Friday, July 25, 2008

At the Galleries: Art Fair Reversal

There's plenty of gab in the art world about whether art fairs are the bane or the savior of the creative class.

For a few private Toronto galleries, at least, they have opened up markets to international collectors, making it possible for them to actually survive and maintain a space in our city.

For others, many critics and public gallery curators included, art fairs cheapen the art experience by emphasizing commercially salable works over ones that are (potentially) aesthetically and conceptually more apt. And the spectacle-like, mall-type feel at many of these fairs is also offputting to same.

For my part, I wouldn't want to see all art in the context of a fair, but I have enjoyed the few I have been to. After all, as a freelance critic with a travel budget of, oh, roughly zero dollars, it's a great opportunity to see what galleries across the country and beyond are showing.

Interestingly, there's a show on right now at Susan Hobbs Gallery that reverses the popular rush to the art fair—even if unintentionally. It consists of works that were destined for the Dusseldorf fair but were left hanging when the fair was cancelled. NOW published my review of the show last week. Read on after the jump for some more images and thoughts.

Top Image: Patrick Howlett, a discreet minimum, 2006

One thing that relates to this show, I guess, is the question of whether art fairs will be able to survive given (a) the current glut of them and (b) the coming/present (depending on where you live) recession. If a European fair like Dusseldorf tanks, what does that bode for events with less geographic draw like our own Toronto International Art Fair? Or even, as Modern Art Obsession recently pointed out, Scope Hamptons? Will artists have any place left to hang their work, their jackets, or their jackets-as-work, as Didier Courbet suggests below?

On another level, while established galleries like Susan Hobbs will remain firm, I think, with or without art fairs, it could be difficult for galleries that have built their practices this way to make a go of it. I actually won't name names here, but it is a concern. And on that point it's a concern largely unaddressed by the government of Canada's strategies on art funding. With the public inter-provincial art transport service cut, there's little way to squeeze cargo fees out of the feds unless you're going to an international art fair (these kinds of activities are sponsored through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, because they're more "trade-oriented" than "culturally oriented").

None of this is going to keep me up at night, but I'll be interested to see how things unfold.

Image credits:
Didier Courbot, needs, St. Jean Port Joli, 2001
Axel Lieber, release, 2003

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