The pandemic forced art galleries to rethink how they could reach their audiences. For decades, it had been as simple as opening the doors to your beautiful space and letting the visitors, collectors and art lovers flock to your exhibitions. But around the world, those doors were now forcibly closed - and in many cases still are. So how do you celebrate your artists when no one can come see their art?
Many major galleries turned to new projects like podcasts - Lisson Gallery, for example - or streaming talks on platforms such as Clubhouse - like Carlos/Ishikawa. But the most popular tool by far was Instagram. It makes sense: the photo sharing social media app is almost custom-built for art, it puts the image at the forefront of any conversation its users want to have, it’s a gallery in your hand. If it’s good enough for sharing pictures of your most recent dinner, it’s probably good enough for sharing art.
The pandemic saw major galleries like Pace and White Cube embrace the platform like never before, majorly upping the amount of content posted, doing takeovers by artists and curators, as well as livestreams and talks. It’s not quite as good as seeing art in the flesh, obviously, but it’s a close second.
But some projects have taken a more head-on approach to using the platform for art. Freeze Magazine, for example, is a meme account - it creates and shares humorous, satirical images, poking constant fun at the art world for its avarice and pomposity. It’s a fun, engaging Instagram account. But it also hosts a series of Instagram exhibitions called ‘Curated Playlists’, where guests are invited to choose images of album covers for a digital exhibition, according to whatever themes the curator chooses. Curators included incredible younger artists like Christine Sun Kim and Lindsey Mendick, alongside more established names like Mira Calix and curators like Wade Wallerstein.
Even more interesting is London’s Guts Gallery, a project founded with the initial aim of curating Instagram-only exhibitions. For their first shows in 2020, they set official opening dates for one-night only exhibitions and released the images on the platform in timed intervals to mimic the feeling of attending a private view and encountering the works one by one. Unlike Freeze Magazine, Guts Gallery’s works were also for sale. Guts therefore used Instagram as a gallery in the truest sense - a way of not just celebrating art but selling it too. Guts has now gone on to host Instagram exhibitions featuring up and coming artists alongside more established names like Nan Goldin and Shezad Dawood, where the proceeds from the sales of the bigger artists’ works go to the younger artists. The future for them seems to include physical exhibitions, so they’re moving beyond the Instagram model towards becoming a more traditional art gallery, but Instagram has been essential to their early development.
The benefits to this social media approach are clear: no rent on expensive spaces and a massive potential audience. There are clear benefits for buyers too: you get to scroll through an exhibition with the ease you would scroll through a good friend’s holiday photos, while also being able to directly message both the gallery and the artists, should you be interested in collecting the art on display.
As the world opens up post-pandemic, the desire for Instagram-only exhibitions may wane, but young creatives have proved that social media platforms like Instagram are weapons that can be wielded as sharply as any other in the traditional art world.
Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali
For art fairs, and with them galleries and collectors, 2020 was a disaster. According to Clare McAndrew, researcher responsible for the annual Art Basel & UBS global art market report, out of 365 global fairs in 2020, 61 Percent were cancelled outright, while 37 Percent held live events and two percent offered a hybrid version. More importantly, virtual viewing rooms weren’t able to make up for the loss of income and contacts. From formerly around 45 Percent of average annual gallery turnover, last year only 13 Percent were made through some sort of fair exposure; a dramatic loss for galleries.
It is in this context that Dubai was staging the first physical art fair of 2021; and not surprisingly it was regarded with high expectations. The fair took place from 29 March to 3 April with 50 galleries from 31 countries participating. While on a much smaller scale than in normal years, this certainly was a great achievement. The fair had moved from its previous location in the luxurious Madinat Jumeirah to the Dubai International Financial Centre in the heart of the financial district rather than in a more tourist driven spot, certainly a wise decision. While some overseas visitors attended the fair, the majority of visitors were locals or expats living in the region. The fair managed to accommodate 18,000 visitors during the course of six days. William Lawrie from Dubai based gallery Lawrie Shabibi was grateful for the event: “I was stunned by the number of collectors who had come from all corners of the world, despite travel restrictions and red tape. There was a concentrated energy throughout the run of the fair, lots of excitement and some great sales”. A representative from Galerie Nathalie Obadia, who had managed to participate despite being located in Paris, was also happy with the result, claiming that from each artist shown at the booth, work was sold. Another first-time visitor from Paris was Galerie Perrotin, who also reported strong sales. This was another demonstration, not only how strong the collector market in the Middle East is, but also how excited collectors are being able to see and purchase art again face to face.
