Micheko Galerie will participate in Art Fair Collect, held from February 26 to March 2. Usually held annually in London, this fair is organized by the Craft Council and runs once a year since 2004. As an art fair, Collect is small in scale. What makes this fair famous and unique is that it features works of art that result from the most exquisite craftsmanship and a never-before-seen fusion of art, craft, and design. This year’s exhibition is being held online, but this does not diminish the opportunities to discover objects that are among the best that contemporary craftspeople can create. The fair will be promoted on Artsy for a month starting February 26, 2021.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’d like to talk about art fairs today. When you hear the word “art fair”, what do you think of first? Is it a venue with a unique atmosphere, or is it Art Basel where vast amounts of money and people move around?
First, let’s go back to the basics of what an art fair is. Art fairs are venues where art galleries come together to exhibit and sell the art of artists they represent to a large public who the gallerists could not contact individually. From a different perspective, art fairs are places for artists to get their works known and their names remembered, for collectors and galleries to learn about art trends, and for the public to view artworks in a more intimate and accessible way than in museums.
When it comes to the mother of all art fairs, everyone would probably answer Art Basel. Since it started in 1970, the fair has grown in size and attendance to become a monumental art fair conglomerate with sister fairs Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel Hong Kong. Art Basel, held in Basel, Switzerland, hosts about 300 galleries and generates hundreds of millions of US dollars in sales at each edition.
If you want to exhibit at Art Basel, you have to go through a strict screening process from various perspectives, such as how long you have been in business, how well known your artists are, etc. If you pass the screening, you will have to pay a booth fee which could easily reach a six-figure amount in US dollars. You can see how having a booth at Art Basel means to have reached the Olympus of galleries. Some collectors buy art only if it is exhibited at one of the Art Basel shows.
Art Basel is a surprisingly closed place. It is a world that only galleries with money and name recognition can enter, and the fair organizers target VIPs only. The public pays a high admission fee to come and see financially inaccessible art and to get scanned by gallery staff before they will decide who is worthy of being talked to.
In addition to these famous art fairs, there are also smaller, more attractive, more locally oriented fairs. One such fair is Positions (Paper Positions), which Micheko Galerie often attends as an exhibitor for Japanese contemporary art. The fair started in 2014 in Berlin and has a Munich edition since 2017. In 2018 Basel and Frankfurt were added as new venues for Paper Positions.
At a colossal fair like Art Basel, you will be so busy walking around that by the end of the day, and one will not even know where she saw what kind of work. On the other hand, at a small fair, one can go around the venue twice and still have plenty of energy to spare physically and mentally. In an intimate venue like Positions, you can find your favourite works within easy reach and at affordable prices. Being smaller is one of the advantages of a community-based art fair.
In 2000, about 55 art fairs were held worldwide, but in 2018, the number increased to approximately 260. This proliferation of fairs may be evidence of how the art market is booming, but it is said that collectors are no longer visiting art fairs.
The reason for this is “art fair burnout syndrome”. Too many art fairs are held somewhere in the world, and small satellite fairs are set up around the famous ones. Everyone wants to be part of this art circus. As a global trend, collectors are also no longer visiting galleries, which means that the latter are getting increasingly dependent on sales made at fairs. It is a vicious cycle.
The art world has been slow to go online so far, but this pandemic seems to have finally accelerated the trend. All the mega galleries have hired professional staff and opened their online viewing sites. Gagosian, one of the leading mega-galleries, opened an online viewing room and offered ten artists’ works for sale on a trial basis for ten days. Five of the works, priced between $150,000 and $1.1 million, were successfully sold. The company also announced that it had acquired new 537 collectors.
I wonder if these mega-galleries will give up on art fairs or reduce their attendance like the collectors seem to do and redirect their resources into online sales. The world has been undergoing drastic changes since the pandemic, and the art world has also been hit hard by this wave.
What path will the art fairs, which have grown so large, take in the future? The art fair market, which has grown like a monster, seems to be at a critical point in its development. There are some in the art sector who say that nothing will ever be the same. If even Art Basel is not invulnerable to the full-scale effects of lockdowns and open-ended postponements, how will the smaller fairs manage? Will visitors come back and search the immersion in the art crowd? Or have they found pleasure in social distancing and in online browsing for art on the many platforms that are now available on the internet? I just wonder where all this leaves the galleries. What active role can they play in a world that appears to be happy without the gallerists’ personal engagement and the in-depth conversations about art?