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Kobel's Art Weekly

Mirco Bompignano Bella ciao; free via
Mirco Bompignano Bella ciao; free via
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 29 2022

The year 2022 is clearly a Monday. Those who tried to console themselves at the end of last year by saying that it could have been worse are now finding themselves vindicated. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had an impact on almost all areas of life, including the art market. Our review of the first half of the year is under the impression of the epidemic and the war. Most affected by the current upheavals are the trade fairs, to which the first of three parts is devoted.

Ingo Arend reports a low blow for Fiac and Paris Photo at the end of January in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Chris Dercon, director of the art and exhibition complex Réunion des musées nationaux et du Grand Palais (Rmn-GP) and thus of the Grand Palais Éphémère, is planning to reassign the prestigious venue to an "international contemporary art event" as early as this fall: "In view of the short preparation time until the fall, only a large, experienced player in the field of art fairs would come into question for such a mega-event. Many eyes are therefore looking to Basel. And wonder whether the planned castling could be the harbinger of a further change in the already unstable art market tectonics in the wake of the pandemic."

Peace at last in Paris! However, the happy news does not come from the contemporary scene, but from the Old Art and Antiques section. The (former) Biennale des Antiquaires and Fine Art Paris are merging. Ursula Scheer writes about this in the FAZ at the beginning of February: "The provisional, not very elegant double name 'Fine Arts Paris & La Biennale' shows that it is a marriage of convenience. The contract is initially valid for five years. Until now, the Biennale was supported by the Syndicat National des Antiquaires (SNA). A group of dealers had split off and founded Fine Arts in 2017. Local and international dealers have since had to decide which of the two fairs to back. The SNA is now expected to take a back seat while the Fine Arts fair companies become organizers." In the noughties, the Syndicat itself had unsuccessfully tried to alternate with the Salon du Collectioneur to ensure an annual lineup at the Grand Palais, and had then switched to that mode itself in 2018 under the shortened name La Biennale.

The tradition-rich Cologne Fine Art (formerly West German Art and Antiques Fair) is history. First reported the Werner Remm in mid-February for Artmagazine: "The Cologne Fine Art as an independent fair will no longer exist. A new special program, called Art + Object is to offer within and/or beside the Art Cologne offers from the art and antique trade, from antiques to Design and non-european art. Contemporary art, which until now has been more of a nuisance than a serious offer to collectors at Cologne Fine Art due to its lack of quality, will thus fall to Art Cologne alone. As curator, fair director Daniel Hug is assisted by art dealer and curator Sebastian Jacobi, who himself exhibited for the first time at Cofa in 2019." I obtained a statement on this from Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne and Cofa, for the Handelsblatt.

It's hard to deny that Los Angeles has become a center of the international art market. The Frieze branch there is thriving, as the opening report by Deborah Vankin of the Los Angeles Times demonstrates: "Speaking of expansive: The Frieze tent itself [...] is 40% bigger than in previous years. It houses 100 exhibitors representing 17 countries (there were 77 last time, in 2020). Frieze expects about 35,000 attendees over the total of four days. All the expected blue-chip galleries were there, including Blum & Poe, David Kordansky, Sprüth Magers and Hauser & Wirth. But the East Coast galleries moving into L.A. were generating much of the buzz. There are at least eight of them, including Sean Kelly, Lisson Gallery, Pace, the Hole, Karma, Albertz Benda, Danziger and Sargent's Daughters in collaboration with Shrine."

The fact that an art fair can be more than just a sales event is emphasized by Uta M. Reindl during her tour of the Arco in Madrid for the NZZ: "In addition to the accompanying program with lectures and talks parallel to the sales exhibitions, which has been top-class in each case since the first decades, special shows in (almost) all of the city's art houses throughout Madrid reflect the occasion. Therefore, to this day, the Madrid fair is still more than just a commercial event." The FAZ has entrusted its Spain correspondent from the politics department with the Arco and receives an appropriately less expert retelling. Kabir Jhala reports more substantively in The Art Newspaper.

Doubts about whether holding an art fair could be appropriate in the current situation are taken up by Annegret Erhard in early March in the NZZ: "Is it defiance, or is it indifference? Collectors, art lovers, and gallery owners may be talking to each other about their horror at Russia's murderous attacks, speculating about possible catastrophes, but they are persistently devoting themselves to the enjoyment of art. There does not seem to be any reason for shock at Art Genève. In times of inflation and fluttering stock markets, people are flexible and ready to act on the lure of investing in art, which admittedly usually only has a longer-term effect. Money wants and needs to be invested. To a certain extent crisis-proof and on top of that, if everything goes well, sensual." Olga Grimm-Weissert took a closer look for the Handelsblatt: "Probably the most expensive painting hangs at Van de Weghe from New York, who already offered the large format with colored shoes by Andy Warhol at the Paris 'Fiac' for 4.5 million dollars." I was there for the Tagesspiegel.

