Art at art fairs

by Julia Lima

The increase in the number of art fairs in the world has become a phenomenon worthy of study. In just over a decade, the number of international offers has multiplied almost seven times. From today, in June, until the end of 2018, anyone who wants to can visit 46 fairs all over the planet, including in less immediate continents such as Oceania and Asia. Cities have been eagerly seeking to establish a circuit of fairs – the tourism associated with the event moves a lot of resources; collectors have arranged their travel schedule around the festival schedule; and galleries compete more and more assiduously to participate in the small, medium and gigantic editions of this market model that has increasingly shaped the art system.

However, more recently, this type of business has been questioned and is controversial. It is known, for example, that many of the sales end up being made months before, but the transactions are only finalized during fairs because governments often offer some kind of tax incentive (and this does not only happen in Brazil). Many of the galleries have up to 70% of their revenue associated with international fairs. Museums and institutions and their patrons take advantage of events to purchase collections and receive donations for their collections. Viewers and art lovers alike have the chance to see an absurdly wide panorama in a single visit, which allows you to find modern and contemporary works in virtually every variety of medium.

But what does this imply for artists? Is there a paradigm shift in the creative process when one has to take into account the fast-paced and sometimes even unreceptive environment of fairs? According to some researchers, consciously or unconsciously, some artists end up being impacted by formats or subjects that are more palatable at fairs. It parallels the phenomenon of Instagram, for example. The more photographable, the more circulable and visible the work becomes.

The circuit of fairs has even contributed to outline this transition. The events have their share dedicated to the market, but there is a growing concern with institutionalization, with curated exhibitions, entire sectors dedicated to performance works, panels of conversations and discussions of all kinds, and even exhibition programs of films and videos of artists and about artists, as in this edition of Art Basel 2018, in Switzerland, the largest and most important art fair in the world.

Performance, moreover, has become a key language within this type of event. It is increasingly common for fairs to have platforms dedicated exclusively to performance, body arts and music, always with guest curators bringing bold and radical proposals, avant-garde lines of research and young, emerging or established artists carrying out actions that are often unprecedented and thoughtful. for that context. The author Claire Bishop, by the way, quotes in an essay on the outsourcing of performance that Jack Bankowsky, editor of artforum, coined the term “art fair art” [1] as a way of designating a performance modality that depends on the spectacular and economical environment of art fairs.

However, the progressive presence of performance works in this type of event is curious because, in the past, the performance – as well as the land art and other movements – was also thought of as a way to break with the art market, taking away the possibility of selling the object, left aside in favor of ephemeral actions that could only be accessed by those who were present, live. This, however, is unthinkable today as a discourse, since this type of work began to be collected and museums began to have entire departments dedicated to this mode of expression. In any case, it is undeniable that performance has gained prominence at fairs.

Finally, the impact of the unbridled expansion of art fairs in the world on contemporary artistic production will, in fact, only be able to be evaluated in a few years, when the system stabilizes and these countless festivals respond positively or negatively to the larger oscillations in the art market. art. Until then, we will try to keep up with the frenzy of consumption, associated with the internationalization of gallery structures and the increase in the production of artists, who must always respond to this scenario, either denying it or feeding it.


[1] Jack Bankowski,'Tent Community', artforum, October 2005, pp. 228–32.

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