What’s the future of Contemporary Art Fairs?

· Art Market

The globalization of the art market has led to an increase in international fairs. This has reinforced the interdependencies between the different actors of this field over the years. The fairs have a major impact on the world’s commercial and artistic ecosystem. Thus, they play a leading role in the dynamism of the art market. These events seemed indispensable until now; the COVID-19 crisis is now questioning the future of this model. The considerable increase in online sales, which rose from 10% of total sales in 2019 to 37% in the first half of 2020, reinforces hopes for a certain degree of digital adaptation. It also questions the viability of the massive digitalization of a market governed by human contact.

It is important to understand the complex issues involved in this phenomenon to reassure your artists and act with full knowledge of the facts. In this period of uncertainty caused by the global pandemic, what does the future hold for contemporary art fairs? Is digitalization viable in the long term? Should we adapt or reinvent a model that is reaching a saturation point? Decipher the evolution of fairs, emblems of the art world, with Artsper.

The 22nd edition of Art Paris, at the Grand Palais, from September 10-13, 2020

Decentralization of fairs: towards regionalization?

The current health context calls for contemporary art fairs to reduce their capacities and rethink their visitor reception policies. Some fairs, such as Art Paris (initially planned for April), finally had the chance to take place. Despite these rare exceptions, the current situation suggests that a return to normal is now illusory. This is why, as a gallery owner, refocusing on your original area of influence is undoubtedly one of the most adequate solutions to minimize risks while continuing to develop your business.

Actors affected unequally

The current crisis does not affect all players in the art market in the same way. The notoriety of the actors of the art scene consequently influences the repercussions generated.

On the one hand, emerging or little known artists, and new galleries, are facing more difficulties in the face of this crisis. In the same way, regional or smaller fairs must deploy all their resources to counterbalance the consequences of the crisis.

Well-established galleries and renowned artists are also facing difficulties, but with much less impact on their activity because they have more comfortable resources. Furthermore, world-renowned fairs have considerable means at their disposal that allow them to cushion the financial consequences. Many of them have set up large-scale systems to offer visitors a digital edition. Thus, it is the smaller galleries, with fewer resources, that are the most affected by the various cancellations and postponements of fairs.

Choosing the "pop-up" option

To continue developing visibility for your gallery despite the constraints, the "pop-up" solution may prove to be a strategic choice. More intimate and more immersive, a pop-up gallery allows you to expose your artists as you want and at a lower cost.

Indeed, these galleries and ephemeral exhibitions, which are usually held in new and unconventional spaces, tend to stand out from the classic and codified ecosystem of the art world. This new configuration of the gallery values the "lived experience". It's an interesting alternative for today's collectors since they can examine the highlighted works more closely and decide when to buy them, unlike large art fairs. It also allows you to attract new public traffic, therefore boosting your visits and your sales.

Condo, the collaborative exhibition bringing together 24 galleries in 8 London spaces

Is digitization viable in the long term?

The health crisis that hit the world at the beginning of the year is considerably shaking the foundations of the artistic event scene. In this context, viewing rooms, online auctions, exhibitions, and digital art fairs are emerging as an effective means of countering the crisis for fairs. They are new opportunities to boost your gallery's sales as well.

As a gallery owner, why go digital?

As you know, going digital is no longer an option. According to the study conducted by Arts Economics, and presented by Art Basel and UBS, on the impact of COVID-19 on the gallery sector, the cancellation of art fairs would have led to a drop in sales for galleries, which are heavily dependent on this channel, in the first half of 2020, dropping to 16% against 46% in 2019. Therefore, we advise you to strategically develop your online business by relying on marketplaces, whose activity is recognized internationally. Artsper, for example, offers more than 130,000 works from galleries around the world.

Art Basel Honk Kong: first-ever Online Viewing Rooms, March 20-25, 2020

Can fairs be digital-resistant?

Contemporary art fairs mainly have a mercantile purpose. And yet, the exchanges within this place of discovery and encounters also play a primordial role. Therefore, it seems complicated to think that the virtuality and digitalization of contemporary art fairs is a long-term solution. Moreover, not all fairs turn irreversibly towards digital. Despite the digital boom, the physical experience remains incomparable and must be valued, as shown by the maintenance of the 22nd edition of Art Paris last September.

For example, the "Affordable Art Fairs" took the risky gamble of not going digital and began working on their next events for 2021. This choice is risky as fairs often depend on the calendar of the public places in which they are organized.

Rethinking a system that may be reaching saturation?

An excessive tenfold increase?

The number of art fairs rose from 68 in 2005 to more than 220 in 2015. A figure that alerts Elizabeth Dee, co-founder of Independent New York, an art fair founded in 2010 by and for gallery owners. In an article published in 2019, she examines the major problem facing art fairs today. Their multiplicity engulfs a market that cannot support such overload and finds itself lost in the middle of a heap of ambivalent events, all similar to each other.

Overview of Joan Wallace's Installation: Major Works from the 1980s to the Present, 2017, Elizabeth Dee New York

A loss of authenticity?

One of the criticisms made at these major art fairs is that they no longer seem to fit into a common, intimate, and human universe. Each work is seemingly decontextualized, they no longer echo each other and thus lose their meaning. The fair itself is now only a sum of works that are in no way connected to each other.

Is refocusing on art the solution?

Collectors need to take the time to visualize, understand, and project themselves with the works of art they like. Unfortunately, new visiting protocols force them to stay for a limited time on each stand, which tarnishes the very reason why these art enthusiasts like to visit these institutions. Therefore, it is essential to rethink a system that supports artists and galleries in a more sustainable and less discriminatory way. A system that could potentially take advantage of the current crisis to hatch and allow for sustainable maintenance of the artistic ecosystem.

Art Basel Miami, 2019

Less is more?

In conclusion, it is important to understand that this pandemic questions the limits of contemporary art fairs and calls for a new understanding of a phenomenon that is reaching its saturation point. The answer is obvious, although criticized, the digitalization of the art market should not be seen as an attack on artistic expression or value.

The simple transposition of physical fairs on the internet will not be enough to counterbalance the loss of exchanges and physical encounters! Thus, today's art scene is at the heart of beneficial and crucial changes. Straddling between the digital and the physical, the artistic landscape is giving rise to a hybrid conception of art that must be accepted in order to bounce back. In this context, only an intelligent and reasoned practice of digital, but also the development of bold solutions, will enable us to face the crisis...

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