Monday, 19 April 2010

Debate: art fairs are about money not art

The debate took place at the Saatchi Gallery on March 29th 2010 with Matthew Slotover, Simon de Pury, Sir Norman Rosenthal, Jasper Joffe, Matthew Collings, and Louisa Buck discussing the idea that art fairs are about money not art.

The opening brief was: 'Art fairs, scoff the critics, have become shopping malls for the super-rich. They are giant marketplaces for the wealthy to buy, invest and speculate on the commodity of art. Galleries pressure artists to churn out 'safe', sellable works, which are not so much looked at as bought in bulk. As the critic Jerry Saltz put it, 'art fairs are perfect storms of money, marketability, and instant gratification'. Is this criticism justified? Or are art fairs in fact the perfect format for visitors to see art from all over the world which they wouldn't otherwise see? And by allowing artists to show their work to potential buyers en masse are these shows a crucial lifeline for artists today?'

My response to this is that art fairs are now an essential part of a global art market. I go to Zoo, The London Art Fair and Frieze every year, and I look forward to them. In my view, as an artist and collector of painting by emerging artists, fairs are good because they provide access to national and international galleries that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.

Fairs also enable you to see a lot of work in a short space of time. This means that you have to know what you are looking for so you can edit out what is not relevant. Looking through the list of dealers and doing some research first means you can be selective and then if you have the time and the energy you can enjoy browsing the other stands. This is the fun part for me – seeing work by an artist I have read about or finding a new artist who really captures my interest.

Going to an art fair is like going to a degree show at an art school where there is a lot of very different work. For me this is the exciting part of it. The argument about the lack of curation at art fairs really is a minor complaint in my view. I am not going to a fair with the idea that it is going to be hung like a well-curated blockbuster show at a museum. I go to a fair to see artists and work that I would not otherwise have access to without jumping on an aeroplane. As an artist I can’t afford to travel all around the world to see a shows so spending £15 to see hundreds of quality galleries under one roof seems like a bargain to me.

Also we have to remember that the traditional gallery environment can intimidate some people. Fairs offer a more relaxed environment where people can browse without feeling uncomfortable. As an artist I have sold a work through dealers showing my work at art fairs and I am pleased that the dealer has access to more buyers.

Art fairs support artists and dealers while by providing a place to access new audiences – this can only be a good thing, surely?

Decide for yourself by watching the debate at