Monday, November 29, 2010

On the Birth of the Contemporary Art Fair

In Christine Mehring's article, "Emerging Market" or "Christine Mehring on the birth of the Contemporary Art Fair", the first of the art fairs as we know them is examined as well as the path of its evolution. The first notable fair was opened on Sept. 13, 1967, in Cologne. KUNSTMARKT 67 was prompted into fruition during a time when the international art economy was hardly in motion anymore. Zwirner and his mentor Stunke devised the plans two years before the launch and received the permission to hold the fair. It was met with success, to say the least. A greater variety of visitors graced the show, and those that have never stepped into a gallery were met with art that compelled them to buy it. There were a few other fair-type deals that predated KUNSTMARKT 67, but they did not have the same appealing guidelines that eventually became a model for future fairs to come. KUNSTMARKT 67 was an exclusive fair, meaning that not just any exhibitor could show. It was a system established to guarantee quality and status. This earned the fair a few competitors in the form of counter-exhibitions. Art fairs became more numerous as a trend, for they attracted far more people than galleries did, but as a consequence, fewer fresh faces ever turn up at galleries. Instead, people wait for the fairs where they can look at tons of art at once, and buy if they feel like doing so, from booths like vendors on a street corner.

I find it odd that art fairs weren't developed sooner. I wonder, does it really matter if there are exceptions/exclusions or not? I know there was a complaint in the article that those who are refused risk their work and their names getting devalued. Is that really the case anymore? There's a ton of art fairs out there these days. In Miami, they have one practically every two or three months. Miami Basel's just one of the really big ones. Yet what I kind of want to know, with genuine curiosity, is what the difference is between an art FAIR and and art FESTIVAL. I remember volunteering for the Coconut Grove Art Festival in tenth or eleventh grade, and there were plenty of booths, but not all of them have art as we know it. And there were rides. And there was a DJ. And there were booths for kids to make arts and crafts in. Do these hurt or promote the idea of an art fair? Or the image of what is art in general? Because I know the point of the art fair, or one of the points, was to spark public interest in art and get people into galleries again. It did one, but it hindered the other. Meanwhile art festivals seem to just be sapping the heart and soul out of art. It's more like a family-friendly spectacle than an art show. So an art fair is essentially an art festival without the hand crafted jewelry, carnival rides, and spectacle. It's kind of like a marketplace with cheap art. They can't jack up the prices too high on the street; few art newbies will pay thousands of dollars to a vendor for a painting, even if it could be worth as much in a gallery.

If I had my work in an art fair, I'd either have the pieces remain NFS or just as expensive as they'd be outside of the fair. I don't believe in devaluing my work so some guy who thinks this or that piece would look nice in the living room but he doesn't want to pay 'art prices' for it buys it up. It's kind of an insult to me. I want to be paid what my pieces are worth and nothing less. Even if it means I have to keep them all and they'll never get sold, I am and have always been more than willing to make a living doing something else and make art as a hobby. That being said, I don't hate art fairs or anything. I don't hate what they stand for. If other people don't care what their piece is going for in the fair vs. in a gallery, then why should I care about them? I've passed by pieces at a fair and wished I had the money to buy them; so they're succeeding in making some cash if I did/could. And I like to look at a lot of art too--that's always a plus.

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