A Fair Change
Art13 will be an art fair with a difference, says Josh Spero: a proper global outlook, unexpected artworks, curated booths, friendly gallerists. OK, several differences!
ART FAIRS HAVE altered the art market, the social calendar and even the production of artworks, but despite our current fruitful supply there is still room for another, a fair which makes up for the surprising geographical and cultural myopia of existing fairs.
Art13, which runs at Olympia from 1-3 March 2013 and of which Spear’s is media partner, is taking a much broader view of the world and the diverse artistic trends and movements it contains: instead of the token South American or Asian gallery showing art easily digestible by those only familiar with the Western tradition, Art13 will have over a hundred global galleries representing the preponderance of international Modern and Contemporary art, not just that which conforms to our expectations.
Our current fair scene doesn’t do that, says fair director Stephanie Dieckvoss one crisp November morning in a Marylebone hotel as a waiter silently slips a tea-tray onto a table in front of us. ‘What we find is that often people look at non-Western art with a Western art-historical understanding, and I’m not sure that reflects best what is happening on the ground in these countries, what’s happening in the art schools, what people are collecting there.’
Dolce Vita by Emese Benczur (2012)
We have large lacunas in our knowledge of the art of the rest of the world, Stephanie says, and she doesn’t excuse herself; the Stars Group of Chinese abstract painters from the Eighties is a new discovery to her. The whole Chinese abstract tradition, in fact, has been relatively unknown to us even as Yue Minjun’s grinning fool or Ai Weiwei’s sculptures have become vernacular. ‘People are slightly tired of seeing the same over and over again,’ she says, so it’s time for some fresh art.
The art will certainly be fresh to most of the audience of collectors, gallerists and museum directors Stephanie is expecting to attend, many persuaded by Art13’s advisory board. This is a constellation of internationally renowned art-worlders — Charles Saumarez Smith, head of the Royal Academy; Li Bing, who has his own private museum and founded a collectors’ club in Beijing; the Iranian Ramin Salsali, another private-museum owner; and Frank Cohen, who founded his private museum in Wolverhampton.
This is not amateur hour, and no doubt many were convinced to come on board by the pedigree of Stephanie — first fair manager of Frieze and first fair director of Art HK — and founder Tim Etchells, who started Art HK before selling it to Art Basel by its fourth edition.
The accessibility and character of Art HK is what Tim hopes to bring to Art13, he tells Spear’s via email from Australia: ‘We always wanted Art HK to have the characteristics that you associate with a premier league art fair but at the same time making sure that it could be enjoyed and experienced by a broader range of visitors and making it more accessible. We wanted to make sure that it had a personality and I felt we achieved this.’
Hungarian artist Veronika Jazatics-Szabo’s Poem-Box II (2012)
WILL IT BE a problem that the mega-brand-name galleries won’t be at Art13? After all, it’s always a draw to see how rude Gagosian’s staff can be to you. Stephanie, naturally, demurs, saying that she’s more interested in showing collectors and would-be collectors ‘interesting work independent of the names’. ‘If we were just going for the big brand names there wouldn’t be any point of difference to any other fair or exhibition,’ she adds.
When the art-fair scene first got going in earnest a decade ago, gallerists treated fairs ‘like places where you bring a lot of art and try to flog it’. Now, by contrast, ‘they treat it as an exhibition — they curate it; we request a proposal from every single gallery that applies and we want to see a concept behind it.’ The criticism of a lack of depth on fair stands is thus neutralised, and a concept also helps to prevent the worst tactic of galleries at art fairs, putting out the biggest, shiniest, brightest and (sometimes) loudest works of art they have to catch the eye.
One of Stephanie’s interesting observations, which came perhaps as rather a surprise given that fairs have become where the art world gathers and collectors collect, is that people are not necessarily savvier about how to buy at fairs: ‘That’s a big problem and something we do want to address. I meet people who have buying power or young collectors who don’t know how to navigate it.
Memories of the Gaze (2009-2012) a Seoul Landscape by Jae Yong Rhee
‘They might come into a fair and the first stand they see is one of the blue-chip galleries, and you don’t know — you go in and people only tell you it’s sold or don’t tell you the price, or if they tell you the price you’re scared for ever, so I do think there is still a lot of education to be done.’
Galleries can be frankly intimidating, she says, but collectors should never give up: ‘I was walking round with a collector — it was a young artist [the collector was considering], it wasn’t blue-chip. We asked for the prices of really interesting work and they were, “Oh it’s all sold.” The gallery didn’t offer to send images of new work, and it’s just keeping on the ball and saying, “But I like this, can you ensure you keep me up to date?” or “If this work is sold, do you have any other works?” It’s not feeling intimidated.’
So Art13 is going to be a lot friendlier? ‘Absolutely!’
Art13 is on at Olympia from 1-3 March 2013. Spear’s readers are invited to a special preview: for more details email email@example.com (numbers are limited)