While the quality of the work presented was much more varied than in previous years, with some very derivative, decorative work present, there were thankfully exceptions. Especially interesting were some video works and photography presented by the most interesting regional galleries. Athr gallery shows works by Ahaa Alamoudi and by Sarah Abu Abdallah. The latter video artist had a solo show at the Kunstverein in Hamburg in 2019. Experimenter from Kolkata showed works by Radhika Khimji. The Omani born, London based artist, created embroidered paper works for the fair. Other interesting regional galleries were Dastan’s Basement from Tehran and established Meem Gallery, operating in Dubai as does Third Line. Comptoir des Mines Galerie from Marrakesh was one of the few African galleries present. They sold a work by Moroccan-born artist Fatiha Zemmouri for $32,000. So, the market is strong, private collectors as well as institutions have been reported as buying from the fair. It can only be hoped that Middle Eastern Art will find its way back also into a European art fair context soon.
It is not surprising that Clare MC Andrew pointed out in the report that art fairs were a high priority for galleries this year. But sadly, the recovery is slow and how many art fairs in which parts of the world can go forward is as yet more than uncertain. The cancellation of the London June art and antiques fair Masterpiece serves as a good measure of caution. One thing that Art Dubai has shown is that the appetite for art in the physical realm is as strong as ever.
Written by our ARTE Generali author Stephanie Dieckvoss, London
(Image credit: Afifa Aleiby, Flute, 2012, Oil on canvas, 70 x 70 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery)
Just weeks ago, Christie’s auction house in London set a new auction world record for a work by the artist Banksy, whose real name and identity are still a mystery, after decades of making art. Christie's sold a neatly 1 by 1 meter large, non-stencilled, black and white painting with the title “Game Changer” dated 2020, for a staggering sum of 16,7 Million Pound (including fees). This auction record is interesting for a number of reasons.
Most notably, it helped raise over 16 million pounds of funds for the National Health Service in Great Britain. The artist had “donated” the work last year to the Southampton Hospital to express gratitude for their hard work at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Or to put it more correctly, the work appeared at the hospital and turned out to be by the notorious artist. Secondly, it reconfirms the desirability for works by Banksy, whose canvas paintings have been setting records over the past years nearly every time they came up at auction. Readers might still remember when in 2018 his painting “Girl with Balloon” started to shred itself during its auction sale, only to be renamed afterwards to “Love is in the Bin” and becoming the most notorious painting the artist has created so far. A year later it was his commentary on Brexit which appeared timely in an auction at Sotheby’s again. “Devolved Parliament” sold in the summer of 2019 for 10 million pounds; then a record for the artist’s work.
In the meantime, prices for prints by the artist are going through the roof, and that is not only in London but all over the world. So, Banksy’s works – if you acquired them cheaply - are a good investment. The market over the last years has proven that the artist isn’t only an art world trickster, but that his importance can’t be ignored by the established art world any longer. And this importance is likely here to stay. His works, interventions and political activism reflect our disturbing times, and Banksy uses his public persona – with an Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/banksy/) following for his official account of 11 Million – to great effect. But he also uses it to get serious messages across. His mural in Dover will for a long time remain the image of Brexit. He plays the art world and the art market like a master. He understands and responds to the public mood, he comments with public murals on current issues, he supports political causes very publicly and at times with huge sums of money; and he has now proven over and over again that he has a tight grip on the art market’s desire for valuable objects. Hence small paintings and a vast print production. He manages all this through his own studio production company Pest Control, having given up on gallery representation many years ago. Pest Control (https://pestcontroloffice.com/) also authenticates the work, which is important as more and more fakes circulate. Banksy prints also set new records time and time again. Those who are interested should follow the regular online Banksy auctions that Sotheby’s and Christie’s are organising. At the latest one, which just closed on 18 March (https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/banksy), not only were all works sold, but most of them exceeded their estimates. “Love is in the air” from 2003, in an edition of 250, sold for 214,000 Pounds, carrying an estimate of 50,000 to 70,000.
