Anyone who spends a lot of time at art fairs, either by profession or for shopping, knows they don’t change much: the locations are often generic borg-like structures; the type of work that sells is easily defined (“things that cats like”). Impromptu networking, dinners and socializing collide.
That’s not to say I’ve been reliving my 2006 Miami Basel experience, which involved spending way more time than I would have liked with a crazy dealer who flew me down and put me up in a hotel because he believed “in honest criticism.” (He didn’t.) One of his friends, a young collector, told me that any man who claimed he wasn’t turned on by trophy-wife attire was lying.
That comment made me unwilling to put up with anyone else that evening, so I left, and on my way back to the hotel I randomly ran into some acquaintances from the net art scene. We spent the night at the bar, and then the rest of the nights, too. Those nights cemented my interest in the field—and resulted in about two more years of coverage.
Those kind of spur-of-the-moment friendships occur all the time. At the fairs, you find new friends quickly, and end up with relationships that endure far beyond the week. Gallerist Allegra LaViola ended up spending a lot of time in Miami with dealer Meredith Rosen, who became her business partner. And I have more friends than I can count who ended up with girlfriends or boyfriends thanks to a particularly good party.
As reliable as the social dimension of these fairs are, though, so too is change to the industry. Take for example the once-ubiquitous hotel fairs that ran down Collins Avenue. In 2006, Bridge, Red Dot, Flow, ArtNow, Ink and Aqua all rented out tiny rooms to exhibitors promising to attract overflow from Basel. By 2008, I was seeing exhibitors emptying their rooms of furniture, setting up their own lighting, and covering the walls with paper. By the time hotel venues started to disappear (roughly 2009), it was clear nearly everyone had decided the spaces weren’t well-suited to exhibition.
Back then, there were a total of 12 fairs, a number that excludes renegade fairs such as Frisbee, which advertised exclusively through flyers (a marketing effort that would feel a lot more renegade now than it did then); this year, there are 21 fairs, again excluding the renegades, which means that while it might once have been possible to see all the art, it’s now a lost cause. That’s not such a bad thing, though, as I’ve found that seeing all the art in Miami was counterproductive; I saw too much bad work, and it made me hate art.
Normally, I’d offer a few fairs I recommend as a way of avoiding that burnout—and The L Magazine and Art F City staff will certainly do that—but for the first time, I’m not in a position to offer those recommendations. That’s because this year, I’ll man the Art F City booth at UNTITLED. We’ll be selling a football-field sized printout of the exquisite corpse Tumblr Collaque, and since I want people to come to this particular fair and buy it, I’m no longer an impartial observer. That’s ok with me—as I said, the fairs themselves don’t change that much. I know pretty much what to expect: crazy dealers and collectors, lots of art, and a few new good friends.