Sunday, October 16, 2011

Art Fairs v Artist Led

Yesterday at Sluice Art Fair I took part in a panel discussion alongside Jasper Joffe and Alistair Gentry. Its was ‘Looking at the nature of art fairs within the contemporary art world as a whole - are they necessary? What's their relationship or even impact on art production? What's the effect on the way art is digested and understood by the wider public beyond the art world in-crowd?’ Some thoughts occurred to me that I didn’t manage to vocalise during the event – so here they are – please feel free to respond…

Transition Gallery is a not-for-profit, artist run space. When we curate / schedule shows we tend not to think about whether the work will sell but rather if we think it is interesting. Purely commercial operations do not have this luxury.

Art Fairs have become the place to buy work. More work is sold at fairs than in the gallery. A commercial gallery can not survive without doing art fairs especially a UK based gallery because there are not enough collectors in the UK to sustain the business. 

I am always surprised by the lists of British galleries showing in art fairs – many of them are pretty much ‘virtual’ – either having no or a truly tiny space or a very sporadically scheduled programmes. Sometimes they have a name which has connections to the people that matter (ie Carl Freedman) so they get the Frieze spot before other galleries who have much more interesting artists and ideas. It is all political. Incidentally even to apply to an art fair costs a considerable amount of money – this is not returned if you do not get selected.

'Strip', Transition Gallery's presentation at Sluice 

Art fairs tend to be – as far as I am concerned - terrible places to see work. Work by gallery artists is bundled together without thematic concerns. I like to see a show with work made by one artist or a group of artists assembled with an interesting curatorial idea. (At Sluice Transition are showing ‘Strip’, artists grouped together with the binding idea of work made in series, often with a filmic theme). At Frieze this year one of my favourite spaces was The Modern Institute – the work was interesting and well curated.

Artists make work in lots of different ways. For some really interesting artists the high-pressure (often production line attitude) world of commercial galleries does not suit them or their practice. These artists would be invisible if it were not for small not-for-profit and artist led spaces. There are also some artists whose work has a strong political ideology – I always feel that this sits uncomfortably in the commercial art world of oligarchs and art fairs.

There are some very successful artists who like to get involved with the artist-led scene. They have contemporaries who may not have had their success and want their work to be seen as they think it is good. These interesting shows happen in the artist-led gallery world.

There are good and bad commercial galleries. The good ones nurture their artists the bad ones try and sell, sell, sell.

Artists whether ‘commercial’ or not tend to want their work to be seen and responded to – this is why most of us make it. Independent spaces and art fairs such as Sluice are brilliant for this – they get more people in and get the work seen.

And finally artists can either wait for their careers to be controlled (or rejected) by the art elite (which in the UK is made up of what one artist I know calls ‘gentlemen gallerists’) or stop moaning and take control of how their work is shown and presented by setting up their own organisations.

There is lots more of course but these are my immediate thoughts.