Market Monday: Fair Weather
This week, four reports on the climate of art fairs and fair play...
The organizers of Toronto's Feature Art Fair announced that they would fold the event effective immediately, well in advance of what would have been its third edition, with the intent of "rethinking [their] presence" within the city. Despite some obvious spin about how Feature "had met its goal of being an 'opportunity to showcase leading contemporary Canadian art in a unique and innovative environment,'" the fair's masterminds admitted that their decision was mostly financially motivated. By my tally, Feature is now the third fair to return to dust this year, after Reed Exhibitions mercy-killed both Paris Photo Los Angeles and FIAC Los Angeles last month. Together, the trio serves as more proof that sheer volume in the art-fair sector, along with at least a modest art-market downturn, is crushing lesser-known competitors in an overcrowded sector. And as I wrote after Reed's double murder, it would be wise for the undertakers to keep their shovels close. [Canadian Art]
Geraldine Fabrikant reported on an arts-based consequence of Europe's continued commitment to austerity: Due to a sizable reduction in government funding, the continent's museums have increasingly begun targeting private donors, just like their American counterparts. In fact, to help level the competitive playing field, some international institutions are now even linked to US-based 501(c)3 nonprofits, such as American Friends Musée d'Orsay, which provide a mechanism for Yankee patrons to enjoy the same tax incentives for global cultural giving as they would for the domestic variety. Of course, this tactical shift also means that European museums will be more exposed than ever to the same rampaging conflicts of interest that have caused so much anxiety in the American institutional sphere lately––but hey, at least now it will be a fair fight for survival! [The New York Times]
After using data from the latest TEFAF Art Market Report (side note: ugh) to paint a picture of the industry's 2015 slowdown, Scott Reyburn shifted to a question many dealers are now asking themselves in these (somewhat) chastened times: How do we attract new revenue in the form of entry-level collectors? Reyburn mostly dials in on IRL answers like the Affordable Art Fair, where dealers and artists exhibit (relatively) low-priced works in a (relatively) casual yet (relatively) standard trade-show setting. But as prices for branded artwork continue to consolidate at the high end, and as economic inequality continues to increase worldwide, I still think it's much more likely that "affordable" art-seekers instead opt for unbranded artworks available through online sales platforms. After all, say that you just want a piece under a certain price point that's "large and bold" and will get visitors to say "that's really cool," like the British engineer Reyburn quotes at the end of his piece. Is it more appealing to wait for an exceedingly rare, industry-sanctioned event with a limited inventory and the need to visit in person... or to log onto, say, Saatchi Art immediately, set two or three search filters, and browse at your leisure until you find a winner? Yet while the digital option is great for ultra-casual collectors, infinite competition and minimal signals of quality mean that works being sold on these open-access platforms will mostly be differentiated by cost––forcing all but a few lucky artists to cut their prices to the bone in order to sell at all. It may not be fair, but it's the future... [The New York Times]
Finally, to end on a positive note: 4heads, the organizers of New York's Governors Island Art Fair, unveiled their plans to debut a new venture in Manhattan this May. The Portal Art Fair will run in parallel to the upmarket Frieze New York while offering a perpendicular concept and business strategy. Instead of presenting a standard series of booths manned by dealers, Portal will partner directly with 40 emerging artists to exhibit their work inside Wall Street's Federal Hall National Memorial––with all sales proceeds to be split between the artists (70 percent) and 4heads (30 percent). Aside from being refreshingly pro-artist, I love the idea because it's also an antidote to both the sprawling scale and tiresome cubicle-farm format of the typical art fair. That certainly doesn't guarantee Portal's success––especially over the long-term in a blockbuster-driven industry––but it should make the fair stand out to more adventurous and open-minded collectors sick of gorging on an endless supply of blue chips. [The New York Times]
That's all for this edition. Til next time, here's to blue skies and cool breezes, both inside the art world and out.