Have fairs and biennials fallen out of step? The Art Newspaper


The Art Newspaper notes an unusual trend in the contemporary art world. Young artists from established countries like America are receiving less and less attention at biennials while established figures from those same countries still crowd the market and art fairs.

Image from Art Basel 2011.

The Art Newspaper tallied up the artists attending four major international exhibitions in summer 2012, Documenta, Manifesta, La Triennale and the new Kiev Biennale, and the numbers are not good for young American artists.

Americans count for just over nine percent of the total number of 550 artists included in these shows. The US artists whose work is on display tend to be over fifty, if they are still alive at all. Younger ones are often female or African-American.

Yet the market figures tell a very different tale. Running a similar tally of the artists exhibited at Art Basel, the numbers skew dramatically towards artists from America, Great Britain, Germany and other established European countries. On the other end of the spectrum, of the 1,000 artist sample, only fifteen were from Africa and twelve from much-hyped China. Katerina Gregos, a curator of the 2012 Manifesta, attributed this discrepancy to a natural lag in market response.

The market is somewhat behind the developments since the 1990s, when the art world began ‘opening up’. Collectors still prefer to buy works that can more easily translate into an ascribed economic value, hence the continuing preference for painting and sculpture and less [preference] for experimental or ‘difficult’ works of art. So it is understandable that what one will find in Basel will come from countries with a tradition of producing such art, mostly through safe, tried and tested, recognisable names.

Others interviewed for the article cite the different motivations behind art fairs and biennials as a possible factor in the split. According to Jane Cohan, press director of the James Cohan Gallery, an international exhibition is more of an “incubator of ideas.” Biennials are more likely to focus on developing and culturally dynamic areas than more profit-motivated and risk-averse contemporary art market events. For dealers and buyers alike, this might be a crucial factor to consider for a long-term collection strategy.


Related Topics: art investment, Asia expands, market watch – globalisation, collectors

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