Art fairs are among the events that better illustrate the growing impact of culture on the economy. Since Art Cologne–the first major contemporary gathering of artists, curators, critics, gallery owners and collectors–was organized in Germany in 1968, art fairs have increasingly become the main reference point of the impact of market dynamics in relation to artistic creation. Visit our Art & Culture page.
Although the first art fairs were events reserved exclusively for the promotion of culture, after the effects of their financial impetus they became more flexible activities. Eventually the fairs grew–alongside the visibility of art exchange–to include marketing, socializing, advertising, dining, entertainment, glamour and, of course, an interaction of supply and demand to the benefit of the regional economies.
For all these reasons, it is not surprising to see the proliferation of art fairs for what they represent in terms of activating capital, creating jobs and making a profit for local businesses. Along with the consolidation of the most outstanding fairs that continue to set global standards—Art Basel, TEFAF, Art Cologne, Frieze Art Fair, ARCO, The Armory Show, FIAC, Arte Fiera, Art First, Art Chicago, Art Forum Berlin or the Venice and Sao Paulo Biennials–more and more cities now wish to organize their own art fairs with the undisguised aim of becoming influential alternatives to the ubiquitous events.
From Zona MACO in Mexico to Art Verona in Italy, or from the alternative culture fair in Sabadell, Spain to the Modernism Week in Palm Springs, California, many cities are trying—with the help of authorities and local sponsors—to generate projects that would leave an imprint in the territory, and somehow participate in the exploration, not only of the aesthetic experience or commercial criteria around them, but also in the exchange of identities, lifestyles, and idiosyncrasies.
The idea of attracting elite collectors and a cosmopolitan, high-end tourism is an important element in this hectic and festive spirit emerging from the current economic recovery. These factors may explain the new trend: cities want to become seasonal tourist destinations by celebrating summer art fairs, events that will take advantage of the summer holidays, leisure and eagerness for recreation.
However, not long ago, events such as ArteSantander in the beachside of the Cantabrian capital, and the Donosti Artean , near the beautiful bay of San Sebastian, Spain, closed down. Meanwhile Art Marbella, on the Mediterranean Coast, has already opened, and in the United States the first edition of the Seattle Art Fair has already launched. In a few days, Art Nocturne Knocke in Belgium will open to visitors, and subsequently the Asia Hotel Seoul Art Fair will make its debut on the beautiful South Korean capital.
All these art events feature social celebrations in which visitors enjoy informal evening gatherings surrounded by the beauty of the urban or natural environments, scenarios touched by the sensuality of the northern summer, where the forest or neon culture join in happy understanding in times of artistic resurgence.
For many traditionalists, the new phenomenon of minor or lesser important fairs may serve to confirm the trivialization of culture that Mario Vargas Llosa addresses in his essay La Civilización del Espectáculo (The Civilization of the Show). Perhaps, for the most pragmatic thinkers, the phenomenon heralds the inevitable fate of culture in the future. But the truth is that promiscuity between art, economy and hedonism is an irreversible fact in modern society. Whether we appreciate its ravages or benefits depends on the viewer’s share of optimism. ■