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Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Brief History of Art Fairs

Mark Jenkins, Kicked Painting, ed. 2 of 5, 2017
Besides the medieval tourist traps that sold art replicas along trade routes as novelty items, most of the art sold and bought in the years since the stranglehold of the Academies of Europe, was transacted in the isolated realms of galleries. The galleries were created under the influence of the personality of the dealer who controlled your access to works by artists. They were the gatekeepers influencing who got bought and grooming prominent collections to eventually make it into museums. These were quiet studies affairs until a shift in the art world in the late 1970's. In 1978 Thomas Hoving director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art created the first "blockbuster", an exhibition of the Treasures of King Tut. He sparked the imagination of the public and hundreds of thousands of people started queuing up to enjoy art viewing as a form of entertainment. That same year an observant entrepreneur and a NYC police officer created the first trade fair venue where chain galleries and movie stars, publishers and art lovers could mingle together under one roof. Called Art Expo, and originally located near Central Park, it completely changed the way art business was handled. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of artworks transacted without much of a sales pitch. People were hungry for art and shopped like they were at the mall before Christmas. It was a significant move away from the brick and mortar gallery. Art Fairs around the world enticed dealers with their crowds and soon became launching pads for print publishers and a place for an artist (with significant financial investment) to make a career. Art shown at the fairs ranges from blue chips with stratospheric prices, to ephemeral immaterial concepts to boutique items such as artist sneakers and handbags. This year there was a distinct move to bring back the intimacy of the creation of art. More and more artists, like myself, were adding a performative element to the fairs. Sarah Hanson in the Art Newspaper writes that "This is the first time that artists have worked on the spot" and quoting a gallerist from Mexico city, " a commercial art fair seemed an interesting place to acknowledge and make visible the many systems in which we are all operating". Is it just the addition of a bit more theater?
Me at work in the Fair

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