the twenty first century. With this in mind, AMM spoke with some of the gallerists at the opening preview of TEFAF Maastricht to find out what they thought.
Millicent Wilner, a director at Gagosian Gallery, London summed up in brief the opinion of many of the dealers we spoke with:
‘Fairs are certainly great opportunities for galleries to present their artists and materials.”
Most of the gallerists noted the convenience that a fair holds for collectors “who have busier lifestyles than ever, not only privately but business wise.” (Manuel Ludorff of Galerie Ludorff, Düsseldorf.)
Peter Osborne of Osborne Samuel Gallery, London explained:
“The art fair represents the best possible opportunity for a collector to see a lot of top quality things under the same roof in one trip. You don’t have to go up and down 25 main streets in 25 different cities to see everything.”
It’s hardly breaking news that the fair trend has lead to a decline in gallery footfall, particularly for smaller galleries or galleries outside the market hubs of New York or London. With the demanding costs (of not just of money, but of time, staff and artists) that fairs place on galleries, what are the reasons galleries are fighting for attendance at the most prestigious fairs?
“If you can get into an art fair you’re standing up to be counted. If you’re an emerging gallery and you go up against Gagosian at an art fair, logically you have an equal chance to do business. If your galleries are next to each other in the street it wouldn’t necessarily apply, but at an art fair people do the fair. A lot of young galleries are only established because of the fairs.” states Osborne.
Managing Director of The Armory Show Noah Horowitz noted in a panel discussion in 2011 how the perceived stamp of quality that attendance at certain fairs can be tough for some galleries. He points out that many galleries don’t have enough staff or enough artists to do all the main fairs. In a world where art fairs are becoming the new dimension in both viewing art and selling art, he acknowledges how the next generation may Google the gallery right away, and if you’re not on the list of ‘important’ fairs, then you may not be considered an important gallery. Georgina Adam has also pointed out that galleries may be afraid of being seen as rejected by the selection panel of fairs.
Some, but not all dealers agreed that the fairs vetting committees (especially in the case of TEFAF which is known for its grueling vetting not only before but also during the fair) act as a stamp of quality to collectors for the galleries and work that is being exhibited.
“Every artist if different. You have to find out the history of the artist, the period in time, quality, condition and stuff like that and it takes a lot of time. And at a fair like Maastricht you get the best quality from all over the world. It’s the best place to go to and learn about certain things” notes Ludorff.
Robrecht Ve Vocht of Gallery Delaive. Amsterdam comes at this point from another angle:
“Art fairs rely on if you attend other art fairs. TEFAF is very hard to get into and you have to show if you’ve attended a certain degree of art fairs and a certain degree of exhibitions. So in that case it is true that your status come from attending art fairs but I’m not sure if this applies to all collectors. It depends on the collector I think.”
Most of the dealers remarked that fairs are places you can find new clients and showcase things to people who normally wouldn’t see them. Not surprisingly, it was agreed upon that Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, TEFAF and Frieze were the fairs that were cited as the cream of the crop, with galleries mentioning specialist smaller fairs depending on the genre of art they catered for.
Manuel Ludorff of Galerie Ludorff, Düsseldorf (a gallery attending TEFAF for the first time this year) explained how due to their attendance at TEFAF they may now scale back some of the smaller fairs in Europe and branch out to fairs in the United States, using these fairs to establish new relationships in the US and build the gallery’s name Stateside.