Title:The Difference between a Single Malt and an Art Fair
Too much of anything is bad,
but too much good whiskey is barely enough.
~ Mark TwainNext week, whether you be in Germany, Brussels, or Mexico, you can visit a major contemporary art fair presenting an international selection of high-profile galleries. You can even visit a fair from the comfort of your own home, as VIP launches its works on paper edition.
If you can't wait until next week, don't worry, you can dash down to Dallas or over to Milan today, right now, and find impressive international galleries gathered under one roof (admittedly mixed in with a few you're likely to have never heard of, but...) leaving one to wonder when, if ever, a collector can expect to find a dealer occupying their own gallery.
Now of course, I'm one to talk about the proliferation of art fairs, having co-founded one myself, and even working with the co-organizers of another we participate in to present an exhibition during the explosion of fairs coming to New York in May, just to turn around and head out to San Francisco the following week to try out a new fair, ArtPadSF, that some dear friends of ours are involved in.
To be entirely honest about it, I'm somewhat unusual in that I actually enjoy art fairs (and would probably do more if I could do them AND be in my gallery at the same time AND if I didn't prefer sleeping in my own bed much more than staying in hotels). But one does begin to wonder what the limit of all this might be.
As Jane Cohan so aptly explained in an article about the coming blitzkreig of fairs in New York in May, "I think we are all aware that the contemporary art market is increasingly event driven." Or in other words, that's where the sales are happening. And even Larry Gagosian noted in response to Morley Safer's suggestion that he had to participate in Art Basel Miami Beach, "Yeah, for me it's a place to sell art; it's a place to make money." And knowing that, it makes sense that dealers will participate in as many events/fairs as they can.
But surely we're reaching a saturation point, no? Even if we accept that, like a good whiskey, too many fairs is barely enough, eventually too much of the brown nectar will make one pass out, if not throw up.
During the fairs in New York back in March, one of my personal heroes in the art world, Peter Schjeldahl, was quietly making the rounds, doing research on the phenomenon of art fairs for a major article he's working on (and which I eagerly open each new issue of The New Yorker that arrives at home, hoping to find). I'm not sure when it's coming out, actually, but I am sure, having talked with him about fairs for a while that week that he's likely to argue that he (at least) is well past the stage of throwing up.
And yet, we dealers hitch up our wellies and wade back in, month after month, experimenting with the model as best we can (e.g., the wonderful Independent and our own efforts SEVEN and Moving Image), but recognizing the inescapable logic of being where the money is.
Thank God for Oban.