However, data analysis company Wondeur still urges caution. While indeed now an established artist, institutional recognition is only slowly catching up, a measure, the company regards as crucial to long lasting artist success. His work has not yet entered major museum collections, and for high values to be maintained, museum validation will be critical, as Sophie Perceval, one of the founders, points out.
Anyone who doesn’t want to jump to snap up one of these now very expensive prints, can indulge in a new French documentary on the artist. Directed by Seamus Haley and Aurélia Rouvier, “Banksy Most Wanted” is already streaming through different providers online and on television.
Link to movie trailer HERE
Written by our ARTE Generali author Stephanie Dieckvoss, London
(Image credit: Banksy - Game Changer © CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2021)
Valerie Bach is one of the most important gallerists working in Belgium today. Her beautiful space in the Patinoire Royale in downtown Brussels has been host to exhibitions by major artists like Joana Vasconcelos and Takis, but she has spread her love of her even further afield, curating a sculpture park among the vines of Commanderie de Peyrassol in the heart of the Var in the south of France. Eclectic, unique and passionate - Bach specialises in contemporary art for true art lovers.
How did you first become interested in art?
I wasn’t really exposed to art as a child, but then I had the chance to work in a famous gallery in Paris and I became passionate about it.
How did you end up founding your own gallery?
I bought the gallery in 2007 and from there the journey started. I moved into the actual space in 2012 and I opened the "Patinoire Royale-galerie Valérie Bach" in April 2015.
What has the journey of owning your own gallery been, and where are you today?
The first years were the most difficult, you’re still trying to find everything out. From there everything went it’s way.
How was 2020 for you? Were you impacted by the lack of art fairs?
Compared to other years, I was able to get less out of 2020. For me, there were disadvantages and advantages to the lockdown. I had some time to rest and think about the future of the gallery and future projects. But like everyone else, lockdown took a big toll on me. Being locked up in your house 24/7 and having the gallery closed with no clear prospects is stressful.
You also work with the Commanderie de Peyrassol vineyard in the Var in the south of France, how did that come about?
I've spent many years in Provence with my family. The Commanderie de Peyrassol is a huge vineyard. I have created a huge collection of monumental sculptures in this idyllic location and a permanent exhibition of contemporary art. We wanted to share our passion with people who can visit the domain and create a surprise at every bend in the path, at every cluster of vines with sculptures by famous international artists such as Lee Ufan, Joana Vasconcelos, Vasarely and Pol Bury.
I imagine that you yourself collect art, do you have any favourite pieces?
It’s hard to choose, I have a special connection with all the pieces and especially with all the pieces of the artists that I exhibit. I’m really fond of the sculptures of Gisela Colon. I love the way her futuristic sculptures interact with light, space and movement.
Any advice to new collectors, what to look for when buying art?
First, do your research. It’s important to be up to date on the art world. Go visit some museums, galleries, exhibitions and go look on Artsy. See what you like and don’t like, so you know what you want to invest in. Don’t follow the trends too much, follow your heart.
Any under-recognised artists you think deserve more praise?
There are many who do not have the recognition they deserved. We’re currently exhibiting one of the great Belgian artists, Francis Dusepulchre, who died in 2013. The show of this unclassifiable artist, whose extremely personal output makes him particularly recognizable, shows works that were little to never seen by the public, coming directly from the studio.
