This past weekend, I went on a junket to Papier 11, the annual Montreal works-on-paper fair. Having had my trip paid for by the organizers, I'm inevitably going to be biased when subjectively assessing the event. (Secret scoop: I quite enjoyed it.) But I can objectively tell you Papier 11 had 5 Things You Never See In Toronto (At Least At A Professional Art Fair):
1) A tent as venue
2) An outdoor display to draw passerby into the fair, or give them some non-thresholded experience of it
3) Free admission for the public
4) Free, professionally produced book/catalogue handed out to all members of the public
5) Free coat check for all members of the public
It's a measure of either my lack of sanity or my city's that that it was really the free coat check that pushed me over the edge into totally, head-about-to-pop-off flabbergasted. Or, as one Ontario dealer put it, "Welcome to subsidized culture!"
More subjectively speaking, here's what I enjoyed about Papier 11:
-Accessibility: It was really nice to see the fair so busy and open to newcomers. It had a friendly feeling.
-Seeing works on paper by artists who I thought of as "people who don't work on paper." I'm talking drawings and prints by people like Shirley Wiitasalo, Stephen Andrews, Renee Van Halm. These offered a nice mix of surprise and familiarity.
-Seeing works I hadn't yet seen in person, like stuff by Jon Rafman and Marion Wagschal
-Seeing a focus on works on paper, period. I grew up loving books and I studied photography in art school, so guess what? I'm pretty much predisposed, folks. Deal with it.
-Innovative approaches. Gallery Joyce Yahouda hosted a different "solo show" in its booth every day. The first day I went, it was a huge drawing by Adrian Norvid. The next, several prints by Milutin Gubash. I also enjoyed the booth for Maison Kasini, which set up a pegboard advertising its Papiermasse mail-art subscriptions (just $5 per month!)
-The size: Lots to discover without being overwhelming. About 40 dealers overall.
-A public opening as well as a VIP opening. Whatttt?????
Here's what some dealers told me they liked about Papier 11:
-Everyone gets the same size booth. I have never, ever, considered this point. Ever. But it seems to be a big deal to dealers because many of them mentioned it to me in conversation.
-Low cost to participate. Word was booths were around $2,900 as opposed to the $7,600-ish "discounted NEXT section" rate at Art Toronto and the $11,000-ish "standard" rate at Art Toronto. (Note these figures were estimated by dealers, not the fairs themselves.)
-Proximity to other galleries. Being located close to the Belgo Building and the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art was considered a boon by many dealers, especially (of course) those Montreal ones located in the Belgo. They could just direct clients to check out solo shows there.
-The tent. Some dealers said they preferred a nice tent to being stuck in, say, the Toronto Convention Centre, as the tents mimic Frieze and other famed fair setups.
-The colleagues. Many dealers said they preferred being in what they considered a well-curated "smaller" fair rather than a "larger" fair with many galleries they might consider to be amateurish.
-And not so much liked as simply noted: The fair opened at 10am each day rather than 12 noon--a rare thing, though hard for some hard-partying dealers to handle. A signal of difference, though, for sure.
Here's what some of the problems or areas for improvement might be:
-Two words: Washroom. Trailer.
-Integrating some print or works-on-paper-focused artist-run centres, which could amp the educational side
-Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing other galleries from across the country, though I know it's a stretch to get there from Halifax and Vancouver.
-Also--and this is a borrowed dealer observation--if the show wants non-Quebec galleries to participate again in future, it may have to try ensuring that attending collectors don't just collect Quebec art. Apparently this is a big focus for collectors who reside in Quebec, and it's understandable because the province is home to so many rad artists, but it makes it difficult for outside galleries to participate.
Outstanding questions emerging from this trip, at least for me:
-What might Toronto's big art fair look like if it was organized by a professional association (like Papier organizer AGAC) rather than a profit-driven corporation?
-Could a better venue be found (or built, or tented) for Toronto's big art fair?
-Could an outdoor component ever be developed for Toronto's big art fair?
-Would free admission for the public (and not just "VIPs") ever be a possibility for Toronto's big art fair? Dealers are being charged a fair bit for booths already, so I speculate as to how much the door really brings in.
-How much does a fair really need to charge for a booth? How are those levels set or evaluated?
-How much more is Quebec funding the arts than Ontario? (I know this is a question that likely has an answer, I just haven't looked it up yet.) Is that level of funding sustainable?
To find out more about Papier 11, visit its website.
(Image of Adrian Norvid's massive drawing at Joyce Yahouda's Papier 11 booth by yours truly)
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted by Leah Sandals at 11:11 PM