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Kobel's Art Weekly

Summer II/III; photo Stefan Kobel
Summer II/III; photo Stefan Kobel
Stefan Kobel

Stefan Kobel

Kobel's Art Weekly 32 2023

The second of three parts of the half-year review is devoted to art fairs, with Asia once again taking centre stage.

Christioph Hein points out in the FAZ that attempts to establish Singapore as an art marketplace have so far been less fortunate: "On several occasions, the prescribed establishment of an art market has been rather miserable: The gallery district Gillman Barracks never took off, a free scene cannot exist due to censorship, the high prices for studios make experimentation difficult. The low point was reached when impresario Lorenzo Rudolf quit nine days before the opening of Singapore Art Stage 2019 and left the city with a grudge. But now the rebirth: while the 7th Singapore Biennale was still renamed to the nonsense name 'Natasha' to get a face, the new ART SG shines on its own: big, colourful, overwhelming."

In a press release, Art Basel parent MCH Group announces the discontinuation of Masterpiece London, which it had just fully acquired. Stephanie Dieckvoss speculates about the reasons in the Handelsblatt: "Or does MCH continue to have financial problems? According to research by 'The Art Newspaper', this question arises because the Swiss company first bought Masterpiece on a pro rata basis in 2017 and then 100 per cent in August 2022. This means that the exhibition company is putting investments in the sand, at least in the short term. This is surprising, as at least the financial and fiscal effects of the Brexit had been foreseeable for some time. But the cancellation also shows that Masterpiece's intention to ensure a stable future by handing over to MCH has failed. Instead of promised capital injection, now the end."

The Brussels Brafa seems to have come through the pandemic well, according to Alexandra Wach in the Tagesspiegel of 28 January: "After two cancellations, they lastly offered a replacement date in June at the new location of the Brussels Expo. A trial run that apparently fulfilled expectations. Because with the return to the old winter rhythm, the spacious rooms are once again being used. For the 68th edition, the fair has taken 21,000 square metres compared to 16,000 in the summer. On the first preview day, 130 exhibitors met, traditionally mostly from Belgium and France and 13 other countries. The most important Belgian art and antiques fair 35 of the galleries still present in 2020 did not return. The loss was compensated for by eleven newcomers."

Olga Grimm-Weissert visited a sober and dignified artgenève for the Handelsblatt: "Three trends stand out: the high number of Italian galleries coming up with interesting positions, the growing number of female artists - although one can by no means speak of equality yet - and a lot of African or African-American art. In the last area, the fair weakens as far as the quality of painting is concerned." I was in Geneva for Artmagazine and the Tagesspiegel of 28 January.

The spark of the Spark Art Fair in Vienna quickly fizzled out, the third edition was cancelled. In early February Nicole Scheyerer reports for the FAZ: "Already towards the end of last summer it leaked out that the fair's director Renger van den Heuvel would be taking his hat off. His departure in October caused a frown, after all, the Dutchman, born in 1963, had only launched the Spark Art Fair in 2021. Previously, van den Heuvel had navigated the Viennacontemporary fair through the difficult waters of the Viennese gallery scene from 2012 onwards. It was not uncommon for their players to fight their skirmishes on the backs of the local art fairs, creating pressure with threatened or real cancellations and badmouthing the organisers."

With the abundance of art fairs currently taking place, Artnews seems to have completely abandoned analytical reporting and now only presents social media-suitable "best fbooths" lists, from Mexico City from the Zona-Maco, the Material Art Fair and the Salón Acme. William Van Meter at Artnet does not have much more to offer.

A profound change in the art market is likely to come not in the form of real or imagined threats from techniques like NFTs and AI, but from marketing. This is supported by Daniel Cassidy's observations and thoughts on the occasion of Frieze LA in mid February for Artnews: "Some have argued that a behind-the-scenes change has also started the shift. Entertainment company Endeavor acquired a majority stake in the fair's parent company, Denmark Street Limited, in 2016, and since then many more people who are not collectors have been coming to the VIP days. A prominent art consultant, who also requested anonymity, speculated that because Endeavor is primarily an entertainment company, Frieze favors social media influencers. It was more like waiting for a sneaker drop than trying to get into an art fair," the consultant told ARTnews. One client left before he even got in. 'Don't ever take me to an art fair again,' he told me. 'I've never seen anything like it. We couldn't even find the end of the VIP line. I didn't recognize a single person in line, and there was no end in sight."

Georgina Adam places Arco in late February in the international art fair context in The Art Newspaper: "Despite its size, Arco does not attract all of the top galleries-Gagosian, Pace, White Cube were absent although Zwirner and Ropac were present. This may be partly because prices at Arco tend to be concentrated under the $100,000 level. It is less fast-paced than, for example, the Basel fairs, but by the end of the first day Ropac was reporting [six figure sales]." The as usual stupid sensationalist scandal report of the dpa about the Arco has reliably made it into many serious media. I was in Madrid for the Handelsblatt and Artmagazine.

Scott Reyburn describes in the New York Times how the Tefaf in mid March in Maastricht is holding its own in the art market: "But arguably the biggest challenge TEFAF faces is the way the pendulum of collecting taste has swung decisively toward contemporary art in recent years, putting pressure on fairs with a historical focus, such as Masterpiece in London and TEFAF's New York sister fair, both of which have closed. Where does this leave TEFAF Maastricht, the last truly international fair whose traditional strength is pre-20th century material?"

