Bluntly put, art fairs are the marketplace of contemporary culture.
It is that time of the year when the art community gathers in New Delhi to attend the India Art Fair. This is its 10th avatar. Exhibition spaces like museums and events like biennales, triennales, Manifesta and Documenta are the bedrock for bleeding edge contemporary art and theory and most works shown here are produced exclusively for the event guided by the vision of a chosen curator or curators. Art fairs are different in that respect. As the name suggests, they are purely fairs where art meets business. Art fairs are occasions for gallerists, dealers, agents and collectors to meet and network. How can art or artists survive without commerce?
Bluntly put, art fairs are the marketplace of contemporary culture. Basel Art Fair with its 40 years of history is held through the year in three venues: Basel in Switzerland, Basel Miami in the US and the recent addition, Hong Kong Basel in Asia.
In her bestselling book on the art world titled 7 Days in the Art World, which the Vogue described as “an indelible portrait of a peculiar society”, author Sarah Thornton does a recce of the art world at Basel Art fair and comes across all kinds of people. People who often say dumb things, sometimes provide deep insights and at other times do both. In the book, she describes an encounter with Philippe Ségalot, the art adviser who manages the collection of François Pinault, the owner of Christie’s, Gucci and Château Latour. “Buying is an extremely satisfying, macho act,” he declares over lunch. In another encounter she describes how a well-known collector couple would not allow her to follow them. “It’s like allowing you into our bedroom,” they chide her.
Art Basel is not the only gathering where art marries business. ArCO Madrid (yours truly was the Guest Curator of India Pavilion in 2009); Frieze Art Fair in London and New York; FIAC in Paris; Artissima, which is one of the oldest art fairs of the world, in Turin; Armoury Show in New York, Art Stage Singapore and the First edition of ArtStage Jakarta which debuted last year; Sao Paolo Art Fair; Dubai Art Fair; Brussels Art Fair and the India Art Fair in New Delhi are some of the most sought after art fairs. We now even have one called the Affordable Art Fair.
Their aim has been to connect the world’s premier galleries and their patrons, as well serving as a meeting point for the international art world. These days, art fairs apart from the art works offer cerebral stuff too with very well-conceptualised talks, competitive exhibition stalls and well-designed cafeterias, opportunity for dedicated young galleries and large-scale curated projects like the one called Unlimited in Basel. The India Art Fair has 16 art projects apart from the display booths allotted to galleries, publications and other art world aficionados. This is where you find celebrated artists, collectors, film stars, musicians, designers and gallery enthusiasts, powerhouse gallerists and experimenters.
(The author is a leading artist, co-founder of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and curator of the inaugural Yinchuan Biennale)