How do you feel about the rise of crypto and NFTs, do you think that will have an impact on the future of running a gallery?
I don’t think so, I’m not really integrated in the world of crypto and NFTS. It’s kind of a difficult concept to grasp. But I don’t think they will have an impact on the running of galleries. Because of the digital nature of NFTs, it’s difficult to compare them with statues and paintings. I think NFTs will have their specific place in the art world, but it won’t be a threat to the traditional gallerist.
Do you have any advice for new, aspiring gallerists?
Owning a gallery is not only about art, it’s important to network and create connections. Don’t follow the market too much, follow your own visions. The most important thing for aspiring gallerists is to be passionate about art.
Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali
Anna Somers Cocks OBE is an art world force of nature. After a career as a curator, most notably at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, she went on to become an art journalist and eventually founded The Art Newspaper in 1990. After many years as its leader and editor, she now dedicates her time to writing about and fighting for causes close to her heart, in particular the Venice in Peril Fund.
When do you first remember falling for art?
‘Between the ages of four and nine I lived in Munich and every weekend we would pile into the car and drive to some church or monastery. I used to be carsick every time, but I learnt what the main subjects of religious art were and spontaneously had a go at painting them in my art lessons. It also gave me a lifelong enthusiasm for good Rococo. And then, when I was nine, there was a big exhibition of Chagall in the Haus der Kunst (the place where the Nazis held the Degenerate Art show) and I remember the pictures to this day. People rather look down on Chagall now, but he painted like a child and I responded to that. I have also lived intimately with “Las Meninas” because my grandmother was a very good copyist of Velasquez and her house in Venice was full of “his” paintings.’
How did you go from art lover to founding the English-language version of The Art Newspaper?
‘I was a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum for 13 years, specialising in liturgical goldsmiths’ work, Renaissance jewels and Kunstkammer pieces. Then I became the editor of Apollo Magazine, but I realised quickly that it had lost its constituency; it was intended for the general reader, but there is no such person anymore. Amateurs no longer have the stamina to read quite long art-historical articles, while the art world had become specialised, with dedicated publications for each area.
One day, a newspaper landed on my desk, the Giornale dell’Arte, which reunited the art world by writing about its news instead of its research or criticism. It covered everything from archaeology to contemporary art, museums and conservation, art market and the latest academic ideas, so long as the events were newsworthy and bang up to date. I thought it was marvellous and I sought out the founder and editor, Umberto Allemandi. That’s how I came to leave Apollo after three years and start The Art Newspaper for him in 1990, on the same principles as the Giornale dell’Arte, but with about 80% different news because it was and is aimed at the English-speaking world. I married him a year later and commuted between London and Turin for the next quarter century.’
How have you seen The Art Newspaper change over the years, and the wider art publishing world?
‘It has become much more focused on the contemporary art world as that is where the noise is coming from and where a great deal of money is being punted. Inevitably, universities are falling into line as students think they are more likely to get a job in the contemporary art world than if they study the Renaissance. It is also because schools have given up teaching history as a continuum, so large areas of art are completely unmapped in people’s minds. Older art history is still being published, mainly by the university presses for academics, but then suddenly a new thread gets discovered by the public, as with Artemisia Gentileschi, who has been adopted with enthusiasm, not because she is a good baroque artist—there are plenty of men as good as she is— but because she has become a feminist heroine. But artists have always gone in and out of fashion in response to the needs of later centuries. Just think of the nineteenth-century cult of the sixteenth-century goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini because they saw him as the heroic, romantic epitome of a virtuoso artist. There’s even an opera about him by Berlioz, but how many people have heard of him today?’
Where do you see art publishing going from here?
‘The sale of print books seems to be holding up; I read novels on my iPhone, but not a serious text. I hope that pointless, promotional monographs about contemporary artists will die out, but I expect I shall be disappointed. Ideas, ideas, ideas are what we want, but where is there a big mind writing about contemporary art? Perhaps it has become too fragmented along with our belief systems. I’m dying for someone to risk saying “This is good and this is not”, as Clement Greenberg used to in the 1960s—and explain why.’
