As the fall art fair season in Europe gets properly underway with Frieze next week followed by FIAC and Artissima (not to mention that other fair across the pond come December) it's easy to get overwhelmed by overload: the glitz, cash, hype, ADD, FOMO, last big thing, current big thing, next big thing, and all the other BIG THINGS that are par for the course market-side of the art world.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Amsterdam kicked things off last month with a trio of specialized mid-September art fairs. Held from the 18 – 21st, Unseen, Unfair, and Amsterdam Drawing—dedicated to photography, young artists, and works on paper, respectively—have unique identities and together represent a more relaxed and nevertheless effective approach to the art market. It’s possible to attend all three, find great (and affordable) artworks, and not feel competely spent afterward. (This assessment comes from someone with self-diagnosed Art Fair Anxiety, so take my word for it.) It could be the modest scale—Unseen has nearly sixty exhibitors, Unfair shows forty artists, and Amsterdam Drawing features fifty-two galleries. Or perhaps it's the fairs' narrowed parameters and given media—works on paper and photography are affordable and accessible entryways for new art collectors, after all. In the end, they're here to sell artwork, but somehow these fairs leave me about as uncynical as I can be when triangulated by the art market.
Unseen Photo Fair
Unseen, now in its third year, is quickly becoming an Amsterdam favorite. It's the blockbuster of the three fairs and by far the most built up in terms of promotion, collaboration, network, programming, international outreach, etc. The fair is held in the photogenic Westergasfabriek’s main buildings and nearby “fair and festival grounds,” which host a book fair, temporary project spaces, and a lecture program. This year's edition featured more awards than ever, a new catalogue-turned-magazine, and world premier photographs at nearly every booth (with an accompanying guide to finding them).
It's an enticing fair, starting with Lorenzo Vitturi's colorful promotional materials. Indeed, even more than last year, color was everywhere, as were composed, often salon-style installations. New Formalism was in full swing—a perfect complement to the much-anticipated Under Construction exhibition at Foam, which opened the same week.
Foam Magazine's billboard presentation. Billboards featuring the 21 photographers from the magazine's 2014 "Talent" issue were shown throughout the Westergasfabriek complex. View here of Eva O'Leary and Harry Griffin's Devils Den.
A view inside the Westergasfabriek's unique, circular gashouder pavilion.
Looking up to the center of the main venue.
Hannah Whitaker presented by Galerie Christophe Gaillard, Paris.
Augustin Rebetez presented by Galerie Nicola von Senger, Zurich
Jason Oddy's Concrete Spring. Presented by Gallery Vassie, Amsterdam.
Trends this year included lots of color, serial imagery, and studio-constructed still lifes of unexpected objects. Takashi Suzuki's series of tiny, colorful sponge constructions ticks all three boxes. Presented by Kana Kawanishi, Tokyo.
Young London gallery South Kiosk's presentation in Unseen Niches, a platform for artist-run initiatives.
Early views of Lorenzo Vitturi's festival grounds installation, which was completed during the fair.
Phanta Visual's Trust the Cloud, a project on the festival grounds that asked visitors to jump from the top of an escalator into a "cloud" where their picture was taken and added to the digital cloud.
A ferry-ride across the IJ brought me to Amsterdam Noord’s NDSM Wharf, where the fantastic Scheepsbouwloods, a former shipbuilding warehouse-turned-studio-space, hosted the second edition of Unfair in an encapsulated mezzanine, overhanging a book fair and pop-up restaurant. Started by three young artists including Eelco van der Lingen of NEST in The Hague, Unfair has a unique premise: Selected artists no more than ten years out of school represent themselves. It's a rare opportunity for artists and collectors alike; there is no booth fee and collectors interact directly with the artists. Of the three fairs, Unfair gave off the coolest, most in-the-know vibes, without feeling exclusive or full of itself.
Amsterdam Noord's massive Scheepsbouwloods.
Inside the Scheepsbouwloods complex.Trendy exhibition architecture!
Erik de Bree's wallpaper paintings
Aldwin van de Ven
"The book thing"—Unfair's book fair.
A stone’s throw away in a temporary pavilion was the most traditional of the week’s fairs: Amsterdam Drawing, a three-year-old enterprise dedicated to works on paper. The fair was solid in concept and execution, if unremarkable. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Given its paper premise, galleries offered up great works by some of their top artists at affordable prices. It's the perfect place to start a collection and a "My First Drawing" section of works under €500 targeted new and young collectors.
David Scher at Galerie Jean Brolly, Paris
Marcel van Eeden and Martin Assig at Galerie Maurits van de Laar, The Hague
Charlotte Schleiffert presented by Akinci, Amsterdam
Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo
Nearby, Nieuw Dakota hosted AD2014 XL, an exhibition dedicated to larger works from Amsterdam Drawing. Here, a work by Peter Feiler.
Next door, VOUS ETES ICI hosted the ÈPOS | PRESS Drawing Prize. Here, works by Koen Taselaar.
Artists gotta get paid, but a final message from the NDSM wharf—visible from both the Unfair and Amsterdam Drawing venues—offered an outsized reminder we could all use when caught up in an art fair frenzy.
(Image at top: Another view of Foam Magazine's billboard presentation. The photos we can see are Lucas Foglia's Frontcountry portfolio.)