What is an art fair?
Before going to the Frieze art fair, I thought that any space where artists displayed their work was the same, the only difference being the context of the spaces that the art was being displayed. During the first few weeks of the course we went to various galleries and exhibitions, but an art fair is not an exhibition or a gallery, it is a trade show. To dig deeper into what an art fair is, we would need to first understand what a trade show is.
In any industry, a trade show is a place for people of that industry to meet and network, exchange ideas and collaborate. In the case of the art work, it is a place for artists from different galleries to meet and showcase their artwork to prospective buyers, whether that be art dealers, curators or private buyers.
From a business perspective this makes a lot of sense for artists and galleries. The art world itself is catering to those who can afford the art on display, and fairs are laid out in a way that allows artists to bring their rank to the table. Similar galleries and artists are generally placed together, and there is a clear hierarchy of which artworks are of more value than others.
From my own perspective, I do not place a lot of value in the contemporary art which the organisers of the Frieze art fair do. However, I understand that as a business Frieze has created a place where the people who do care about this kind of contemporary art can gather. A lot of the works at the art fair were not expensive due to the materials used, or the functional value, but held value because of the reputation of the galleries and artists which produced them.
This is where I believe that the art world is slightly skewed in favour of already established artists. It is a market created by established artists, which is kept alive by prestigious collectors and artists themselves. Among the different art exhibitions we attended, Frieze seems to be the one which the majority disliked, because the art was not in any way adding value to the life of the viewer.
A lot of the pieces were on display, as they would be on a wall in somebody’s living room. There were no interactive galleries, and many of the pieces seemed rather crude. Much of this didn’t make sense, and it never will. But to a prospective buyer of art, it makes perfect sense.
The value of an artist’s work can increase, as well as decrease, so for the buyers interested, this is just another investment – a place to put their money away. If this is the case, then why do contemporary artists actually create these works? Do they feel they have created value from something they believe in, or is it a way for them to make money?
Some of the reading which we were given reflects on this, “The Price of art”, European Societies, Jens Beckert, Jorg Rossel (2013) goes into detail about who decides the value of a piece of art and why someone might decide to buy it. In this article, Jens discusses the economic and social theory behind why art is priced in a certain way. What I understood from this is that artwork is valued first by its artistic value – which comes from curators, institutions and the media in the art field assessing work and conferring reputation. This reputation is often used by buyers as a quality signal, if certain institutions and curators are praising an artist for their work, it gives buyers a confidence that this is something that they should buy.
This is where part of the problem comes in for young artists who are looking to set foot in the art markets. A lot of networking happens at Frieze and other art fairs, but a new artist will not be able to walk into a fair and start talking about their artwork to the galleries and curators, they don’t want to hear about that!
To end this post, I wanted to show a video which I had watched a few years ago regarding the art world, Adam ruins everything: How the fine art market is a scam.