What art do you surround yourself with at home? Do you consider yourself a collector at all?
‘I have three of my grandmother’s Velasquez, of course, and they take up a lot of space, so I can’t hang many of the things I’ve bought, starting with sixteenth-century Netherlandish prints that you could get in job lots at Bonhams in the 1970s. I do live with a very moving print of a poor, pregnant woman by Käthe Kollwitz and a largish wall sculpture of 2013 by Nasser Al Salem, who is a very good Saudi artist. It’s called “Allah will find a way out for whoever believes in Him” and it looks like a maze, but actually it’s made up of very stylised Arabic lettering. It unites the world of faith, which is very strong there, with calligraphy, still the predominant art form in that part of the world, with a conceptual and sculptural awareness of the kind with which we are comfortable. But I like it because the fundamental thought processes and aesthetic that have gone into it are different from those of art in the West.’
Where do you get your art?
‘I buy at occasions, such as the fair in New York’s Armory, where I got the Kollwitz from Jane Kallir, and the Nasser Al Salem, which I bought from Athr Gallery in Jeddah. I saw it when I was on one of my many exploratory trips to the UAE and the Kingdom while planning The Art Newspaper Arabia. It’s the greatest sadness of my professional life that we came within a hair’s breadth of getting it off the ground, not once, but twice, and both times something happened to stop it.’
You've had an incredible insight into the financial side of the art world, what big changes do you see on the horizon?
‘I’m too old to guess on the basis of the art itself; I don’t swim in those waters anymore, just as I can’t tell you who the most famous popular musicians are today, when once I could rattle off their names. So far as economic considerations are concerned, if we get Weimar-style hyper-inflation I imagine that the recent, tedious tendency to bank money in blue-chip art will be reinforced, while all the other artists will have to get second or third jobs.’
Christie's has just announced an NFT sale, do you think crypto is all hype, or something more substantial for the art market?
‘The words alone put you off: can you imagine saying, “Come and see my non-fungible tokens”? I am deeply sceptical, although enthusiasts say that they are no different from putting money into financial markets, but these also become unsound when they are based on fictitious values, as we saw with the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008. A work of art is not in itself worth anything; all its value is attributed and the more consensus there is on its value, the safer it is—but also vice versa.’
How do you see the art world emerging from Covid?
‘The British Parliament and World Health Organisation (WHO) have both published well documented studies recently that prove how making art with an artist can be of great help to people suffering in the mind. I believe and hope that the role of the artist as a potential healer working with communities will grow and be recognised more and more. It’s badly needed because Covid-19 is creating a mirror pandemic of mental distress.
Tate is one of the institutions leading the way with its Tate Exchange, and so is the Healing Arts initiative, which is raising money under the auspices of the WHO for artists’ projects in communities in different parts of the world. I’m trying to help them, so here is my appeal to artists who are already successful: please donate some of your very best works of art to the Healing Arts for Christie’s to sell this year on its behalf
As for the merry-go-round of art fairs that whipped up the art scene, I don’t believe that we shall see anything like it again. They are unnecessarily expensive in terms of money and environmental damage and I really believe that the first encounter with most works can be made online. Then if you want to consummate the purchase, you can go and see it.’
You've been a fierce advocate for various causes over the years, can you tell me about your current passion for Venice?
‘Early impressions are what have formed me. I first went to my grandmother’s house when I was seven and immediately thought Venice was the best place I had ever been. I still think it’s the most beautiful man-made creation in the world, which is why 42 years later I became the chairperson of the Venice in Peril Fund and we worked to understand the science and disastrous politics of the place. We financed a particularly important three-year study of its lagoon with Cambridge University, for example.
But Venice is like the world itself: all the scientific evidence says that it is doomed, but the vital connection to the decision-makers has not been achieved yet. We are like the New Yorker cartoon of a man falling from a skyscraper. As he shoots past the 32nd floor, he’s saying, “So far, so good”.’
Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel
The market for art publications during the pandemic has been slow, interrupted by the lack of book fairs, and probably also by a lack of opportunities for authors. However, as most people now have more time to read, it is worth picking up the new publication by Spanish art historian and curator Paco Barragán, an in-depth exploration of the most important sales platform for art in the contemporary market: the art fair.
Barragán has a longstanding interest in the topic, having already published a book about art fairs in 2008 (‘The Art Fair Age’ (Milan: Edizioni CHARTA)). In 2020, however, his approach has become somewhat more cynical. But that makes reading his texts more entertaining for the reader. Conceived as an ‘essay’, as the author calls it, this volume is mainly available in Europe as an E-Book. It picks up from his earlier research and adds the contemporary, global biennial into a mix of interrogation and critical analysis. Under the extensive and slightly clumsy title ‘From Roman Feria to Global Art Fair, From Grand Tour to Neo-liberal Biennial: On the Fairization of Biennials and the Biennalization of Art Fairs’, the author not only delves into the history of both art fairs and biennials, but more importantly discusses their function and relevance in society today. Naturally, that story is largely a story about Europe: the Biennale in Venice, Documenta in Germany, art fairs in Cologne and Basel, as well as Arco Madrid, for example. Thereby, Barragán repeats the well-established claim that both the art fair and the curatorially framed contemporary biennial are children of a period of globalisation of a contemporary art world which has expanded dramatically in the realm of neoliberal capitalism. And without doubt both blockbuster exhibition formats have – before the current Coronavirus pandemic struck – engaged art afficionados around the world nearly all year round with often equal excitement.
Parts of the book might only be interesting to the historically minded. For those readers, despite the fact that not all the historical threads are woven together entirely convincingly, the book is a treasure trove of learning about the whole history of the art market, including the complexities of art production and art sales in a humorous and sharp-witted way. An added bonus is provided by the entertaining “artoons” created by New York-based Mexican artist Pablo Helguera, which interrupt the flow of text by engaging the eye and allowing reflection on the topics discussed.
The book is divided into two parts; an overview of the art fair followed by a section on the history and presence of the biennial as a new type of blockbuster exhibition. Insightful charts and maps help the reader to memorise some of the material further. While the structure seems at times driven by a personal desire to shed light on specific overlooked fairs and biennials in the Hispanic and Latin world, this is certainly a narrative which has so far been widely overlooked. Broad sweeps through the past might make the academic reader twitch, but a more general audience can learn a lot from this well-researched but lightly presented essay. It does a good job of explaining how, for example, the idea of selling luxury items – including contemporary artworks in a fair context – is not as new as fair organisers often try to convince us, but also that the biennial as a concept is much more closely connected to the art market than some curators might want us to think. What the author had previously coined the ‘biennalization of art fairs’ or ‘the fairization of biennials’ still rings true. Both types of mass events have shaped our experience of culture and, for many people, dictated travel dairies all year round.
The book ends with a discussion of ‘global contemporary art’, the kind that is now being shown across the world in both art fairs and biennales, and asks questions of the reach and aesthetics of the types of art that attract this label. As Barragán admits, criticism of the global fair and the global biennial was becoming louder even before the pandemic of 2020 hit. For various reasons, people had become tired of the never-ending sameness that the English journalist Georgina Adam aptly called fairtigue. The pandemic has only served to sharpen the focus on those existing issues, and while it is too early to tell in which direction the wind will blow, many do predict the arrival of a new local art model, something which could benefit commercial and as non-commercial exhibition showcases alike in ways that might prove to be more meaningful and less frantic than before. But in any case, anybody who wants to use the partial confinement to one’s own four walls to not only dream about future art events but also to understand their mechanisms better would do well to pick up this book – before holding it to account in the real world.
Written by our ARTE Generali author Stephanie Dieckvoss, London
(Miami: Artpulse Editions, February, 2019) (by Paco Barragán, Arteditions: Miami 2020)