Rarely are the voices in the art world unanimously enthusiastic. Over recent weeks, physically going to fairs, exhibiting and meeting each other again has brought great joy, and surely will for quite a while to come. After a long period of dedicated online exhibitions, online sale rooms, etc., and after what is still a relatively short period of being able to see works again, face to face, in museums, galleries and auction houses, coming together at art fairs seems almost like a celebration. Art Basel Hong Kong, Arco Madrid, Armory Show and Frieze in NYC were considered by many to be the prelude; MiArt in Milan followed, and then a full week was dedicated to Art Basel. Frieze London and FIAC in Paris follow in October, and Art Cologne and Art Basel Miami Beach also take place between now and the end of the year.
Before the pandemic there was a lot of talk about collectors and gallerists being tired of art fairs but now their calendars are filling up again fast. At this point it is not clear whether and how much the trade-fair landscape will change. Many galleries are already saying that they will plan differently and more carefully the fairs in which they want to take part. Other galleries say that this autumn is too early for them to travel to a fair. On top of that, various travel restrictions are still stopping many galleries and collectors from participating in fairs.
Thus, many galleries expressed their relief during and after Art Basel that, despite the predominantly European audience, sales were very good. The necessity of being able to present the works of the artists they represent to both curators and new collectors is vital.
During these extraordinary times art fairs have, of course, also extensively expanded their digital offerings. The OVRs (online viewing rooms) are now part of every fair, and in Basel, 1 to 1 live camera feeds were also offered. This gave absent collectors the opportunity to walk through the stands with a member of the fair staff. There is a great deal of trouble being taken to minimise the dependence of potential buyers on the fair location. How much this service was used, and whether purchases were made in this way, remains to be seen. However, it seems certain that this area will develop strongly and will almost certainly shape collecting behaviour.
To conclude on the change in attitude of these times, it should be mentioned that Art Basel had set up a one-off solidarity fund of CHF 1.5 million for galleries that might otherwise not be able to cover their costs. The amount guaranteed a discount on stand costs if galleries claimed the fund. More successful galleries can waive the discount and help increase the share for others. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this is that the fair organisers don’t want to look into the galleries’ books, but rather trust in the solidarity of their peers. That is a nice gesture that will hopefully spread further.