Art Fair Season Is Upon Us


Art Dubai 2013

Dear Shaded Viewers,

As indicated, the Art Fair season is upon us. Art Dubai this month, Art Brussels celebrates its 32nd edition in April, Art Basel Hong Kong in May… fast forward to FIAC in Paris in October… in light of this, let's start with the who what and why of an Art Fair before we get to more indepth coverage of the approaching Art Dubai. 

Art fairs are a multi-headed beast, in all senses of the expression. They are often, at first glance, large, luminous spaces with endless queues and gargantuan crowds where art industry people (artists, gallerists, dealers, advisors, collectors…) come together with the interested public to expose, sell and buy art. It is an experience in every way, art fairs will cater to your every need in their created art-environments— Champagne? Food? Art? Books? Unusual chairs? Free goodies? Interesting and bizarre characters? Yes to everything, and probably a few more that you wouldn't anticipate. What else could you want? 

Art fairs get a lot of buzz, with many claiming an entire week as an "art week" even though a fair typically lasts only a few days. It will transform an empty venue into a city-wide art epidemic: expect tours, public talks, art buses, school visits, fully booked hotels from people flying in just to see the art… there is a lot that happens during this time period, and even more that has gone on in preparation for it. Art fair teams must coordinate the who, what and why, from invitees to galleries to curators to special guest speakers to pop-up shops who will provide contextual art-fun (objects, nourishments, literature…). It is a platform for the most prominent international galleries to bring their heavy-hitting artists on par with art trends so that you can check it out as you meander through what amounts to a maze of hidden gems amongst some occasionally less-than-spectacular artworks. An art fair isn't necessarily showing you the highest-caliber art, but it is showing you the most interesting art; it is the chance for the wild child to come out and play a little. Not to say the art is sub-par by any means, nor just an opportunity to wave their proverbial anatomy around. Important, relevant artists from well respected galleries come literally to your feet, and you should expect to see their works at a fair, where if you are a repeat visitor, you will see the artistic progression of through the years… but if you are looking for a time-tested and critically art historically relevant received collection of artworks, it is probably best to hit a museum. But that would be a moot point for anyone who wants to see cutting edge, or collectors who want to buy, because an art fair is the crucial time in which to acquire art in it's prime. 

Every region has a big art fair, and they are conveniently scheduled in global succession so should you have the time and funds to take a world-art tour, all the better, because every fair will have a different set of works it displays. Not quite there yet? Find the biggest one in your region and take a few hours to visit. In this case, Art Dubai, happening in March at Madinat Jumeirah. The gallery-line up is always posted on the website prior, so if you want a sampling of what is to come, or prefer a more methodical approach (i.e. a game plan of who you want to see), then you will also appreciate the large maps they hand you after purchasing your tickets. It is worth it to glance at these… from personal experience, it is all too-easy to find yourself circling around to the same space and questioning whether art all sort of looks the same, or if you really are going in circles. No one wants art-fatigue, probably best to stop and grab a snack. And grabbing said snack at that over-priced, limited selection pop-up stall will have you realizing the enormous absurdity and uniqueness of what it means to find yourself in an art fair. 

Art fairs are an environment where you really find yourself rubbing shoulders with incredible diversity. Art has a way of bringing out characters you may not usually otherwise encounter, everyone from crazy artists, crazier-dressed wannabes, students, celebrities… in Dubai's case, even some royalty. You come to see, you come to be seen, you come to indulge in multilayered voyeuristic tendencies… art is great to look at… as is watching people look at it. Expect a plethora of responses to that ambiguous [insert any descriptor] work. What? How? Why? Well, why not? It is a place to push boundaries, and explore what it means when given the art world a little bit of a carte-blanche to put on a spectacle that will entice. And a spectacle it is, because ultimately, for a gallery, this is prime selling time, so watch as every gallery pulls out their best to keep up and try to edge each other out. It is a rather dignified, sensorially thrilling hustle-fest. 

And while you wander around, in this case taking Art Dubai as a prime example, the free art talks and lectures, the children's activity areas, the pop-up shops, the Cartier exhibition, the VIP lounges, the Abraaj Prize candidates, the sun-filled terraces… as you indulge in the Dubai-scene art-lifestyle experience, it dawns on you what an extensive, diversified and fascinating melting pot it can be when you rely on your eyes in an environment that sometimes also relies on you to use your wallet too. Art is fast-paced, it doesn't necessarily wait for you, just ask those little red dots you'll see next to artworks. That means someone liked it, loved it and bought it… but the gallery will still keep it there for everyone else to appreciate. 

So, take pictures! Drink champagne! Ask questions! Spend more money than you thought possible! Wallow in the all-consuming nature of the visual arts… just don't touch anything. 

To keep you busy until the Art Dubai coverage, Shaded Viewers, here is some more in-depth and slightly entertaining reading:

Art Dubai

The Beginner's Guide To Art Fairs

When To Start Drinking At An Art Fair


Until next time,