By the way, art fair was also still in mid-March, in Dubai. Lena Bopp visited it for the FAZ. Russia's invasion of Ukraine was hardly a topic there - as is well known, the Emirates are not participating in the sanctions. Rather, NFTs were important in the desert: "In addition to the many free trade zones that make up the emirate, another one is to be added that is dedicated to the crypto world. Binance, the largest cryptocurrency exchange founded in China and now based in Malta, is reportedly considering a move to the Gulf. A government agency that handles digital already exists." That's where what belongs together grows together.

Scott Reyburn asks in The Art Newspaper what the duopoly of Art Basel and Frieze after the demise of Fiac means for the art market and especially for Paris: "A hatred of tax, as much as a love of art, seems to be the key to a successful international art fair. That said, at 5.5%, France does have the lowest level of import VAT on art of any major EU nation, the Paris art scene is resurgent, and the city does have a timeless appeal for luxury travelers. Can Art Basel work its magic in Paris in the same way it has done in Miami Beach and Hong Kong, particularly as RMN-Grand Palais has stipulated the event won't be branded Art Basel, Paris? [...] With London diminished by Brexit, and Berlin being overtaken by property developers and tech bros, Paris hopes it can once again become the capital of the European art world. Perhaps it can. But if Paris wants the world to visit its flagship fair of contemporary and Modern art, it also needs to be on the money."

In Vienna, the Spark Art Fair has found a successful continuation after its sensational debut last year, writes Niocole Scheyerer in the FAZ: "The open fair architecture not only takes into account the pandemic need for space, but also the galleries' desire for equally large stands. The biggest ace up the Spark boss's sleeve, however, is undoubtedly the booth rent, which at around 4500 euros is only a third of the price at Viennacontemporary. The low bunk costs open up the scope to show a younger generation that is still moderate in price. A total of 25 positions under the age of 40 are represented. Painting is the trump card at the "Spark".

A whole bouquet of art fairs took place at the beginning of April. Three in Paris alone, which Olga Grimm-Weissert visited for the Handelsblatt: "[...] effectively, one generally notes a better level. Especially at the 24th Art Paris, while at the 24th PAD Paris (Pavillon des Arts et du Design) a reorientation to the design of the last hundred years can be seen. And the small fair 1:54 Paris, founded in London and specializing in African art, is filling the halls of Christie's Paris auction house for the second time."

Sarah Belmont picks the nine best booths at Expo Chicago for Artnews. All articles on the fair are listed in a dossier at Artnews. Daniel Cassady praises the advantages of the regional fair in The Art Newspaper: "The description 'a regional fair' can seem at best dismissive and at worst derogatory. Expo Chicago, with its wealth of international programming that sees galleries, curators, institutional directors and attendees from across the globe descend upon the Jewel of the Midwest, reimagines what it means to be regional. Instead of exemplifying an exclusive definition of the word 'regional,' this year's Expo Chicago fair is very much inclusive and expansive."

After a long break from Corona, art Düsseldorf is coming up with innovations, which Christiane Fricke describes in the Handelsblatt: "According to [fair director] Gehlen, this is made possible by a previously unheard-of 'digital service'. 50 guides, equipped with a high-resolution cell phone screen, are ready to personally connect callers with the works and galleries that interest them. VIP access is a prerequisite. Those not yet known as serious collectors can help themselves to exhibitors' offerings in the online store (three months, starting April 8), participate in online tours or browse magazine articles online."

The owners of Art Basel's parent company, MCH Group, will have to pony up money. James Murdoch's Lupa Systems and the canton of Basel-Stadt will each invest 34 million Swiss francs, according to a press release issued in mid-April: "After the pandemic-related losses in the past two years, a financial package of measures is necessary to secure the CHF 100 million bond refinancing due in May 2023 and the necessary investments for the company's growth."

The world's largest art fair with the most opaque sales conditions now welcomes paying foot traffic at the end of April, a week after opening to the professional public. A valuable guide is provided by Naomi Rea, who researched for Artnet Pro (paywall) which gallery placed represented which artists at the Biennale di Venezia. She comes up with over 100 participating galleries, with David Zwirner with seven positions, followed by Massimo de Carlo with six and Sprüth Magers with five.

The official separation of Viennacontemporary from its previous Russian owner Dmitry Aksenov was reported by Olga Kronsteiner from Vienna at the beginning of May in the Standard: "A restructuring that had already begun last year is thus coming to fruition, accelerated by irritations caused by the war of aggression against Ukraine. Although Aksenov had neither been sanctioned nor had he ever appeared as a Putin friend, some galleries had concerns about participating in the fair and a possible loss of reputation. Aksenov also heads the Russian Friends of the Salzburg Festival." I try to straighten out the sometimes somewhat skewed public image of the fair and its ex-owner a bit at Monopol.

