Posts Tagged ‘artfairs’
I took myself over to the Armory Art Fair and its tiny twin Volta yesterday. I’ve been curmudgeonly about fairs for quite a while, so generally I don’t go. They are a business that seems to succeed despite the fact that almost nobody I know enjoys them: artists are either pissed that they aren’t included or frustrated with the look of the booth when they are, dealers find them expensive and time consuming, and critics see them as a place where commerce trumps ideas. As for the people that the really seem to be tailored for, collectors, I can’t tell you what they think.
I remember when the Armory got its start as the Gramercy Art Fair a weekend event crammed into the Gramercy Hotel. The first time around it was real event, a group of young art dealers, staking a claim to attention in a forum born of necessity: it was a lot cheaper to take over the hotel than it was to revnt any of New York’s other exposition venues. Dealers set up work in hotel rooms and since the bar for entry was lower, the work was wilder.
The Gramercy’s success led to a rash of other hotel fairs around the world, as well as ensuring that the days at the Gramercy itself were numbered. The law of New York cultural life took over: if one year 200 people think something is fun to do and they talk about it, the next year 200 of their friends will want to do it too. Quickly the numbers became unmanageable for hotel hallways and rooms and voila, here we are with an event that is almost as big as the boat shows that my parents used to take me to when I was kid.
With a few differences. The most amusing one is this: the first rule of socializing in art circles is that you must play it cool at all costs. You don’t want to appear too interested: if you’re a shopper, dealers will smell blood in the water and and buttonhole you. If you’re a dealer, an artist may start bending your ear in an attempt to get you to look at their work, potentially making you miss that maybe-a-little-interested collector whose purchase could ensure that you don’t have to ship so much heavy art home. If you’re an artist you want it to appear that you aren’t too busy tallying up the successes and failures of your peers. Above all, there is a common belief in cultural circles that everyone smells better with a little spritz of hauteur. New Yorkers love the aloof.
Combine all of this, and what you get is the experience I had yesterday: thousands of people shoved into a hastily thrown up favela of white cubelets sparingly crammed with merch. Each box represented a gallery where the proprietor sat on a self-furnished chair (or you can rent them from the venue at a ludicrous amount) poking at an iPad and waiting for marks. In the barely passable corridors, people who had paid thirty dollars to get in the door tried to meet or avoid each other’s eyes and at the same time did their best while pressed up against each other to look like they actually had someplace more important to be, something better to do and that they had just happened to find themselves there in a pier at the outer edge of Manhattan in the midst of a flash mob. It would be like cruising, except nobody gets off, and the brutal “last call, it’s time to get your ass home” lighting is always on.
I leave it to you to attempt to imagine what any of this has to do with the encounter that we call art. It’s a cliche` to decry the market’s influence on art. But this is weird even as a market: can you name a single other trade show where the participants spend most their time pretending to have only the barest stake in the product?
So, why did I go? I was handed a free ticket, and a good friend who has a booth there is having his birthday, I stopped in to dispense good wishes, and then figure I’d make my way through all three venues. Out of some two hundred-odd exhibitors, there were about five things that made me take a second look, or make to note for further research. I can’t quite decide if 2.5 is a heartening or depressing percentage. I shot a bunch of pictures, however and I’ll put some up in the coming days.