Space for an Artwork, 2010
text on wall ,variable dimensions
Like Borges’ library, a typical art AIR consists of a number of nearly-identical rooms containing (seemingly) unlimited reconfigurations of possible forms, marks, lines, and pixels. Rather than Borges’ hexagons, the booths of an art fair are usually square, delineated by three walls opening on to a hallway.
This is because the repeated rows of cubicle-like walls serve as metonymy for the white cube of a gallery, the dominant exhibition space of art since modernity. In turn, the white cube is a stand-in for an ideal of empty space not far removed from the film trope of a white “void” as a representation of death or some “other” realm. In the repetition of this double-removed and imaginary referent, the art fair seems to attain towards the infinite.
Exoteric Gate, Galleria del Falconiere, 1978
Courtesy Archivio Nanda Vigo
Jury of the Salon, Paris, 1903
In parallel to the explosion of biennials, the period since the 1980s also witnessed a hardly less impressive increase in art fairs across the world. The concurrence of the rapid growth of these two forms of exhibiting contemporary art, as well as the close similarities between them, led many art critics to maintain that it was becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish one from the other. Indeed, the Art Fairs International website went as far as to claim that biennials are the new art fairs, and art fairs are the new biennials.
I saw you around the art fairs two weeks ago. What are your thoughts about art fairs? Thank you.
I used to be a real hard-ass about art fairs. In 2006, when I was still at the Village Voice, I wrote a column titled “Feeding Frenzy,” in which I called them “adrenaline-addled spectacles. . . perfect storms of money, marketability, and instant gratification. . . tent-city casinos.” They still drive me crazy and wear me out, but now I see them for what they’ve always been: Big sleepover parties where people sniff each other’s scents and make connections in a hurry. Artists get a chance to make a little money, and critics — almost by accident — get to see galleries we might not otherwise have the chance to visit. So I’ve corked my blowhole.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. As one international photographer commented to me: “art fairs are a necessity.” They offer artists exposure and an income stream, a slice of the financial pie – and it’s a big pie. According to Bloomberg, $350m worth of artworks were on sale at Frieze 2011.