Fair or foul: more art fairs and bigger brand galleries, but is the model sustainable?
Many galleries acknowledge that supply is a problem, with artists under pressure to produce more work
Georgina Adam. Market,
Issue 236, June 2012
Published online: 20 June 2012
Dealers are increasingly calling it “the fair marathon”: a six-week epic that started with Frieze New York (4-7 May), continued two weeks later in Hong Kong with ArtHK (17-20 May) and will reach its apogee with Art Basel, the one fair the art world really, really can’t miss (14-17 June). Some brave souls, including Tim Marlow, the director of exhibitions at White Cube gallery, even slotted
São Paulo’s Sp-Arte (9-13
May) between New York and Hong Kong,
withstanding a two-night journey by air from Brazil
The explosion in the number of art fairs is the most significant change in the market since the turn of the century. The numbers tell the story: in 1970, there were just three main events (
Brussels-based Art Actuel). But the number has mushroomed in the past decade:
from 68 in 2005 to 189 in 2011. This year, the Frieze brand unveils two new
fairs: the Basel New York edition last month, and
the Masters fair, which debuts alongside the event in October (11-14). London
While some fairs have disappeared (notably Art Forum
last year and Art
Chicago in February), others have taken their place. And, notes the economic
historian Stefano Baia Curioni, to these must be added more than 100 biennials
which, while ostensibly not commercial, are also engaged in the market and need
a rich supply of art. Indeed, so overwhelmingly important have art fairs become
that the general consensus is that they are beginning to replace the gallery
sales model. Berlin
The reasons for the proliferation of fairs have been often cited: the need to offer a buy-it-or-you’ll-lose-it situation to challenge the auction houses; a way of extending a gallery’s global reach; a way of making contacts with both artists and buyers around the world; and the need to be part of today’s event-driven culture.
This brings in its wake the need for more inventory. The art market is currently growing: based on art sold at auction, turnover last year was the highest ever, at $11.8bn, according to Artprice. But the market is supply-driven and ultimately rests on the artists’ ability to produce enough material. With more fairs on the horizon, is the current model sustainable?