Parallel to the Gallery Weekend in Berlin, the Art Brussels took place in Brussels, from which Alexandra Wach at Monopol would have expected more political: "All the more astonishing that the majority of the 157 participating galleries preferred not to take the risk of a controversial appearance. Rarely has so much irrelevant flatware been represented at Art Brussels, which is being held for the last time at the Tour & Taxis site before it moves back out of town to the Brussels Expo fairgrounds as in earlier times." For the fact that an art fair is a sales event and not an exhibition, however, there was an extraordinary amount of art to be seen in the not-so-easily-sold medium of sculpture, as I note for the Handelsblatt and Artmagazine.
Frieze New York was also in mid-May, by the way. Ten high-priced sales are illustrated by Angelica Villa at Artnews. For more on the subject, see a dossier at The Art Newspaper.

Saskia Trebing at Monopol asks in end May whether Art Basel in Hong Kong still has any justification at all in view of the political developments: "Through its Hong Kong edition, Art Basel and its participating galleries have secured access to the lucrative, and apparently quite crisis-proof, Asian art market. But there are signs that the business with art is increasingly shifting to other, politically less explosive metropolises such as Seoul or Tokyo. Whether Art Basel will stick to Hong Kong as a location or look for another home in the region in the foreseeable future remains to be seen. In any case, an open discussion about this is overdue." However, the question is actually much more pressing at Christie's and Sotheby's, whose large-volume auctions do not help the artists living there in any way, but very much help investors and speculators. At least the event played out satisfactorily, Reena Devi sums up in The Art Newspaper: "At the two-day preview of this year's Art Basel in Hong Kong (until May 29), remote sales and an Asian art focus kept the fair buoyant-though not necessarily future proof-in spite of reduced physical size, visitor numbers and international exhibitors."

While Sprüth Magers expands to New York, Tokyo gets a new fair, reports the FAZ at the beginning of June: "The fair is founded by Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of Art HK and other art fairs in Asia, with Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus." The group thus has supremacy in Asia, at least in terms of numbers. In various constellations, the parties involved run fairs in Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and Singapore, among other places - as well as in Europe and the United States. That looks like unexpected competition for Basel.

The first post-pandemic Art Basel in mid-June is assessed differently by the press. Ursula Scheer sums it up in the FAZ: "The array of high-class art is once again enormous, as is the collectors' willingness to invest. Everything looks like 'business as usual,' but how much water Art Basel has under its keel economically is not quite so obvious." In a larger context, Scott Reyburn embeds Art Basel for the New York Times: "War is raging in Ukraine. Stocks are down 20 percent; inflation is up more than 8 percent. The crypto economy is collapsing. But back in the bubble of the international art world, the wealthy, for the moment at least, appear to be on a spending spree. Following on from May's bumper two-week series of marquee auctions in New York that raised more than $2.5 billion, collectors were on the hunt for further desirable modern and contemporary works at the 52nd edition of the Art Basel fair in Switzerland." Kito Nedo discusses the weakness of the parent company MCH Group and its consequences for Art Basel in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: "In October, Art Basel, which already has branches in Hong Kong and Miami, will expand to the French capital under the title 'Paris+'. The crisis-ridden Swiss exhibition company MCH is thus taking flight in search of sales. One topic that is not being discussed, however, is what will happen to the exhibition in Hong Kong in the future. In Hong Kong, there is effectively no longer any freedom of expression and demonstration, and the Chinese government is attacking the opposition in the former British crown colony ever more harshly. How does this fit in with the freedom of art that forms the foundation of Art Basel? Spiegler did not say a word about that. But the fair will have to position itself on that in the near future."

On an unusual date, with a shortened runtime and fewer exhibitors, the Tefaf in Maastricht at the end of June is once again setting up a temporary museum, which Georg Imdahl visited for the FAZ: "'Cross collecting' may be on everyone's lips right now, says Hidde van Seggelen, director of the Maastricht art fair TEFAF and gallery owner in Hamburg, "but it's been around for decades at our fair." Indeed, "The European Fine Arts Fair" is the appropriate place for it. [...] Auction houses have jumped on this bandwagon, pushing old master works into the spotlight in the modern art segment, spurring amazing proceeds." I was in Maastricht for the Handelsblatt and Artmagazine.

Susanne Schreiber from the Handelsblatt gives Tefaf a very bad rating for its security concept: "With this embarrassingly dangerous attack, the security concept of the MECC, the Maastricht Congress Center, is up for grabs and the already Corona-damaged Tefaf in bad light. For years, only women have been checked here. They have to have their bags opened and inspected, and even their purses are checked on entry and exit. Men, however, are not checked. They can smuggle in dangerous weapons, as we have known since yesterday."

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