What is Happening?

Laure Genillard asks why won’t more galleries voice the fact that art fairs are rapidly eroding their viability

Why do more galleries not voice the fact that art fairs are rapidly eroding their viability? Collectors and art lovers rarely bother to visit the gallery as they once did. They shop at the art fairs instead, lured by VIP tours, social encounters with the exclusive few and all that this generates. Small galleries have to spend many more times their annual budget just to do three or four art fairs annually. If prices are low, often the case for young artists, dealers have to sell nearly the whole booth contents just to cover their costs.

What happened to the days when art fairs offered reasonable participation fees? They are excessively expensive today. Home shows are cost effective and of higher quality: not just for being in a ‘real’ place with ‘real’ walls, but also for offering a one-to-one experience, essential for any engagement with the artwork and the artist’s concept. It is often the less good works, those that remain unsold in the galleries, which end up in the fairs, as most collectors know.

Art fairs are slowly eroding small, innovative gallery spaces (Artnotes AM406, Editorial AM407), which seem to be closing at an increasing rate. It is the equivalent of the supermarket destroying the greengrocer. Today the numbers of weekly visitors to a private gallery has decreased by an estimated 70% since the 1980s. Only the Private View nights or special events such as talks and performances still retain interest. Even art students stay away unless cajoled by an astute tutor. What is happening?

The young, emerging artist needs a privately (as opposed to publicly) owned space to show from; it is here that the nitty gritty of the commercial world exists, it is this that the museums and institutions refer to – not the shopping mall.

Laure Genillard

First published in Art Monthly 412: Dec-Jan 17-18.

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