The differences in tone and substance between Noah Horowitz and his predecessor become clear in the interview with Ursula Scheer for the FAZ of 11 March. In passing, the interview includes a job advertisement: "I want to run our business collaboratively and make sure that new people get involved with their ideas. This starts with Vincenzo de Bellis being able to fully take on his newly created position as Director of Fairs and Exhibition Platforms. In this role, he orchestrates all four Art Basel fairs on a global level, which is a daunting task. At the management level under Vincenzo, we have already appointed directors for the Hong Kong and Paris fairs. And we hope to have the positions of directors for Basel and Miami Beach filled by the summer as well. All the managers should be able to develop their own visions."

The "healthy sales" reported in Angelica Villa's tour end of March of Art Basel Hong Kong at Artnews mark a step or two below the usual "buoying" or "brisk": "Collectors appeared to be moving with clear intention through the fair, art advisor Ed Tang, who is based between New York and Hong Kong, told ARTnews, describing the pace of the inquiries and buying as moving at a 'slightly different rhythm' than what's typically seen at Western fairs. I didn't take it as a sign of hesitancy from collectors. There's just a lot of choice.'"

Alexandra Wach misses a unique selling point of Art Düsseldorf in the WeLT of 2 April: "Now Art Düsseldorf must defy the trade fair competition that will quickly follow in the coming weeks (Art Brussels in April and Art Karlsruhe in May) with new baits. They are not particularly original. Other fairs also have a digital magazine. And curated solo presentations as well as a segment ('Next') for younger galleries that have been on the market for less than ten years don't hurt, but are also standard. 'In the future, we want to consistently expand our digital innovations,' says Gehlen. On the preview day, the fair drew numerous visitors who were amused like children released from Corona house arrest by the 1.2 million euro 'seat sausages' by Franz West at the Viennese gallery Elisabeth & Klaus Thoman." I was in Düsseldorf for Handelsblatt and Artmagazine.

Eva Karcher highlights the self-evident features of a regional art fair in her report from Brussels for the Tagesspiegel: Director Nele "Verhaeren emphasises the fair's 'Europeanness' with sustainability. 'We follow the ESG criteria of environment, social and governance/corporate governance and make a point of ensuring that the dealers and factories, as well as our visitors, travel by train and car as far as possible'. This slight departure from the globalism generally aimed for so far is acceptable as long as it does not seem too dogmatic or lower the overall high quality level of Art Brussels." "10 Highlights of Art Brussels" have been compiled by Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas Artnet-like for WELTKUNST (even paywalled). I was in Brussels for Artmagazine.

It is time to cut old ties, Brita Sachs writes in the FAZ: "The upcoming generation change in the management of Art Karlsruhe offers the opportunity to rethink concepts or take new directions. The fact that changes are due is obvious when you walk through the fair: this huge villa of four halls needs to be tidied up, say critical exhibitors, i.e. the number of participants could be reduced, the selection could be handled more strictly. Because with the motto 'something for everyone' you risk a lack of high quality in the long run with a surplus of mediocrity."

Barbara Kutscher explains in the Handelsblatt why Tefaf New York will continue to exist and the difference to its mother in Maastricht: "Launched in 2016 with two events annually - one for contemporary and one for historical works - the fair has been reduced to the May edition since the beginning of the pandemic. But it intends to stick with it, as evidenced by last year's contract renewal with the landmark Park Avenue Armory. [...] On two floors, 91 dealers from twelve countries also show what interests the international collectors who have arrived for the big auction season: Blue chips from modern to contemporary, design, exquisite jewels, some antique and tribal art. 'Old master collectors prefer to come to the fair in Maastricht, which is almost three times as big. The concentration there is important for museums,' says Hidde van Seggelen, president of the Tefaf Executive Committee."

Arco Lisboa in May is emancipating itself from its Madrid mother with its own focal points, according to Nicole Scheyerer's report on the fair for the FAZ: "86 galleries are participating in the sixth edition, of which only 25 are from Portugal. For the past three years, ARCO Lisboa has focused on Africa, as Portugal's colonial history has maintained close ties with countries such as Angola and Mozambique to this day. Eight exhibitors from the continent are represented, who are deliberately not assigned to a separate 'exotic section', as the curator in charge, Paula Nascimento, emphasises.

Fair coverage is often limited to summaries of jubilant press releases or summaries, especially for events as confusing as Art Basel. One of the few exceptions is Anny Shaw's analysis in The Art Newspaper, which at least dares to admit that the situation is complex: "By the end of Tuesday, confirmed sales amounted to a conservatively estimated $245m worth of art-though this figure will also include works pre-sold to collectors in the weeks preceding the fair. Six of the top galleries accounted for at least $175m of that total, with Hauser & Wirth alone reporting a minimum of $57m in sales.[...] Despite Art Basel's energetic opening-described by Gagosian's chief operating officer Andrew Fabricant as 'the busiest in years'-there are obvious signs of strain on the market. Just last week, reports broke that the eurozone has slipped into recession, while the US central bank raised interest rates to the highest level in 16 years last month. But the impact of these headwinds on the art trade is complex, as the many loosely related sub-markets that make up the 'art market' seem to be reacting differently."

On the other hand, Silvia Anna Barrilà combines a profound analysis of the larger context with on-site observations from the new fair Tokyo Gendai in the WeLT of 9 July: "In fact, the number of collectors in Japan is not as high as in China or Korea, especially those who are wealthy and young. Chinese and Koreans are also the most important clientele for the Japanese gallery business. [...] The development of the Japanese art scene is ultimately seen as positive for the entire Asian scene. Besides, if it feels like every city in Europe has its own art fair, why shouldn't there be room for several fairs in Asia, especially since the population with purchasing power is larger on the continent? In any case, the balance is shifting."

semi-automatically translated


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