• gerard van weyenbergh

The curse of the art fairs.

The Clare McAndrew report on Art Basel and UBS.

We criticize fairs for having become the obligatory passage point for galleries, which are empty of visitors. The fairs have indeed had a meteoric success in a few years, responding rather well to the expectations of collectors: a regular meeting, a more extensive offer, and a form of urgency and excitement likely to compete with those of public sales.

The report will bring grain to the detractors of fairs: the share of turnover (turnover) achieved in fairs by galleries has increased from 30% in 2010 to 46% in 2018. Or just 2 points less than the turnover in the gallery, the balance being made up of online sales.

But the most worrying thing is that this increase in the importance of the weight of fairs takes place without a noticeable increase in their activity. According to Clare McAndrew, the turnover of galleries and antique dealers has only increased by 6% in ten years. This move would not be a problem in itself if the cost of attending a fair were marginal. However, this is not the case, since according to the report, exhibitors spent last year $ 4.5 billion to participate in fairs, an amount added to the costs inherent in managing their spaces.

We can always retort that, without the fairs, the turnover of the galleries would have decreased, but this seems unlikely given the evolution of the art market as a whole.

So there is indeed a paradigm shift, as the profession has been complaining for some time. A change that goes hand in hand with a phenomenon of concentration: large galleries are becoming larger and can afford to spend to go to fairs. Luxury medium-sized galleries cannot afford, since they are not always adapted to the new model.

Nothing is lost; it is a cyclical and not a structural crisis. It is indeed the medium galleries that bring the most value in the sector by consolidating the offer by identifying, supporting, and promoting artists who have emerged in small galleries. The better they will do their usual work, the more they will be able to take advantage of fairs, which are only distribution channels.

Le Journal des Arts ( old article from 2019.)