The Art Fair Craze
Art Fairs are seemingly everywhere these days. So what’s all the commotion about?
Five years ago, Swiss-born Samuel Keller spent his days and nights flying to all four corners of the globe, fine tuning Art Basel Miami Beach into a world-class art event that he hoped would become internationally acclaimed by curators and collectors alike. By the summer of 2001, Keller had spent countless hours planning, crafting and coordinating the inaugural sister show to Switzerland’s marquee art fair, Art Basel. His efforts were about to pay off.
Unfortunately, the tragic events of 9/11 derailed Keller’s plans. In the period of despondency that would follow, there would be no room for a flashy new art show on the shores of South Florida. Keller wrung his hands as his first American event had to be cancelled. With the show’s catalogue already printed, more than $1 million in losses were incurred.
From that roadblock, Keller rebounded, determined to build Art Basel Miami Beach into the biggest art fair in the country. By now, it’s clear that he has succeeded. Last year, more than 1,000 journalists turned up to cover the fair and demand for artwork was so hot that some dealers sold out their stands within the first few hours.
“There was a lot of skepticism originally about ABMB but the fair has contributed enormously to the development of the art boom,” says Paul Shanley, publisher of The International Guide to Art Fairs and Antiques Shows. He estimates that more than 125 fairs now blanket the annual calendar and that figure is up over 40 percent in number from a mere five years ago.
Clearly, Keller pioneered a new way of viewing art; literally dozens of fairs have followed the Swiss impresario’s model in the fiercely competitive art show sector.
What’s driving the growth and reshaping of fairs is quite simply buying on an unprecedented scale. Take Miami developer Craig Robins’ shopping spree at ABMB and its flotilla of ancillary fairs, for example. “These shows are significantly better than the auctions,” says Robins, referring to Art Basel and its Miami counterpart as well as his own Design Miami show.
“This year I purchased several art works and design objects in Miami,” he continues. “With design, I found incredible works by Marc Newson, Wendell Castle, Maarten Baas, Joanna Grawunder, and Jean Prouvé.With art, I bought a great painting by Marlene Dumas, an important early work by John Baldessari, a painting by Richard Hawkins, a painting by Thomas Eggerer, an early drawing by Richard Tuttle, and a fantastic sculpture by Rirkrit.”
Another gauge of the art fair craze is in the increasing number of dealer applications to take part in these numerous fairs. Richard Solomon, who has served as president of the prestigious Art Dealers Association of America and heads up Pace Prints, reports that in “recognition of its very special niche, it [the ADAA Art Show held in February] has become extremely oversubscribed with 110 dealers applying for the 70 booths.”
“That show is marked by buying on the part of both museums and major league collectors,” Solomon explains. “The main difference in the attendance at the Art Show and other fairs is the knowledge of the collecting public that the Art Show is a very select connoisseur shopping opportunity rather than a mass market exhibition that has a broad appeal to a non-collecting younger audience,” says Solomon.
“Today, it is hard to believe that any of our collectors go through a sea-son without attending more than one art fair and some of the top contemporary collectors miss very few of the top contemporary fairs,” he continues. Clearly, the art fair attendance figures and overall growth emphatically confirm his observation that both the art market and fairs are on speed dial for a host of players.
Image: At Art Basel Miami Beach: Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme (Jacqueline), 1957. Gouache, colored pencil and ink on paper. Courtesy Landau Fine Art, Inc., Montreal.