The Unexpected Art Fair


I had some trouble following up on my posts about art fairs. I hear complaints from artists (like me) all the time – and yet we still participate when we can. Often the canned excuse is some version of the kind of learned helplessness most artists seemed trained to – ‘It’s all there is for me’ or ‘you gotta play the game’ etc.  And, I ran into several curators in Miami who agree with the one percenters who love the one-stop shopping approach to art, and seem undaunted by the mind-numbing repetition – while swearing by orthotics and (as one put it) ‘the time in cabs to recollect, collect oneself, and get ready for the next dive.’

I also spoke with dealers who flatly said that art fairs are no place to see and experience art (one said, ‘it’s no place for artists’), and who seemed cynically resigned to the bald mercantile realities. Some estimate they make 40% – 70% of their annual income at the fairs. Others feel they have to do it, to be included in the conversation.

Still, in thinking about the art fair dilemma, I am struck by the fact that the direction of much current art and curatorial practice seeks the opposite of the reality the art fair wants to entrench. The most successful new exhibition forms, in my opinion, are temporal, ephemeral, and mine marginal (to ‘art’) contexts that surprise viewers and cultivate new audiences, while developing a context for viewing and experiencing art that critiques the neutral white box and tired institutional norms that suffocate the art encounter. More importantly, these new forms seek not only to provide critical context for art (terms of space and time) but also demand that art be accountable to that context: they don’t allow artists and art to be produced simply in the supposed neutral vacuum tube that extends from studio to gallery space. They ask art and artists instead to account for the systems and networks and spaces that get created by their relation to the status quo ‘neutral’ institutional site, while also offering an opportunity for artists and artworks to risk losing their dependency on those norms and forms by creating their own exhibition contexts.

This is a tall order, but, especially for artists and artworks whose political mission is to challenge and convulse authority and institutional norms, these forms seem indispensible. They offer a passageway from inside-out institutional critique (where art engages status quo norms to challenge those very norms) – which, for me and countless others, has limited staying power – to perhaps a more sustainable and authentic forum/form for critique.

There may be another, more resistant and critical model for an art fair model burgeoning through these very local and vital practices. But it wasn’t on view in Miami. A colleague reminded me that expecting anything more than a hollow experience targeted to the 1% is asking an art fair to be something it isn’t, something more than the trade show that it is. So perhaps the sunny beaches and limos and endless traffic and (see my stream-of-consciousness below) of Miami aren’t the context for art but strictly for art commerce – and perhaps the Unexpected Art Fair will turn up in our back yard next week.

Art Fair Encounters, Miami, December 2014

Paintings of art fair encounters.

Long aisles. Small booth. Big booth. No booth.

Gallerists staring at phones.

Rope across art. Don’t touch.

Artists who look like rock stars. Rock stars who look like artists.

Does anyone eat?

Big abstract paintings about ‘nothing’.

Long titles and longer lists of ingredients.

‘Lost in forever’ works.

Another Blah Blah Blah painting.

A huge complete seeming painting to which one oddball object or feature is added, intending irony.

Paintings that stress figure/ground with bits of non-identifiable stuff floating around.

Abstraction, without irony or critique.

Looking for an instant, then quickly walking away from, anything vaguely homoerotic.

Staring for a long time at, and doing selfies with, anything vaguely homoerotic.

Things that take a lot of time and patience and the mastery of one crafty skill.

Woven works. Knitted works. Beaded works. String art. Cutting art.

Goofy childlike abstraction looking like goofy childlike abstraction.

The ultra minimal gigantic hardedged abstraction that is just – gigantic.

Rosemarie Troekel looks good.

The sublime readymade: some plane fuselage.

Do you have a VIP card?

Everything and everyone trying hard to be more.

Non-narrative video that acts like painting.

The big sublime landscape undercut by some clever, ironic insertion.

Exoticism in photography – something beautifully rendered from an ‘other’ place with ‘other’ people you don’t know.

Irony isn’t working.

Obscurantism sells.

The intentional unintentional: ‘there’s nothing here to get.’

About jeffperrott

Artist and writer on art
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